Mr. Bungle, which reincarnated Friday in the form of an online cover of the Exploited‘s anthemic (and rather timely) “Fuck the USA”, has always been utterly chameleonic. Throughout three brilliant studio LPs and four much-sought-after, cassette-only demos, the San Francisco Bay Area pranksters darted headstrong from one idiom to the next, christening themselves in metal’s blood, flirting with ska and funk, and, finally, bending genres and sonic modes all together with chaotic cut-and-paste structures and post-modern pastiche (1995’s Disco Volante and 1999’s California).
Recently, some 20 years after the group’s “demise”, several original members of the band reunited for seven carefully choreographed live dates, playing Mr. Bungle’s 1986 recording The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny alongside Scott Ian of Anthrax and Dave Lombardo of Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies and Mike Patton Naked City homage Fantomas. Much ballyhoo understandably ensued; the adjusted lineup allegedly has completed a new recording of the Easter Bunny demo. I can imagine the kids doped up on Ipecac (the label, not the emetic) drooling all over themselves in eager anticipation.
Reincarnations owe debts either to the fossil record or immediate past lives, and the Exploited cover, which clocks in at a respectable 2:33, is most definitely the latter. The inimitable Trey Spruance abandons the wondrous ambiguities of Secret Chiefs 3 for heavily palm-muted, chikka-chikka guitar riffage that owes as much to 1980s hardcore as it does to Master of Puppets. Despite a somewhat half-hearted attempt to electronically manipulate vocals on one verse, Patton is nearly unrecognizable, with his usual carnival barker timbre put to the side in favor of guttural, throat-shredding barks a la Wattie Buchan. The song is not only faithful to the original; the new Mr. Bungle lineup seeks to replicate every bit of phrasing and nuance (down to Buchan’s rapid-fire interjection of “money money money”) with a fervor that froths religious. In short, if Dead Cross put a nickel in your hat, this freshly-minted incantation of Mr. Bungle has got your dime.
What’s surprising about the cover – a way of advancing the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny re-recording, one would postulate — is how catholic it is. In Mr. Bungle’s later years, it was a blisteringly original ensemble and California, to some, represented a zenith in its pursuits, jumping between genres as frequently as its members inhaled or exhaled. Yes, it has been 21 years since California, but has the group regressed to the pubescent rage and lack of sonic depth of its Eureka, California selves? And how are listeners supposed to greet that – as a retread, a bit of nostalgia or a statement in and of itself? Don’t misunderstand, Patton fronting Dead Cross is a thing of tremendous and wicked beauty, and many fans are all in on the adrenal gland masturbation of a good Fantomas song. But, the mantle of Mr. Bungle stands rather high.
Mr. Bungle, in the eyes of most “mainstream” critics, of course, always was Patton’s “other band”, the headlining material belonging to Faith No More. Since Faith No More stopped their run the first time in the late 1990s, Patton has primarily been on an experimental bender with glorious amounts of substance along the way. He has collaborated with Gainsbourg-inspired and Australian electro-acoustic composers, fronted supergroups Tomahawk and Fantomas, and treated fans to Bizarro world art-rock projects like tetema. Christ, even when he’s just stretching, manipulating, and editing the sound of his voice – the noisy and enrapturing Adult Themes for Voice, from 1996 – he’s a downright genius. The Exploited cover does not do much to advance his modus operandi, though, or justify resurrecting an ensemble as mind-warping as Mr. Bungle. Yeah, the song rocks, no doubt. But, FULL STOP, some of us just want more. – Justin Vellucci, PopMatters, June 8, 2020