Mr. Bungle – The Night They Came Home (Album Review)

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No bungling to be found here.

If Conan the Cimmerian’s life quest was to solve the riddle of steel, then the equivalent endeavor of the heavy metal community might just be unmasking the enigma that is Mr. Bungle. Anyone who has encountered even a minute’s worth of their quirky sonic craft since their collaboration with Warner Bros. commenced in the early 90s might well have wondered just what they were hearing, if not question how a label with so much commercial would back them for a decade without much in the way of critical response. The truth, however, is that the critical field of the day, not unlike many in the general public, didn’t really know what they had when this northern California-born fold either took the stage or came blaring through their stereo speakers. But those who were active in the tape trading craze of the mid-1980s probably had a hint of things to come when their bizarrely titled experimental death/thrash demo “The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny” was making the rounds, not unlike those who knew the underground handiwork of Cynic prior to the release of 1993’s “Focus.”

To call the aforementioned extreme metal shot across the bow a consequential work would be an understatement, though it was hampered by an extremely low fidelity production that robbed it of much of its potential power and the changing musical landscape of the 1990s all but precluded it from getting a proper recording. It took a great deal of influence from the hyper-paced, dissonant rage of Slayer, the cornball humor of S.O.D., and merged it with a sense of genre-defying randomness between how the songwriting was structured and how vocalist Mike Patton would often shift from a menacing guttural bark to a zany cartoon character voice with little warning. Yet for the high amount of originality going on, it was very much a product of its time and with it being more than 30 years in the rearview, obscurity seemed to be the fate of these metallic exploits. But 2020 was a year of surprises, and among the better ones to come about was the 2019 reformation of this outfit with the addition of Scott Ian (Anthrax) and Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer) bearing fruit in both the studio and on stage.

Given that last year was such a scary time, it seems almost cosmically decreed that Mr. Bungle would re-enter the fray around Halloween, and they not only marked the occasion by re-releasing their earliest demo with four new songs the day before, but putting on a masterful live performance via live stream on the day itself dubbed “The Night They Came Home.” The studio recording received a heap of praise from noted big name rags like Rolling Stone, Decibel, and Revolver magazine, but even more astounding than these mainline outlets lending their vote of confidence to a fit of mid-80s metallic fury dressed in a 2020 production was just how close to the studio recording the subsequent concert sounded. Despite 35 years of punishment on the road and in the studio performing his man of a thousand voices shtick, Mike Patton was able to bark, shout and shriek his way through much of the set while still being able to morph into a clean cut radio announcer’s voice at a moment’s notice. Likewise, the added gravitas of Scott Ian’s rhythm guitar work and Lombardo’s precision-based, high speed kit craft provided original instrumentalists Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance the foundation upon which to shine brightly.

Although doing what is expected tends to be the first ingredient to surprise, the opposite approach would be taken with an oddball cover selection to set a deceptive mood of peace and tranquility. In other word, the set was kicked off with an almost perfectly faithful rendition of the Mr. Rogers theme song, save the occasional metallic bursts worked in between Patton’s husky croons and jazzy piano noodling. This comical prelude would prove a perfect springboard for the jarring foray into death thrashing mayhem that would commence with the Slayer meets S.O.D. chaos of “Anarchy Up Your Anus”, a stylistic contrast point only rivaled by the monstrous rendition of the introduction to “Hell Awaits” giving way to the retro folksy balladry of Seals & Croft hit “Summer Breeze”. Another point of interest that involves a display of genre eclecticism includes a throwback to the glory days of punk rock with an exaggerated vocal twist in the band’s interpretation of Circle Jerks song “World Up My Ass”, not to mention furthering the comedic angle with further fixation on various things being immersed in the rectal cavity.

Then again, for all the short speeders and comedic nods to the past to be found on here, it is very much a serious affair from a musical standpoint. Much of the original source material from the original 1986 demo such as “Raping Your Mind”, “Sudden Death”, and the newly expanded thrasher “Bungle Grind” is long in scope and features plenty of bone-crushing riff work to make any 80s thrash trustee bang their head until their ears bleed. Likewise, brand new entries from the 2020 rerelease such as the towering 8 minute epic thrash excursion “Methmatics” and its shorter and more conventionally thrash-infused cousin “Glutton For Punishment” fit into the equation perfectly, emulating the older style almost to a fault as Patton throws in about as many inhuman vocalizations as he can muster amid the blur of rapid fire riffing and thunderous, machine gun drumming. But the moment that steals the show and arguably shines a light into the method behind the madness that is Mr. Bungle sound is the closing cover of Van Halen’s “Loss Of Control”, arguably a forerunner of sorts to the former’s signature experimental exploits, and definitely the most metallic and thrash-adjacent thing to come out of EVH’s arsenal.

A testament to metal finding away in this turbulent world of lockdowns and no way of touring, “The Night They Came Home” can be seen as a victory, providing a highly polished product from the stage to the speakers. It’s one of those occasions where everybody wins, from the mainline music media that seem starved for a new novelty item to feature alongside the banal pop/rock rubbish that normally fills their headlines, to that segment of the metal community that has been immersed in the still ongoing thrash metal revival craze. To be clear, this isn’t exactly what one would call pizza thrash, but some of the younger thrash crowd that have been drawn to the likes of Municipal Waste, Gama Bomb and even darker outfits like Suicidal Angels will go for much of what is found on here. If there is any downside to this massive performance turned in by all parties involved, it’s that it comes off as a bit more stylistically uniform than any of Mr. Bungle’s more oddball 1990s offerings, but for everyone expecting a carnival in random genre-splicing being let down, there are at least as many old school thrash metal lunatics out there who won’t mind a few random twists and turns.

Released By: Ipecac Records
Released On: June 11th, 2021
Genre: Thrash Metal

Musicians:

  • Trevor Dunn / Bas
  • Trey Spruance / Guitars
  • Mike Patton / Vocals, Keyboards
  • Dave Lombardo / Drums
  • Scott Ian / Guitars

“The Night They Came Home” track listing:

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