Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Rocket From The Tomb - The World’s Only Dumb-Metal Mind-Death Rock‘n’Roll Band

Rocket From The Tomb
The World’s Only Dumb-Metal Mind-Death Rock‘n’Roll Band

AOTM #2, July 2000ce
Released 1975 on no label
"One of the most seminal American bands of the 1970s."

- RICHIE UNTERBERGER, Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll

"One of the noisiest combos ever to emerge from any heartland … must've seemed like Martian music at the time … snatches vengeful riff-roisterousness from the Stones, Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind, the Velvets … then heaps more distortion on top."

- CHUCK EDDY, Stairway to Hell

They never had a record out when they were together and they split up in 1976 before Punk could adopt them, which it wouldn't have in any case because they were longhairs and they dug Kiss. But they made an album of sorts which I've played constantly since somebody gave me their 'tape' in 1982, and it should be in everyone's Top 50 of all time, and one day surely will be talked about as though it's a standard. But I've seen the 'album' in so many differently-titled cassette and vinyl guises, from Life Stinks to A Night of Heavy Music via The World's Only Dumb-Metal Rock'n'roll Band, that everyone is confused, so I figured now was the time to set the story straight about this Cleveland band whose "only common ground was the love of hard groove rock and overdrive dynamics", according to their lead singer, David Thomas. Half of the group, Peter Laughner, Craig Bell and David Thomas, then known as Crocus Behemoth, were chasing the sound of "the Stooges/MC5", while the others, Gene "Cheetah Chrome" Connor and Johnny Blitz Mudansky, "were totally immersed in the Kiss type metal of the day." The result was a kind of musical stance which has subsequently been written out of American and British rock'n'roll history, but which crops up at the heart of Krautrock - that of the post-Altamont longhair metal refusenik, celebrated on side two of Patti Smith's 1976 album Radio Ethiopia, but never so in evidence as here on this 1975 performance.

The Cleveland of late 1974 had been the scene of numerous Stooges shows, and yet a climate had been created where local bands either played Top 40 or died. So when two local rock journalists, Peter Laughner and David Thomas, formed this post-MC5 post-Teenangst Psychotic Reaction, there was, in their first year together, only the facility to play five shows. And, of course, no one wanted records by them so the closest they got was a radio broadcast on their local radio WMMS-FM, taken from a two-night loft recording made in the February of 1975. It is this recording on which Rocket from the Tomb's entire legend stands, and this is what I'm reviewing as Head Heritage Album of the Month for July 2000CE. Of course it rocks deep into the Beyond, but more than that it sustains over the years. When I told my wife that I wanted to put this on, Dorian was smiling like the whole Detroit scene just walked in.

First off, I have to tell you that this lo-fi statement is the hissiest album you ever heard. The bass climbs the walls and obliterates whole vocal lines, while the guitars seethe and penetrate the ears like a High Rise live recording. Only the Electric Eels approximate this kind of sound, and they were from Cleveland and around about the same time, so what the hell was happening there? Perhaps the confidence of this recording is the band's purposeful reaction to everything else which would have been broadcast on WMMS that night, indeed that whole year, and possibly ever. So Rockets from the Tomb ham up the beginning like the start of "Kick out the Jams" and scream "Brothers and Sisters" in semi-unison like the Five aping the Godfather of Soul, before setting off on an instrumental Raw Power-rip of Cresta Run intensity. This careers into the slow wailing incontinent dissidence of "Be no use at All" - an inward-looking losers' anthem by young guys with No Expectations to be heard, most of all by their local peer group. The bass oozes and splurges round the room like they've got vats of it spare in the basement, just waiting to gloop up any song they might think is too straight. Then, they blast into the rock'n'roll guitar riff of "I Didn't Really Wanna Kill Myself" with five seconds of acceptable sonic shmeer, before, sure enough, bassist Craig Bell emerges from that mysterious bass-ment with a fresh dollop of Tony Visconti/Trevor Bolder overplay. Remember how Tony Visconti played bass on those early Bowie albums? He was never the ablest of bass players, but his co-producer's position meant that rock'n'roll's hoariest bass cliches were transformed into giant's steps glitterstomping across the sonic landscape, inspiring Trevor Bolder to similar heights/lows on the following LPs. Well, here in the Rocket from the Tomb's loft, lack of control means the guy with the loudest instrument wins, and he who dares is always Craig Bell. Right ON!

