Deadguy’s influence on the modern hardcore and metal scenes dwarfs its scant notoriety, despite recording one of the most powerful metal records of the ‘90s. Channeled through the spirits of Unsane, Black Flag and Today Is the Day, Deadguy’s screaming sheets of oppressive guitar noise and larynx-shredding vocals in turn guided some of today’s loudest metal/punk hybrids, groups with names like Pig Destroyer, Mastodon and Lightning Bolt.
Formed in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1994 and named after a line in the John Candy movie Only the Lonely, Deadguy introduced its focused, relentless, fully formed sound on a pair of three-song singles — Work Ethic and Whitemeat — later collected on the Work Ethic CD. Tim “Pops” Naumann (bass), Keith Huckins (guitar, ex-Rorschach), Tim Singer (vocals, ex-No Escape), the one-named Dave (drums) and Crispy (guitar) stir a bilious cauldron fueled by chunky metallic chords, a tight, violent rhythm section and controlled bursts of guitar noise. Deadguy quickly staked a claim as one of the best metalcore bands anywhere, though the early EP’s were merely a warm-up for the simmering pummel of their first full-length.
One of the most powerful fusions of metal muscle and hardcore economy, Fixation on a Co-Worker is a seething, lurching tower of raw power chords, stridently martial rhythms and Singer’s unremitting shout. Solos are nearly nonexistent, just controlled, keening, harshly melodic guitar noise backed by more familiar crash and chug-a-lug metal rhythms. Songs follow the loud-soft-loud pattern of much post-Nirvana rock, but the “soft” is barely restrained rage (it sounds like someone is strangling Singer with metal chains) and the “loud” is a bulldozer fighting against a dozen steel rhinos. The unrelenting bellow may become tiresome to those not in the mood for 30 straight minutes of intensity, but it’s the perfect vehicle for the brutal, claustrophobic lyrics that describe a bleak world of boredom, authority, depression and suicide (“All my friends are dying off / I’m a smoking fucking head / All my friends are living on / I hope I wind up dead”). No one can be blamed for turning away from Fixation‘s howling geyser of pain and recrimination, but it is a masterful expression of nerves rubbed raw and unhinged, justified rage, bloodying ears and serving as a touchstone for popular Deadguy acolytes like Dillinger Escape Plan.
Huckins and Singer left the band shortly after that release, moving to Seattle to form the like-minded Kiss It Goodbye. Deadguy replaced Huckins with former roadie Tom Yak, Naumann became the singer and Jim Baglino (Human Remains, Monster Magnet) assumed bass duties. The resulting Screamin’ With the Deadguy Quintet sustains snatches of Fixation-like intensity (especially on “Human Pig”) but lacks its enveloping ambience of rage and frustration. Naumann’s vocal technique is essentially straight-up screaming, suffering in comparison to the tightly-wound tension and clenched power of Singers’ choked growl. Overall, the performances are more ragged and less disciplined, but Deadguy still manages to belch a harsh roar matched by few of their contemporaries.
Deadguy split in May 1997 after an East Coast tour with Doc Hopper’s Chris Pierce replacing Yak on guitar. I Know Your Tragedy is a post-career document of a 1996 show at CBGB, a rumbling, discordant testament to their powerful live sound that includes a studio version of Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral.”