For context, that which frightened me as a child is that in which I now take comfort. Despite my childhood fears of boogeymen, axe murderers, and the glowing visage of my own 5-1/2” tall Skeletor, I now find that stylized images of death, made familiar and trusted by metal and horror movies, have become a palliative. Thunder Bay trio VHS must’ve followed a similar path as they aged, as they act out a serious 80s horror obsession on their debut album Screaming Mad Gore. Their goregrind sound is curated directly from the back racks of the video store where they must’ve coveted, rented, and absorbed every film featuring a lurid, bloody title. These nineteen songs are homage to the 80s rogues gallery, the era of the stalking man in the mask and expulsing geysers of blood. Screaming doesn’t just draw on horror movie imagery or the sounds of sickening grind, but cuts a broad swath with those tools of warming, bat-shit metal fun.
The album’s madness starts with a scene-setting, wall-crawling intro, which is immediately followed by the eighteen-second title track, a lil’ ripper that’s all punk sloppiness and a rivet-tight chorus. Then there’s the first wide left turn into cinema’s underbelly with “Never Sleep Again”. Reappropriating Elm Street’s familiar nursery rhyme as an insidious chorus for this thrashy song almost isn’t fair; I’ve had that simple rhyme stuck in my head for days after the films, never mind the effect it has with VHS’ combination of buzzing riffs and gurgling lead vocals supported by bellowing echoes.
This is what VHS does exceptionally well: provide an amped-up, blood-crusted take on the hedonistic, suppurating spirit of these lower-budget, gonzo films through scrappy riffs, clattering drums, and ravaged vocals. They’re referencing a time before the canonization of John Carpenter, when these films were watched as disposable trash meant to shock and sicken, but also to entertain, and the band aims to do the same thing. The verve and delight VHS brings to minute-long bursts like “Radioactive Rat Attack”, “Demons”, and “When Sleeping Bay Meets Tree” shines through not just because they’re referencing familiar material, but because they’re having a shit-ton of fun with it. It’s the same excitement you get recapping a particularly freaky part of one of those movies with your friends where you replicate all the sound effects. Appropriately enough, there are some guest musicians at this party, with the standout contribution of Stevo from Impetigo lending his roar to “Island of Death”.
It helps considerably that VHS also mix up their attack. Songs are generally quick and dirty, and you could easily fit the band’s music under the goregrind header, but that’s not the only speed at which they operate. Gutter punk scuzz, classic rock leads, doom’s majestic pace, even acidic psychedelic rock are bent into the riffs, the variety of which keeps the momentum lurching forward. For every speedy, spastic song like “Stomped”, which is all flailing guitar, jokey chorus, and the rhythm section falling over itself, there’s more ear-bending to be found in the concentric doom of “Cavity Crawlers”, or the claustrophobic haunting of “The Night He Came Home”. It’s on these tracks that the band ascends past the genre trappings of gross-out gore and explores something fearful that, like all great horror movies, stays with you long after. Grind may be VHS’ weapon of choice, but like their masked anti-heroes, they’re just as adept using whatever sharpened tool they happen to pick up.
(Splatter Zombie Records)