For anyone who wasn’t on hand to witness it the first time, Virulence might just seem like a couple kids screwing around with SST worship West Coast hardcore. So aside maybe from Greg Anderson having dug them way back in the mysterious period of history known as the “mid-‘80s,” what’s the deal with Southern Lord releasing the compilation If This Isn’t a Dream… 1985-1989 now?
The deal is that Virulence, aside from rolling in at the tail end of their scene’s golden age, were the direct predecessor of Fu Manchu, featuring original Fu members Scott Hill, Greg McCaughey, Mark Abshire and Ruben Romano (the latter two who would also go on to Nebula) as well as vocalist Ken Pucci, who according to the extensive liner notes included with the CD, went to college. He now has a new group with Abshire called No More Saints. For those who haven’t heard the band — talking about Virulence — their sound took the raucous hardcore of Black Flag and wound up blending it with thicker tones, particularly in the guitar, and spreading it out over tracks both extended and not. By the end of their short time together, it was pretty clear they were progressing past their simplistic, innocent beginnings into a different kind of band entirely.
If This Isn’t a Dream… 1985-1989 opens with eight studio tracks recorded in 1988, and they provide a great context for the live material to follow, which, as the kids say, is where it’s really at. While interesting, especially for a track like “The Curse,” which stretches over nine minutes, the studio material doesn’t have the same rawness of sound as the live material, taken from shows in 1989 and 1987. There is other demo material included from ’88, ’86 and ’85, resulting in a comprehensive, 20-song (one VOID cover) look at what the band was all about. As the disc goes on, backwards in time, the band gets progressively more primitive, but even in their first executions, there’s a perhaps unintentional individuality peeking through. Perhaps that’s just easy to read into it because of what the band went on to become.
That maybe being the case, anyone who’s ever gotten down with The First Four Years or the self-titled Saint Vitus record should be able to understand where Virulence were coming from, and whether or not you’re necessarily a fan of Fu Manchu, the lumbering appeal of these surfer kids getting together with some serious heaviness speaks for itself. In the liner notes, Scott Hill discusses their nomadic practice routine, going from one member’s parents’ house to another’s, playing until the cops came or neighbors complained. There’s an immediacy and recklessness even in the slowest material on here (they also profess their love for BL’AST), and I think that might be part of it. Whatever the case, Virulence’s If This Isn’t a Dream… 1985-1989 not only shines light on the beginnings of Fu Manchu, but is a satisfying listen in its own right, whether or not you’re tackling it for the historical value.
Tags: California, Fu Manchu, Southern Lord, Virulence