[sic] Magazine

The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol – Box Set II

Two years on from the epic Box Set I, an expansive 3xLP retrospective picking out select highlights from between 2010 and 2014, instrumental rock behemoth The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol’s even more massive Box Set II now follows to round up most of the rest of the action from the same period and beyond. Shedding some much-needed light on both their earliest, super-limited private pressings as well as certain previously unreleased versions of long-time fan favourites and a bit of everything in between, it comprises re-released versions of the Superficial Marks LP (2008), the Biker Smell LP (2010), the Punks Twats And Urban Cowboys LP (2011), another issue of 2018’s Basement Blowouts LP, and three CDRs containing further material, including 2010’s single-take Shed Sessions. Simply put, weighing in around six hours in total, it’s a mammoth listen.

TBWNIAS’s most recent album from earlier this year, the marvellously titled Droneverdose, may have begun in alt-rock spun out to proggy length, ambient drones and Eastern shamanism turning the vibe decidedly psychedelic, but the expected big guns did duly arrive to herald another steel-jawed kosmarathon. More surprising, despite being only sporadic, were the gloomy guitar riffs that owed more to the likes of The Cure and Joy Division than usual go-tos Hawkwind. No such deviations from type back in the day though, Superficial Marks – guitars set to excess – deploying fuzz tones that lock on hard, spindly needles probing the kaleidoscopic centre of the mind’s third eye. Meandering rhythms and percussive undercurrents consistently set the groundwork, liquid proton streams of white-hot slaying firing out as if taking down the Stay Puft man. A dogeared, beer-stained album from the depths of hard-rock’s bargain-bin, its grooves skip and its speaker cones are resolutely blown, free-form bedlam corralling amp static and cosmic dither into deep zoning and out-there drops to zen ambience and scraped strings.

In turn, the heavy Biker Smell album – split into the marvellously titled Pantheon Of Fuckery Part One & Two – builds ramshackle grooves out of hard-hitting riffs nabbed from Hendrix and Zeppelin, metallic scree filling in the sonic gaps between. Amidst all the glorious guitar-on-guitar action comes blues so battered they’re held together with duct tape, abject noise ramping up through the gears dangerously, ragged chug and circular raga motifs doing little to disguise the odd blitzkrieg bomber. Phases set to disintegrate, TBWNIAS really always were a very god band and albums like this prove it. Ever the fan of an eye-catching title and unable to resist a good pun, Punks, Twats and Urban Cowboys follows suit, manic call-to-prayer chant leading to utter meltdown in the form of wah-driven wandering, sax and organ orgies and passages of discordant enlightenment. Safe to say it’s not the sort of thing to listen to late at night alone, off-mic howling blending with weirdo chatter as the band’s scorched-earth policy comes into full effect. A rallying call to pile into battle, grinding rhythms and head-heavy breakdowns coalesce into freewheeling steam-trains of mayhem, proto-punk weapons smashing into feedback-fired space-rock, guitars locking horns like rutting stags.

Even better are the Basement Blowout CDRs – so good in fact they function like a best-of for the uninitiated. The 2010 disc is initially heavy on feedback and electrical drones, tenebrous picking and gnarly shred later careening down hill with unstoppable mass, an uneasy midpoint between supremely chill strumming and full-throttle face-ripping. Culling most of its material from 2010’s quality Versus The Purveyors Of Conspicuous Authenticity LP, snaking grooves negotiate their way through a fug of Eastern shimmer and cloying guitar shadows, powerful fuzz repeats, leaden blues and high-register drones contorting into neck-popping sludge. Like blackened ivy reclaiming an idyllic country retreat, creeping feedback blots out the sun, throttling any open space and building to a riot of coruscating noise, fishtailing biker fuzz cannonballing down dark, smoky alleys with all the weight of an 18-wheeler. An endurance test of mind-expanding repeats, its locked grooves erode any sense of resistance, wind-blown drones flying in eerily off the chilly tundra. Turning to 2013’s ever-brilliant Scrappy Little Jaw for most of its run-time, the 2012 disc then throws threatening strings into the mix, the resultant flailing assault having cut its brakes and spun wildly off its axis. Maelstrom rhythms clash with protesting alarms, the intensity somehow ratcheted up further with croaky organ and rippling riffs, oblivion arriving at headlong speed. Swaggering like swarthy desperadoes, bulldozer blues crush the wave-form, kosmiche whooshes drawing what’s left off into the stratosphere. All percussive bluster and blown-out noise, there’s even time for a breathless finale full of skronk and jet-engine roar.

There are no words big enough to successfully capture the enormity of this box set. No matter your set up, your system will struggle to faithfully play it back too for the same reasons. Strap in, cross your heart and hope not to die as, if taking it all in in one sitting, it’s a distinct possibility.

~Box Set II is out now via the collaborative efforts of Cardinal Fuzz (Europe) and Birdman Sound (North America). Its 4 LPs and 3 CDRs come with a full colour booklet and two-sided A3 colour poster.~