In musical terms, the city of Belfast has never unleashed anything as beastly as Therapy?. This uncompromising (and sometimes truly vile) trio has more than earned its reputation as the capital’s most notorious sonic stepchild. Something of an Irish analogue to Big Black, the group produces an incessant pounding, screeching and grinding aural assault capable of inducing a trance-like effect on one hand and an unsettling tumult of harsh images and sensations on the other.
Babyteeth owes a great deal to a handful of conventional influences, not the least of which is the sort of hardcore punk more often associated with California and Chicago than the British Isles. The seven-song record’s true strength is its uncommon, sometimes otherworldly mix. Singer/guitarist Andrew Cairns’ power chords, draped over beats (by ex-goth drummer Fyfe Ewing and bassist Michael McKeegan) that would find themselves at home in a New York dance club, are augmented by production that turns it all into a nearly impenetrable wall of torturous sound. (See “Animal Bones” and “Meat Abstract” for prime examples thereof.) Despite Babyteeth‘s powerful sound, tracks like the vacuous “Loser Cop” are better programmed out. The intro is fine, but the song quickly dissolves into an adolescent rant punctuated with nearly three minutes of the word “asshole.”
Pleasure Death is difficult to distinguish from its predecessor, but the trio’s fascination with the darker side of the human psyche is beginning to solidify into a style. The opening “Skinning Pit” navigates a tricky shift from dance to metal-on-metal grind — and then back again. The instrumental “D.L.C.” adds a novel twist to some shopworn speedmetal clichés, while “Shitkicker” might have come from a Greg Ginn record. Pleasure Death is hampered by overly distorted vocals, but the disc merits a few listens. Babyteeth and Pleasure Death may lack variety, but few records sound this foreboding or nasty. Caucasian Psychosis combines them for American release.
Therapy? hit its zenith after signing with A&M, releasing Nurse at the start of ’93. This unforgettable bomb blast of a record fine-tunes the atmosphere of the first two EPs by adding a little more crunch to the low end. At the same time, the vocals are treated to some mixing board crispiness, then hauled closer to the front. The album’s most intriguing aspect is its subject matter, which poses Therapy? as a self-anointed voice of the mentally ill and physically abused. The minimalist lyrics eerily convey the mindset of someone in a declined psychological state or struggling to overcome some sort of socially unacceptable abnormality. The album could well provide a professional with a bit of weekend spot diagnosis brush-up fun. “Nausea” smacks of anti-social behavior and a problem with intimacy; the techno-dancey “Teethgrinder” hints at a compulsion disorder; “Neck Freak” indicates obsessive behavior coupled with some amount of hypochondria; the dub-heavy “Deep Sleep” suggests clinical insomnia.
The six-song Hats off to the Insane represents a significant change for the band. Jettisoning the gargantuan, completely unnatural sounds of the first three platters in favor of clear, crisp production, the record is still bigger than life, with “Turn” and “Totally Random Man” sounding as if Metallica’s …And Justice for All had run headlong into mid-’80s Killing Joke.
Troublegum, Therapy?’s second full-length studio album, founders in two areas. “Femtex” and “Stop It You’re Killing Me” feature trite, predictable metallic riffs that might better have been left to Mötley Crüe. Also, the lyrics are too literal, leaving precious little to the imagination. For all of its failings, though, Troublegum has some intriguing high points, including the infectious pop-metal strains of “Hellbelly,” the pop-punk of “Nowhere” and the two-headed “Die Laughing,” which sports an Andy Summers-ish intro. (The album reprises two tracks from Hats off to the Insane — “Turn” and the pained adolescent anthem “Screamager” — and trots out a chilled-fire cover of Joy Division’s “Isolation.”)
The trio’s stylistic progress toward a cranky conciliation with the mainstream continues on the noxious Infernal Love, a caricatured, ugly and ineffectual epistle on the disasters of love and lust. “A Moment of Clarity” begins quietly, but Therapy?’s blustery onslaught is as inevitable as Cairns’ devotion to mood-darkening lyrics. That song and the cello-bottomed “Bowels of Love” paint desire as a dreadful compulsion; the latter is comical in its determined embrace of emotional ugliness. “Me Vs You,” another study in hard rock vs. quiet strings, ends an affair in no uncertain terms; “Diane” (a harmony/cello exercise suggesting the work of Alejandro Escovedo) is a first-person rape-murder fiction; “30 Seconds” makes a passing reference to being “Buggered by a priest/When you were seven years of age.” Furthering the experiment, “Stories” sounds an awful lot like an angry young Police cover band testing out new lyrics to “Message in a Bottle” and “Loose” is chewy, catchy Midwest punk-pop. At the album’s low point (“Bad Mother”), Cairns addresses a dying parent in the least sympathetic and most self-obsessed terms imaginable. “It’s a beautiful day/But I don’t see it that way…I’m edgy, cramped and cold/Trying to keep down the things/That you keep wanting to throw up.” Lovely.