11 Track, LP (2013, Every Night Is A Saturday Night)
“Move along ’cause there’s nothing to see here,” roars bassist Thomy Sloane on ‘Loose Screws’, the standout song on this glorious first Batpiss album. It’s a stock line from the popular imagination, but its appearance is newly ironic in this context. That’s because Nuclear Winter is the opposite of a record that you half-listen to before shrugging and proceeding merrily on your way. It’s loud, weird, sprawling and intensely gripping.
It’s also not afraid to be ridiculous, its whole approach balanced between brutal misshapenness and a comically exaggerated version of that. And, yes, the band are called Batpiss, lodging themselves in the proud tradition of perverse Melbourne products like Spider Vomit and Bits of Shit.
Recorded upstairs at The Tote (of course) by Nation Blue/Harmony icon Tom Lyngcoln, Nuclear Winter does do much of what you’d expect: Paul Pirie’s guitar gnashes and bashes, while bassist Sloane and drummer Marty Baker lurch around in a similarly harried state. They’re all inclined to lock into bouts of repetition that just about knock us down. Where the opening ‘Seed’ charges forward, the single ‘Drag Your Body’, well, drags – riding out a single riff to its post-apocalyptic demise.
As fun as that is, it’s not what makes this album so great. Rather, it’s all the red herrings and unannounced left turns. There’s the false ending of ‘Drag Your Body’, when that riff has slowed to a death knell; instead of finishing, the band jumps into ‘Come Here and Fuck Off’. ‘Burn Below’ spikes a perfectly gloomy anthem (“I wanna burn with the beast below/Take the easy way out”) with a droning midsection. ‘Portal’, with its great lyric “Hopeless is a word with a fucking hole in it,” is strong enough as a straight growler but is made much more intriguing when dropped to a low hum at the end. The seven-minute closer ‘Drone’ isn’t that exactly, but a gnarled, low-slung rock dirge. Still, its final minute-plus descends into a faint loop and then one last stab of screaming and playing. The bludgeoning centrepiece ‘Human’ opens with (dis)quiet calm and evokes doomsday imagery before the words even come in.
Batpiss make room for those sort of odd spaces that don’t really need to be there, and Nuclear Winter is more welcomely unreliable for it. And for all the slur-throwing effrontery and mired self-disdain (“Don’t look me in the eyes/I feel ashamed as it is”) of ‘Pigsblood’, this band aren’t only capable of self-destructing. ‘Loose Screws’ is catchy and near-poppy in its chorus (“Too many loose screws/Not enough loose change”), though it too changes shape by the end. Like his work recording Harmony’s first album, Lyngcoln sets a lot of the vocals at a remove. That makes some lyrics less intelligible, confirming the feeling that there’s only so much good words can do compared to the more proactive bashing of instruments.
That’s both the challenge and the appeal here: trying to grasp lyrics that can’t always be grasped and hold onto songs that even the band can’t (or won’t). It’s a chaotic album with increasingly more to decipher as you embrace it and engage with it. Batpiss are less likely to show their figurative hand than kick over the table and turn on us with all guns blazing. And, more often that not, suffer a horrible death that leaves us transfixed.
by Doug Wallen