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Unearthing the morbid, fecal-free rockability of Ghoultown

They look like they belong in the creepy frontier town of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and sound like they should be the house band for the vampire casino in From Dusk Till Dawn. They’re Ghoultown—one of the few bands that can rock the house AND supply a convincing musical answer to the nagging question, “What if Glenn Danzig and the Reverend Horton Heat decided to stake it all on mariachi music as the next big thing—and let Cormac McCarthy write their lyrics?”

KISS to King Diamond, GWAR to Slipknot, there’s always been a seller’s market for bands with the chutzpah and/or theatrical pretensions to put the music itself second to just getting paid to play dress-up. In fact, it’s probably just that micrometer-thin coat of greasepaint that stands between the Insane Clown Posse’s improbable stardom and their rightful outing as just a couple of pathetic, middle-aged guys from Michigan.

What really sets Ghoultown apart from the pack is that the music they’re playing isn’t quite like anything else out there right now. Sure, the Texas six-piece has a yen for the cartoonish trappings of Misfits-style horror business, but don’t let the creepy necro-dude-ranch getups fool you: They’re not doing it to compensate for something lacking in the tunes. While it’s probably not going to compel you to throw out your Misfits albums, the band’s most recent release, Give ‘em More Rope, is at least more weirdly compelling than most of the rest of the current crop of over-moussed and under-talented bands that make a fashion statement out of showing up for the gig looking like they slept in a coffin at a rendering plant.

Set to the horn-laced rockabilly beat that calls to mind a younger, rawer Reverend Horton Heat, here’s a lyrical sample of the Ghoultown spaghetti-western Goth ethos, from More Rope’s kickoff track, “Fistful of Demons:”

“I was born without a face/on some forgotten Halloween/In 13 rusty mason jars my mother buried me/in some old shack behind the woods where no one ever goes/But a soul don’t rest in the devil’s arms/Cuz no one really knows. Chorus: I got a fistful of demons/I got some boots made of lead/The grave may cool my rotting bones/But it won’t cure my head.”

Juvenile rubbish? Maybe. But it’s apparently all in fun, and it is pretty irresistible. The band has been around since 1999, formed when guitarist/vocalist Count Lyle (yes!) left after an eight-year hitch in Solitude Aeturnus. Serious perusers of underground metal mags might remember the name (Solitude Aeturnus, that is, not Count Lyle) as one of the flagship doom-metal bands on the Roadrunner label, and one of the few serious American pretenders to the throne of suffer-the-children metal bombast best exemplified by European (thank heavens) tights-wearers like My Dying Bride. No? Not tolling any nostalgic bells of despair for you? Well, then, there’s this: Count Lyle also toured with the late GG Allin, and surely even the most benighted among you must remember the name of shock-punk bad lieutenant GG Allin. Count Lyle’s stint with GG seems to have been a rather undistinguished one, but then, it’s tough to steal the spotlight from a guy who routinely pelted audiences with his own feces.

In any event, the Count’s new thing is more to rockabilly tastes than it is for bereft GG Allin fans and, as near as I can tell, practically feces-free. The band also includes other Lizard Lazario (also on guitar and vocals), Jake Middlefinger (lead guitar), X-Ray Charles (drums and percussion), and Santi—just Santi—on bass. Trumpet duties on the album were performed by one J. Luis (Right, right, where’s his funny name?), who, according the band’s Web site, was replaced by hornslinger Dez Black when the former’s responsibilities outside the band began to outpace his ability to tour. It was an amicable split, at least according to the Web site. Somewhat disappointingly, it seems they didn’t string him up, dismember his lifeless corpse or bury the pieces at a crossroads.

For all the more obvious comparisons to the Misfits and the Rev, what Ghoultown really reminds me of more than anything else, at least in spirit, is the Plugz, members of which band later became the Cruzados (“Hanging Out in California,” cf. MTV circa 1987). If you liked the Plugz on the Repo Man soundtrack (“Hombre Secreto,” et al.) but crave the spaghetti western visuals of Sergio Leone, you might have your new favorite band.

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