When I was in my early to mid teens, I began to become acquainted with examples of the musical style that can be considered doom metal’s (and to a lesser extent black metal’s) baby brother: death metal. Death metal can, stylistically, be regarded as a lighter, less intense form of black or doom metal, but this is not the only dissimilarity. Whereas doom metal emphasises slow, crushing, even whining rhythms with an emphasis on bizarre and/or unusual harmonics, death metal tends to have a far greater tempo, for starters.
(Please note: This post will have several videos in it, so that people who literally come from Mars in the matter can get a more comprehensive idea of what I am talking about. I am not a programming wizard, and have no idea how to set the videos so that they default to the best result. But if you experience stuttery playback, please click on the gearwheel icon in the bottom of the player window and set the quality to 240. None of these videos were made with higher quality in mind (two of them date back to when “high definition” was just a distant dream for videophiles.)
And just as doom or black metal bands can vary drastically from one another (or even from recording to recording) in style, so too is the case with death metal. Although some of the second-tier, lesser in excellence bands can often be mistaken for one another, a semi-experienced listener of death metal will never mistake Morbid Angel‘s best album for that of Benediction or Napalm Death.
In 1993 (or maybe it was 1994), I read a review that would slowly work on my mind and change my mind not only of death metal, but of music in general, over time. I cannot find or remember the exact text, but it began with words to the effect of “there is something inherently silly about death metal, and I speak as a fan of the genre”. Which brings me to one element for combination that doom, death, and especially black metal bands almost never attempt: comedy.
Lawnmower Deth combined comedy with a unique approach to playing death metal. Although their songs often contained many of the expected musical stylings of death metal, very frequently they would throw in something completely unrelated just to make genre-conscious listeners spit out their drink and shout “what the fukk?”. The song Seventh Church Of The Apocalyptic Lawnmower (Skank Mix) is a good example of this. After about forty or fifty seconds of fairly standard death metal stylings, the song shifts into a rhythm not unlike the very small amount of reggae I have heard (the only reggae song I can name is The Toyes‘ Smoke Two Joints), whilst the vocalist sings about a church of the apocalyptic lawnmower.
My second-favourite Lawnmower Deth song by some margin is from their first album, Ooh Crikey It’s…, and it just happens to be called Satan’s Trampoline. Describing this song to someone who has never heard it before is impossible. So I have added a video from YouChoob that contains the song. Note that this is not an official video of the song, just someone pasting a picture (of the album cover) as a video feed whilst the song plays. But Qualcast Mutilator asks the question that has been on my mind throughout the whole death metal peak era: how many times can you bounce up and down on Satan’s big old trampoline?
So after a whole heap of people took a look at Lawnmower Deth, scratched their heads, and said “what the fukk?”, they came out with an EP that made people scratch their heads and say “what the fukk?” even more. In 1991, they released unto the world an EP titled Kids In America. The Kids In America EP was based around a bizarre cover of the Kim Wilde hit of the same name. Although the content of the song is much the same, even with the keyboard patterns transposed to a second guitar, the verses in the song are sped up quite drastically. The chorus pattern (“We’re the kids in America…” (“Woah!”)) is brought back to the pace of the Kim Wilde original. Of course, one funny aspect is that neither Kim Wilde nor the members of Lawnmower Deth are American (they are from different parts of England).
A large number of artists, especially in vaguely punk-related circles, has covered Kids In America. There’s a Bus Station Loonies version, a Gandhi’s Cookbook version (Gandhi’s Cookbook were based in Dubai for crying out loud!), and a Bouncing Souls version. There are even pop covers by people I will not glorify by naming here, and I only throw this fact out in order to clarify the point that the pop stars of this era really excel at totally missing the point.
