CRUD: Devil at the Wheel

CRUD has constructed a sonic weapon brutal enough to sear your cerebellum in seconds

Review by Gregory S. Burkart

To those of you who followed the output of Detroit indie rockers Sponge, the latter-day project formed by their lead singer Vinnie Dombroski may come as a bit of a shock. Moody grunge-era melodies and alt radio-friendliness were left in the dust in pursuit of a much harder, far more sinister sound ? and I?d say they achieved that goal and then some. With the addition of second singer Danielle Arsenault (a noted Detroit burlesque performer), David Black on guitar, Dana Forrester on bass and Eric Hoegemeyer on skins, the lineup known as CRUD has constructed a sonic weapon brutal enough to sear your cerebellum in seconds.

Personally I can?t believe it took them this long to get their self-produced album Devil at the Wheel picked up by a label (they?re now on Full Effect Records with label-mates Faster Pussycat), and they?re still kind of a dirty little secret among hard-rock circles ? but their breakout appears to be well underway. You?ve probably heard them already and don?t even know it, particularly if you?re a fan of CSI, ER or even Celebrity Fit Club. They?ve also performed on SPEED TV?s series Pinks and contributed tracks to The Playboy Channel (now I remember where I heard them before!) and games like Test Drive 2.

Though the band?s name is not indicative of the quality of their music, it tells you all you need to know about their attitude, self-described as ?super-charged sex rock? with an emphasis on ?gritty decadence.? Dirty, mean and nasty is how CRUD rolls? and rocks, with all valves open full and spewing menacing black clouds of carbonized rocket fuel. Their stage show is also reputed to be an unforgettably brain-damaging experience, often combining the talents of the band with burlesque performances (including the popular act Hell?s Belles), fire-eaters, snake-handlers, and the occasional puppet show (avant-garde troupe ?The Gepetto Files? makes Crank Yankers seem like Fraggle Rock). They do occasionally perform outside of the Detroit area ? they've been making quite a splash in Europe of late ? but seem to stage their most elaborate shows at home.

When people talk about CRUD, the inevitable comparisons to Ministry and Rob Zombie are usually kicked around, and admittedly the looped guitars, sampled vocals and electronic blast-beats are reminiscent of Ministry?s peak early-nineties period, as well as other bands following in Al Jourgensen?s steel-toed bootsteps, loosely labeled ?Industrial Metal? (Dope, Deathstars and Society 1 also spring to mind) for those who insist on quick categorization? but Vin?s vocal and songwriting approach also suggests a touch of Marilyn Manson (mainly from the Antichrist Superstar period) and Forrester?s vocal contributions (both lead and backup) remind a bit of Lucia Cifarelli?s sexy-punk approach in KMFDM. CRUD is not a mere pastiche of these inspirations, but essentially a dirtied-up, more playful take on the jet-black, ultra-serious psyche of cybermetal. This playfulness, also adopted by bands like My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and Hanzyl Und Gretyl, essentially hot-glues fake fur, sequins and plush devil horns onto the otherwise cold machinery of the genre.

The album comes screaming right off the blocks with ?Reality,? the band's first single and one of their strongest tracks; fast, loud and raunchy, it captures the band's essence in less than three minutes. ?All Used Up? and ?Assume the Position? are pure Thrill Kill Kult, and if that's an exciting idea to you (I wouldn't complain, me) then you'll ask for seconds. The down-tempo, slide guitar-driven ?Girls That Swear? is quaint but disposable, and maybe a little too aware of its own sleaziness. ?La De Da? showcases David Black's axe-work with some blistering harmonics and chugging tremolo picking. ?Meat Detonation? is a nitro-powered rocker that gives the opening track a run for its money, but for me the standout track would have to be ?Murder is Fun,? which manages to integrate sternum-thumping riffs with some remarkably catchy melodies. ?Londe Del Amore? really lets Vin flex his vocal chops, in a style strongly reminiscent of Scott Weiland in his Stone Temple Pilots days.

Aside from a painfully short runtime (around 36 minutes), my chief beef with this purchase was some apparent mistakes in the digital track listing for the downloadable version of the album from Full Effect's website: the seventh track, ?Murder Is Fun,? is mislabeled as ?Glue,? and the ninth track, supposedly the title track from the album, instead turned out to be ?Do You Wanna Touch,? a single in which Danielle takes over the lead vocal duties. ?Devil At The Wheel? is actually the closing track ? and rightly so, as it is a return to epic Manson-esque raunchiness and a perfect closer for the album ? but on my download it comes up as ?The Man,? which is actually the name of the first track from Sponge's 2005 album of the same name. Weird. Not a big caveat, as all the excellent songs are there, but be prepared to relabel the tracks according to their listing on the CD cover art.

Obviously the ideal way to capture the CRUD experience is to attend one of their live shows, but as they have yet to undertake a full North American tour, be prepared to do a little traveling. In the meantime, get your greasy mitts on this album pronto, duct-tape yourself to your favorite listening chair and and let it rip. Your neighbors will call the cops, but as I mentioned the album's pretty short, so you can probably squeeze the whole thing in before they arrive.