Talk about being locked and loaded with enough context and rotting fruit to fill a stadium.
The core members of once- (and future-?) postmodern superheroes Mr. Bungle – that’s Mike Patton, Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn – have reunited 21 years after the group’s last LP to reproduce via Patton’s Ipecac Recordings their interesting but ultimately amateurish thrash-metal debut, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. They’re joined in this awkward navel-gazing endeavor by members of the Big Four: frequent Patton collaborator Dave Lombardo, who drummed in Slayer, and Scott Ian, who played guitar in Anthrax. Now, despite some interesting moments, here’s the verdict for which you’re itching – and it’s likely to be an unpopular one: this thing is kind of a train-wreck and in very few ways interesting to watch unfold.
Mr. Bungle, during the group’s heady Warner Bros. years (’89-’99), always reveled in a distinctly bizarre sense of humor and that’s evident on The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, however nascent or over-simplified the group’s signatures were in 1985. Metallica, in all its self-seriousness, used to stare down death and ask, “For whom does the bell toll?” Mr. Bungle, on the other hand, daydreams about spreading Death’s thighs. (Yes, there literally is a song here titled “Spreading the Thighs of Death.”) The band thankfully injects its thrashing, which is fairly boiler-plate 80s crossover metal, with a good dose of subversiveness and that lends to all sorts of interesting readings and spit-takes. For Christ’s sake, Cheers alumnus Rhea Pearlman offers Haunted House narration on a song titled “Anarchy Up Your Anus.”
But, while Mr. Bungle’s mix of the incredible and incredulous defined gems like “None of Them Knew They Were Robots,” a slamming mix of metal and swing off 1999’s California, here the joke and any resulting comment worth revisiting is frequently and sadly lacking. Yes, it is funny to hear the band inject “La Cucaracha” into a reworked cover of S.O.D.’s “Speak English or Die” titled, yep, “Habla Espanol O Muere.” But the jokes are all just a little too on the nose this time out.
Then, there’s the matter, of course, of the music, which, in certain spots at least, has not aged as gracefully as Patton might imagine. Mood-setting opener “Grizzly Adams,” with its glassy notes of faux-doom, is cheesy – but not quite intentionally so. Songs like “Methemetics” and “Raping Your Mind” have some great locked grooves (we particularly like Lombardo’s double-bass kick and Dunn’s dirgy bass thrum through much of their proceedings) but anyone expecting Patton’s usual hijinks and multi-octave histrionics will be sadly at a loss for words. For most of the record, he simply hollers, barks and shrieks out vocals in the way one would expect from the teenaged metal band down the street. Yes, that is the northern California band that recorded Raging Wrath all of these years ago. Sadly, though, someone forgot to inform these guys they were once the mighty Mr. Bungle. Instead of something on par with California or Disco Volante, we get a lot of retreads and half-thought.
Now, something you do have to say for this LP is that it’s powerfully portrayed. Spruance and Ian, in particular, seem locked into their palm-muting chikka-chikka glory and intensely committed to nailing the genre details; all that machismo strutting is laid out in particularly linear fashion. Occasionally, the group diverts off the path of the tried and true (we, for example, like the thud-thud intro and bridges of closer “Sudden Death,” written by Patton) but, again, we are left with a lot of Earth scorched for no good reason other than “ol’ time’s sake.”
Some fans might feel a bit perplexed why Patton and company would end the band’s indefinite hiatus to release music that lacks the grandeur and daring of much of the pastiche for which the group was known in the 1990s, and the press materials and liner notes offer few clues. “Because this was a musical homecoming of 35 years, the relearning and re-recording felt brand new and was able to be enjoyed objectively, not to mention reinvigorated by the likes of the masters Ian and Lombardo,” the band said in notes provided via Ipecac. “Mr. Bungle maintained the rawness and severity of the original demo without too much embellishment preferring to let the music speak for itself in all of its teenage-angst glory.” It’s one thing to come of retirement to fire up the nostalgia machine on tour or for a few select shows – as these guys did, pre-COVID-19. But, even “demos” like Goddamnit, I Love America or Bowel of Chiley, which followed Raging Wrath, had a kind of luminosity to the material that this stuff lacks. “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,” the fella said. When it comes to Mr. Bungle’s reinvention of its 80s thrash-metal days, we couldn’t agree more. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Nov. 4, 2020