Without a doubt the heaviest band on Sub Pop’s embryonic roster — and that’s not a gibe at sumo-sized singer/guitarist Tad Doyle’s girth — this Seattle-via-Idaho foursome did its best to create an image of hinterland inbreeding, right down to exaggerations about Doyle’s down-time meat-cutting pursuits. And on the impressively punishing God’s Balls (produced by Jack Endino), the band more than lived up to its malignant advance billing: the riff-heavy “Behemoth,” “Satan’s Chainsaw” and especially the Ed Gein-inspired “Nipple Belt” hit like a succession of knees to the groin, with Doyle’s rugged, sneering vocals adding insult to injury. Thanks to a typically fine Steve Albini recording, the seven-song Salt Lick sounds even more ominous than its predecessor, even while toning down the bass-irrigated throb. This time around, Doyle and second guitarist Gary Thorstensen don’t so much strangle the songs with their strings as lay them open with jagged lashes. (The Salt Lick CD contains seven of ten songs from God’s Balls.)
Produced by Butch Vig, 8-Way Santa — which had to be withdrawn and reissued after one of its inadvertent cover stars (whose photo was found in a local thrift shop) took exception to being linked with the devil’s music — reshoulders the sludgy overkill of Tad’s debut. Doyle attacks the often-unnerving lyrics (“Flame Tavern,” “Plague Years,” “Giant Killer”) with gusto, but the songs bleed into a viscous, amorphous mess. Producer J Mascis saves Inhaler from the same fate with a mix that gives added heft to newcomer Josh Sinder’s thudding-but-sharp drumming — an alacrity that should come as no surprise given Mascis’ own history behind the skins. But Doyle’s increasingly abstract yarns — the best ones here are “Paregoric” and “Luminol” — have seen better days.
Although Infrared Riding Hood (produced for old time’s sake by the debut’s Jack Endino) certainly merits extra credit for clever christening, those brownie points won’t help offset the penalties warranted for the sheer redundancy of skulk-fests like “Bludge” and “Thistle Suit.” In a nominal nod to the digital era, the quartet stretches the album past the one-hour mark. Live Alien Broadcasts, recorded in a Seattle studio, recapitulates several years of Tad’s history, appending four new songs. They needn’t have bothered with those, since a determined reluctance to abandon its beloved sludge has long since fossilized the band. Tad broke up in 1997.