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30 Years Ago: Butthole Surfers Assault the Senses With ‘Locust Abortion Technician’

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Daddy, what does regret mean?,” asks the innocent voice at the start of Butthole SurfersLocust Abortion Technician. “Well son, the funny thing about regret is that it’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done,” replies ‘Dad’ before adding the immortal line, “By the way, if you see your mom this weekend, be sure and tell her Satan! Satan! Satan!

Butthole Surfers were never your garden-variety punk band, and in the early ’80s, these acid-damaged, hippie-punks were on a rampage of the indie rock underbelly. College radio airplay and unhinged live shows helped their reputation grow, and by the time their third LP was issued in March 1987, they had slid into the realms of indie royalty right alongside acts like Sonic Youth and the Meat Puppets.

That first track, “Sweat Loaf,” takes the riff from Black Sabbath‘s classic “Sweat Leaf” and twists it into almost unrecognizable form. As the band pummel away, the underlying weirdness permeates the heavy riff somewhat like Black Sabbath meets the Residents during a David Lynch film festival. “Human Cannonball” is about the closest to a straight-ahead song, (as in hook, verse, chorus) as the band get here. Taking locks of hair from the Fugs as well as an arm or two from Roky Erickson, the Surfers construct their own voodoo doll, all covered in mud and slime.

“Kuntz” is nothing short of a Residents homage, while “The O-Men,” “Graveyard,” and “22 going on 23″ highlight the dark psychedelic influences that always haunted their music. Nary a flower in anyone’s hair to be found, this was the soundtrack to a bad trip, a very bad trip.

The band’s live shows of this period are the stuff of legend, borrowing  the full-on visual and sonic attack of Hawkwind and Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, mixing in films of surgeries and horrific accidents along with strobe lights, flaming cymbals and a nude dancer.

Though it was a big success in the underground at the time, in retrospect it pales in comparison to its predecessor, Rembrandt Pussyhorse, or it’s follow-up, Hairway to Steven in terms of quality material. Locust Abortion Technician is not for the faint-hearted, to say the least. It is 33 minutes of brutal and often traumatic warping of mind, body and soul.

For many, the ’80s were all about glossy and shiny fluff. Big hair, big synths, big posturing would rule that decade, but it was the underground where chaos and insanity was brewing. That would eventually bubble up in the ’90s in the post-Nevermind world of alternative rock where everyone, including the Butthole Surfers, would sign to a major label. Their surprise hit, “Pepper,” in 1996 remains one of the oddest by-products of the whole boom that they, in part, helped create.

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