Hell-Breaking-Loose Grandeur: Destruction Unit’s “Deep Trip”

Destruction Unit
Deep Trip
Sacred Bones

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You can picture them careening wildly about the Arizona desert, assaulting saguaros with a righteous – some might say vehement – noise. A sometimes sprawling, lysergic/aggressive stoner rock collective-of-sorts (though these are some seriously unmellow stoners with rough and ready edges and a kaleidoscopic darkness), Destruction Unit is primarily known as an astutely-named force of nature that rose out of the Sonoran desert like punk rock psych behemoths at the dawn of the 21st century’s second decade and began to wreak a type of finely-wrought-yet-feral sonic carnage. Notably, however, the story actually stretches a good six years further back, to a solo synth-punk project hatched by Ryan Rousseau in the same Memphis environs that were breeding Jay Reatard and Alicja Trout, two previous collaborators/band members.

Even as the ‘punk’ side of that hyphenate was more emphasized than the ‘synth,’ the early 80’s Some Bizarre infections were unmistakeable (and in case they weren’t, covering “Warm Leatherette” made sure of it). When Rousseau dragged brother Rusty into the Southwestern desert and reinvented the band, a curious thing occurred: as the aural mayhem increased exponentially, the voice at the center of it became more sonorous, less punk shrill, more looming portent. Though almost certainly not designed, there’s nonetheless something of a cosmic coincidence at work here, an odd little mystery of timing and (possibly) unbidden influence.

Let me explain. Here’s guitarist (one of three along with Ryan and Nick Nappa) Col. Jesco Starewell Aurelius – you can call him JS – speaking to the band’s writing process in an interview with Noisey: “…someone starts playing and everyone else just follows until pieces are in place. After we jam long enough, we listen back to it and cherry-pick the stuff we liked…” Well, as it happens, that’s exactly how early Bauhaus used to operate, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” the most well-known – and clearly process-driven – example. And, as it happens, that sometimes wavering, shadow cave baritone we hear in the middle of Deep Trip‘s maelstrom betrays more than a passing Murphy-esque likeness, not least on opening salvo “The World On Drugs” (though, to be strictly honest, on the shoutier parts the nod would have to go to Dave Vanian but those two were virtual larynx twins anyway, so). Whether an act of dark kismet or canny intention, the effect is an agreeably anchoring one. The band wails plenty as it is and it suits to have that authoritative, surprisingly steady voice holding down the floor while the walls and rafters are in danger of being splintered.

DU band shot

This being a band for whom ‘nuance’ is a French-sounding word that would probably best go unuttered in the craggy, sandblasted soundscapes they specialize in, you expect a racket and get one. Despite bordering on merciless and nearly always furious as a Bandersnatch (though the 6+ minute “Bumpy Road” – a mite counter-intuitively – does offer a respite of sorts, its pace more deliberate), the music on Deep Trip retains a method-to-their-madness stability, making them the slightly less frenetic cousins to the Butthole Surfers, another band that called the arid, dusty, insanity-soaked southern borderlands home.

What all this amounts to, in a phrase, is a punk rock jam band and Destruction Unit carry that banner not only proudly but with a fuzzed-out proficiency. “Final Flight” phases in and out like it’s being blown around by a fierce Pima Canyon wind, freight train coming straight at us; the short “God Trip” exploits a single note of slight discord and builds it into a thundercloud, raining down an enormous peal of controlled chaos, while “The Holy Ghost,” a highlight, roils with melody and even visits drone territory, taking time to periodically trip into a mad rush of a psych-punk wig out. Opus status, however, has to go to album-capper “Night Loner,” the rhythm section – brother Rusty bass, Andrew Flores drums – bashingly, courageously holding down the center while the tempest lashes all around them in a hell-breaking-loose grandeur, guitars strip-mining the arroyos on contact, sweeping brush and small mammals up into a terrifying funnel cloud, corrugated solos chasing each other around like it’s a game of take-no-prisoners tag. Massive, inspiring in its sheer sonic architecture, the thing lassos a fury that, left unbridled, could gouge the Southwest a whole new chasm, a rift of riffs, if you will, a fresh, exciting destination for the discerning traveler, full of crashing cataracts, vaulting multicolored screes and dust devils dressed in brutally-spiked tie-dyed leather vests. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Grim Canyon. These are your guides, Destruction Unit, they’ll be happy to show you around.

– Dave Cantrell