Review Summary: This album breaks every rule of music that existed. It has fused things that should not be fused together. A lot of people won't like this album, but give it a chance, and throw away you ideas of what music should be. There is something on here for everyo
Why do people like music?
If you are a fan of music, you might have asked yourself this question once in our lives. One might ask themselves, “Why does one like metal?” Is it the grinding guitar and bass? Is it the distortion, the heaviness, the image and mentality of the bands? Or is it the lyrics, the fast pounding drums, the overall difference from mainstream music? What could it be! I have been asking myself this a lot lately, and I feel that I like metal because it is all of the above. The fact that some bands tour, and go around the country and world to play for shows from sizes of small bars with forty to fifty people max, to large outdoor venues that can hold several hundred/thousands shows dedication. I find that the relationship between a metal band and their audience is vastly different than jazz, blues, and pop music for the most part. Although I find that the metal community is one that can be very alienating between fans, whether it be lack of similar genres, bands or personality, in the end I like to think that 60-70% of us can still all jump into a mosh pit together, head bang, and pat each other on the back, laughing and sharing the memories that make up a metal heads life.
Every now and then though, I happen upon strange and unique bands. When I listen to them, it makes me go “Why would anyone like this music?” Now generally these bands are terrible and do not know how to make good music. They can be extremely talented, like [Insert technical death metal/progressive/gothic/dark metal bands] but they might not be great songwriters or maybe the head of the band is more of a fan of Band A than the other members who are into Band B. This happens a lot in music. However, what happens when you take a band that has been together for years, and are incredible musicians and songwriters, and have them make this esoteric, foreign, and abstract music that nearly no one would be able to listen to without saying “WHAT IN GOD’S NAME AM I LISTENING TO!?!” at least once?
Well, that is how I would sum up Mr. Bungle in a short paragraph. Since I have more than a short paragraph I will go more in-depth, but I will say this right now; if you don’t like progressive music, if you gag at the word avant-garde and experimental, and cannot find yourself listening to songs that contain many weird sounds and rapid genre changes, than this is NOT for you! It took me a long time to just get used to listening to Mr. Bungle, let alone enjoying them. If you honestly want to hear some unique, weird, and genius music from a band that should be bigger than half the bands out there, keep reading.
As I said before, this album has many genres in it. It can go from surfer to carnival, heavy metal to ska, funk to… I don’t know, some of the things they play I really can’t describe as a genre. They generally stick to only 2-3 genres a song, while some can contain more than 4-5 and some can be very straightforward like Girls of Porn which is a funk song, and Love is a Fist which happens to be a ska song. Of course there are things in those songs that usually don’t belong in the genre but looking at the overall picture one would deduce that those songs are funk/ska.
Although Mr. Bungle is on metal-archives, this album is probably the third least metal album they recorded, with God Damn I Love America and California being the second and first least metal albums. However it does have metal in its blood, something no one can deny when they hear the song My Ass is on Fire or Carnival. And as much as I would kill (I would choose Mr. Bungle reunion tickets over a random strangers life anyday) to see this band live, I am confused on what I would do at the concert. It’s weird-ass music. There are parts that we can mosh to I guess, as well as head bang. I guess I could go around and pat other people on the back and laugh and share memories, but to me it would feel strange. I can’t drink legally either. I would still go though. Some would say “why bother going to see a band live if you can’t mosh or head bang or get drunk?” Well I shun those people for the most part. Look up a live show of Mr. Bungle and it really puts nearly every band to shame in terms of playing ability and co-ordination. Their Halloween video where they mock the Red Hot Chili Peppers is classic as well, and even if you hate Mr. Bungle, you will find yourself laughing at one point in that video. Sorry I got off-track though, back to the review.
This album is what I would call ‘gentle insanity’. It follows little structure, and the only sane person seems to be the drummer. It’s not like other albums like Cryptopsy’s None So Vile, Autopsy’s Severed Survival, or Suffocation’s Effigy of the Forgotten. This album is very insane, but it presents itself in an organized and thoughtful manner. It seems the one song people rave about on here is Girls of Porn, and I disagree with them. Great song yes, but is it the song that makes this album bearable, enjoyable or worth listening? No, since this (in my opinion) is a concept album, you have to listen to the whole thing to get the picture, but more on that later.
The bass playing on really this album is one of the best things about this album, and this band in general. Trevor Dunn is one of my favorite bass players, and you will find tons of killer bass riffs in this album. The horns and synthesizers from Clinton McKinnon add that unique touch to this bands sound. The fact that they are all real instruments is also very nice; I kind of get tired of bands that can’t afford to buy real instruments or hire musicians. The horns and synthesizers are constantly used throughout every song, but they aren’t played continuously like the guitar, bass or drums. They usually manage to find their way in a song at one point or another.
The drums seem to be the only thing that is consistent throughout the album. Danny Heifetz has some interesting beats, using cymbals, maraca’s, tambourines, etc. There aren’t any crazy double bass, blast beats, or gravity blasts on this album, but that doesn’t mean the drumming isn’t good or difficult. Danny uses the cymbals and toms a lot, doing interesting fills and adding exotic flares to the songs. People just don’t realize drumming can be more then bass drum, snare and hi-hat.
One thing classic metal heads won’t like about this are the ‘lack’ of guitar riffs. And, while this irked me at first, people forget that Trey Spruance is a rhythm guitarist, and thus, he mainly plays the rhythm, following the drummer for the most part. The guitar parts for Squeeze Me Macaroni accentuate and go well with the groovy bass line and bouncing drum beat. My favorite song guitar wise is My Ass is on Fire. It’s heavy, and the intro riff is so strange. The first time I looked at it on tablature I thought “Who would think of doing this?” Trey does great things with rhythm. He isn’t a Joe Stump or Michael Angelo Batio, he is something else. Guitar doesn’t have to be at the forefront of every song, and Trey proves this to us.
