Smack upside the head 

Mainlining a sick dose of the Heroine Sheiks

Jeepers, what an unholy alliance. As if just one ex-member of a band with such a reputation for taking the ugliest point-A-to-point-B route around the conventional niceties of songwriting weren’t enough, the Heroine Sheiks have got two.

Singer Shannon Selberg spent 11 years behind the mic in the Minneapolis disaster factory the Cows, whetting and folding the tropes of the no-hope Amphetamine Reptile sound into its sharpest instrument: a distinctively warped yowl that sprayed the world with hate and desperation for nine albums and an itchy peppering of singles and compilation tracks. Not an easy listen by any stretch, the Cows’ sound nonetheless infected the AmRep attitude with a very yeasty smear of black humor otherwise missing from this clump of similarly ugly bands (Hammerhead, Helmet, God Bullies) who took their ruckus way of life too seriously way too often. Not that you’d necessarily laugh in a comfortable way, either, or find much of anything to feel good about in a song like “Hittin’ the Wall,” from 1991’s Peacetika album. Not funny ha-ha—funny sick and desperate.

For sheer car-wreck appeal, Selberg the vocalist was rivaled only by Selberg the performer. Last time the Cows played in Missoula, the rest of the band plunged right into the fracas with Selberg nowhere in sight—until he emerged stage left with the flayed head and torso of a blow-up doll rubber-banded over his powder-blue leisure suit. Granted, shock appeal in rock ain’t what it used to be—and it wasn’t five years ago, either—but Selberg was still a mighty creepy sight, even for the most seen-it-all scenesters among the 200 or so people who came out that night. I don’t know why it was so horrifying—although the eyes and vacant sucking mouth certainly had something do with it—but it was, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to forget it. It might seem lazy of me just to leave it at this, but, somehow, such was the lurid appeal of the Cows—they just made you want to wash. Really badly. And that pencil-thin moustache? Ladies, get in line!

So … A new band with Selberg alone would seem to alert most people—whose inclinations toward decency in entertainment haven’t scrubbed their memories clean of the Cows’ transgressions—to a strong likelihood for more of the same. Alas, for I cannot say—no Heroine Sheiks recordings could be scrounged up in time for this review.

One of Selberg’s co-conspirators in the Heroine Sheiks, who has had two years to ripen to maximum fulsomeness in the bowels of New York City, is guitarist Norman Westberg, formerly of the Swans, the Ur-progenitors of the New York-style pounding, scraping, bowel-evacuating industrial catharsis. Whether they know it or not (or are willing to fess up to it) basically every band of industrial music deconstructivists to have released an album of machine sounds pounding away in glacial 2/2 time and howling art-school nihilist torment in the past 15 years is really swinging from the icy nuts of the Swans. By turns adamant in their rejection of all musical comfort (I wonder how many people have gone on killing sprees after listening to early Swans albums like Cop and Filth) and chillingly beautiful (by the time Children of God was released in 1987, the Swans sound had diversified to include the really odd ballad and the madrigal employment of reed instruments), in their day the Swans probably went farther than any band since in bridging the gap between music and sexual bondage.

Guitarist Westberg was with the Swans—which centered around the bellow-from-the-crypt vocals of Michael Gira and, after about 1984, those of icily Teutonic diva Jarboe—off and on from 1983’s Filth to 1995’s The Great Annihilator (the band called it quits in 1996). In other words, for just about the entire creative life span of one of the most grimly humorless bands ever! What on earth kind of rapport could have transpired between these two? I, for one, cannot wait to find out.

The Heroine Sheiks play Jay’s on Halloween with the Everydead Sinners and the International Deadboys. 10 PM. Cover TBA.

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