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The Lead Review

A Little Bungle Grind: The Return Of The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo
Jeremy Allen , November 5th, 2020 09:01

Thirty-five years after it was originally recorded by a bunch of teenagers in small town California, Mr Bungle's debut The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny has now been re-recorded – this time with added Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo

The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo has led a charmed life. Recorded originally in 1985 by a bunch of teenage metalheads from Eureka, California, it turned out to be surprisingly propitious for Mr Bungle’s Mike Patton, who handed the tape to drummer Mike ‘Puffy’ Bordin when his band Faith No More were passing through on tour. “Faith No More played Eureka in a pizza parlour place we played dozens of times,” Mike Patton told Steffan Chirazi for 1993’s Faith No More: The Real Story. “There were six people there and three of them were my friends. It was really bad, a really pathetic show and I remember them standing around the van really upset... I gave them a tape and told them, ‘This is what music from around here sounds like, from this region’.” Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin described Eureka as “a shitty little town in Northern California.”

As for the demo itself, it’s a distorted and scratchy affair presumably recorded in a practice room with an old six-button cassette recorder placed in the corner – or perhaps the one that’s surfaced on the internet is a thirteenth or fourteenth generation copy of a copy of a copy. One would have to dig very deep to recognise greatness within its duplicated reels: the rhythm section is barely audible, guitarist Trey Spruance is a nimble shredder on the fretboard but so were a thousand other kids in small lumber towns in 1985, and Patton’s voice is notable for a 17-year-old but unrecognisable as the artist known these days for his indomitable vocal dexterity and six-octave range.

Patton recalled being wrapped up in a sleeping bag for warmth in his parent’s garage writing songs with a one string guitar piped into a ghettoblaster. His bandmates Spruance and Trevor Dunn then turned them into something more functional, as well as writing other songs mostly by themselves, too. Despite the perfunctory recording, Spruance said in 1991 that the band were unique at that time: “That whole thing,” he said, referring to the music they were making, “it was something that became sort of common later, sort of having a sense of humour about death metal. But at the time we were the first."

Some, but not all, of the members of Faith No More had identified something special in Patton. The tape was passed around the members of the San Francisco-based band as they considered bringing someone in to replace their erratic frontman Chuck Mosley. Strangest of all, Patton found his chief ally in the irascible Jim Martin, a man not known for his extensive tastes. “It always kinda makes me wonder because he likes maybe five or six bands in the whole world,” Patton said in an interview for the same book. “How does Mr. Bungle fit in with Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Dune soundtrack, the Platoon soundtrack and Celtic folk music?”

In 1985, nobody in Faith No More – and certainly not Mike Patton himself – could have imagined him joining their cult new wave Bay Area five-piece and turning them into an international stadium rock sensation. Patton was working as a record store cashier in a parochial town with a population of less than 30,000, and only ever took the 270 mile journey south to San Francisco to see bands rock out in the thrash metal capital of the world. At that time, future Mr. Bungle members Dave Lombardo and Scott Ian hadn’t quite cemented themselves in legend as members of the mythical Big 4 of thrash (as the drummer in Slayer and guitarist in Anthrax, respectively), but they were making gigantic waves nonetheless. LA-based Lombardo was about to have his head turned by Rick Rubin of Def Jam, who’d encourage Slayer to sign to his label and then produce their universally acclaimed Reign In Blood album the following year. Meanwhile, over in Queens, New York, Anthrax had just released their second album Spreading The Disease and guitarist Scott Ian was also enjoying crossover mayhem with his side project, Stormtroopers of Death.

Patton reluctantly auditioned for Faith No More in 1988 after being encouraged by members of Bungle to go for it with assurances that they wouldn’t need to break up if he was successful. He got the job. At the time, he neither wanted it nor could he imagine himself in a big city far away from his record store or his own band. Members of the senior group felt guilty that they were corrupting a callow teenager, though compared with everyone else who’d auditioned he was clearly the person they were looking for. For many Faith No More fans, Mr. Bungle was seen as some kind of appendage throughout the 90s, though if any band was the side project for Patton it was Faith No More. The relationship between both groups was an uneasy one, and while Trey Spruance replaced Jim Martin in FNM for King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime, apparently it was much to Patton’s annoyance. His and Spruance’s relationship became uneasy too, so nobody expected to see Mr. Bungle again after they split acrimoniously in 2000.

