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Clown Alley, "Circus of Chaos"

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Southern Lord’s reissue of Clown Alley’s classic album Circus of Chaos is very welcome. Never available on CD before, this album has long gone under the radar. While not completely fresh sounding after 20 years, the album still packs a powerful punch.


Southern Lord

Clown Alley deserve more than the footnote in musical history that they’ve been afforded. Guitarist Mark Deutrom founded Alchemy Records who, in addition to originally releasing this album, also released the debut albums by Melvins and Neurosis (who both have a lot to answer for with regards to modern metal). Deutrom produced some of the early Melvins releases and later joined as bass player. Clown Alley’s bassist, Lori Black, changed her name to Lorax following this release when she too joined the Melvins as their bassist. Unfortunately Circus of Chaos was consigned to history when the Melvins hit it big.

Of course, with this spiderweb of connections in the Melvins universe it’s easy to overlook Clown Alley’s music. While not the revolutionaries that the Melvins were, Clown Alley were still somewhat ahead of their time. They combined the punk of Dead Kennedys and Black Flag with a fresher and tougher sound. Listening to “On the Way Up” it is possible to hear sounds that would become staples of '90s alternative rock; the likes of Lard, Helmet and Tomahawk were definitely taking notes while this album was playing.

The music is fast and powerful (certainly a lot faster than Black and Deutrom would be playing later in their careers. The punchy bass and machine-like drumming push the songs along at breakneck paces while vocalist David Duran spits out the words like he was trying to get some nasty taste out of his mouth. “Pet of a Pig” is the kind of song that would make me want to get into the centre of a crowd and jump like a fool. The playing from all quarters is crisp and precise, the production is quite sparse. Aside from a tiny bit too much compression, the entire album sounds like just a band playing in a rehearsal room, there’s no jiggery pokery with unnecessary studio techniques to colour the music. There isn’t a wide range to choose from here but Clown Alley do one thing and they do it well (that’s play tight, blistering hardcore infused rock).

In addition to the full album, also included on this reissue are a bunch of live tracks and some radio material. The radio material consists of a promo and an interview, neither of which are worth listening to more than once. The interview lasts 10 minutes but could have been done in one. The only interesting bit is where Deutrom starts getting excited about future releases on Alchemy and tries to explain that exactly how heavy the Melvins are: “imagine Metallica if they were men.” The live tracks, although sometimes of quite ropey quality, were worth including on the disc. The power being put out by the four of them is white hot. Even though at times the music melts into one noise (such as on “Unplugged”), the rhythm still stays intact.

Although it does sound a little dated 20 years on, Circus of Chaos is well worth listening to both as a great album and as a document for fans of the Melvins who are interested in hearing what two of their better bass players did before they joined. I’m delighted to see this being re-released as I’ve never been able to find a copy of the vinyl and have had to make do with a crappy MP3 rip of it. Southern Lord deserve thanks.


Last Updated on Saturday, 11 November 2006 06:07  


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