The incessant ranting and lurching rhythms of Distorted Pony could throw even the most seasoned noise rider. Topped with tortured vocals, plus a Cop Shoot Cop-like assault on metal sheets and trashcans, the Los Angeles band spit a paralyzing quart of venom with every note. The focal point of Distorted Pony (which formed in 1986 and called it quits in ’93) was Dora Jahr’s seething bass and the mix of screeching guitars from David U and Robert Hammer, creating a din that most resembled the Big Black caterwaul of sound. Not surprisingly, Steve Albini was behind the production board on both Pony albums.
After a debut 7-inch, the group unleashed an ear-numbing barrage on the Work Makes Freedom EP. Despite the use of calculated grooves from a drum machine, each song bristles with angst and anguish, and each has its own approach to that end: the curdling haunt of “Forensic Interest,” the pensive mood of “Blare” and the lightning speed of “Sinners Prayer,” taken at twice the pace of most of Distorted Pony’s deliberate rhythms.
Punishment Room was recorded as a quintet, with drummer London May (formerly of Dag Nasty and Samhain) adding an even more menacing force to the sound. Lyrics are as lewd as Dora’s basslines: “Down Where the Dirt Collects,” “Death in the Turnstile,” “Castration Anxiety” are some of the indicative titles. The staccato rhythms become repetitive, but the band ventures melodies on a few tunes (“Krank,” “Powerless”). Although a couple of tracks employ a slower, winding rhythm that’s easier on the ears, they’re no less heavy in tone than the pounding cuts.
Distorted Pony was already history by the time Instant Winner was released, but with proper live-fast/die-young spirit the album leaves one hell of an impressive corpse — it’s easily the most potent of the three records. “Lamb Stink” and “Big Sprawling Corrupt” bring together all the band’s strongest elements: chunky, churning grooves with a squeal of guitars and distraught vocals. The lyrics are as dense and bleak as ever. “Sparkle” offers “can’t breathe or move my fingers/The wind won’t blow in a roomful of windows…I see a smile and I see blood on your teeth/I see a sun and it’s going to drown me.” That call of distress proved to be the band’s own eulogy.