Review by Daniel for PainKiller - Buried Secrets (1992) Review by Daniel for PainKiller - Buried Secrets (1992)

Daniel Daniel / April 16, 2024 / 0

My initiation to bizarre New York free jazz/grindcore hybrid act PainKiller came through late-night underground metal radio programming back in the early 1990's with one show in particular seeming to take quite a shining to them. At the time I found the material to be grating at best as I had no points of reference for this sort of thing. I found myself to be more than a little bit fascinated though so would end up exploring all of PainKiller's full-lengths over the next few years. Admittedly, I really struggled with all of three of them but I did find myself liking them more with each successive release. Whether that was because I was slowly coming around to the whole concept & expanding my musical repertoire or not is probably a question that needs to be asked but I also wonder whether I ever gave myself the time & attention required to see me gaining any real sort of understanding of what was going on with records like these. You see, they're just so different to anything else I'd heard to the time but I feel a little better equipped to handle an album like PainKiller's 1992 sophomore record "Buried Secrets" now so I thought I'd challenge myself this week.

PainKiller were a side project of avant-garde jazz legend John Zorn of Naked City fame, ambient dub stalwart bass guitarist Bill Laswell & our much beloved blast-beat master Mick Harris who you'll no doubt be familiar with from his time with artists like Napalm Death, Scorn, Extreme Noise Terror & Unseen Terror. Sound like a strange combination? Well, it sure fucking is. The trio go about their craft with a reckless abandon that sees the stylistic approaches changing rapidly between songs but with the one consistent element being Zorn's psychotic free jazz alto saxophone assault. If you've ever heard Naked City before then you'll have some idea of what to expect from Zorn as his contribution is fairly similar with his penchant for making loud, obnoxious honks & squeals taking priority over anything of genuine musical merit. Laswell & Harris provide an assortment of backing tracks that range from very short, lightspeed grindcore blasts to a more measured & heavy sludge metal cesspool to deep, warm & trippy dub excursions. You'll even find some Godfleshy industrial metal on the title track while the lengthy closer & album highlight "The Toll" is nothing a short of drone metal masterpiece. When you combine all of these disparate sounds together it creates an entirely new world that borders on not being music at all at times & that I'd suggest fits best under the avant-garde jazz metal tag. It's certainly a little short-sighted to call "Buried Secrets" a grindcore album because the grind component takes up only a very small percentage of the overall run time.

The quality of the record as a single piece of art is open for interpretation as I find it to be very inconsistent in its ability to successfully keep me engaged but thankfully the highlights come in the form of the longer pieces while the silly novelty tracks only make up a relatively small portion of the release. In fact, I'd suggest that I can do without all of the grindcore & avant-garde metal material because it contains next to no musical value. The true gold to be found on "Buried Secrets" comes in the form of the remainder of the album with the Laswell-inspired dub tracks "Blackhole Dub" & "Black Chamber" containing lush, trance-inducing bass lines, the title track creating scenes of a cold industrial wasteland & "One-Eyed Pessary" taking me down into a pit of angry & abrasive sludge. "The Toll" has struck me with the power of a thousand atom bombs too & leaves me feeling nothing short of devastated at its completion. These moments are both intriguing & musically rewarding, despite the inevitably spasmodic contribution of Zorn, & I've ended up finding myself strangely attracted to the whole experience even if I'm not sure I'll ever feel the need to return to it again.

So where does "Buried Secrets" sit in the grand scheme of PainKiller's back catalogue then? Well, it's a little hard to remember the other releases now given how little time I gave them to win me over back in the day & the fact that my feelings on this record have changed so dramatically since my first experiences with it tell me that they're likely to do the same with 1991's "Guts of a Virgin" debut album & 1994's "Execution Ground" third record. Perhaps it's time that I revisited those two releases so as to give myself a little more of a grounded opinion on the matter. In the meantime though, you're right to feel a little suspicious about "Buried Secrets" as it certainly isn't for everyone but those with an open mind & an adventurous heart may find themselves being taken to some of the more interesting & unusual places known to man.

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