The obscene rumble of feedback and a queef of sarcasm resonated from the stage. Wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Long before I arrived at the Bokeh Lounge in Evansville to witness a performance from the godfathers of New Orleans, arguably the nastiest band in the sludge genre, EYEHATEGOD, there was a distinct possibility that the whole godforsaken evening was about to come crashing down, leaving my tired, broken soul face down in a pool of its own lumpy excrement while some cataclysmic beast ripped out patches of my back hair with its gnashing teeth.
Let’s just say the proverbial pecker gnat was a buzzing. I was on the verge of a 15-hour day—coal miner hours by Southern Indiana standards—up against a tight deadline for Hustler Magazine that I would have hit, too, had it not been for those sandbagging porn stars. At the same time, the in-laws were in town and wanting to get together for an early dinner—5:30, hell, I just had lunch at 2—and I soon found myself scouring the Internet for discount fares to Costa Rica where I would open a banana stand and change my name to Frank. To top it off, when I finally got home and reached into the fridge for a pre-show brew, all that was left was two cans of pineapple lager that Dos Equis sent me the other day hoping for a review. Well, here it is: Fucking yuck! I was beat, feeling defeated and quite honestly not in the mood for the show.
EYEHATEGOD, I would soon learn, wasn’t doing any better. Although a decent crowd came out to be defiled by these sludge metal vets—many of which were outside smoking copious amounts of weed in an attempt to get into the right mind-set—the venue was simply ill-equipped to handle the power. The sound system was puny, the stage needed training wheels, and the freaking disco ball spinning above the crowd as Ringworm, the show opener, brutalized the place was a clear admission of bewilderment. Might as well post a sign outside the city limits: Welcome to the Armpit of America, y’all. We love the night life, we’ve got to boogie. Yeehaw!
Nope, not unless this tour rolled into town on a pair of cocaine-powered roller skates, the 1970s afro-glitter flair was more of an embarrassment than anything of aesthetic relevancy. Where in fuck’s holy name were all the gnarly monochromatic clippings of the gutter culture that’s become synonymous with the image of this band? EYEHATEGOD is and always has been a bold, unapologetic statement on the spread-cheeks of the societal downtrodden amid a governmental reaming. They’re not a bar band that’s going to be “rockin” the night away to help America’s neighborhood watering holes, much like this one, sell drink specials and get the 9-to-5’ers laid. These weren’t the piss-ant acoustic folkies that got booked to play Matchbox Twenty covers on the patio during Thirsty Thursday. These boys are trap house storytellers of the nod, totally removed from the gluttony of happy hour society, just waiting for the cops to kick down the door and drag everyone to jail. For Christsake, EYEHATEGOD guitarist Jimmy Bower is in Down with metal legend Phil Anselmo! Replace that disco ball with a noose when they’re in town.
At least everyone was sauced up on something, or so it seemed, a necessary spirit, I imagine, for getting the most out of an EHG show. I’ve always theorized that the reason some music gets more interesting when we’re stoned is because it was recorded and mixed that way. Like it was some super-secret portal designed to reveal tunes in their purest form to those individuals in that precise mindset at the time. I’ve found this to be true of EYEHATEGOD records. But I didn’t always hear it.
It wasn’t until some buddies and I got to listening to their 1993 album Take as Needed for Pain while blazing through a sack of grass that I, for one, began to understand where they were coming from. Vocalist Mike Williams would later confirm that I was onto something. “Weed has always been a part of our writing process,” he told HIGH TIMES. “When we get together to jam, it is rare that we don’t smoke. It’s a social thing as well as something that encourages wanting to create music. Not all of us partake, but we are friends getting together to kick a few jams over a joint and a few beers. Weed sometimes unlocks ideas that a sober mind might not touch on,” he added.
It was near showtime when I sensed the band wasn’t all that impressed with the hand they’d been dealt on this stop. I saw it the second that Williams was accosted by a bartender during soundcheck, just moments before their set began, asking him to help locate the owner of a set of car keys lost during Ringworm’s set. “Um, it’s for a Chevy,” he said awkwardly into the mic, presumably thinking: Well, this is it, boys. We’ve finally arrived in hell. It was just a matter of time. From where I was standing, it was evident that the band had been getting spoon fed a hefty bowl of Hoosier codswallop. It was written all over their faces. Or maybe what I was witnessing was just the blatant cynicism oozing from their eyeballs after three decades in this life.
