History in Reverse


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History in Reverse Review

by Johnny Loftus

In 2004, K Records' History in Reverse compiled the brief but captivating output of the Blackouts, a pioneering post-punk quartet that also played an interesting role in the development of Ministry and its environs. Led by the strident wail of vocalist/guitarist Erich Werner, early Blackouts singles like 1979's "Make No Mistake" matched the stark pace of Wire but aligned it with choppy, more melodic guitar and synth parts. That approach was even more evident on 1980's Men in Motion EP, where "Being Be" and "Five Is 5" played opaque lyrics and deliberate rhythms off inventive, even catchy little hooks. In retrospect there are kernels of both new wave and synth pop in there, not to mention some of the basis for 21st century indie groups like the Rapture. But the Blackouts shifted in 1981, when synth player Roland Barker switched predominantly to saxophone and his bassist brother Paul Barker joined the group. As the 1981 single "Industry" proves, they'd embraced the tension in Barker and drummer Bill Rieflin's rhythms, and were building atmosphere from echoing sax and Werner's increasing lyrical claustrophobia. The shift manifested with 1983's Lost Soul's EP. Produced by Al Jourgensen and originally issued on Wax Trax!, the set is an early example of the proto-industrial sound that Jourgensen, the Barker brothers, and Rieflin would eventually develop with groups like Ministry and Revolting Cocks. The former's nearly relentless scream and pound didn't grow directly from the Blackouts. But the consistent churn of Barker's bass, Rieflin's economic yet powerful drumming, and the grimy shred of guitars and sax that punctuated Lost Soul's material like "Idiot" and "Writhing" would eventually resurface in releases like the 1990 RevCo LP Beers, Steers & Queers. For Blackouts aficionados, History in Reverse includes three previously unreleased tracks. Recorded in Boston in 1984, they play on a grainy line separating post-punk from mechanistic industrial, offering a more melodic feel than Lost Soul's Club, but keeping the tension at full strength. One, "It's Clay Again," even ends -- likely uncoincidentally -- with the phrase "land of milk and honey." [History also included a previously unissued video for "Idiot," complete recording information, and an essay discussing the Blackouts' legacy.]

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