Next up is the dum-dum of "You Didn't Bleed". Another anthem by unknown losers whose heroes are more famous losers. "You Didn't Bleed" sees them get down in the mud musically and vocally, until everything drops down just to the leadbooted bass line, which is met by the whole band muttering and schmuttering the song title like some bastard offspring of Pooh and Piglet on that day they walked round in circles looking for the heffalumps and the woozels. Nothing gets more Stooges than this, but I'm talking about Mo, Shep, Curly and Larry.

Then we get into really strange territory. "30 Seconds over Tokyo" emerged one year later as the first single by Pere Ubu, and cleared the way for the real rot'n'roll to set in. Avant Rock? Fuck that! Here, they take it and break it and shape it as "Psychotic Reaction" played by Led Zeppelin's afterbirth. It grows fins and swims out of reach like nothing you ever could imagine. Hell, it even ends with a drum solo! Again, they get quieter than the Stooges ever did, though the level of recorded hiss precludes their approaching true Doors dynamics. But, you know what? They really give it a go to such admirable proportions that it kicks Pere Ubu's dick into the dust.

'What Love Is" tears off Glenn Branca sonic sparks for a few seconds before uncontrolled Stooges urges overcome them, and the seemingly unloved and never-to-experience-it Crocus Behemoth starts ranting about how he want us "to know what love is". Then the band make sounds that show they figure love and Viking warfare is the same thing exactly. The singer's two years before Johnny Rotten and his vocal is two hundred times more shamanic. Jack Hawkins's tracheotomy was more musical than this.

Of course, it's hard to sink lower than this but they do. How? They just get super-asshole Peter Laughner to sing instead. He has an acceptable rock'n'roll voice, but manages to bring us further down by a song of such Solipsism that you wanna kill him before he kills himself (which he did 3 years later). The song is called "Ain't it Fun" and Gun'n'Roses recorded it years later for their Spaghetti Incident covers album, so you can get where it's coming from. Musically, it's a direct rip of the Stooges 'Open Up & Bleed" - kind of acousto-electric meaningful with such one-line winners as: "ain't it fun when you know that you're gonna die young", and the ultra-compassionate: "ain't it fun when you tell her she's just a cunt."

Mercifully, Crocus Behemoth returns for another Laughner song, the magnificent "Life Stinks", in which he tells us "Life stinks, I can't think, I hate the Kinks" over a raw bass and vile-ass organ/thing, then returns for verse two and suddenly "I love the Kinks". Well, the two feelings ain't really the opposites they sound, and early rock'n'roll's coherence was never claiming to speak for those beyond their teens. Hey, I love the Stones and I hate the Stones; Laughner sums up his feelings in 8 words, and you can't get less addled than that.

They finish this recording in true style with the magnificent "Dead Boy Down in Flames". A by-now-standard lone rock'n'roll guitar collides head-on with the un-standard Craig Bell Visconti-bass roar/raw, and we're off again into the Stoogeland of Yore. Crocus Behemoth bellows "Dead Boy" more atonally that Rotten howled "I wanna be me", and the song collapses into unaccompanied overachieving rhythmless/formless guitar solo like the middle of Sir Lord Baltimore's "Pumped Up". Only it doesn't resolve or return to the beat. It just leaves you hanging there and that's the end. For me, perfection was never the tooled lintels of Stonehenge - it was the rough Mother Nature of Avebury. Listen to this album and you'll see the same argument in sound.

Soon after this recording, the two factions of the band split up into Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, taking certain songs with them and each adding what each saw as the missing dollop of sonic vibe. I have a live tape of them playing the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, on which they perform what-became Pere Ubu's "Final Solution." With a quarter century of hindsight, it's fair to say that neither of the offshoots even approached what this tape does, though at least the pre-artwank early Pere Ubu got close occasionally. But Rocket from the Tomb were out of time and ahead of their time, which means that combining stun-guitar rock'n'roll with cosmic apostate rage is a still-coming up-coming thing. I'd advise you all to form your band now!