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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Review Mon Jul 23 2007

Permanent Records Drops Warhammer, Aims to Obliterate Entire Midwest

Photo courtesy of Adam Bubolz

The Gloss: Maybe you missed it or maybe you were one of a handful that didn't, but back in April the Ukrainian Village-anchored Permanent Records -- Chicago's hot new indie record store -- stepped up their game and launched their own label. What did they choose for their flagship offering? To put out an LP wax pressing of An Ethereal Oracle, the self-released sophomore CD by the Columbia, Missouri outfit Warhammer 48K. It's now available on 18-mg virgin vinyl, featuring a limited-edition gatefold sleeve with full-color artwork. The folks at Permanent were nice enough to send Gapers Block a copy, which eventually found its way into my hands, so a review is definitely in order…

The Gritty: Okay, seems that cocaine is back in a big way, there's a flood of boring synth-pop bands, and the Transformers have returned to the cultural landscape. Is it the 1980s again? No, it's definitely not, and nor could it ever be. What's missing? A lot of things actually, but the thing most absent is the imminent threat of all-out head-to-head nuclear warfare with the Russians. "We begin bombing in five minutes...hyuk, hyuk"? Yeah, funny stuff! Back when, that was the sort of thing what gave everything an edge, a special kind of era-defining malaise. It fed punk rock something meaty to shout and get all histrionic about, and even the more mindlessly hedonistic fare had some bite because it meant laughing in the face of impending doom or dancing before that last hard rain falls. And without those angst-y underpinnings, all of this Eighties throwback biz just lacks any and all sorts of contextual flavor.

And whatever happened with all those nuclear missiles, anyway -- the ones that were nestled and waiting in silos scattered all throughout the Plains of the greater Midwest? Dunno. No one talks about them or seems to worry about them anymore and haven't for some time. Maybe those silos have all been shut down, paved over, and are now covered by trailer-parks and housing divisions where a meth lab simmers in every garage. Or maybe those missiles are just sitting idle, lurking in their nests, being pristinely maintained until another superpower worth rattling sabres with comes along.

I'm reminded of the 1983 TV movie The Day After. Specifically, I recall the sequence with all those oblivious Midwesterners attending football games and generally going about their business on a clear Spring afternoon. But then they're all turning to look at something they glimpse in their peripheral vision, only to see columns of smoke climb into the sky as the ICBMs launching from their hovels out amidst the fields, watching them arc upward and off into the clear blue yonder on their guided courses for targets in the Soviet Empire. And the director gets John Lithgow and Steve Guttenberg and the rest of the cast to pull their best gaped-jawed, wide-eyed Holy-Fuckin'-Shit looks as they watch and realize: It's all over, it's really happening.

And what does all of this have to do with anything? I only mention it because the disc in question, Warhammer 48K's An Ethereal Oracle, brings it all back -- starting with the way the thing kicks off. The premise? It's the year 2012, and The United States of the Midwest -- Missouri, Illinois, and surrounding states -- has been wiped out by a nuclear attack. The voice of a senior military official announces through the crackle of poor radio reception that all citizens are advised to hunker down, stay below ground, to pray, etcetera. As far as post-apocalyptic scenarios go, it's a bit clichéd -- enough so to be almost charmingly quaint. If anything, its intended to lay down some sort of narrative framework, some sense of linearity on what's to follow. And while it may be a bit superfluous to the task at hand, enjoy it while you can; because this is the last sense this disc is going to make for the next forty-plus minutes.

Were this a post-nuke survivor's saga, it might involve some of the following: A band of protagonists ignoring all warnings to stick to the prescribed evacuation routes and evading clusterfucks of refugees, wading shoulder-deep through corpse-littered toxic rivers, plowing through the suffocating miasma of a 4000-acre tire fire on a stolen tractor, navigating a forest filled with mullet-headed and rotty-faced mutants, spending a night in an abandoned hockey stadium with gangs of looters and the deranged and ecstatic dregs of a doomsday cult whose sacred text is The Annotated Ozzy, and all sorts of other hairy shit that would make 28 Days Later look like a Sid & Marty Krofft production by comparison. With, at journey's end, the protagonists finally reach their destination, arriving -- as the guitars take an ascending screech into blitzkrieg cacophony -- at their LAST FUCKING CHANCE AT SANCTUARY only to find...

But it's not a book or a movie, it's an album. And it might or might not include any of the above, but it's hard to tell because the vocals often fall outside the range of intelligibility; so you're free to provide your own parallel narrative while you listen, if you're so inclined. Musically, Warhammer 48K buzz and growl and gouge their way to all points outermost throughout, to anywhere else but here, creating a sound that yearns for something less wretched over the horizon. The band's pedigree is some sort of frankensteined beast comprised of stoner/sludge-cum-math rock, strewn with tangential metallic jaunts, and a bit of pigfuckery thrown in for good measure. In their stronger moments, their songs are a maelstrom where beauty and hideousness collide, with sudden shifts in tempo and style, contrasts of heft and bouyance scattered over sprawling, gnarled, and grinding fretwork. The tune "Drom" even features the sounds of a belt-sander and a circular saw and breaking bottles (hooraayyy, texture!) sputtering and screeching amidst percussive thumping and churning; and in the album's latter moments there's even a bit of spastic, yammering, snarling vocals and prey-stalking basslines that summon up ghosts of The Birthday Party; which is always a good thing to have around when it's done properly, which they do.

Cover art for An Ethereal Oracle

Given Warhammer 48K's penchant for heavy, slo-mo crawls and lurches, comparisons to The Melvins and those who sailed in their wake have been common. But to my ear, their music echoes a lot of other bands and records that fall slightly earlier on the indie-rock timeline -- fleeting glimmers and touches that bring to mind Sonic Youth's Confusion is Sex, Meat Puppets II, Die Kreuzen's October File, Crash Worship, Drive Like Jehu, Fudge Tunnel, Head of David, the writhing, feral froth of White Zombie's debut (thankfully recorded before they learned how to play their instruments), et al. Not to say that Warhammer 48K reveal any indebtedness to or engages any of the aforementioned directly or fully, or could even be pegged as "influenced by" or "derivative of" any of them. Instead they sound like they're playing from the frontal lobes of feeling, aiming for a specific mood or impressionistic racket and hitting it with intuitive precision, rather than the oft-opted em-oh of aping the highlights of their collective record collections with checklist rigor.

For the interested, copies of An Ethereal Oracle are available directly from Permanent Records, either from their storefront at 1914 West Chicago Ave., or by order via their Myspace page. Presently, the label is working on putting out a CD of rare and previously-unreleased recordings from Pavement by way of a joint effort with Matador (further details here).

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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