Of course, in some small underground way, Lawnmower Deth managed to find an audience. And that meant a couple of subsequent albums. Neither of them reached the same level of hysterical novelty of Ooh Crikey It’s…, but the first one, Return Of The Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns, does have many moments. Any album with song titles like Drunk In Charge Of An Ugly Face, A Is For Asswipe, or Sorrow (So Dark, So Scared) is going to be awesome in its own way. Oh, and for those who are checking the album out now and are curious, no, Illinois Enema Bandit is not a Frank Zappa cover. It does not even refer to him other than in the title, so far as I am aware.
Unfortunately, Return Of The Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns also shows exactly why Lawnmower Deth became inactive in 1993, and did not reform until recently (in 2008, in fact). The stylistic difference that differentiated them and basically became their hallmark also became their worst enemy. Although their act was very clever and novel, they encountered a problem getting people to react in a manner other than “okay, we get it, move on” to subsequent material. The quality of the “jokes” is a good deal more sporadic on Return Of The Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns, too. Which suggests that a large part of the problem originated with the band itself rather than difficulties in promotion or reception.
And that brings me to the third and so far final album from Lawnmower Deth, simply titled Billy. There are a number of different ways a band can respond when the act that they are carrying on with starts to elicit a non-reaction from audiences. One, they can up their game a bit and do something unique but still in keeping with the basis of that act. Two, they can disband. Three, they can totally change their act into something that is even more novel and outrageous. Or four, they can change their act in an attempt to follow in whatever happens to be the trend at the time. Unfortunately, on Billy, Lawnmower Deth tried to follow the fourth option. I am not going to provide any links or the link to any Billy material, but suffice to say that with all of the watered-down baby punk minimalistic crap that was “in” in 1993, it does not take a genius to work out what Lawnmower Deth tried to emulate in 1993.
The general style of music behind the vocals, to start with, is so mundane that listeners like myself who are really used to unusual and variant shit will be able to predict months in advance what the rhythm section will do. And vocalist Qualcast Mutilator makes the very unfortunate mistake of effecting a harmonious, almost Beach Boys-like style of vocalising when his hoarse, somewhat tenor but serious-sounding growl suited the material far better. Mutilator‘s harmonious singing gets irriating very quickly. Just to cement the point, Billy includes a second cover of Kids In America, titled Kids In America (93). Unfortunately, this version also highlights the difference in the quality of the material between Billy and the previous albums. As Lawnmower Deth try to say “look how hip and nooow we are” to the not-punk crowd, they prove my favourite unspoken rule. Namely, that people who engage in such an activity thus make themselves unworthy of being listened to in the first place. This version of Kids In America sucks beyond measure.
Jokes are much funnier when they are not obvious to the audience (just look at RoboCop or Spinal Tap for examples). Whilst the jokes on Ooh Crikey It’s… and Return Of The Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns are only vaguely obvious to people who know their arse from their ear about death metal, if they are trying to make jokes on Billy, it brings to mind one exchange during Lethal Weapon 3 (a creative failure I will savage at a later time if someone asks for it): “He’s a comedian in his spare time.” “Yeah? Well, when is he going to say something funny?”
And that is probably the biggest problem with Billy. As with many attempts to find a new audience in the absence of one that has decided to go away, the album tries to be something for everybody. Some (very rare) films or pieces of music can accomplish that, within certain limitations of what “everybody” means. Billy does not. In fact, as soon as I get done with writing and posting this piece, straight in the trashcan with the FLAC copies in my iTunes list. Come to think of it, iTunes and Billy deserve each other, but that is neither here nor there. Given that Billy cannot even sustain a true 35 minute length, I guess it proves that Lawnmower Deth were just another novelty band.
This basically is another strike against a music industry that practically mandates bands to go on and on long past their use-by date rather than call it a day and/or move on to different, better things. But anyway, now that I am done rambling about a band that I encourage people to check out (finding their first two albums in FLAC format took me all of about ten minutes), I will end this typed wankpiece by posting of the original, Kim Wilde version of Kids In America. Because in its original form, the song is even more awesome. (And if anyone knows where I can find a version of the video without forced inserted ads, give me a yell. *sigh*)