Finally, we reach the vocals. If you know me in real life, I have probably mentioned my love for Mike Patton several times. But who is Mike Patton? He is the vocalist for Faith No More, Fantomas, Peeping Tom, Tomahawk, etc. What makes him special though? That answer is simply diversity. Mike Patton uses his voice as an instrument. He sings clearly and beautifully, or he can throw a flurry of noises at you. He has one of the most diverse ranges, and like most things, he gets better as he ages. Check out Disco Volante if you want to hear the cackling of a pure madman or California if you want to hear the simple celestial voice Mike got famous for.
I am not going to even talk about production value in this review. Mr. Bungle was signed to Warner Bros., how good do you think it’s going to be? However I will mention that there is no one ‘voice’ that is ever drowned out or forgotten. You can hear things pretty clearly, and it is a relief when listening to extreme metal and punk for days on end. Also, every note is meaningful. The members aren’t trying to prove something. They have amazing technical capabilities, but they prefer good songwriting over mindless jibber jabber. There is also something called ‘dynamics’ on this album. Dynamics are the measuring of how loud a note/instrument is when it is played. Most albums these days (especially within the death metal scene) like to mix their songs with everything turned up to the max. Now this doesn’t mean that I hate all music like that or that it is bad, but having varying volume ranges and not having every instrument screaming for your sole attention makes the music much more enjoyable, which is why we listen and buy music correct?
Now the entire album seems to revolve around this reoccurring theme of clowns, carnivals, childhood and the dark themes that come with it like death (Stubb, Dead Goon), torture/mutilation (My Ass is on Fire), abuse (Love is a Fist/Quote Unquote) and last but not least, sex (Girls of Porn, Squeeze Me Macaroni.) It is sick, demented, and twisted and it is scarier than most metal if you think about it. While listening to Dead Goon, which according to almightyjoey is the tale “of an asphyxiophile clown that escapes mockery from his peers by choking himself, but accidentally hangs himself one night and dies,” the constantly changing vocals of Mike Patton and the groovy bass line contrast the unusual lyrics of the song. Near the end of the song, there is the sound of creaking wood, with Trey play chords and Trevor playing notes on the bass. Mike sings in this lullaby fashion, and the things are moving from right to left and left to right. As it gets closer to the end, Mike makes these chocking sounds. The effect that makes is so strange, and it is something I have never heard before. Whenever you take dark themes and put them over something melodic or something that isn’t heavy, it is very creepy and shocking. There is a form of bluegrass called “murder ballads” where the men sing about killing and hurting their wives or women. Now, this would be accepted if it were a death metal song, but its bluegrass! The same affect is applied with Mr. Bungle. Some songs sound happy and cheerful, but they are talking about sex and violence. The contrasting themes are scary, and I am glad it isn’t very popular in mainstream music.
Bands like Dog Fashioned Disco, Butthole Surfers, Flipper, and Fantomas are similar bands to Mr. Bungle that really interest me. These are all great bands, and if you like Mr. Bungle, you will more then likely enjoy at least one of those aforementioned bands. If you don't like Mr. Bungle, you still might like one of those bands. That is why I like avant-garde/experimental music. Ones idea of avant-garde can be very different from another, and it opens a huge window for opportunities. I actually considered Butthole Surfers the ‘Mr. Bungle’ of hardcore punk, but I think I take that back since Butthole Surfers were around before Mr. Bungle. So, Mr. Bungle is the ‘Butthole Surfers’ of thrash metal since that is where Mr. Bungle began in 1985. Unlike the Butthole Surfers, the members of Mr. Bungle didn’t take LSD, Peyote, or any other hallucinogens. People think that if you are ‘outside the norm’ you must be a pill-popping-baby-punting-bat-out-of-hell, but that’s not true. Look at Frank Zappa; he was an incredible composer, artist, and guitarist. He started listening to R & B and blues, and moved on from their. Listening to Mr. Bungle’s earlier stuff shows that they have unusual shifts in music taste; however this only added and personified their sound. Their first full length is a result of all that experimentation.
Now, the only true flaw of this album in my opinion is explaining it to others (kind of ironic because I am doing so with you). I think the problem is with the genre of avant-garde. Some people consider Meshuggah ‘avant-garde’ and I find that offensive. I mean, how is chugging and playing in weird time signatures ‘avant-garde’? I like Meshuggah, but they aren’t avant-garde. The Melvins, Celtic Frost and Boris to be much more avant-garde then Meshuggah, but that’s beside the point. I generally just say that Mr. Bungle is, “just some band from Eureka, California that they play weird music,” but they are so much more then that. I want to explain them in-depth, talk about my favorite songs, what I felt about their releases. I own all of the Mr. Bungle full lengths, and I have downloaded their demos. The sheer diversity in this band over their period on earth rivals any other I have heard, but that is debatable because I have not heard every musical group’s discography yet, but that is a pretty moot point I would say.
Now if you are just scrolling down to read the conclusion, remember this. Mr. Bungle is more then a band. They are an image, an identity. They have done something only few bands could do before them, and they managed to surpass their predecessors. If you give this little number a spin and someone questions you, you give them what’s what! If they say “Why do they change so often?” or “This isn’t music, it’s just noise,” you tell them music has no rules; never has, never will. Breaking the rules society deems safe is what makes a great musician. Remember, music is art! Keep on supporting great musicians, great bands, and great entertainers. Good entertainment is hard to find it seems nowadays. We have all these distractions around us. Take a ride to the carnival and unwind a bit.