for my money, one of the best bands to come out of windsor’s hardcore and metal scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s was fetal pulp. it just worked out that half of the band was also my band.
a little less than two weeks after work wrapped up on the guys with dicks album GOOD LUCK IN THE NEXT LIFE, i brought most of my equipment over to the walker power building where tyson and the gang had their jam space. their drummer brandon was out of his head on acid, but we still managed to cut all the instrumental tracks in a few hours one late november night in 2001. it was kind of amazing how well brandon could play in his condition. listening to the album, you’d never know he was high.
these guys were tight. my songs with gord and tyson were improvisational musical high-wire acts, but these songs were so well-rehearsed and mapped-out, we were able to record the whole thing piecemeal and still have the end result sound like it had been captured in one live take. first we put down the drums, then bass and guitar at the same time, and then tyson doubled his guitar parts. almost everything was done in one take.
i still remember the decrepit-looking thing that was brandon’s drum kit. the top head on the snare drum was barely holding on for dear life, and the whole thing looked like it had come out of a garage circa 1832, somehow surviving a chemical explosion at some point in the intervening years. there was no way it should have even been usable, but when it was mic’d up and brandon was pounding on it, damned if it didn’t sound really good.
i was wearing black leather pants and a blue dress shirt. i have no idea why i remember a random detail like that, but there it is.
the second day we got down vocal tracks. you’d think jay (lead screamer) and tyson (pulling harmony screaming duty and providing all of the deep, guttural moments, and even a bit of “clean” singing on the final track) would have just come over to my place for that, but no. it seemed fair enough at the time that i would bring all my equipment over to the jam space one day, take it all apart and bring it home, and then bring it on back the next day and do it all again.
in hindsight, that seems a little weird. i guess i wanted to make sure my stuff didn’t incur any damage during a sleepover, and for whatever reason the guys didn’t want any recording to take place outside of their turf.
tyson had quite the facility for those deep, evil-sounding screams. he let one out on that day of vocal recording that was so powerful, he looked for a moment like he’d been punched in the stomach. for his part, jay had a voice that could cut through any mix.
for the one song that was sort of quiet and restrained — at least for the first few minutes, before the breakdown kicked in — there weren’t really any words, so i amused myself by whispering some mock-evil passages under my breath. tyson heard what i was doing and tried to talk me into recording the vocals myself.
i laughed and said, “it’s your song, man, not mine. i don’t know what to sing.”
“you were just doing it!” tyson said. “what you were just doing was perfect!”
i told him i didn’t have any ideas, so he got jay to give me what lyrics he’d written for inspiration. it was something about never being good enough for a mother figure, i think. but it was too strange for me, trying to sing to someone else’s music. i mean, some of the guys with dicks stuff was getting a little heavy at this point, but it wasn’t metal heavy. i just didn’t feel it was my place to butt in. this was tyson’s band, where he wrote the music and played all the guitar parts, a few years before the drums became his weapon of choice.
after some friendly arguing, tyson gave up on me and decided to record ominous sounds in place of vocals. he played with a screw on the ground. he played with the padlock on the door. he made weird noises with his pager, making the strings on gord’s bass vibrate. he whispered a little bit of gibberish. he threw a beer bottle on the ground three times before it broke.
these days i wish i had taken a shot at recording the vocals after all. it might be kind of cool today to be able to say there was a johnny west vocal cameo on a song by a metal band. but i guess it wasn’t to be. opportunities missed.
over the next week, tyson came over a few times and we worked on mixing the songs. he gave me a few tips about how things should sound, with special attention given to how the kick drum should be mixed. this wasn’t the kind of music i was used to working with, so i appreciated his input. he also had me mute a few of jay’s screams where they seemed a bit superfluous or sounded too much like rap-metal to him.
one night he brought along his 4-track tape recorder to dump a few things onto the mixer to serve as segues between songs. the most interesting of these was something that sounded like two different psychotic televangelists talking over each another, one in each stereo channel, before the whole thing degenerated into nightmarish sound collage. that bit would become the opening track. it was creepy stuff, with standout moments from a woman who had been looped to repeatedly say, “now who wants to go to hell? would you want to go to hell?” in a disturbing, sing-song-y voice.
i’ve tried once or twice over the years to find the source of those recordings with the help of the internet, to no avail. my best guess: tyson caught this stuff on television early in the morning or late at night, held a microphone up to the speaker, and manipulated it after the fact.
in some ways these songs are much closer to typical death metal territory than what tyson would go on to do with other bands like blindly i follow, cleansed by fire, closed casket funeral, the burial surface, and the apex (and however many others there were…dude was in a lot of bands). i don’t think there are any crazy-tricky time signatures, though there are some cool off-kilter breakdowns (one of them in 6/8), and at least one bit in 3/4. there’s a surprising amount of melody in some of the songs, with some passages of clean guitar and guitar harmonies, and gord plays a few things on the bass that sound like they belong in GWD songs — something that wasn’t lost on tyson. since i had no idea what most of the song titles were, for my own copy of the CD i came up with a few goofy titles of my own to fill in the blanks, like “super mario bondage” and “your friendly neighbourhood waterbed”.
before i met tyson, metal never really moved me, and i don’t think i would have been able to record this kind of music. but he helped to crack the code, and for the first time i was able to appreciate the amount of talent and ferocious technical skill involved. the “eureka” moment came when he told me to tune out the vocals altogether and just concentrate on the music. some of the screamers just seemed so ill-suited to the material, it made me wish a few metal or metalcore albums were instrumental. honing in on the musicianship made all the difference for me.
what really surprised me was pulling this album out for a listen after all but forgetting about it for years, and enjoying it more than i ever had before. even now, i like jay’s screaming more than most other screaming i’ve heard in much more established metal bands. he was always a really nice, quiet guy, and then he would step up to the mic and this huge voice would come roaring out of his throat. i was amazed he could still speak after a show. brandon, even for being frazzled, does a rock solid job on the drums, and i still can’t believe i got that kit of his to sound as good as i did. gord was always a solid bassist in any genre, and he throws in some nice unexpected runs here and there. and while tyson would go on to carve out a well-deserved reputation as one of the best heavy drummers around, i think he held his own as a guitarist. there’s an impressive balance between dissonance and melody in these songs, and some really original riffs from him.
also, as far as i know, no other metal band has ever been bold enough to use a variation on the airship theme from super mario bros. 3 as an intro.
the overall master volume is a little quiet compared to commercial releases in the genre. other than that, i think i did a pretty good job with the recording, especially considering what i had to work with at the time: no more than four microphones (nothing better than a few shure SM57s and an SM58), crummy art preamps, an aphex opto-compressor, and the VS-1680. i’m a little impressed with myself over how good it all sounds today, especially in light of the fact that this was not at all my comfort zone and i had to make creative use of the mixer’s middling built-in EQ to get some of the sounds to sit right.
a few years down the road i would have better equipment and the means to produce much cleaner recordings, but all in all this one holds up. hell, the guitar and bass parts weren’t even mic’d — they were recorded direct from the amplifiers — and they still have a decent amount of beef to them.
this album almost led to a recording contract for the band, though that didn’t pan out in the end. that whole thing is a long, strange story, and one best not told here. it was part of the reason guys with dicks fell apart right when we were making some of our best music. and the album art up there is just something i found on the internet. i never got a copy with the proper artwork, however many of those were made.
i had a dream once that i discovered all the real song titles through some divine internet intervention. of course, once i woke up i couldn’t remember what any of those titles had been anymore. they made a lot of sense in the dream, though.