One of the first bands to till the not-inconsiderable territory where industrial and goth intermingle, Houston’s Pain Teens forged a signifier-heavy composite that harvested every cliché in both books but still managed to engross more often than it repelled. Maybe that has something to do with the sirenic presence of frontwoman Bliss Blood, who isn’t shy about exploiting her physical charms — it’s not hyperbolic to see her breathy, come-hither incantations as a sort of malicious, industrial-strength analogue to Traci Lords.
The gothic attributes are less obtrusive on the band’s early records. Case Histories, compiled from prior cassette releases (and appended to the CD edition of its successor), follows chaos theory to the letter. Although most of the songs lob spitballs at the twin titans of church and state, Blood hits a pair of bull’s-eyes: “Preppy Killer,” which extrapolates from an infamous NYC murder case, and “New Woman,” a solemn meditation on sexual mores. The overwrought Born in Blood‘s virtually centerless collages of creep-sound coalesce briefly when Scott Ayers’ ambulance-siren guitar rises above the miasma of loops and samples, but the album doesn’t take long to reveal itself as nothing but an extended hissy fit. At the end, we know that Blood probably doesn’t care too much for whiskers on kittens or warm furry mittens, but tracks like “The Secret Is Sickness” and “Christo” divulge little else.
Most of the increasingly goth-flavored Stimulation Festival sticks to tried-and-true topics: there’s tiresome sacrilege (“God Told Me” sees Blood moaning about the dark side of organized religion; “The Poured Out Blood” splices televangelist samples to illustrate the same point) and human suffering (“Hangman’s Rope”) to spare. When the quartet allows for some abstraction, as on the sinuous “Indiscreet Jewels” and a subdued cover of the Birthday Party’s “Wild World,” the Pain Teens merit attention. Those interludes are sporadic, however.
Destroy Me, Lover (swathed in a pulp paperback sleeve) is a bit more substantial. Blood revisits old haunts on tracks like “Sexual Anorexia,” but fortunately she’s more prone to digressions like “RU 486,” a jarringly poppy paean to the so-called abortion pill, complete with shimmering girl-group harmonies. Ayers and Blood divested themselves of the band’s rhythm section for Beast of Dreams (though Ayers leaps into the instrumental breach), a smoky collection of pan-ethnic mood sketches that are uniformly redolent of the abattoir.
After the Pain Teens called it quits in 1995, Blood relocated to New York and began playing in a number of groups, among them one called Emma Peel.