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POP MUSIC REVIEW : My Sister's Machine Comes on Loud but Not Very Clear

May 18, 1992|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WESTMINSTER — The rage, aggression and other primal emotions expressed by a lot of metal bands seems to have reached a point where it really can't be taken much further within the present format, suggesting that it may be time to push the genre onward a bit.

For example, instead of having guys fire off machine-gun-like staccato riffs on their guitars and basses, why not bypass the onomatopoeia and get real Uzis and Thompsons to lay down the sound, with maybe a sawed-off shotgun taking the place of the kick drum? Bands worrying about decimating their fan base could use blanks, I suppose, though the visceral effect wouldn't be as great.

And with singers nowadays striving for an incomprehensible guttural rasp in their vocals, let's instead just strap a wireless microphone onto a vicious barking attack dog--one that sounds like Hitler on Alpo--and let him have the run of the stage. And try though Axl Rose might, there's no way he could match the carnage Fang might wreak when he leaps into the crowd. You could call the group Down Boy!, get an attorney and watch the money roll in.

In the meantime we'll just have to make do with shows like the double-bill of My Sister's Machine and White Zombie at the Marquee Saturday night.

After years of Southern California slowly ruining the Pacific Northwest with a steady influx of yuppies, it's only fair that the Northwest is now exacting its revenge with a slew of new-breed metal bands. Though the groups can be more thought-provoking and more engagingly grungy than the genre typically allows, My Sister's Machine made a pretty compelling reason Saturday for Southlanders to stay right where we are.

On its debut album, "Diva," My Sister's Machine comes off as more melodic and more propulsive than its Seattle soul mates Alice in Chains (of which Machine singer Nick Pollock was an early member) and Soundgarden. Onstage, though, those qualities flattened out into a lank-haired generic grunge that prompted much of the audience to exit long before the hourlong show had concluded.

The guitar-driven quartet's set opened promisingly with a dense, atmospheric attack on Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine." Between that and the clunky version of Sugarloaf's "Green-Eyed Lady" that closed the show, though, the group's own songs seemed to melt into each other, with little to distinguish them. Pollock's bald, questioning lyrics--tackling love-hate relationships in "I Hate You," sex as a weapon in "Monster Box," and redemption through life's miseries in "Pain"--were largely lost due to his growling delivery and the deafening sound mix.

The songs were all from the "Diva" album, with the exception of "Sixteen Ways to Go," a song about environmental ruin that said nothing new, except, perhaps, that electric guitars can be a real waste of resources, too.

The group performed its upcoming single "I Hate You" twice, as it was being filmed for a video, and they felt that the audience--despite exhortations to tear it up for the cameras--wasn't faking enthusiasm well enough. Had the group been one-twentieth as original or engaging as L.A.'s Firehose is on an average night, the prompting wouldn't have been necessary.

Though about as deep and serious as a "Batman" episode, co-headliner White Zombie proved a more compelling act. The New York-bred, Los Angeles-based quartet is a trash compactor overloaded with heavy '70s riffs and television sensibilities, strained through some psychedelicized lobes into singer Rob Zombie's stream-of-consonants vocals.

On a stage enlivened by rotating police lights and towering bug-eyed Weird-o cardboard figures, the dreadlocked or be-permed band members whipped their hair about relentlessly as they churned out palpably machine gun-like riffs. With his knotted locks and tattered headdress, in the murky light singer Zombie (a.k.a. Rob Straker) looked like he had the head of a buffalo. His vocals pretty well matched the image, with perhaps seven words being discernible all evening. Those seven, it should be noted, seemed to be, " Yeargh, baby! Nraugh! Rauch! Raugnaught! Grrrgh! Nfpt! " And he sang them as if he meant every one.

The winning quality of White Zombie was that, like the Cramps, they don't seem to regard themselves as being the least bit necessary. Instead they just came out, ranted and churned for a while, seemed to have fun, and left it at that.

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