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I’d spent a large part of the afternoon licking a week’s worth of journalistic wounds: unapologetically abusing a slew of strong IPAs from the comforts of the front porch, getting all glassy eyed in between regular fill-ups, while watching the October sky serve as a reminder of how all things, both the good and bad, come to an end. I had pretty much resigned myself to staying in for the night. The outside world had nothing left to offer. Might as well wallow in self-loathing. Perhaps I’d check out the new Hellraiser flick or just glutton myself to death on some trashy cuisine that would surely serve as penance for a life gone wrong. “To hell with it,’ I thought to myself. I’ll get ‘em next time.” There’s always tomorrow.
But tomorrow would have to wait. It’s not often that a band as aggressive as a cranked-up badger being held against his will by his tiny, little nutsack comes barreling through the cornfields of Southern Indiana on a wild-eyed mission to clobber its inhabitants and prove themselves worthy of the next level of metaldom. No way I was missing that. Newfangled bands like SNAFU are always the hungriest of the breed, the euphonious equivalent of a snarling, junkyard dog with nothing in their pockets but guts, a tendency for ruination and an inflamed liver.
Since their latest tour was dragging these poor bastards through the armpit of America – a place where music is often stillborn, unoriginal and uninspired — it was clear the foursome wasn’t being given any preferential treatment. Nope, just like the black and white predecessors of punk, they were being shot out of the sphincter of some foul beast, forced to pay dues upon dues before they’d ever be allowed to pass through any gate where their souls weren’t inevitably doomed to be sucked dry by unaffectionate crowds. Did this gang of heretics understand what they were getting themselves into when they pulled into town?
We’d find out soon enough.
Last year, SNAFU partnered with Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records for the release of the band’s long-awaited full-length album Exile//Banishment. The record is loud, raw and often hauntingly unhinged – the way any bombastic blend of punk and thrash should go BOOM! At times, it sounds as though it was recorded inside the drug-ravaged brains of Jeffery Dahmer’s victims while he rammed a power drill into the top of their skulls in a psychotic quest for zombification. Songs like “Eyes of Your God” and “The Pear of Anguish” are an unabashed nod to a rabid generation of metal fanatics, back when anyone who made a derogatory comment about some head’s jean jacket because it was branded with a Hell Awaits backpatch had better be prepared for war. Indeed, the songs are a sonic allegiance to the good ole days. Damn straight! Finally! Every tune is one rip and shred right after another. No, you won’t hear any of nu-metal’s flaccid pseudo-crooners on this offering – this isn’t some crunchy rendition of the glam crybaby culture – nor will you be insulted by some feeble attempt to reinvent Meshuggah. Stop doing that! SNAFU is like snorting shards of glass covered in formaldehyde while perched atop a large horny electric eel. Don’t bother giving me a Rorschach test. Even if the music may cause permanent damage to vital organs – and if the song “Bring Suffering” has anything to say about it, it just might – basking in this abhorrent ensemble until it becomes second nature is possibly the only way to ward off a snuff.
These guys have support, too, the kind that would prompt many of the would-be starving riff masters of the world to put their eternal soul in hawk with the Devil. After all, Anselmo’s label, while just a vocational launching pad for musical miscreants and visionaries, is responsible for helping a number of bands carve out modest careers. Author & Punisher (Tristan Shone), for one, was out there obliterating smaller clubs until his one-man mechanically engineered noise construct got the attention of Tool, landing him an opening spot during the band’s 2020 arena tour. Point is, SNAFU could go anywhere from here. And that should scare the ever-living shit out of them.
There are so many questions when a young band like this emerges onto the scene and reveals even the slightest hint of potential. Did they have a fighting chance? Would the booze and drugs get ‘em? Would a key member knock up some Podunk princess during the tour, forcing him to take a job at a Detroit 7-Eleven to make his child support payments? Or would they instead borrow a chapter from the book of Harley Flanagan, start eating right and taking jiu jitsu while continuing to punish crowds well into their fifties? A choice, whether they knew it or not, was about to be made. Although these tours were small, the stakes were high. How this band continued to fare over the next few months would inevitably set the tone for their entire career.
I, for one, was eager to watch. Drunk, stoned, it was all par for the course as far as I was concerned. I was going to that show, even if there was an air of impending violence. All the better.
