Circus of Chaos
posted on 11/2006 By:
While crossover-style thrash seems to be resurging in popularity with the relative success of bands like Municipal Waste, as well as the re-release of genre classics by Cryptic Slaughter and others, the name Clown Alley still hasn’t popped up much in the metal press. At first glance, this seems like a pretty egregious oversight. Clown Alley is steeped in metal history; guitarist Mark Deutrom’s Alchemy Records released the debut records by seminal Bay Area innovators Neurosis and The Melvins, while Deutrom and Clown Alley bassist Lori Black (who is, by the way, Shirley Temple’s frickin’ daughter) both did time in The Melvins as bassists. So why did it take a full twenty-one years for this 1985 LP to see re-release in CD format? Well, ultimately because this band doesn’t have anything wholly remarkable going on musically. Circus of Chaos is fairly stock mid-eighties thrash metal that features a few memorable moments, but this band clearly had more going on behind the scenes than they did musically.
Stylistically somewhere between early DRI and Bay Area fellows Vio-Lence sans Robb Flynn’s guitar prowess, Clown Alley plow through ten tracks of workmanlike thrash on Circus of Chaos. The lyrical themes here have more in common with socially-dissatisfied hardcore than they do with apocalyptic metal; vocalist David Duran covers topics ranging from the aftereffects of America’s nuclear policy (“Uranium Miner’s Daughter”) to the monotony of the workaday life (“On the Way Up”). No surprises there, but what does surprise is Duran’s ability to use his voice in a way that not only doesn’t annoy—unlike Sean Killian of the aforementioned Vio-Lence, for example—but actually lends some catchiness to tracks like “Unplugged” and “Pet of a Pig.” Clown Alley definitely had the frenetic stop-start speed thing down pat here, and they sound surprisingly tight for a band that only put out a single album. But, like all thrash, Circus of Chaos’s ability to maintain the listener’s attention is reliant almost entirely on the strength of its riff content, and Mark Deutrom simply isn’t a clever or innovative enough axeman to propel Clown Alley ahead of the pack of 80’s west-coast thrash practitioners. This re-release also features four live cuts from one of the band’s few live shows, which see the band maintain impressive control of their spastic pace but do little to redeem the mediocrity of the material.
I’m ultimately not surprised that Southern Lord elected to re-release this album; they do love both their thrash and their sludge over at the Lord, and a thrash band responsible for kickstarting two of the most revered bands in doom/experimental/whatever was sure to hold appeal for them. Still though, Circus of Chaos comes off more like a novelty and a history piece than an album to be enjoyed for its own merits, and unless you’re severely fiending for compressed, reverby thrash/punk, this is not likely to garner many spins on your turntable.
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