Their band name (inspired by an H.P. Lovecraft monster) may imply that our universe is governed by an uncaring Creator who prefers chaos and disorder to structure and precision, but Blind Idiot God’s sprawling instrumentals always derived considerable strength from guitarist Andy Hawkins’ meticulous arrangements.
And they still do.
The baker’s dozen tracks comprising the Brooklyn band’s latest opus, Before Ever After, often sound like the guys just plugged in at New Jersey’s Barber Shop and Orange Sound studios and took off, instinctively indulging whatever melodies and rhythms struck their fancy. But Hawkins didn’t leave anything to chance.
And why would he?
The first iteration of Blind Idiot God found modest success on (Black Flag guitarist) Greg Ginn’s SST label back in the Reagan era, with its self-titled 1987 debut turning heads in an age of glam rock and synth-pop. They toured with Black Flag, Jesus Lizard, Helmet, and Sun Ra. 1988’s Undertow converted nonbelievers, and 1992’s Cyclotron cemented BIG’s legacy of loping cerebral rock.
But that was all she wrote. At least for a while.
Hawkins chased his own jazz punk muse with Azonic. Drummer Ted Epstein and bassist Gabriel Katz likewise pursued other interests: The former kept time in Slan and Praxis with other guitar (and saxophone) players, while Katz developed tendonitis that inhibited his performance and forced early retirement.
Now Hawkins is back with a revamped BIG, having masterminded the confab’s best album yet after a decades-long hiatus. Featuring frantic bass work by Katz and nimble drumming by Tim Wyskida (of Khanate), Before Ever After is a brainy, brawny slab of music concrete that blends Stravinsky-like strains (and classical mindset) with the immediacy and verve of electric guitar (and defiant spirit of punk).
They took their time with it, too: The selections were recorded between 2008 and 2010 with producer Bill Laswell (Praxis, Painkiller) and engineers James Dellatacoma, Jason Corsaro (Duran Duran, Power Station), and Robert Muso—but none saw light of day until filmmaker Alex Winter included a couple in his acclaimed Napster documentary, Downloaded. Encouraged by the success of the HBO presentation—and following additional post-production (and “mix translations”) by Hawkins and Laswell—the pioneering art-punkers were ready to put out their first album in 22 years. Hawkins was ready to say something again.
Without saying anything at all.
The onslaught commences with the disc’s longest (and quite possibly best) track, “Twenty-Four Hour Dawn,” a nightmarish noise pastiche with echoing power chords, droning feedback, and stuttering drums. Hawkins rakes his guitar strings, toys with his pickup toggles, and tinkers with his effects pedals to conjure harrowing, dystopian walls of sound as Katz anchors the bottom end.
Clean, Calypso guitar chords and reggae rhythms charge “High and Mighty,” whose island vibe is amplified by Wyskida’s snappy snare and Katz’ buoyant bass. Conversely, “Antiquity” dumps the organic feel for a mechanized march, its guitars grinding along menacingly to a beat befitting Hephaestus’ metal shop.
“Earth Mover” is playful—even mischievous—its bulldozer bass and busy drums juxtaposing Hawkin’s razor-sharp guitar leads. “Wheels of Progress” pits snare flares and guitar retorts against pretty arpeggios for a bipartisan David / Goliath contrast, while “Night Driver” and “Ramshackle” see the BIG men return to the Caribbean for some more balmy progressions and Rastafarian grooves (a la The Police)—and yet that Rush / Rage Against the Machine / Don Caballero edge remains.
If whales were robots, their song might resemble “Voice of the Structure,” a spacey cetacean soundscape whereon Hawkins manipulates his ax and amp a la Lou Reed (Metal Machine Music) for five minutes of bristling cybernetic distortion. Wyskida’s ADD drumming is the engine that propels the similarly biomechanical “Under the Weight” and “Barrage” (whose volume-knob swells emulate angry ocean waves).
BIG embrace surf rock with “FUB,” with Hawkins executing a few twangy string bends, crystalline chords sluicing through Katz’ beach-ready bass line. “Strung” and “Shutdown” benefit from ticka-ticka tempos, grunge rock guitar riffs, and bass recapitulation—and Hawkins turns in some of his best solos here, too.
Before Ever After isn’t for the faint of heart. This is music for the open-minded. Blind Idiot God (with Harley’s War bassist Will Dahl now in for Katz) orchestrates a rare blend of defiant thinking man’s music that engages and challenges. It dispenses with vocals and spoken word, but refuses to be regarded as background music. These prickly passages, kinetic cadences, and tinnitus-inducing expos cannot be ignored, their meters programmed to upset as much as entertain willing listeners.
Consider the wild cover art by Seldon Hunt (Melvins, Neurosis): Before Ever After sounds like that sleeve looks—intimidating and seductive all at once.