In a way, the Residents might be the definitive Halloween band. Preferring to stay completely anonymous, they’ve never appeared in public without some kind of costume — usually disembodied eyeballs with tuxes and top hats. Their few interviews are often fielded by their management company (the aptly named Cryptic Corporation), while the Residents themselves silently clown around with the childlike creepiness of deranged amusement park mascots. On top of that, their music is often deliberately perverse, unpleasant, and bizarre. In their early career this was often played for laughs — their first few albums are sublime slices of Dadaist nonsense — but their later works have been increasingly, almost unrelentingly dark.
The album I’d originally set out to cover was God in Three Persons (1988),Â a genuinely disturbing concept album about violent sexual compulsion and conjoined twins with healing powers, but something about that choice just wasn’t right. For one thing, the music had a bit too much ’80s MIDI chintziness to it, and the occasional intrusion of an ugly-sounding “Greek chorus” (“THIS IS A SAD PART … OH, IT’S SUCH A SAD PART!”) almost felt like a cop-out. It’s like they were saying, “Sure, this album’s dark, but don’t worry — we’re still the same ol’ WaCkY Residents!” Though I still love the album and consider it to be the band’s masterpiece, the nature of this series demands something more potent, scarewise.
Roadworms: The Berlin Sessions (2000) is a selection of songs recorded in rehearsals for the band’s Wormwood tour, a show based around an album based around the most gruesome and horrifying stories of the Old Testament. While the album, 1998’s Wormwood: Curious Stories From the Bible,Â was once again a bit too MIDI-reliant to have the right kind of musical impact, the live-in-the-studio versions scamper and slither between bursts of nightmarish noise and seething, skin-crawling, understated menace. One of the major improvements is the presence of guitarist Nolan Cook, an extremely skilled musician who’s nonetheless capable of creating the most hideous sounds known to mortal man. The vocals count for a lot, though, giving life to a virtual rogue’s gallery of forsaken Bible characters.
Ironically, for an album whose source material is the Bible itself, the relentless racket and spooky stage reverb make this sound like it was recorded in the depths of hell. “Judas Saves,” the album’s climax, may seem innocuous enough for the first few minutes … but just you wait.