(4 out of 5)
Back in the ‘80s, they clogged the racks of nearly every record store: private press metal albums by local yokels attempting to cash in on whatever the current trend in heavy music was. There were bands that looked like Metallica and bands that looked like Stryper; there were Yngwie-biters and mock Maidens. They were, for the most part, completely unremarkable, especially the further one got from New York/L.A./London.
The town where I grew up – Columbia, South Carolina. – was pretty far from New York and Los Angeles and London, if not geographically, then definitely culturally. Despite – or perhaps due to – being the state’s capitol, the city marinated in a particularly Southern stew of backwardness, false purity, suburban sameness, and good ol’ boy judgment.
Yet, like most other mid-sized shitburgs spread across this country, it was (and is) home to a surprising number of very, very cool people. And most of those cool people made ritualistic visits to a tiny downtown record shop known as Manifest. The store jammed a ton of cool shit into its limited real estate, but despite the variety of material in those racks, the store beat with the cold, black heart of heavy metal. The owner hosted the college radio station’s weekly “Massive Metal” show and lived, it seemed for exactly three things: beer, money, and Motorhead. He ran his store pretty damn tight, and with the help of a staff of specialists, Manifest always managed to get exactly the right record into the right hands.
As Columbia metal fans can attest, though, there was one album in those racks that never seemed to make it into anyone’s hands. It was one of those aforementioned private press metal albums, adorned with hand-drawn artwork that split the difference between Planet of the Apes and some psycho-vaginal art-class nightmare. It was Animals, an album by local guitar-slinger Dwayne Warr, known on his albums as DWARR.
To my teenage ears – tuned to crushing tightness of Metallica and Exodus – it was the most laughably amateurish and weird thing I had ever heard. Meandering and self-indulgent, songs like “Chocolate Mescaline” and “Lonely Space Traveler” were not even close to my definition of metal. And despite Warr’s considerable guitar chops, he even managed to make blistering guitar solos sound kooky and off-kilter.
It was an acquired taste, to be sure, and it took more than a dozen listens – no, I don’t know why I kept at it – to get what DWARR was about. This album wasn’t about metal, with all its grandiosity and epic sense of projection; this album was about psychedelic introspection, about getting incredibly high and letting all of your demons and mystic bullshit flow out on a river of meandering guitar shred.
Unlike all those other locally released metal records, it was quite remarkable indeed. And now, for reasons as inexplicable as the ones that led me to keep listening to DWARR until I got it, Animals is being reissued. Not on some boutique metal label, but on Drag City, the home of Joanna Newsom and Monotonix. Of course, this album fits in much better with the Drag City mindset of cracked geniuses than with, say, Southern Lord’s doom-and-gloom, but it’s something of a pity that folks will listen to Animals with their eyes peeled for hipster irony.
Yes, there’s still plenty of oddness in these grooves – trudging through the swamp of the opening three tracks, especially the brain-bending “Cannabinol: The Function,” is as third-eye-opening as it is perplexing – but it’s also impressive how well Animals stands up as a solid metal record. Dwayne Warr was crafting stoner metal while the kids in Kyuss were still in short pants, but instead of sludge and stomp, DWARR was all about making spiraling kaleidoscopes of psychedelic (and psychological) horror. Imagine your favorite black metal musician embracing his insecurities and personal weirdness and indulging in his most fantastical flights of power metal fantasy and hard-rock indulgences and you might come close to what DWARR was dishing out back in 1986.
First appeared Oct. 13, 2010 at MetalSucks.net.