Eleven years earlier, Mr. Bungle had been picked up by Warner Bros., a curious signing presumably undertaken to cash in on the fame Patton was enjoying in his other band. None of their three albums between 1991 and 1999 were marketed properly, and Warner Bros. executives had no real handle on what they’d signed, other than a vague presumption that they were in some way like the Mothers of Invention. Over those years, the band’s thrash metal roots were augmented by a number of other genres, from dub reggae to Romanian folk à la the Hyperion Ensemble. Rather than homogenize these styles, Bungle would instead shoehorn them in whenever they felt like it. It made for a random and eclectic listen, though of course, to solder these disparate sounds together took chops. As musicians, the members of Mr. Bungle proved the latent potential they showed on the original Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny demo, though that recording itself would obviously be left where it belonged in the past, a remnant of childish musical experimentation by some teenage weirdos and a stepping stone in their development that had far more impact than most first demos ever will. As the Apostle Paul would have it: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things…”

You’d think so, and yet here we are 35 years later, reviewing the demo that refuses to die. This time it’s turbo-charged and as loud as a terror attack. Mr. Bungle have returned with two of thrash metal's greatest practitioners, leaving no room for ambivalence. If you love thrash metal then this is the event of the year, if you hate it then run for cover: in Lombardo they have one of the best drummers in the world, while Ian’s sometimes underappreciated agility and surefootedness as a rhythm guitarist makes all the difference on upgrades like ‘Sudden Death’. The 35-minute original demo now weighs in at just under an hour with beefier, steroid-injected versions of the old songs and additional tracks too, including the Stormtroopers of Death classic ‘Speak English or Die’ that’s now amusingly called ‘Habla Español O Muere’ (you’ve guessed it: Speak Spanish or Die). This progressive update is about as grown up as things get – the title retains its clumsy tautology while the word ‘demo’ has been tacked onto the end proudly and upgraded with a capital letter.

Other songs retain the same puerile titles that would have seemed hilarious to teenage boys: ‘Raping Your Mind’, ‘Eracist’, ‘Anarchy Up Your Anus’... to revisit these and present them to the world at a time when everyone’s glutes are a bit more tight and sensitive than they once were seems brave and foolhardy, but perhaps the fact they were written so long ago acts as a line of defence. Lyrically its dumb and politically incorrect but there’s nothing as offensive or troubling as, say, ‘Angel of Death’ by Slayer, ‘Bodies’ by the Sex Pistols or anything by Cannibal Corpse. There’s something almost heroic in these men assuming their teenage former selves without fear or trepidation, when most people my age express relief that Facebook hadn’t been invented when they were teenagers.

It does all make you wonder why they bothered to do it at all, and yet as an experiment, it’s fascinating. How many musicians would entertain reanimating music they’d made as a teenager, even with the combined talents of Dave Lombardo and Scott Ian fortifying the construction? Mike Patton, a man known for moving inexorably forward, is also a known contrarian, having reformed Faith No More – a band Rolling Stone called “rock’s most contrarian band” – just at the point when everyone assumed he never would. Revisiting this demo takes the solemn promise never to revisit to the ultimate extreme, to the point where it becomes conceptual art. And yet the style of music is so derided and so often regarded as an anachronism these days – for many it represents something like anti-art – that one suspects it’s another twist that would have made rerecording it all the more delicious to Patton. There are few cool deviations into dub, Romanian folk or Beach Boys-inspired harmonic scales here, it’s mostly straight-ahead thrash metal – although that’s not to say there aren’t adjuncts in keeping with the genre’s tendency to change rhythmic course. Thrash has always been subcultural, though it had almost gone mainstream when the original demo was made, and Mr. Bungle were way off the pace in terms of success. It’ll be gratifying for grown men revisiting their teenage band to discover their record getting rave notices and mainstream coverage they couldn’t have dreamed of in 1985.

“The recording and playing were amateurish, save for Trey's video-game-solos,” said Trevor Dunn of the original, “but the schooled composition and spirit were solid. I always felt like this music held its own and deserved to be presented in a clearer and more defined package even if it meant being 33 years later." The band couldn’t even blame the completion on lockdown, which forced artists as well known as Paul McCartney and Michael Rother to revisit unfinished works. Mr. Bungle played a series of gigs last year that revived the bunny once more, long before anyone had heard of Covid-19.

And yet the timing couldn’t have been more exemplary in one sense: this for many has been a period to reflect on the past whilst worrying about the future. A re-exploration of the teenage self seems bizarrely apt right now, especially when it’s this fearlessly honest, searing, invigorating and unashamed. And therein lies the key to The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo’s success: the exuberance of this recording far outweighs any concerns that the project was an act of self-indulgence. The sheer joy it must have engendered in those who made it is obvious to anyone who has listened to it, while the sheer velocity makes it feel like a brand new, all conquering fairground ride. As a lapsed thrash metal listener, it certainly got my juices flowing again, and just this morning I taught my three-year-old son how to headbang, thus planting a seed that may yet flower into a love of incredibly fast heavy metal. The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo has led a charmed life, and don’t be surprised if it rides again in some form.