Thursday, September 22, 2016

Haunted Garage - Possession Park (1991)

Possession Park is a record I remember more for the place in which I didn't initially purchase it than for any of its musical ingredients, a small shop in a neighboring town which only hung about for a few years but had a wonderful owner who maintained a small specialty metal sections. Largely cassettes, since CDs hadn't fully exploded by that point in my neck of the woods, they were all over the racks, but for whatever idiotic reason I stuck up my nose at them, defiant of their inevitability in replacing the medium I had already blown so much of my paper route money and allowance on. But there was the Haunted Garage full-length debut, possibly one of the few tapes I didn't actually liberate from those shelves, constantly staring at me week in, week out. This was a time in which I had honestly started to lose some faith in Metal Blade, not only for the swing of metal trends at large but because they had begun to populate their roster with utter mediocrity like Skrew and Junk Monkeys and simply couldn't be relied upon as often as Slagel and company had been throughout the 80s.

Listening back on this lost and forgotten record now, I feel like my decision was the right one, but not because Possession Park is an utter shitshow. This was essentially a crossover thrashing punk vehicle which was helmed by Dukey Flyswatter (aka Michael Sonye), an actor for some low budget horror and exploitation flicks like Nazi Surf Punks Must Die whose own infamy has long outlived this musical project. The cover promises EXPLICIT LYRICS and some Satanic Amusement Park fun, possibly with zombies and clowns and all manner of colorful 80s horror kitsch, and staring at the artwork kind of arouses nostalgia for Halloween parties with stuff like green punch, bobbing for apples, ghost decorations made out of bunched up tissues and really bad Dracula costumes. So at the very best I figured I'd be in for a metallic "Monster Mash" with some more controversial fare, and yet it doesn't really deliver on any of the promises that its outward aesthetics might hint at. The lyrics do delve into campy horror flicks and possesses a little inappropriate edge to the lyrics, but it's hardly like they're just uttering 'fuck' and 'shit' in endless succession throughout every single track, at least not where I can make out the lyrics. It's actually a little more of a timid experience than you think you're getting into, but not one crafted without a modicum of competence.

Musically this is a mash-up of party punk rock and the sort of harder crossover that West Coast bands like Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies popularized. A closer comparison could be drawn to the GWAR debut Hell-O, before they adopted a more thrashing edge to most of their material on the sophomore. Airy, distorted riffs involving just a few chords here or there, no more than you're like to hear on your average Offspring joint, but brought down to street level by the plunking bass lines and the urban edge to what patterns those chords are fashioning. There are a lot of lead guitars which were very similar to Rocky George's approach, bluesy and wailing and elevating the songwriting from the graffiti-smeared ghettos into a more fanciful 'metal' territory, but rarely memorable and in some cases just plain excessive and unnecessary to the detriment of the tracks in which they were placed. As a general rule with this record, the more filthy, shorter and 'punk' the tunes get, the more respectable they seem, with stuff like "She-Freak" even coming across like a bastard stepchild of the Misfits and antique Voivod. But even though there is some coherence to the style throughout, there is a sense here that Haunted Garage wasn't 100% sure what they really wanted to accomplish, a flaw that is forgivable on a debut album but doesn't exactly endear it to me either.

Bands like this often lived or died on the distinction of their front men, but while Mike Muir and Glen Danzig and even Excel's Dan Clemets put their own individual stamps on their bands that happened to be supported by great music, Dukey Flyswatter often gets lost in it. Personally I find that he sounds like a raucous blend of GWAR's Oderus Urungus and Blaine Cook of The Accüsed, with a lot of Rob Zombie's splattered rock & roll waaahs and yeaahhhs thrown in there, but the lines he spits out just feel sloppy and goofy and not to the music's benefit. Probably more entertaining in a live setting where he's got other antics to sate the crowd, but on the disc here it just never feels nasty or catchy enough to care, especially when the material he's shouting over is just paint-by-numbers boring rock with a slightly punk frill to it. Tunes like "Torture Dungeon" are all right because of the mean turns taken by the guitars, and his tone is effective, but even then there's just nothing special on Possession Park that will keep you engaged beyond just a handful of spins through some of the better numbers, and the rest are vaguely tolerable for just a single play.

The production does tend to hold this together. Drums are lively and tight enough to flirt with both the standard rock momentum and hints at a faster, hardcore lethality, while the bass lines are fat enough to support themselves even if they're just following the guitar. Leads are always apparent and take charge, but the gain on the rhythm guitar can feel a little too grainy next to the vocals and rhythm section. Still, it's often bright enough to forgive this, and the album sounds more professional than I would have expected, and probably more than it even needs to be, since fans of this niche often value the smattered, violent and lower fidelity mixes which enhance the vitriol and aggression of the bands. If you like how Scumdogs of the Universe or America Must Be Destroyed sound, though, then you're not going to have much of a problem here, and when the band stretches itself a little with acoustic guitars or weirdo guitar sci-fi effects ("Little Green Men"), it's handled pretty well.

Haunted Garage trends a little weakly for me, and doesn't manage to attain the levels of fun and engagement that many of its peers achieved years before it arrived. It also commits the crime of naming a subpar song "Welcome to Hell" when there's already a perfect song called "Welcome to Hell".'s not completely awful, and the band themselves must have felt some spark of nostalgia since they've recently reformed. If you're a huge splatter rock/crossover fan or you really enjoy all those GWAR-related gimmick bands like Green Jelly and the X-Cops, then this is a curiosity you might wish to at least sample, but Possession Park is not some absolute failure that I can entirely write off without acknowledging some of the corny care that was obviously put into it. But man, I miss that little record shop. I'd have gladly blown the $7.99 on this tape if it could have helped keep the place in business.

Verdict: Fail [4.75/10] (my horns grow, they swell)

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