Bassist/producer Bill Laswell‘s discography may seem imposing at first glance, but there are several subsets, and once you work it out, you can pretty easily pick and choose the stuff that appeals to you. For example, I don’t care much for his work as a producer (especially not when it comes to rock and metal acts—he ruined albums by White Zombie and Iggy Pop, and what he did to/with Motörhead‘s Orgasmatron is still up for debate), or his dub-oriented stuff, and vastly prefer to hear him actually playing the bass. If you like that aspect of his work, too, you can check out:
• his early ’80s skronk-prog trio Massacre, with guitarist Fred Frith and drummer Fred Maher;
• Last Exit, his quartet with guitarist Sonny Sharrock, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson;
• Pain Killer, his trio with saxophonist John Zorn and drummer Mick Harris (avoid any Pain Killer disc Harris doesn’t play on);
• Praxis, originally a various-artists studio project but later a ferocious live band featuring guitarist Buckethead, drummer Brain and DJ Disk;
• Arcana, a trio with guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer Tony Williams;
• Purple Trap, the trio he formed for one two-CD set with Japanese avant-rock guitarist/vocalist Keiji Haino and free jazz drum legend Rashied Ali;
• bootlegs of live performances by Bladerunner, the quartet featuring Zorn, Frith, and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo
The self-titled debut CD by The Blood of Heroes, named for a better-than-you-think dystopian sci-fi/fantasy movie starring Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen (available on DVD), is a dubby industrial-metal collaboration with guitarist Justin K Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu, a zillion other projects), electronic producers Submerged and End.user, and vocalist Dr. Israel (himself a post-ragga/drum ‘n’ bass producer whose work blends reggae, dub, punk rock and hip-hop). Some tracks also feature live drums. In a lot of ways it’s reminiscent of mid-1990s work by Ice and Techno Animal, two of Broadrick’s other projects, both of which involved producer Kevin Martin (who now makes industrial-strength dancehall and dubstep as The Bug, Razor X Productions and King Midas Sound). Albums like Ice’s Under the Skin and Techno Animal’s Radio Hades (which gathered up their 12″ singles and contributions to the Electric Ladyland series of compilations) mixed floor-shaking bass and concrete-cracking drums with waves of psychedelic distortion and post-metal guitar. The Blood of Heroes is very much in that spirit, as drum ‘n’ bass rhythms collide with blown-out, shouted ragga vocals prophesying and/or celebrating the apocalypse, Broadrick’s trademark postpunk-meets-doom riffage, and squelching synths. There’s relatively little Laswell bass to be heard; when he is in the mix, he’s distorted, not dubby. This feels like Broadrick’s show, not unlike Disconnected, the CD he released in 2009 under the Greymachine moniker, in collaboration with Dave Cochrane (of Ice), Diarmuid Dalton (of Jesu) and Aaron Turner (of Isis). Whether on short tracks like the aggressive “Wounds Against Wounds” or the dreamy, Jesu-esque “Remain,” or on the album’s longest cut, the pounding, doomy “Descend Destroy,” The Blood of Heroes is like an unceasing wave of pummeling beats and roaring guitars. Unexpected sounds drop in from time to time, like the Middle Eastern vocals and percussion on the disc’s penultimate track, “Bound,” but they’re seamlessly assimilated into the overall sound.
The remix disc, Remain, doesn’t add that much to the music. It opens with a Joel Hamilton/Submerged mix of “Descend Destroy” that’s only about half as long as the original and chains it to a faster beat that saps much of the original’s crushing power. Similarly, the Enduser Remix of “Remain” takes away the dreamy, Jesu-esque guitars (the chugging metal riff does arrive at the two-minute mark), replacing them with synths and drill ‘n’ bass drum programming that create a distance the original piece was better off without. For highly structured, studio-based music, it had real emotional power, and this mix doesn’t. Fortunately, Broadrick gets to take a crack at “Remain” himself and turns it all the way into a Jesu track. Making it all the way through a Jesu album awake can be a trick, but in small doses that sound is extraordinarily heartfelt and beautiful. In between versions of “Remain,” Dälek attempt to turn “Chains” into a hip-hop track, and nearly succeed.
The disc also features two very different versions of “Wounds Against Wounds”; the Kuma Remix is beat-driven, with sampled vocals and grinding guitars; the disc-closing Gunshae’s Sunset Over English Bay Remix, by contrast, is a shimmering ambient instrumental like the sun rising over the post-apocalyptic landscape we’ve been exploring for most of the previous 45 minutes. There’s also a version of “Transcendent” that’s nine minutes long, as compared with the four-minute album version, which is another slow, hazy slab of beauty, albeit one underpinned by a monster Laswell bassline and a hypnotically minimal drum loop; and there’s one more take on “Remain,” this one a short and seemingly live rehearsal take, proving this could be a real live band if the members had enough time in their insane work schedules to get together and make it happen. Ultimately, Remain is as non-essential as every remix album ever, but it’s a nice addendum to the self-titled album, which is almost certainly destined to be the sole full-on release by this group, at least under this name (Laswell and Broadrick’s working relationship goes back 20 years, all the way to the guitarist’s guest spot on the second Pain Killer EP, Buried Secrets, in 1991). And if you like one, you’re sure to like the other, since none of these mixes radically reinvent the group’s sound—they just turn it slightly one way or another, exposing a different side.