Prog rock firebrand Ben Sommer is a man on a mission; bayonet-ended guitar in hand, he’s going to advance with his one man army whether you’re listening or not. ‘Super Brain’ sounds like the result of some kind of creative outburst, moving further away from the succinct rockism and sloganeering of previous album ‘America’d’ to something more esoteric and personal. Henry Miller said, “We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul.” Ultimately, I trawl through hours of music, not necessarily in search of the archetypal ‘classic album’ but for a few minutes of excitement or even bewilderment. I’m pleased to say that where ‘America’d‘, for all its caustic intent, fell flat on this front, ‘Super Brain’ has a rich enough vein of fire and madness to make a prolonged visit worthwhile.
‘Young Turks’ is the closest we get to the ‘old’ Sommer, the familiar Diamond Dave crusading yelp as confidently difficult as the musical accompaniment; FM rock power chords colliding with modality in the riffs and melody in the solos. There is a Mr Bungle-style vocal breakdown, and their shadow is cast over much of the record. The track could do with finishing there and then; instead there’s a rather messy resolution and fade-out. It does, however, help point us toward murkier, noisier territory. ‘I Married a Prostitute’ continues to daub this grotesque of state and media-dependent Western civilization, yet the approach is more impressionistic, the seasick free jazz-rock brought to mind the etherised carousel bad trip in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.
Lumbering, distorted riffage meets satanic Blaxploitation funk in ‘Baby Mother’. For all the cruelty and scathing disgust vented (‘And now she is a mother /a gap-toothed welfare sucker /she squirts them out by the hour’), I sense a tinge of tragedy and regret in that keening brass. It may be entirely accidental. This might be ‘Super Brain’, but ironically there seems to be more coming from the heart here, some pain even. The self-made prog Űberman may well be horrified at this suggestion of sensitivity, but it sure makes for more compelling music.
Much like a commercial break in the middle of car crash reality TV, the next three tracks are brief, unnerving and far from providing respite, serve only to dehumanise the horror of the main programming; much like… you get the idea. ‘Consumerism’ is a 60 second close-harmony Christmas carol which mercilessly repeats the word ‘shopping’ in mock festive glee. It’s every bit as creepy as Mark E Smith’s take on ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing‘. The short burst of ‘Cadaverism’ pushes all my metal buttons: fierce, growling thrash splattered with Satriani squeals, ending up sounding a lot like former BR Band of the Week Down I Go.
‘Fist’ is the one thing on here that suggests a single, notwithstanding its shamelessly violent provokation, which is gloriously at odds with the delightfully crunchy psych-pop arrangement. ‘De Profundis’ keeps things on an upward trajectory with organ muzak defiled by scabrous prog metal. ‘Count to Twelve’s bleak Mike Patton-isms skew any notion of a ‘conventional’ rock album even further, while ‘Dark Grey Matter’, as one might expect, wanders around a harsh instrumental maze, as the sane world ebbs further and further away. Closing pair ‘Deo Gracias Anglia’ and ‘Cloaca Maxima’ are chainmail-adorned Mediaeval rock with horrible two-part harmonies, impenetrable layers and shifting structures. This culmination is brutally ugly, yet apt and strangely addictive.
The album is all over the shop; confusing, often brilliant, bordering on insane and equipped with all the tools to terrify anyone from ages five to eighty-five. You should at least share a few sittings with it, otherwise you may miss out on a seriously fucked-up experience.