The Lazarus Pit: Treponem Pal’s Aggravation

Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love; stuff that’s essential listening for students of extreme metal that you’ve probably never heard of; stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for.  This time around, we have the second, best release from the second best band to be named after a nasty strain of bacteria: Treponem Pal’s Aggravation (Roadrunner).
A whole bunch of acts sprang up in the immediate aftermath of Amebix’s landmark Arise and Swans’ Cop that were directly influenced by the nihilistic filth that those two records perfected.  I mean, that was 1984-85, right around the time that Prong formed, Ministry decided to stop being a synthpop band, and ideas started to coalesce in the fertile mind of a janitor named Trent Reznor.  Treponem Pal, however, assembled in the hinterlands of France, well away from the burgeoning scenes in New York and Chicago.  In fact, that may have been one of the things that saved them from becoming yet another unremarkable industrial metal outfit.

Even though they get lumped into that category, Treponem Pal — at least up until 1997’s Higher — were never really industrial.  Not in the “Head Like a Hole”/Jesus Built My Hotrod” keyboards-and George-Bush-samples sense.  Instead, like Killing Joke, their music evoked urban blight and despair in the bluntest ways possible, fueled by raw, primal anger of the kind so capably conjured by Helmet on 1992’s Strap It On.   Sure, they had the tight, militaristic beat and the jarring, discordant song structures of their crust punk and no wave predecessors.  They also had the heaviness of thrash metal and the directness of 80s hardcore.  This is slow, abrasive, nihilistic… civilization’s decay in musical form.

1991’s aptly titled Aggravation, their sophomore effort, was the release on which TP really harnessed that apocalyptic intensity (and, in fact, it was produced by a Swan).  Feedback bleeds off of every instrument, but not in the stoner rock way.  It’s like the guitars are buzzing with rage.  Marco Neves’ bark always feels as nasty as his bite.  And those drums crack like gunshots.  It’s no wonder these guys never made the jump to the mainstream, especially without any songs as catchy as “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.”  Even the Kraftwerk cover makes you feel grimy, and that’s probably the most commercial thing on here.  Otherwise, the tunes range from midtempo rants to exhausting dirges more conducive to snapping your neck than your fingers.

Still, even without that mainstream success, their legacy rests in how forward thinking they were.  In a recording studio in Zürich in 1990, they not only evoked Birmingham in 1980, but foreshadowed the sound of Chicago in 2010 – just listen to Yakuza or even the latest Nachtmystium and tell me you don’t hear vestiges of Treponem Pal.  Apparently, all it takes to be timeless is the ability to articulate the angst and despair of modern society.

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