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Clown Alley - Circus of Chaos

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Artist: Clown Alley

Album: Circus of Chaos

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: May. 16, 2007

Call it a case of "Band, Interrupted" - maybe for the better, all things considered. As one of the juicer tendrils in the Melvins' family bramble (on account of the membership of future Melvins bass players Lori Temple Black and Mark Deutrom), the lone 1986 album of San Francisco's Clown Alley documents a young band just finding its footing.

Don't expect the off-kilter rhythms or amorphous riffs that characterized the Melvins' output of that time, however. Fronted by shouter David Duran, formerly of New Mexico's brand-confusion ragers Jerryz Kids, the group vacillates between bracing crossover ("Unplugged", "The Lie") and weirdo midtempo numbers, like the "We Care A Lot"-styled death disco of "On the Way Up". Likewise, "Theme" screws a vestige of Haight-Ashbury psychedelia into the ground amidst Deutrom's swirling, open-stringed chords. Other tunes check in somewhere between, like the chugging shuffle of "The Second Day" or "The Grey Men's" downer plod-cum-thrashcore.

The album's not without shortcomings, however. Making a timeless classic doesn't appear to have been the top agenda item at the time. For starters, the reliance on riffs that cruise along for a handful of bars before suddenly stopping or stuttering on a dime ("Envy," "The Prey") becomes tiresome after the first few occurrences. The tinny guitar tone and an obnoxious gated snare drum might prove problematic for the younger listener - attributable to an engineer likely bewildered at the prospect of recording music faster and heavier than your average 1980s bear.

As a piece of scene curios, the completist might be left wanting a little bit more; a blurb on the band's history and dissolution might have dispelled some of the lingering mystery, as would tracks from the apparent demo tape depicted in the booklet. And were they the outsiders in their day, a cry in the denim-and-leather wilderness, as Deutrom's choice jab at Metallica in the included UC Davis radio interview suggests? We're left to wonder how it all ended: via Black's subsequent jump into the Melvins, or Deutrom's commitment to his Alchemy label that was soon to release records by Neurosis, the criminally neglected Virulence (a great candidate for a reissue), and yes, the Melvins themselves.Whatever the case, it's now the best clue available from one of few Bay area thrash bands that didn't approach the style via Priest, UFO and crystal meth.

By Adam MacGregor

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