Out Of The Vaults #4: - The Laughing Hyenas - Life Of Crime
Will I lose punk credibility by admitting I was listening to The Laughing Hyenas before even hearing about singer John Brannon's previous band, the hardcore legends Negative Approach? When The laughing Hyenas released the Crawl Ep with new drummer Todd Swalla, I was stil not familiar with his previous band, the even more legendary Necros. The Laughing Hyenas album Life Of Crime was released in 199O. Touch and Go would not be releasing the Negative Approach compilation Total Recall for another two years. The Necros material to this day still has not been re-released. In 1990 those two bands material was unattainable unless you had a few hundred dollars to shell out for the original records.
But let's be honest, most my punk credibility went out the window with the Styx post from a few weeks ago.
The first time I heard of the Laughing Hyenas was in a Washington Post news article focusing in on a few noisey rock bands on the Touch and Go record label. It was just luck that I picked up the Post that day stumbled upon the article focusing on the bands Killdozer, Slint and The Laughing Hyena, three bands that would open up a whole new world of noise rock for me. Of course I had to purchase all of each bands release.
One pretty awesome thing Touch and Go records used to do in the 90s was when bands would release new albums on CD, they would then fill up the rest of the disc with some of the bands previous material which had only been available on vinyl. They also did not charge any extra for these double releases. When I picked up my copy of The Laughing Hyena's Life Of Crime I was pretty pleased to find the previous album You Can't Pray A Lie tacked onto the end. Still at that point I had not even heard a note of the band's music. When I pressed play on the CD player I was pretty floored by what came out of the speakers.
The first thing that hits you is the throat shredding voice of John Brannon. No one has a more powerful voice. In the early X-Men there was a character called "The Banshee". When he flew around and did his thing, he would do a "Sonic Scream" to attack the bad guys. I'm pretty sure John Brannon's vocals could give the "Sonic scream" a run for it's money.
The bands music is a bit dirgey with the blues lurking underneath. The album takes a little while to get going but by the time we reach Track 5 "Here We Go Again", the band is really in a groove. In the song we still get that voice but everybody gets in on the action. The late Larissa Strickland's guitar really shines. You can even almost here a little bit of melody peeking through. Almost.
The groove carries over to Track 6 "Wild Heart" before slowing down the tempo and becoming a even little more dirgy for track 7 "Outlaw". On the song Brannon stresses every syllable to really bring out the songs feeling of desolation.
The title track closes out the Life Of Crime half of the disc. The song is definitely more upbeat only this time drummer Jim Kimball is allowed to hog the spotlight.
The other album on the CD, You Can't Pray A Lie, which had been released the year earlier, brings more of the same as the first album, only these songs are more primal. Not having totally realized the power of his voice, John Brannon sounds a little more all over the place then on later releases. There is more dirge among the 8 tracks but there are also a few more pretty damn good guitar solos spread around too.
Even though the Butch Vig production makes both albums sound a little warmer, overall Life Of Crime is pretty hard to take to listen straight through the whole album. When you add You Can't Pray A Lie it is almost impossible. For me the band works a little easier on an slightly smaller scale like the Crawl Ep which was released a couple of years later.
Over 20 years that 1992 Negative Approach Collection may have received more play on my stereo than The Laughing Hyenas, but Life Of Crime/You Can't Pray A Lie CD will still will be taken every now and then. Both albums, as well the later Laughing Hyenas releases Merry Go Round (originally released in 1987 but reissued in 1995) and the more Rolling Stones sounding Hard Times, but they mostly get played when I put on my iPod's "Noise Mix" on random.
Over the years whether it be with The Laughing Hyeans, Easy Action (John Brannon's later band with ex-Necros/Laughing Hyenas bassist Ron Sakowski) or the newly reformed Negative Approach, and I have been lucky enough to see all three live, every time I hear that voice I think of Banshee's sonic scream saving the day.