By: Eric Greenwood
Guyana Punch Line's last seven-inch hinted only slightly as to the direction of the full-length to come. Irritainment is this Columbia, South Carolina quartet's tour de force, melding what are now hard core cliches with a brutal new beat. Where the band's debut, Maximum Smashism, relied heavily on traditional melody before exploding into a seething cacophony, Irritainment uses rhythm as a means to the same end. Kevin Byrd's frighteningly precise guitar playing leads the rhythmic assault, which is an extension of his work in the much-revered mid-90's hard core band, Initial State. Chris Bickel's voice matches the squall of Byrd's guitar work with equally powerful screams. The dynamic is so severe it's hard to swallow in one sitting, but if you're even slightly inclined to accept the Smashist philosophy, you'll undoubtedly be worshiping at a new altar after experiencing Irritainment.
The first forty seconds of "Better Off Dead (One)" are the most melodic of the whole album. What follows is a paranoid rant so relentless and angry that it feels like you're being slammed against metal siding. The repetition of the rhythms synchronized with Bickel's screaming isn't exactly catchy, but the sentiment comes across loud and clear. Just when you think it couldn't get any louder or more abrasive everything surges to a higher frequency in "Better Off Dead (Two)." How Bickel manages to sustain the natural distortion in his voice for so long is a mystery. "Cracked" continues the agitation with cagey guitar/bass interaction. Bickel's self-referential lyrics work on two levels. Not only is he unleashing his personal demons with a fractured shriek, but he also manages to spurn someone who dared think a song off Maximum Smashism was not about himself: "when I said I'd 'rip your heart out'/did you think I was talking about you?/spare me your vanity/I was talking to myself/I feel so cracked."
"(Smiley) Smile" takes its cues from traditional hard core structure but speeds it all up almost beyond recognition. Byrd's guitar showmanship is on display here, if you can catch it. The notes he's playing aren't necessarily of consequence so much as the rhythms are, but the breakdown and ensuing build-up lead into a particularly amazing muted guitar run. The song beats you up and then picks you back up and asks you for a dance. "Remote Control" is less scathing lyrically but spiteful all the same: "you're an alpha wave transmission junkie/a boob tube casualty/the world inside your TV screen/penetrates your reality/living through remote control." The second half of the song is a whirlwind of noise at the heart of which is this hilarious movie treatment: "My movie is titled Poo Poo For Cocoa Cocks, in it I play a strapping young African American who likes to stick his dick in various piles of shit. Critics have already touted the film as exploitation, but at this point I'd do anything to put some food on my plate. Don't we all whore ourselves out in one way or another? Lest we forget: A brother gotta eat!"
Bickel's sense of humor permeates the whole album through his cut and paste/collage art and prose. One-line, seconds-long joke songs al la Napalm Death are also interspersed throughout the record with self-explanatory titles like "Everybody's Doin' The 8.0.3", "Where's The Fucking Lyric Sheet", and "Old Guy In The Pit." Bickel takes every opportunity to humiliate shallow scenesters and poseurs, but his most heated wrath falls upon the much-maligned (and rightfully so) emo movement in "Tears On The Backpack": "how much more emo can you get?/you've got tears spewing from every orifice/you're a crying sack of potatoes…you're not intelligent enough to be pretentious/the word for someone like you is prick/it's time to give you something to cry about/you're gonna get it!" The music mockingly replicates an emo introduction before launching into the aural blast you've come to expect but this time with the added bonus of metal chugging breakdowns and shrill overdubs.
Irritainment is subtitled "Songs to Disturb The Comfortable/Songs To Comfort The Disturbed", which states the band's mission pretty clearly. This album is a barrage of carefully structured noise- too complex to be called hard core yet too abrasive to be called anything else. Guyana Punch Line is hammering out its own path, creating a map for the future of punk at the same time.