Friday, May 7, 2010



"Dead Beat: Total Abuse, 'Mutt'

Few Texas bands demand your full attention like Austin's Total Abuse.

Since its formation in 2006, Total Abuse has toured the nation, played any house-show available, and put on unforgettable performances -- some of the most harrowing and disastrous that I've seen -- slowly carving its name deep into the annals of Texas punk like a prison tat. Now with the release of Mutt, the group's sophomore LP, Total Abuse has captured its most confident, confounding, and fully realized music to-date. Those with weak wills, ears and/or stomachs, turn back now.

If authenticity is your gravest concern in music, the first seconds of "Eunuch" should ring as the loudest antithesis of hardcore, tough-guy posturing ever recorded. "MAKE ME A EUNUCH/MAKE ME COMPLETE," demands vocalist Rusty Kelley beneath gathering storm clouds of resounding, one-note guitars and death-march drums. Is this ugly? Is it beautiful? Is this ironic? What the hell?!

Mutt is rife with such murky questions at every perilous, no-look turn. But don't go looking for answers. This isn't a record of easily decoded mission statements; there's no obvious message or lesson to be learned here. Total Abuse relishes basking in extremes. There is nothing tame or organic to how Mutt behaves. Favoring grotesque oddity and rigid control over all else -- this is hardcore for sadists.

Firebombed riffs, nihilistic abandon, churning, and stomping melodies -- the standard pieces of the '80s hardcore are all in place. What's truly captivating is Total Abuse's perverse, experimental rearrangement. Mutt distills that classic formula through three decades of diverse punk, hardcore and noise, reducing its subjects and sounds to their most primitive, unpredictable instincts. In tracks such as the title song and "Caligula" this takes shape through pounding a brash riff into submission, anxiously contorting the rhythm at free will, bending ringing notes out of tune, as reckless, shredding guitars peak in violent static.

On "Pure," guitars howl in wasted exhaustion through barren feedback, the rhythm feeling as though it's working against itself to betray any kind of progressive, rock fluidity. The riff slowly growing into cruel bloom, the guitars stick like a lump in your throat as Kelley rambles, "This is what I want, what I really, really want..." all the while the drums refusing to stay synced-up, the beat slightly off track. Whether it's a maelstrom of guitars sounding like a fork caught in a blender ("Secret Passage I") or distortion that could double for a two-ton, rusty carburetor turning over ("Fluid Exchange") these jarring moments are Total Abuse's fuel.

Sections of the music might recall acts such as Poison Idea, early Black Flag, as well as the modern weirdo hardcore of Cult Ritual and Drunkdriver, but this record is distinctly Total Abuse. Challenging, uncompromising, a wake-up-call in every sense of the phrase, Mutt is the most original punk album I've heard in 2010.

Dirty as a drag rat's pit, hungry for punishment, and proud of its scabs -- get bit.

P.S. -- Houston-based artist William Boone designed the impressive cover for the the band's LP. Check out more of his unique obsessions here."

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