Impaled touts itself as the World’s Most Hated Band, and certainly works hard to earn the title. The Oakland-based group worked a gore-splattered toilet into its appalling album artwork. It devoted lyrics to the virtues of diarrheic extract as embalming fluid. Finally, in the Christian-baiting category, it turned the Lord’s Prayer into an ode to excrement: Our feces who art in rectum. …Thy kingdom bung, thy will be dung.
Despite the best efforts of these musical masochists, critical circus-monkeys (Insane Clown Posse) and audience antagonists (Mindless Self Indulgence) hog all the hate. Impaled has not inspired a single Senate hearing, or even a high-profile passionate plea from a concerned citizen. To date, only one club has barred the band, for reasons unrelated to such theoretically controversial subject matter: Berkeley’s 924 Gilman cast out Impaled because it considers the group’s new label, Century Media, to be a major, despite its lack of ties to corporate conglomerates.
“I think that place is fucking weak,” singer and guitarist Sean McGrath retorts. “We played a ton of shows there, like benefits for their stupid after-school programs where kids get together and punch each other. They explain it like, ‘We helped you guys out, and now you’ve moved on, and it’s someone else’s turn.’ I’d like to point out to them that we still need help.”
Maybe not, though. Death After Life, Impaled’s recently released third album, won’t propel the band to platinum status, but it will reach a larger audience than its earlier efforts, thanks in part to Korn — metal’s version of punk gateway groups (and Gilman graduates) such as Green Day and Rancid. “One thing that initially turned people off about death metal was the vocals, and a lot of those nü-metal guys started singing like that in the late ’90s, when they weren’t rapping or crooning like Frank Sinatra,” McGrath says. “People’s ears got accustomed to it, and now it’s not so crazy anymore.”
Death After Life is also more accessible than Impaled’s previous recordings. Instead of grinding to an indecipherable blur, the band now brings coherence to its compositions with tight guitar harmonies and choir-reinforced choruses. Unlike death-metal acts that draw inspiration only from other death-metal acts — leading to uninteresting, inbred arrangements — Impaled incorporates rock’s rhythmic grooves, and even elements of pop song structures. Trey Spruance, the multi-instrumentalist known for his work with the defunct Mr. Bungle and his current project Secret Chiefs 3, helped mastermind this melodic metamorphosis, producing Death After Life and even playing a spastic solo on the turbulent standout track “Medical Waste.”
“This is probably not a good thing to tell people, but we just e-mailed him and he decided he wanted to do it,” McGrath says. “I guess he hadn’t heard of us before. I told him ‘You know this means that every horrible death-metal band is going to be knocking your door down,’ and apparently that didn’t bother him. Maybe he’s kind of a lonely guy, and he just wants friends.”
Lyrically, Death After Life follows four deranged medical students who murder their professors (among other victims), then attempt to revive them. That rotting lungs should heave with breath/Is truly a matter of life and death, McGrath howls. Alas, all this defiant experimentation reaps no rewards (Though we prod a cadaver with care/There is no life in there/The veracity cannot be denied/There is no cure for those who’ve died), so the students commit suicide, and in a tragicomic twist awaken post mortem to inhabit decomposing shells: We suffer while our nervous systems thrive/The pain of being dead alive.
Impaled’s members first envisioned a plot-driven album in the Re-Animator vein five years ago, which explains why song titles such as “Mondo Medicale” and “The Dead Shall Dead Remain” double as the names of earlier albums. “It’s convenient that the album — past all the medical words — is basically about four idiots who get drunk, play poorly while wearing doctor’s outfits, are booed offstage, and leave the venue penniless and dejected,” explains bassist and singer Ross Sewage, who writes the majority of the band’s lyrics. “Really, we’ve been performing the entire story of Death After Life every night for years.”
Such storyline similarities aside, Impaled currently lacks the time (all members still hold day jobs) and funds (despite Century Media’s allegedly deep pockets) to put together an elaborate action-intensive multimedia stage show that could do Death After Life justice. Besides, McGrath says, “I don’t know if it would be a good idea for us to attempt something complicated. It’s hard enough for us to get through a song without tripping over ourselves or vomiting.”
Furthermore, it will be much easier for listeners to make it through Impaled records without regurgitating now that the band has exited its fecal phase, best represented by this couplet: Your breech still emitting rancorous poo/Pour another bowl of butthole stew. “It is really a nice feeling to not have to sing about poop anymore,” McGrath says. “We’re moving away from being just known for that.”
The band is better known, in fact, for putting the “laughter” in “slaughter.” Impaled injects humor into a terminally grim genre, which doesn’t endear it to the extreme-rock underground’s purist press. “No one has ever called us on it in person, like ‘You guys are too wacky,'” McGrath says. “People complain about it in zines: ‘I like the music, but they’re too goofy.”
Instead, the group should be lauded for never resorting to gratuitous misogyny, an approach that has earned it an appreciable female fan base. “We might have even more of an appreciable female fan base if our faces did not look like the gristle wiped off a McDonald’s grill after three billion served,” Sewage says. “We’ve avoided misogyny as a crutch because, well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t see the point in burning a vagina shut.”
Hate them now.