[APOCALYPSE PUNK] “We have no problems singing songs that are not nice at all.”
That’s Retox lead screamer Justin Pearson approximately 15 seconds into the brutal 12-minute LP Ugly Animals, which Mike Patton’s rowdy Ipecac Recordings will let loose Aug. 23.
But just in case Pearson’s proud announcement doesn’t register—it’s delivered in an animal screech, after all—refer to the title of the song in question: “The World Is Ending and It’s About Time.”
A facetious sentiment for sure, but Pearson, who has teamed up with Retox drummer Gabe Serbian in some of the finest, loudest troublemaking punk bands of the past decade (the Locust, Holy Molar, Head Wound City), sounds genuinely piqued when he gets to talking about the state of things.
“Everyone just wants to wallow in a sea of MP3s and watch whatever they can on YouTube,” he says. “People don’t really give a shit about seeing music or experiencing music or buying a record or supporting a band. It’s just kinda like: eh, whatever.”
Retox, based in San Diego and rounded out by guitarist Michael Crain (formerly of Festival of Dead Deer) and bass player Thor Dickey, seems to have been conceived as either a wake-up call or a knockout punch to a culture bingeing on fleeting distractions from what Pearson referred to in our interview as “this other side of life on this planet that people turn their heads from.”
To that end—whatever the opposite of “eh, whatever” is—Ugly Animals proceeds with the frenzied breathlessness of a bulletin from the world’s last moments, with 11 tracks of unrelenting hardcore scattering images of apocalypse into the wind: kids who “found old teeth, spit and licked”; a “procrastinated rapist [who] shat through his loose teeth”; and a Jesus who “swings a rust hatchet” when he’s not “sleeping in chapters.”
It is nearly impossible to experience Retox without feeling at least slightly queasy, if not downright nauseous. The songs, most of them hovering around the one-minute mark, are frenzied and unrelenting. The video for “A Bastard on Father’s Day” is a quick-cut nightmare depicting a clutch of scabby men raping an overdosing woman, while “Ready to Spit,” from an EP released online early this year, can be found on YouTube accompanied by grisly images of a pig’s evisceration.
Pearson doesn’t see this year-old experiment in extremity as grotesque theater, at least not entirely. “I don’t think it’s exaggerated, necessarily,” he says. “It’s a realist view of the world. Yeah, it’s negative, it’s depressing, but at the same time, it’s not nihilistic.”
The secret to avoiding nihilistic despair when faced with so much brokenness? “We pee ’tween our high heels, and the beat still goes on,” Pearson sings on album closer “Piss Elegant.” Not exactly a happy ending, but perhaps there is some small consolation in embracing the abject and matching its menace with harsh sounds and dirty words, with songs that are not nice at all. CHRIS STAMM.
SEE IT: Retox plays Tube on Thursday, Aug. 18. 9 pm. $5. 21+.