At the venue, the scene was the typical black hoodie revival, full of beer guts strapped to old white dudes and slaves to mediocrity. Life can be unkind to those unaware of how time passes while they’re busy wasting it. They were all sucking down shots as if they were hanging out backstage at a Pantera concert circa 1994, reminiscing of days less, well, now. Parts of the crowd made sense, while others seemed to have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. That was typical in a place like this – a bar and grill style atmosphere that moonlights as a multi-genre music venue. Nobody fits in, yet everyone does. Abnormalities are ever present, as were true marvels of society, and that can sometimes, as the hippies might say, really discombobulate the vibe, man.
It was during the opening band when I was approached by Scott Curnow, one of SNAFU’s guitar players and vocalists. I didn’t recognize him. At first, I thought, “Oh fuck, my number is up.” It was distinctly possible that the large, strange dude headed in my direction from the other side of the room was on a seek and destroy mission to take me out. And I probably deserved it, too. Perhaps I had boned his girlfriend years ago, or maybe written some disparaging remarks about the derivativeness of his band – whoever the fuck they were – back when I was penning reviews for a local radio station to make ends meet. One can never tell in this business. Needless to say, I was relieved to learn that the man soon towering over me wasn’t on the unfettered prowl for retaliatory violence. Whew! Curnow is a colossal 8’13” tall, all dressed in leather, bearded up like a bloodthirsty Viking with dreadlocks. He’s a true monstrosity on genetic stilts. I was just hoping, praying actually, that the entity creeping up on me wasn’t into leisurely disembowelments for sport. “Holy shit, you’re a big dude,” I said during our introduction. “Yeah,” he snapped back, adding that the band’s size (none of these dudes are small) may have something to do with the water.
We moved on, discussing the new record. Curnow doesn’t mince words when it comes to who’s responsible for the uniqueness of the band’s latest release. It is a unified effort from beginning to end. “There’s a few different elements that make the album awesome,” he told HIGH TIMES. “One would be our song writing process. Unlike most bands, all four of us (Curnow, Rian Staber, Patrick “El Toro” Saldivar, and Mike Jurysta) contribute equally to the process and I believe that is what gives us our distinct sound that’s packed full of lots of different elements of extreme music.”
The production team, Curnow asserts, was also key.
“We were lucky enough to track this entire album down in Richmond Virginia with Josh Hall and Phil Hall of Cannabis Corpse,” he continued. “They were amazing to work with and gave a lot of great pointers throughout the recording process. We also had our good friend Adam Shepherd help with vocal tracking and mixing. Then we went to Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust for the mastering. Everyone knocked it out of the park and made the album sound beyond what we could have imagined.”
Although some of metal’s elite may have played a significant role in the creation of Exile//Banishment, Curnow says those riffs are largely due to cannabis. “It definitely played a crucial role in the writing process,” he declared, crediting Sour Tangie and Jack Herer as his go-to strains. “I personally love to use cannabis when it comes to the creative process. It really helps me think of things in a different way. Sometimes when I smoke there’s like a symphony of guitars in my head and I need to stop what I’m doing and grab a guitar to make notes of the riffs.”
Then he was gone.
One thing was certain, if Curnow had been looking to exact his revenge against my loose moral fiber from years past, I would have had to produce an extra set of testicles to get out of there alive. “That guy, as nice as he was, would fuck you up,” I told my photographer as he walked away from us to prepare for the show. She agreed. Everyone knows, and if they don’t, they should, that you have to be careful about who you mess with from Detroit. Outside the dive bar scrappers on the streets of NOLA, even the scrawny ones with no teeth, folks from the D can be equally hard to handle. The Motor City masses, most of which are in a constant state of survival within an economic apocalypse, have nothing left to lose. So, above all, you’d better watch your mouth.
Moments before SNAFU hit the stage, I was standing in the front row screaming at the top of my lungs, “let’s fucking go!” This reaction caught some a bit off guard. Although the sleepy Evansville crowd has grown accustomed to just loitering idly with their thumbs up their butts as touring bands bleed, sacrifice, and starve onstage, I wouldn’t be party to such trumpery. The howls spewing from my beer-drenched lips were not that of impatience, only anticipation, as I was pretty damn sure, gauging from what I had already seen, that SNAFU was going to rain down a savage display of decimation, and I wanted, no I needed in.
