March 13, 2009

This Ain't No Heartfelt Shit, This is Halo of Flies!

Halo of Flies began recording in 85, released their first 7" in 86, refined their sound by 88, and stopped recording in 91. They never released a full album that wasn't a compilation of singles. They were never particularly popular, even by 80s/90s underground standards. Mainly, they were known as Tom Hazelmeyer's band - Hazelmeyer himself was better known as "the guy who runs Amphetamine Reptile Records". AmRep was a popular/influential 80s/90s indie label with a distinct sound that rivaled contemporaries Sub Pop, Touch and Go, Homestead, SST, and so on. AmRep had many name bands on its roster: Melvins, Helmet, The Cows, Boss Hog, Chokebore, Helios Creed, Nashville Pussy, God Bullies, Dwarves, etc. Perhaps the single most overlooked band on the entire roster was HoF, Hazelmeyer's own band. It was also one of the most overlooked bands of the entire indie explosion.

HoF was an unholy amalgamation of 60s garage psych, the MC5/Stooges protopunk axis, the spirit of 77, sharp British Mod, and outright noise. From the very first single, they were all about desperate, linear forward drive: "Rubber Room" sprints ahead like muscular vintage Detroit sheet metal & iron. As the short time passed, our heroes became more practiced in the studio, and their sound progressed from driven to compressed to claustrophobic to explosive. Songwriting, never HoF's strong point, became progressively more irrelevant as the band evolved. The final studio single, Big Mod Hate Trip, was the most blatantly Mod work they did, and as such did feature a lttle more in the way of songwriting, but otherwise displayed the same undifferentiated nihilism of the later HoF work.

Punk rock is always rock - that is, it always has a certain conceit to hang its hat onto. The Ramones were nothing more that a fast and loud pop band (with the Phil Spector/Shadow Morton/New York street sound being the epitome of pop for them). The Sex Pistols were a fashion statement. The pre-punk New York scene was heavily associated with the visual/performance art scene, as well as the Romantics (not the band!) as patron saints. The Clash had their proletariat politics, Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys had their political satire, the West Coast generally had their rebellion to American bourgeois culture. Halo of Flies has none of that: they only have the raw primal roar of negation, they only have the noise.

HoF is a punk power trio that reveals itself with aggressively buzzing distorted guitar, raw-throated grunting midrange vocals, Keith Moon-styled drums, and major compression. Hazelmeyer's guitar riffs are less song components than gestures, and Anglim's drums run forward with the sputtering logic of shortwave static (not unlike Moon himself did all those years ago). As mentioned, HoF doesn't deal with song writing per se, but rather produce objects (songs) with different scars and textures. The band's preferred method of releasing their music (all 7"s, no albums except to compile the singles) is apropos, since every single song is an expression of the same raw, pre-verbal demons. There is plenty of variety within the songs (much more so than the average pop/punk band), yet taken as a whole, a HoF collection is a bit brutal and overwhelming. In this sense, HoF is more like grindcore bands such as Napalm Death than other punk bands.

Punk rock is simple. It also doesn't bear repeating ad infinitum. Punk bands either evolve beyond punk, break up, or become parodies of themselves. So, The Clash restyle themselves as the new Rolling Stones with updated reference points, the Sex Pistols break up, The Ramones keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. Halo of Flies had a short, intense career, a career that may have ended up completely off the radar if not for the success of the other bands on Hazelmeyer's record label. Halo of Flies is the epitome of raw, nihilistic angst, and they don't let music or musicianship stand in the way . . . more than music to represent the thing, HoF comes closer than perhaps any other band to the thing itself.

Raw, spectacular, and stripped of artifice, Halo of Flies is the ultimate punk rock band.


shannon d carman said...

Halo of Flies was one of the bands that dragged me into the sick world of underground music. 1985-1990 were the years I discovered many great and strange bands that still haunt me to this day. I have many thanks to give to Eric Hehe and Bill Zink, for being partial guides to this world of strange and powerful music. Back when a record store was still a place of discovery, Bill worked in one of the better ones (he made it a better one). I always had a curiosity for the obscure but Bill was always ready to suggest more and help guide the way. I may have even bought Rubber Room from him at Karma in Bloomington so many years ago. Thanks for the tribute of such a great band and for reminding me how truly tremendous AmRep was in its heyday.

Matt said...

Long live Halo of Flies!
Granted, I'm a sucker for all things Mod, but they just rocked the shit out of everything. After you hear them, whether or not they're mod, punk or whatever becomes secondary.

I'm going to have to get me some HoF. As an aside, Halo of Flies is one of the greatest band names ever.

Matt said...

btw: great video, exceptional song. the video has everything a guy could want - classic cars, smashing stuff, quick cuts, etc.

Bill Zink said...

Matt - Virtually their entire recorded output is on Music for Insect Minds.