By 1987, the Butthole Surfers had gained a reputation for chaos.  Their live shows were fierce, explosively bizarre and almost frighteningly intense; their albums not much different.  So, when it came to the release of their third full length LP, the question was not whether it would be uncompromising, it was how uncompromising it would be.  With ‘Locust Abortion Technician’, the Butthole Surfers managed to blow all expectations out of the water, however.  The album managed to be heavier, stranger and more disturbing than anything that had come before and, as it would later transpire, anything that would come after.

1986’s ‘Rembrandt Pussyhorse’ was an avant-garde rock masterpiece; it blurred the lines between outsider punk, psychedelic rock – and even comedy music – so effectively that the band forged a sound entirely of their own.  Whilst ‘Locust Abortion Technician’ isn’t necessarily a better record, it is a more extreme one.  Everything about the album is confrontational and challenging; from the opening notes to the album’s dying seconds, ‘Locust…’ is all about finding humour in the preposterous, finding terror in the inane and most of all, shocking the listener into a powerful reaction.

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The album’s opening moments are legendary amongst fans – a small boy’s voice asks “Daddy… what does regret mean?”, to which he receives the risible reply “Well son, the funny thing about regret is that it’s better to regret
something you have done than to regret something that you haven’t done.  And by the way, if you see your mom this weekend, will you be sure and tell her… SATAN!”  It’s ridiculous, it’s hilarious and it’s completely weird.  It is, in short, the Butthole Surfers in a nutshell.  That brief introduction gives way to ‘Sweat Loaf’, a bastardised version of Black Sabbath’s stoner classic ‘Sweet Leaf’.  Guitarist Paul Leary gives his best Tony Iommi impersonation in a song that has one foot in homage and the other in parody.  Vocalist Gibby Haynes wails and screams over a thunderous rhythmic backing from Drummer King Coffey and Bassist Jeff Pinkus.  It’s a completely visceral way to open the album and it sets the tone for a record that continuously screams for your attention.

The distorted, detuned ‘Pitsburg To Lebanon’ gives the impression of delta blues if it were fed through a mangler; whilst the thumping cacophony of ‘Graveyard’ is genuinely ominous.  ‘Human Cannonball’ offers something vaguely approximating light relief – though still fiery and violent; the track is the most melodic offering on the album.

Although the band seem intent on pushing themselves to the limit of intensity on many tracks, there are some moments where they instead focus on creating abstract, LSD inspired noise-collages.  ‘Hay’ is completely bizarre – not a song so much as an experimental soundscape, the track’s lineage can be traced back as far as The Beatles’ ‘Revolution 9’ – a track that Paul Leary once called his favourite Beatles song.  ‘U.S.S.A’ is no less inscrutable; a two minute blast of noise that’s as compelling as it is unconventional.

Throughout ‘Locust Abortion Technician’, the Butthole Surfers have the air of a band with everything to prove and nothing to lose, despite already having a superb – if short – back-catalogue behind them.  Listeners had already come to expect irreverence, silliness and borderline insanity from the band; but with ‘Locust…’ they took the playfulness of their earlier work and spiked it with some pretty damn rank LSD; this time they were on a bad trip – not a good one.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this newfound sense of the sinister would be in the album’s final track ’22 Going On 23′.  Samples of a woman phoning up a radio station to talk about the traumatic aftermath of being raped is the basis for the track, over which the band deliver some of the darkest, heaviest work of their career.  It’s a deeply uncomfortable listen and the morality of using such samples is certainly open to debate, but  the track does undeniably achieve exactly what it sets out to do – disturb the listener.  For some, it may well leave a foul taste in the mouth but it feels as though that’s the band’s desired outcome – they want ‘Locust Abortion Technician’ to be the stuff of controversy and nightmares.

‘Locust Abortion Technician’ is an awe-inspiring record.  Simply stunning in its sheer singularity.  It is testament to the album’s extremity that 30 years on from its release, it still feels raw, bewildering and often discomforting.   It’s an album that anyone with an adventurous ear should hear – it’s certainly not for everyone but it’s one of the seminal creations of outsider Rock music and, you never know, it just might change the way you hear music.

UNFORGOTTEN : Butthole Surfers 'Locust Abortion Technician' (1987)

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