Listen, SNAFU has been butchering towns like this one alive for years, opening for the road-proven thrash band Municipal Waste and sludge masters EYEHATEGOD, just to name a couple. In that domain, where pros are pitted against pros, you are going to get squashed without either summoning a gnarly ghoul with seven peckers before showing up at the venue or, at the very least, hiring an Ouija board player to conduct a pre-show black mass. A band like SNAFU, built on belligerence, needed something vile, disgusting and inherently evil to leave on that stage – and it damn sure better be an honest representation, too – or else they’d risk being devoured by mightier forces and shat outside the venue into a puddle of dumpster juice. If they weren’t tight and combative in the eyes of both peers and idols, they’d be labeled hack jobs and slop artists – dead band walking! The band would ultimately be cursed to play podunk venues like the one Friday night where requests for Skynyrd would haunt them from here to eternity.
SNAFU had been through the wringers to some degree, far more than anyone else on the bill, so I felt confident that the prematurity of my metal-adorned war cries wouldn’t come back to bite me in the ass.
The lights went down.
My stomach, for some odd reason, was all knotted up like one might experience during a heated argument, just seconds before someone throws the first punch. Could it be a sign that the proverbial shit was about to hit the fan? Swimming around in the billows of beer lingering in my gut was a hefty cocktail of anxiety and adrenaline fighting for a main artery. As far as I could tell, it was a power struggle to see which one of them could strike me dead from a massive coronary before the second song played. Bets were being taken as the band made their way to the stage. All I had to do, I kept telling myself, was keep breathing at 12-1 odds. “Man, I hope one of those bastards used to be an EMT,” I thought. But that was unlikely. Judging from their sordid appearances, the only thing these boys could assist with was funeral services. Drain, embalm, and smile. I began to consider that I might have to take what I could get. This could be it, and my driver’s license would surely reveal to these sadistic fiends that I’m an organ doner. Oh well, they’d surely be thrilled to get themselves a spare liver for when one of theirs goes on the fritz.
Perhaps the band would ultimately seize the opportunity to preemptively avenge their reputation following this review – Scott appeared borderline suspicious of my intentions anyway and probably warned the rest – blasting me square in the noggin at full throttle with their guitars, and with the breakneck intensity of a sawed-off shotgun, guaranteeing that my wake, if my family opted to give me one, would be a closed casket. Only, the joke’s on them. I refused to die in this godforsaken place, even if by means as brutal as being brained to a pulp by a Gibson Korina Explorer. Being carted out on a slab, cloaked in a blood-drenched white sheet just miles from my apartment was not to be my fate. I wouldn’t give my hometown the satisfaction.
It was me against them.
From the unleashing of the first chord, it was clear that I was going to lose the battle, maybe even the war. But everyone else would too, so I didn’t take it personally. This powerful four-piece arrived hellbent on slicing everyone in their doe-eyed faces with a rusty razor covered in hydrochloric acid. The production, however, wasn’t steeped in malicious intent – well, maybe it was for drummer Mike Jurysta, who I suspect is an actual serial killer. They were just conjuring whatever wicked spirits necessary to ensure they weren’t the ones who ended up in the dumpster. Although the show, for this group of guys, was just an exhibition fight, keeping the chops up, no matter what the cost, is paramount to success. For the entirety of the band’s blistering thirty-minute set, they embarked on a violent incursion of auditory mutilations and feral breakdowns, all of which were compounded by the clamors of madmen pitted against the repugnance of a nation. All these components were packaged up and stuffed inside a tight black hole that presumably leads to the Seventh Circle. The violence I had caught a whiff of as soon as we set out on this adventure had finally arrived, and it did not disappoint. The crowd, judging from their arms-crossed attitude, seemed bewildered by such a crude, tawdry display. “Shit,” I thought to myself. “That’s how you know these guys are doing something right.” It occurred to me following the show, as I made the journey home, that if tinnitus was a sexually transmitted disease, everyone in the venue was going to need to see a doctor come Saturday morning. Just a few decibels louder, in fact, and I was convinced that the ghost of Hellen Keller was going to rise up from wherever she now resides and tell us all to keep it down. My ears are still ringing blood.
SNAFU is currently in the process of writing their next album while continuing to tour in support of Exile//Banishment. They go back on the road in November with Mutilation Barbecue, so be sure to check them out if they come through your city!