If the definition of what is or isn’t punk rock lies in the ability to piss people off (it isn’t, but bear with us), the Wartoad would apparently be Punk As Fuck. Even before they released this debut LP, the band had upset a sensitive charity – let’s name them, The Passage – who refused the money raised from the sales of their cover of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody (and a quick note: if a charity can afford to turn down donations based on moral sensitivities, then they are not a charity worth supporting) and been thrown off a download provider for similarly hypocritical reasons. Undaunted, they have now released this record on vinyl, housed in quite the heaviest gatefold sleeve that I’ve ever come across. And for those of you with a taste for garage punk, heavy psych, hypnotic riffing and Stooges-stylings, then I would say you ought to reward the band’s perseverance and bloody-mindedness with a purchase.
The Stooges connection is evident on opener I Get High, which is no bad thing. But arguably, the album gets more interesting as the band produce a more original collision of trip psych vibes, funky grooves and mega riffage, that is rather more interesting than you might expect, given the band’s full-on punk referencing (“by the punks, for the punks” and such). Certainly, I Alone Can Fix It manages the seemingly impossible combination of Donald Trump’s delirious soundbites with a bouncing beat and a somewhat apocalyptic finale that is as much Ministry (or at least RevCo) as anything, and certainly far removed from the lumbering retro punk that I had, perhaps unfairly, expected. And side two opener Black T-Shirt is a somewhat avant-garde number that strangely enough reminded me of old anarchy-hippies Here and Now more than anything. That’s a good thing, by the way. Alcove Fever channels Devo (and, dare we say it, the B-52s), while Swallow the Leader is a New Wave pop-punk pogoing delight. Meanwhile, Mean to Me sounds like – I kid you not – a punked up Chas and Dave. But in sounding like so many things, Wartoad manage, perversely, to sound like no one else. They carve their own oddball niche.
Certainly, the album has its fair share of what we might call more recognisable punk tunes – fast, rude, guitar heavy numbers like …And Fuck Off, Coming On Strong and Way Out, though even these are more Sixties garage punk than The Exploited, and quite frankly, we can all give a sigh of relief about that. But the mix of styles that really takes hold on the second side is quite admirable – it shows a band willing to play with ideas and be eclectic as all hell, and yet at no point does it sound so schizophrenic that it feels liker a band struggling to find a sound. Instead, this all makes a curious level of sense, even when the album throws a real curve ball at the listener in the form of Druid Lunch Party, which is full-on psych-prog experimentalism, slow and weird and rather brilliant. It ought to make no sense here, but again, I’m made to think of Here and Now and the curious hippy-punk hybrids of the late 1970s free festival days, where you could never quite pin down where a band was coming from musically, but that didn’t matter because the results were so damn good.
The press release that accompanied this implies that there are well-known names lurking behind the apparent pseudonyms like Al Dijon, Butch Dante, Calvin Voltz and Diego Fontana (apologies to Mrs Voltz if we’ve implied that her son is not using his real name) – just four of the nine(!) members that make up Wartoad. Presumably, it will all come out in the wash. But until then, we should appreciate the band simply for the curious, hybridised, audio wreckage that they have produced, and hope very much that they grace us with more impossible-to-categorise post-punk psych pop stylings very soon. All hail the Toad.