"...Like an iron foundry at full volume", promised a bemused NME reviewer of Descension by never-even-remembered UK industrial rockers Slab! I remember peering out at those words from behind a greasy curtain of teenage hair, and wondering why a band would want to sound like that. I vaguely recognised - perhaps as one can only in the vegetal unfolding of a teenage heart - that these musicians and their messy (and often literal) deconstruction of the electric guitar were necessary, because it needed reclaiming from those incapable of playing a note with one leg situated anywhere near the other. But did that justify attacking the thing - that most totemic rock'n'roll artifact - with handtools?
That night, as I carefully removed my cherished copy of 2112 by Canadian prog-rockers Rush from the turntable, I dwelt for a little longer than usual on the three satin-clad men with the Farrah Fawcett haircuts on the sleeve, and shivered, minutely.
A drummer in a kimono was all the justification I needed.
On Saturday morning, I found myself in a record shop in a provincial town with a record token, and nothing to lose but 2112, an Asia album with a sea serpent on the front, and a personal musical defeat at the strings of the Stairway... guitar solo. Trembling, I bought two records that would - hours later - transform two sides of a C90 cassette into something resembling a holy relic for many months to come (and - within weeks - transform my record collection into something with just a fading memorial imprint of what a double Santana live album might actually even be).
My state of the art Walkman took at least nine AA batteries, casually discharging them all in under 40 minutes, but this was just enough time to listen to a whole album. The ferric oxide arranged itself in hyperreal-time into the jagged shapes of Sister by New York noisemongers Sonic Youth on one side, and on the other, Descension.
My parents looked in on me; concerned. To them, it must have seemed like a practical demonstration of how home taping was literally killing Music. In that moment, I felt my Volvo-cradled, rebel heart soaring. At that same moment, incidentally, it sounded like Sonic Youth were actually sawing.
I hesitate to call Slab! an industrial band, because despite lots of non-musical source material, where others (Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Department) simply laid waste to our musical landscape with their relentless clangings, Slab! took traditional rock instruments and the emergent sampling technology and carved out a new one. Snare drums showered rhythmic shrapnel over bass drum detonations, while detuned guitar strings flapped and squirmed. Mutant horns played all the wrong notes in all the right places; equal parts Ornette Coleman and Tower of Power.
And it was here, four songs in, that I found Dolores.
"On the edge of a plateau at the top of the world. The trees as green as emerald. The waterfalls so clear", whispered the singer through the song's steam powered pulse, as fragments of piano ricocheted across the speakers. A thuggish bass guitar elbowed its way into a chorus delivered with sleazy glee: "Wickedly mysterious she looks", he deadpanned as lights in my head flickered with excitement. Then woozy horns wound their way out of the fug, the mood rapidly darkening, with talk of "a great sickness in the water supply", until the narrator finally implored, "Dolores take my hand and laugh", as limbs knotted, teeth bared and the world ended. I was mesmerized.
That's paradise to purgatory in about four and a half minutes. Only Doctor Who could match their ambition. Knowing that the imagination can be a dark place, Slab! fearlessly prodded its darkest corners in the hope of uncovering something beautiful, and it's here, I think, in one of those corners, that Dolores sits - mysteries intact - with black wings furled, quietly flicking lit matches at a dog-eared Rush LP.
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