Dead Rats and Self-Mutilation

Annihilation Time serves up a train wreck of fun.

Splattered high on the wall of a restaurant somewhere in Santa Barbara is a dark red stain of old rat’s blood. The one responsible for putting it there is Jimmy Rose, vocalist for the hell-raising Oakland punk armada known as Annihilation Time. A while back, a friend of the band thought it’d be a good idea to bring a bag of dead rats she collected from her basement to one of their gigs at a posh coffeehouse. Before long Rose was using the rodent carcasses as part of his stage show, then, apparently, tossed a couple around the city for good measure.

Fortunately for show-goers and unfortunately for the establishments that allow them to play, this sort of dysfunctional behavior is par for the course when it comes to the band’s modus operandi. Each member — including Rose, guitarists Chris Grande and Graham Clise, bassist Wes Wilson, and drummer Noel Sullivan — has his own pre-show ritual that can be the catalyst for spontaneous acts of revulsion. Clise gets jacked up on loads of caffeine. Sullivan had been known to suck down Redline, an energy drink for weightlifters, to the brink of cardiac arrest. And, rest assured, when Rose finds his gin it’s destined to be a wild night where anything goes.

In addition to the rat-throwing there’ve been documented cases of onstage self-mutilation (Rose has been known to use his body as a cutting board should he find a piece of broken glass), fighting, and general boozed-up craziness. Sometimes it comes close to getting out of hand, like the time in Chicago that a brick was thrown through their van window. But more often than not, the guys serve up nothing but a beautiful train wreck of fun.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following Annihilation Time’s evolution over the past couple years. Members have made it known with their music and in interviews that they’ve always harbored an affinity for sleeping with danger and waking with hangovers. Even their West Oakland house is a den of disarray. The front door is covered with bumper stickers. The linoleum floor of their kitchen is layered with dried mud, grease, and garbage. Drug paraphernalia lies out in the open. A tangle of wires running from pedals to amps turns the living room into an obstacle course. It’s the archetype of punk living. Work hard. Play hard. Live hard. What else should be expected when the band names Bl’ast, Aggression, Black Flag, and DOC as a few of its main influences?

Annihilation Time didn’t start out as the laid-back, chain-smoking, beer-chugging, psychedelic riff rockers they’re known as today. From the start everything surrounding the group has been as tumultuous as it’s been productive. Formed in 2001 in Santa Barbara, the band signed with Manic Ride Records and released its self-titled debut in 2004. One well-received 7″ LP, featuring a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Bad Reputation,” soon followed but the label folded shortly thereafter. The band self-released its next full-length, 2005’s aptly titled Annihilation Time II. During these years the group went through a revolving door of members where nearly every instrument changed hands. After brief stints in Cleveland and Ventura, the band settled in the Bay Area three years ago. Although Rose currently lives in Pittsburgh, flying out every so often to play shows and record vocals, the band’s lineup seems firmly established at this point. Six months ago Annihilation Time signed with New York-based Tee Pee Records, and seem primed and poised to continue spreading the ruckus to an even larger audience than ever before.

Tales of the Ancient Age, its latest album, delivers a crystal-clear look into the minds of the members’ hedonistic madness. The cover art is packed with sordid images of a futuristic society that looks equal parts Blade Runner and Escape from New York: a punk with a green Mohawk vomiting into his own hand, prostitutes in fishnet stockings dangling out of a bordello window, militarized police officers pressing the nozzles of their semi-automatics to a couple’s temples, an abandoned baby smoking a cigarette in the middle of the street, a sewer alligator eating a screaming citizen alive. The music laying in wait gets even grittier.

There’s a rough and raw feel to each song on the album, thanks mainly to the band’s preference of recording live as one unit as opposed to pasting together separate tracks. “It’s kinda cool because if you’re all playing at the same time it keeps that energy,” Clise explained. The crackle behind the jarring solos and the fuzz clinging to the power chord riffs give its sound a tarnish that feels comfortable in its B-grade authenticity.

A plethora of music critics have enthused about the quality craftsmanship of Ancient Age and the depth of the band’s venomous social condemnations, but really, the joke is on them. Ancient Age refers to a brand of bottom-shelf whiskey the band used to drink, not a historical chronicle of times past. The songs themselves aren’t terribly philosophical, either. “Tales of the Ancient Age is about getting wasted and having stupid antics and retarded shit going on,” Clise admitted while reclining on a tattered and weathered couch in the band’s backyard.

Despite being touted as the second coming of Thin Lizzy, younger brothers to Black Flag, and devout followers of Deep Purple, the band isn’t comfortable with many of these comparisons. They’d prefer to have the listener decide what sort of influences they hear. When pressed to describe Annihilation Time’s sound, Clise shrugged and said, “Blues-based punk rock. I don’t know. It’s so hard to say how you sound. If you can pinpoint it, you’re doing something wrong.”

While they’ve toured everywhere from Scandinavia to Scottsdale and are currently hopping around the West Coast this summer, each member clearly loves playing and living in the Bay Area. “There’s a lot better scene here and there’s way more places to play and you get away with doing a lot more,” said Clise. “And it’s way cheaper.” Cheaper, but not the cheapest. The band is considering moving to Richmond, Virginia, in September.

Their future, whether it be in the Bay Area or not, isn’t clear. But, rest assured, wherever they crash next it won’t be hard to find them. Just follow the trail of blood.

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