REVIEW: Severed Heads – “Op1.2”

By JHR

Chain Border

This is Op1.2. It's a lot different from the previous versions (now deleted) Op1.0 and Op1.1. If that makes it sound like an experiment in software releasing, then that would be entirely correct. Welcome to the slightly off-kilter world of Severed Heads.

My own introduction to that world happened in 1985. I was busily video-taping sections of the Max Headroom programme, since that was one of the few places you'd get to see/hear music that was too odd for the mainstream, yet not quite odd enough to be played by the god-like John Peel. If that makes things sound like some unlikely netherworld, that's because it was.

WordsSo anyway. This mad racket leaps out of the telly at me, accompanied by mad looped visuals of airliner crash-tests. At least three different tunes seemed to be fighting for supremacy as what sounded like a US bible-thumper urged me to perform distinctly Cronenburgian acts with the TV set. Hypnotic didn't even come close to describing what was going on. It was like finding the channel that the chaps in the Black Helicopters were using to beam instructions to their Army of Mindless Drones, or maybe something from the reality that was at an angle of several degrees to our own. I was out of the house and down the record shop before you could say 'Bugger. It's Saturday evening and the place is shut...' That mad racket was Goodbye Tonsils, released as both a splendidly long 12" and also to be found on the album City Slab Horror.

Op1.2 is...somewhat less odd. Sometimes. Bits of it sound like they might go out drinking with some particularly joyful and uplifting techno. Other bits sound like angry samplers waving bits of broken bottle at each other and daring someone to start something. Still other parts sound like glorious technopop that's here on a day-trip from another planet and just can't help whistling a happy tune. And there are still other parts that are the familiarly hypnotic mix of found sounds and gleefully psychedelic loops that careen across your head with reckless abandon.

The odd thing about Severed Heads is that, for a band most people have never heard of, they're...everywhere. It seems that every time I get talking to someone about music, they've a Sevs anecdote. Like the chap who wandered up to the ICA for the legendary Sevs/Hula/Danielle Dax concert, hoping to pick up a returned ticket at the box office, but was given a backstage pass by a complete stranger who happened to have one spare. Or the fellow who I was chatting to in a tiny pub in Whitby. It turned out he'd promoted two Severed Heads gigs. Or indeed the time that being in Severed Heads saved me from a beating...

I was travelling up through rural Alabama, on the way from New Orleans to Chicago, and had stopped for fuel and food reasonably late at night in some middle-of-nowhere place where what passed for civilisation had clustered round the petrol-station. I walk in the place, a long-haired English bloke in a leather jacket and black jeans, and conversation stops.

"You all in a band?" rumbles the largest and scariest of the natives.

Visions of both Deliverance and Southern Comfort are struggling for attention in the front of my head. While I'm not exactly paralysed with fear, it's more than obvious that things would not go well if I gave the 'wrong' answer. Thus, common sense failed to prevail..."Yes, I am."

"Damn! I knewed it! What all's your band called, boy?" he rumbled in a satisfied and moderately less scary manner.

One of the CDs that had been keeping me sane on the drive had been the Nettwerk re-release of Come Visit the Big Bigot With Dead Eyes Opened (A lash-up of the album Come Visit the Big Bigot and the 12" Dead Eyes Opened), so without much hesitation I replied, "Er...Severed Heads..."

There followed a reasonably in-depth discussion about what I did, where I'd been and how he could 'always spot musicians' because he was a DJ at the local radio station. I made my excuses and left as quickly as possible, because I wanted to be far away before he managed to pull any Sevs recordings from the record library and give them a listen...

Anyway. Buy Severed Heads records. They'll change your life, too.

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