Evolved from early-’80s Chicago-to-New York transplants the Bag People (whose one undistributed 45 was seemingly pressed solely for the jukebox at their local Brooklyn bar), guitarist Carolyn Master reassembled Of Cabbages and Kings in 1985 from parts scattered to Swans, Foetus, Glenn Branca, etc. Playing only sporadically due to their outside commitments, they gradually coalesced into a focused unit, although Ted Parsons bailed out after the second record (for his fulltime group Prong) to be replaced by ex-Live Skull/Ruin drummer Rich Hutchins (also now departed); Diane Wlezien, still a Chi-based blues chanteuse, remains a cameo vocalist both live and on record. Effectively, the core of OCAK is the duo of Master and bassist/singer Algis Kizys (a Swan and sometime Branca associate) plus a drummer.
Decidedly unprolific and rare to perform, OCAK’s highly visceral attack is founded on a vivid technical mastery owing little to the commonly revered tenets of speed and/or flash, instead conjuring a brutal, primal power and intensity virtually unmatched in modern music, with Kizys’ bone-rattling semi-chorded playing rendering most contemporary rhythms effete, even as Master’s guitar shards swirl about the edges like razors in a tornado.
Of Cabbages and Kings delivers a dizzying panorama of dark surrealistic desire and fear — both in sound and lyric — the latter including a soundtracked snippet of Baudelaire. The seven-song Face delves deeper into the group’s grueling, obsessive world, stretching the music into less predictable shapes and ingesting piano and accordion while reintroducing Master as a vocalist. Comparatively quiet in spots but no less redolent of dis/unease, it (like the first record) includes radical updates of Bag People material, reinterpreted in Cabbage style as paranoid introspection, more like the ruminations of a self-loathing rape victim than the simpleminded lurid voyeurism so common in deathmetal and elsewhere. Two of the eight songs on Basic Pain Basic Pleasure were previously issued on a 45 and a compilation; what the album lacks in length it more than makes up in breadth, offering the band’s crispest (if not most physically imposing) production and arrangements, as well as increased variety of approach. Hutchins is neither as creative nor as aggressively captivating a drummer as Parsons, but songs like the moody, guitarless “Crawl Again” illustrate yet more facets of a band too facilely dismissed as “mere” New York noisemongers.