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Saturday, September 11, 2010

CD Review: Blind Illusion - The Sane Asylum reissue

Blind Illusion - The Sane Asylum reissue
2010 Metal Mind Productions
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The legend of Blind Illusion remained a relative secret for many years, even with the ascension of Primus as an alt funk metal wunderkind. In fact, Blind Illusion, though they'd officially been around since the late seventies, rumbled the metal underground in 1988 with their (to-date) only true full-length release, The Sane Asylum.

While Blind Illusion had shuffled the roster on numerous occasions prior to The Sane Asylum's launch with lead guitarist/vocalist Marc Biedermann remaining a constant force, it was the addition of Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde which cemented the band's brief legacy. If you were lucky to own The Sane Asylum when it was originally issued, you picked up what many consider to be a gold nugget of the thrash metal sweepstakes of the late eighties.

As the major labels saw marketing power in thrash and in effect, toned and dumbed down the style in order to move units and put bands on the road, Blind Illusion (one of the unheralded blossoms of the Bay Area speed metal garden) was a product bred of both thrash and prog. Veritably unheard-of from American thrashers of the late eighties, Blind Illusion was one of the first to blend the two. Sure, you had Fates Warning who could burst with speed now and then. Ditto for Hallow's Eve and Crimson Glory, but Blind Illusion had the wherewithal to go postal with many of their tempos while seeking--like their Quebecois brethren northwards, Voivod--to seek new scripts to the subgenre and bend them to their will.

Of course, having dexterous components like Claypool, LaLonde and drummer Mike Miner gave Marc Biedermann the tools to send his long-standing compositions into action. Much of The Sane Asylum are long-term works of progress from Blind Illusion's early years, but the treat of hearing this album is the lineup recording it. Metallica's Kirk Hammett oversaw Blind Illusion's "Slow Death" demo well in advance of The Sane Asylum's release, but even Hammett couldn't have seen how special the group would become following the departure of Pat Woods, Gene Gilson and David Geoffrey. Do also remember Les Claypool once auditioned for Metallica before Cliff Burton won the spot. The cat was ready to grind by the time he joined Blind Illusion.

Even now The Sane Asylum is considered a cult album. For his musical stature and prowess, Les Claypool is still an underground hero and it's taken a number of years for many to catch up to Blind Illusion. Once they got around his ridiculous licks on "Smash the Crystal," The Sane Asylum became the sought-after stuff of metal lore.

What makes The Sane Asylum mandatory listening aside from the lineup is to hear expertly-molded thrash-mosh-stomp-thrash sequences found throughout the ultra-brilliant "Blood Shower" and "Vengeance is Mine." While Claypool generally lays down tight rhythm section grooves instead of the maniacal slaps and tugs later found in the album, The Sane Asylum whip-snaps efficiently because of Claypool's intense focus. The crash course Marc Biedermann sends all of his troops upon is the bottom line story. For a funk-wah meister like Claypool, it's fascinating to hear him adere to strict driving patterns on the first few tracks before going bananas in the opening instrumental intro to "Death Noise," originally written in 1978.

Fear not, though, Primus heads, because Biedermann turns Claypool loose on "Vicious Visions," "Kamikaze," "Smash the Crystal" and sections of the topsy-turvy finale "Metamorphosis is a Monster."

While Claypool is one of the chief reasons people have sought The Sane Asylum out, let's not undercut Biedermann's virtuoso shredding nor his brave songwriting. Biedermann blisters wherever he can scorch up a bar or two and it's every bit the audile entree as what Claypool serves up. Listen for Biedermann's "Atomic Punk" string scratching on "Death Noise." Almost a shame Claypool and Biedermann didn't get much else work done together, minus a yet-to-be-released album called Bad Medicine.

By today's standards, The Sane Asylum could use glossier production values where it would stand to increase its standing towards perfection. However, its ruddiness is its charm. It's an analog beast of velocity and signature-swapping recklessness. When it hits top speed, it's supposed to sound grimy and sometimes cloudy. It's disorderly at times but it's authentic in that respect. Bands today could copy The Sane Asylum (and bloody likely will) but even with an attempt to replicate it using outdated feeds, equipment and tech, no way can you substitute the courage of this album.

Rating: ****


Metal Mark said...

This was actually during Claypool's second stint with the band. He was with them in the very early 80's for a short time too.
It's still a great album, but this isn't a great re-issue. Nothing done to the sound, no bonus tracks and the inserts are the exact same things that came with the album when it was released in 1988. Pretty unusual for Metal Mind who normally excel at putting extras on their re-issues.

James said...

Wow . . . I'm gonna have to pick up this re-issue, definitely! Believe it or not, I used to have this one on *vinyl* back in the day, and I *loved* it.


Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Mark, you're right. I meant to mention that fact, but hey, that's what you here for. :) No, there wasn't any clean-ups audio-wise or anything out of the ordinary beyond the new writeup in the CD inlay, but I'm grateful just to have it back. Like James, I too had it in on vinyl, which is now in Mr. MM's possession via sale. All's well with the world again. :)