There are enough things out there that are just as screamy as they are yelly. For this you could, at least partially, blame Sonny Kay. The evidence being his efforts in the somewhat influential Colorado band Angel Hair, a band that twisted hardcore into a Wire-esque phantasm – not that it sounded anything like Wire – and would give way to bands like Botch and The Blood Brothers. However, as the 1990s were to progress so too would Kay. After Angel Hair he trudged over to San Francisco and instead of screaming he started yelping in The VSS, which is not all that it had going for it, mind you. This is a good thing; if it had been otherwise I’d have to make a rare declaration that Hydra Head had wasted civilization’s time re-releasing an album most inconsequential.
The late `90s by all accounts could be considered a Siberia-esque land of waste and sadness personified by terrible music. There wasn’t much going on at that time that was remotely cool, but there were some delightful standouts. The VSS contributed much in the way of reintroducing old tricks to punk in, oddly enough, the same way that they were originally introduced, namely the keyboard. This instrument has been in use for a while in various extreme music acts starting roughly with Joy Division and The Stranglers and spottily continuing through to Nine Inch Nails. But The VSS were not atmospheric, nor were they industrial. The VSS was an extension of its spazz hardcore roots, one with, aside from the immediate yelping, instrumentation based near avant-noise as much as it was in speed. The addition of the keyboard gave a new layer to an already well-established sound. It exists with the same fortitude as the guitars that chime as much as they screech.
The tracks aren’t terribly unique in an individual sense. Rather, they function cohesively; all elements participate knowing full well what their roles are and how to express that role. Nervous Circuits is more or less a minor classic. At the time of its release underground hardcore and punk – and yes, there is a distinction between underground punk and what is otherwise not so much underground – were in a fuzzy transition period in which anything was possible in the sculpting of sound, aesthetic and message. As it turns out metal/noisecore and emo won the day and after all of that was worn to nothing, which happened fast, bands like These Arms are Snake were picking up on what the VSS thought worthwhile of dishing out. This being a re-release, Hydra Head has cordially provided an additional disc containing live footage of this material. They did not provide this for me so I really can’t tell you much about at, and sheer pride is preventing me from scouring YouTube.
Slaves – The Devil’s Pleasures
These Arms Are Snakes – Oxeneers: Or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home
Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime