Melody Maker | Album | 10 December 1988
A menacing shiva, hands clutching spear and sword, dagger and heavy mace, bow and arrow, adorns the sleeve. A freshly severed head, blood cascading into an already overflowing bowl, is held aloft. Inside there are more acts of terror, more spectacles of horror, more gory matter. That there are hints of beauty, fragility,
dignity and humility too, makes this a thoroughly ingenious trap. There's only one way in. Come.
"Triskaidekaphobe" - it means someone with a fear of the number 13 - is the second LP from Das Damen, the follow-up to the largely ignored "Jupiter Eye". It flashes new types of treasure, flaunts new forms of torture. Occasionally they are one and the same. Das Damen don't seem able to tell the difference. A red-nosed Steve Albini once slurred that they were "long haired New York Grateful Dead faggots" and they've been described as 1970s revivalists, heavy metal and hardcore. Comparisons have been made with Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Black Sabbath, The Stooges and the post-"White Album" Beatles. Some of this is understandable. We're getting closer.
"Spiderbirds", "Firejoke" and "Seven" are scary - and they're scary simply because of their utterly unsubtle unpredictability. "Seven", an instrumental, is round after round of dum-dum drum rolls that dent the shape and attempt to deviate the course of the two guitars, but the chords still somehow manage to leapfrog each other in a ripped-to-rags climb. At precisely the right moment, exactly when a rest is required, it jerks to a halt, only to ascend again before breath can be drawn. "Spiderbirds" is a nest teeming with creepy-crawlies, alive with pecking beaks. As with "Firejoke", there are sudden skips, alterations of pace, awkward swerves of intent and shifts of emphasis. There are resurgences, reflections and refracted angles.
Here, as elsewhere, the feet never stray far from the effects pedals, continually stamping a trail of wah-wah sounds. With "Ruby Woodpecker", the chase leads to a final minute of purrs of fuzz, then ripples of feedback that blossom into a painfully curling whiplash. This is balanced by the opening parts of "Reverse Into Tomorrow", which is initially an exercise in dry and brittle pop. When the melodies succeed in twisting free from the constraints and spin in circles of delight, the relief is ineffable. Cosmic could be the word. Strangely, given that former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer makes a guest appearance, "555" is more gentle, the lyrics clawing at and digging into an unseen hope, the ride blissful, if rocky, at the fade out.
The sensitivity and sensibility inherent - although not brightly illuminated - in many of the tracks is pulled to the fore with "Candy Korn". It's the closing song and it seems to be the most frail of all. There are smiles and winks, a soft beat and loving words. It's an invitation to the dream, to the dance, to the damned. It's impossible to resist the beckoning. Snap! It's sprung.
A menacing shiver.