The spotted hyena (often called ‘laughing’ because of its hysterical-sounding grunts, giggles and yells) is famous for the merciless way it devours its prey, leaving nothing on the carcus save hair and hooves, bones finally crushed with its teeth. The strange whooping sounds which accompany the introduction to Animals evoke the nightmarish images of cannibalism Dwane Warr claims to have had during the making of this obscure metal classic in 1986. It was self-produced in Warr’s trailer park home in South Carolina with just a handful of instruments, an 8-track recorder, probably a stash of old 70s metal albums and industrial-sized quantities of drugs and alcohol. Reacting badly to criticism of his debut, the droned-out psychedelic Starting Out, released 2 years earlier, the self-obsessed factory worker and spare-time musician tried to make a country record to appease his critics. When things didn’t work out, in rage and vengeance he vowed to make the true follow-up the heaviest album he could imagine. Emerging from his stupor weeks later with the darkly paranoid and haunting masterpiece Animals, doom metal was finally born! Drag City have now seen fit to re-release this curiosity, along with its predecessor.
But the story doesn’t quite end there … Warr is said to have later “found” God, and in a blind rage destroyed all the Dwarr mastertapes and old recordings he could get his hands on. You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you …? So Animals place as a cult classic has been assured, with pride of place among record collectors and metal archivists alike … but musically was it truly worth saving from the fires of Warr’s hell?
The weird animal noises and screaming moog feedback of the title track signal some of the treats in store. ‘Evil Lures’ starts with laughter, quickly turning into a dark screaming Ozz-fest, proving 2 minutes is all you need to be frog-marched off to hell. It sets the tone for the album: ‘Ghost Lovers’ could certainly be son of ‘Iron Man’, and the doomed lover theme is extended with spoken word horror ‘That Deadly Night’, again hinting at some of Sabbath’s darker moments (“When the room is strobing and you know there’s no return and your brain is faltering if only it would burn”). Resistance at this point would seem to be futile … and why fight it? The drums are heavy (the only concession to other musicians, local session player Ron Sparks), the bass is deathly and booming, guitars shriek and soar, odd-sounding keyboard-fills spike the mix with further fear and loathing … and Warr’s vocals apply the finishing touches: ‘Animals’ is the great harbinger of doom.
But there are also spaced-out elements which lift the album out of the mire (albeit briefly!), a nod more towards prog and Hawkwind. ‘Cannabinol: The Function’ raises the tempo slightly, screeching guitars and a nice rush of adrenlin at the beginning before stratospheric co-ordinates are re-set (“No problems through the dimensions, I see her reaching for me, I am here eternally, when I am not knocked out of my mind”). Awkwardly titled ‘Chocolate Mescaline’ still has a whimper which it can’t shake off, but the guitar phrasing is ferocious and boundless, striking out in every direction like a wild beast. ‘Time’ is marching and robotic, this proto-space-rock oddly out of place amongst the wilder numbers.
Fans of sludge metal won’t be disappointed either. ‘Are You Real’ is slow, drawn out and crazed, distorted guitar aka Melvins ‘Ozma’ or ‘Bullhead’ period. ‘Just Keep Running’ picks up the tempo slightly, wild and unhinged, but a tune is fighting to be heard, probably how Jimi Hendrix would sound making a pop single. ‘Lonely Space Traveller’ gives the ears a bit of respite, breathy gasping vocals returning us to a more gloom-laden atmosphere, vestiges of swamp or stoner rock, and a surprising highlight on this record (“Lonely space traveller beware, someone searching for you out there, they want to tear your soul never let your reach your goal, but you’ll just pass them by, never ask them the reasons why …”). ‘Lucky star’ whirs and chimes like some sort of doom-laden spaceship, reminding us all of the final destination (“hunting for love, lost in the sky in a lonely world”). For all its wildness, it’s hard to mistake the pained yelps of a wounded animal as the album fades.
Possibly dated and a few too many Spinal Tap moments for comfort, but the metal fraternity will no doubt champion ‘Animals’ as seminal, a foaming rabid beast of an album, in fact, and who would argue with them? Some of the darkly paranoid drug-induced themes suggest the soundtrack of a man going steadily out of his mind, a harder pill to swallow, so probably best enjoyed in a sober state, not dwelling too much on this album’s troubled history. Dwarr released a further 2 albums, ‘Holy One’ in 2000 and ‘Times Of Terror’ in 2003, but ‘Animals’ was definitely a ‘one-off’. His MySpace sight is still busy so it might be too early to write him off … meantime pass me my ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’!