Solar Anus - Skull Alcoholic: The Complete Solar Anus (tUMULt 2xCD)
They say a good deed never goes unpunished, and I guess that's the case with tUMULt's long-awaited Solar Anus compilation "Skull Alcoholic". Turns out that apparently a large batch of the second discs are defective, so you'll just have to be patient if you want to order one now. I guess I was one of the lucky ones because mine plays fine (11 tracks/72 minutes, right?), but it's still a bummer of a fate to have befallen an album that appears to have already seen an overwhelming amount of setbacks - I mean Andee and tUMULt have been working on this for five years running now. After all that waiting, was it really worth it? The answer, of course, is yes. First you have to consider the fact that all three Solar Anus albums (1997's "On", 1999's "Trance!!" and 2000's "Next World News") were only available as Japanese imports, whereas they're now widely available to us Western folk in this handy set. Second is the fantastic, eye-popping packaging. Nevermind the die-cut depiction of a solar anus on the front and back of the cardboard sleeve, the liner notes and tray card are packed to the brim with beautiful, colorful collages and paintings that are wholly damaged and wholly representative of the Solar Anus ethic. And just what is the Solar Anus ethic? I'm not really sure but a glance of their "thanks" lists (reprinted from the liners to their other albums) gives some indication: Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Cathedral, Sleep, Ash Ra Tempel, the Stooges, German Oak, Hawkwind, Electric Wizard, Gong, Magma, Flower Travellin' Band...you get the picture. In fact you probably get the picture so well that any review at this point is superfluous but then again that's why they pay me the big bucks.
Disc one begins with the title track, a 9-minute anthem that until now has never before been heard, ever! It's also the last music Solar Anus recorded before they split, so it's kind of a weird way to begin the compilation but what the heck. It sounds a lot like where Circle are going with their NWOFHM thing, with a main riff that's very traditional metal/Iron Maiden-based. In fact the only thing that gives this away as truly not being Circle is the off-kilter, borderline scat vocals (in Japanese of course). Then we go backwards to 1997 as the next eight tracks (and indeed the bulk of disc one) are the album "On" in its entirety, showcasing the humble beginnings of Solar Anus. And...how can I put this? Hmm...well, it sounds a lot like Black Sabbath. A lot like Black Sabbath. This is so Black Sabbath that it's basically a Japanese Black Sabbath hip to all the weird psychedelic and kraut music that came post-Black Sabbath. But then, I guess that's exactly what Solar Anus are, right? Anyway the band aren't one to shy away from idol worship (as the above liner notes indicated) so I don't hold it against them, and they do the Sab worship thing very very well. "Genzo" is my absolute favorite track here, a druggy blues rhythm played out for the first four minutes until the pace quickens to the point where the band are practically falling over themselves trying to keep up with it. "Bone Flesh" is also great, like "Children of the Grave" played on 16rpm. It even contains the classic freakout part of the Sabbath song and has me wondering if it's actually supposed to be a cover like "Dear Mother Coral", which is actually a track from Japan's underground psych lords J.A. Seazer. Also of note from the "On" album is the song "Blue Hood", a 12-minute epic as fuzzed-out and doomy as anything I ever heard from, say, Electric Wizard. The constant head-nodding riff and wild guitar solo push this thing to the brink until, of course, the old slow down/speed up party trick pushes it right over. You should hear it for yourself though, it works to devastating effect. The first disc closes with the first three tracks from 1999's "Trance!!", which sees the band moving in a faster, more punk direction replete with some wild screaming female vocals to go along with frontman Tenkotu Kawaho's caveman grunts and chants and rallying cries. The band definitely sound more like the Melvins than anything else here, albeit stretched out and far more abusive of early psych/prog bands ala Gong et al. Opener "Electric Jellyfish" wins for its disgustingly raunchy "live free or die screaming" style closing solo and synth workover, but "Conceive Bang!" is no slouch either, particularly when it drops you in the middle of a tribal hippie jam session. If you ever wished Acid Mothers Temple would cut the noodling and get to the point (as seen on albums like "Electric Heavyland" and "Starless & Bible Black Sabbath"), this was made for you.
Disc two begins with the final three songs from "Trance!!", which add up to about a half-hour total on their own. "Enemy Disappear" is a slow-burning, chugging freight train while the 16-minute monolith "Die in the Space" moves from drone to doom to stoner metal to wide-open ritual jamming to psychedelic rock and everything in between. If I had to pick one song to represent Solar Anus as a hole (pardon the pun), this'd be it.
By 2000's "Next World News", the band claimed to have dropped the doom metal thing altogether to focus on becoming a "complete trip band", according to Kawaho. While their earlier material definitely bore hints of influences from psych/kraut bands, here they fully immerse themselves in the genre. This plays out over the final eight tracks from the compilation, and the tracks all flow into one another perfectly, like Solar Anus' very own take on "Dark Side of the Moon". The main focus here is brief, repeated rhythms, riffs, and drum patterns...in total "complete trip band" style. At times it's hard to believe it's even the same band, especially once they start throwing in cut-ups, tape loops, samples, and anything else they can find to enhance their psychedelic visions. The only modern bands that even come close to the sound Solar Anus achieved here are the Boredoms, Circle, and maybe Skullflower. Not everything works all the time - I'd rather have seen the 12 minutes dedicated to the weak, pseudo-techno rhythm of "Meat Pressure" instead heaped on to the rocking, pulsing, borderline orgasmic "The Extreme North" and the 8-minute keyboard/guitar/water (?) trio on album closer "Reborn" isn't very interesting. But there's more than enough to enjoy in this "mode" of Solar Anus, particularly when they're channeling Can and Gong and Hawkwind's repetitive, ur-rhythms on "Asid in My Brain", "Polar" and "Nightfall New Year" (which all bleed into one another, in fact). Solar Anus cover so much ground here that's near-impossible for someone who listens to any of the bands they're influenced by to not find something to enjoy, if not love.
And although I said it before at the very beginning, the packaging for "Skull Alcoholic" is really what pulls everything together, making for the kind of album you put on your stereo and listen to while you gaze intently at the fucked up images pasted into the liners (hallucinatory aids not required). Very highly recommended if you're into psychedelic rock, stoner metal, or any of those good times - and you just might find that Solar Anus is the best band in the genre that you've never heard.