Grong Grong

To Hell 'n' Back

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Seemingly everyone who has ever written at length about noise-addled Australians Grong Grong has name-checked the Birthday Party and Flipper, and not without good cause -- the abrasive racket called up by guitarist Charlie Tolnay was cut from the same sort of cloth as Roland S. Howard's work with the Birthday Party, and the repetitive, minimalist throb of bassist Dave Taskas and drummer George Klestinis would not have felt out of place on Generic Album or Gone Fishin'. But Grong Grong were peers rather than followers, and one thing that set them apart from their apparent influences was the intensity and lack of any ironic distance in their music. Plenty of bands have made music like this that's full of arty calculation, but Grong Grong gave their noises a brutal, purposeful focus and feral passion that was both comic and just a bit scary, especially when vocalist Michael Farkas let his guttural wailing go at full-blast (which happened often). Farkas lived as hard as he sang, and a 1984 drug overdose sent him into a coma for more than six months, bringing the band to a halt, and as a result, their lone album (released in 1985) was cobbled together from demo tapes and lo-fi live recordings. To Hell ‘n' Back brings together the material from the American and Australian versions of Grong Grong's self-titled LP (there were differences in the selection of the live tracks), along with some practice tapes and still more live material (some from a radio broadcast, complete with unenthusiastic commentary from the hosts), and while it doesn't sound any neater or more coherent than the original album, the sheer scale of the package makes this the definitive look at the band's short history (less than two years). Seventy-five minutes of Grong Grong in one sitting has an effect not unlike being repeatedly hit in the forehead with a bag of quarters, and the band's signature style tended to make even the well-chosen MC5, Stooges, and Cramps covers sound roughly the same as the originals, but if you're looking for a band that sonically attacked their audience and clearly meant it every step of the way, To Hell ‘n' Back delivers all the details, and the DVD included with the package (which features fan-recorded highlights of a handful of shows, including a gig opening for Public Image Ltd. that proved to be Grong Grong's last gig before Farkas' OD) confirms they looked just as creepy as they sounded, no small accomplishment.

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