In a lot of ways, we shouldn’t even be talking about EYEHATEGOD. After all, the band started as a joke. Yet, their dirty interpretation of the Sabbath influence eventually took off before hitting a wild, downward spiral that would have surely sabotaged better men. There were drug arrests, lineup changes, hurricanes and even death, all of which many would argue is par for the rock n’ roll course. After drummer Joey LaCaze died suddenly of respiratory failure in 2013, Williams learned that he was right behind him, diagnosed with cirrhosis and given a year to live. He would have bit the big one too had it not been for a fan-funded replacement liver. I thought about this as he flipped off the crowd and requested a shot of vodka from the bar. “Be careful with that,” I thought. “They won’t give you another one.” By Williams’ own admission, that’s not something he does often. “If I have a joint, I am much less likely to drink,” he told me. “I am not a heavy drinker, but I like to alter my state of mind and will drink more if I don’t have weed.”
Still, tempting fate where major organs are concerned could end badly, especially for these guys. Not even the most debauched bands in history have suffered such a rotten string of bad luck. These mangy scamps of the south are undoubtedly butt mutts of the punk generation, unequivocal proof that tragedy-prone heathens can be spawned if a lady isn’t careful where she pees. We’re talking total human degeneracy, shitheels, scum of the earth, and I mean that as a compliment.
Coming from all directions, middle fingers were flying, a sure-fire sign that the band was about to play. “We’re EYEHATEGOD,” Williams screamed, as Bower, decked out in a Hank Williams Jr. t-shirt, swooped in with the band’s signature screech and whir seconds before drummer Aaron Hill launched into “Take as Needed for Pain.” Fucking-A! My photographer, Holly, and I were, of course, throwing down in the front row, stage left in front of Bower. “If the crowd gets too rowdy for you,” I yelled into her ear, “just slide out that way,” pointing to a small opening next to the speakers.
Listen, EYEHATEGOD’s music is some of the heaviest in the genre, but they don’t have a reputation for playing fast or stability in terms of cadence. There’s no hooks or anything in the way of song structure. A large part of their discography, some might say, at least I do, resides in the key of the melancholic and wretched. It’s sonic quaaludes under a grey November sky. It’s what one might feel in total isolation, surviving off nothing but handfuls of amphetamine salts, benzos, and the occasional bologna sandwich. That combination makes it difficult for a flock of dead brain cells in combat boots and Vans to throw flying kick spins, windmills, and whatever other spastic mosh pit tactics these whippersnappers have embraced these days without appearing as though they just contracted a rare redneck strain of neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis. As soon as Williams belted out, Breast fed from a dog /since the day I was born, the show was on.
EYEHATEGOD isn’t fodder for parental retaliation, nor is it unbridled angst for teens with too much testosterone coursing through their veins to enjoy music without a clenched fist. It’s more for the ones with bruises on their arms, those marred with cigarette burns brought down by their alcoholic stepfathers. The abused, tortured, and disenfranchised. The aggression isn’t necessarily payback for stolen youth. These fans, the ones who truly identify with the sentiment of the lyrics, stand in pools of faithful repugnance, head nodding on time with the chunk-chunk, their epitaphs all destined to read: Here lies the self-inflicted.
What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t anticipate a violent mosh pit that carried the distinct possibility of turning someone into a paraplegic by the end of the night. We didn’t need that shit! But then again, these were godless knaves—talking about the Tuesday night drunkards and chain-smoking degenerates that just show up to these kinds of things to open a can of whup ass on total strangers—and the one thing that was certain was that they’d start a pit to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 14 if it meant they got to break somebody’s jaw. So, you never know.
By most standards, EYEHATEGOD’s show was exactly what you’d expect. Forty-five minutes of ear-piercing feedback and down tuned anthems for the stoned. It was an intimate presentation that at times felt like we were just hanging out at their practice spot, drinking all their beer, smoking their dope, and overstaying our welcome. In a way, though, they made me hate myself. Their presence was somehow a cruel reminder that there are no answers. Success was not without peril, life is pain, there’s no preparation for the end—ours, or anyone else’s—and none of this mattered anyway. It was as though I had taken psilocybin in search of enlightenment, and all I found in that department was depression and dread. When I got home, my serotonin had been undoubtedly sucked from my brain, leaving no immediate hope for recovery, not that I cared. Perhaps that was their intention all along. I reached into the fridge, suddenly reminded that there was nothing left but a pineapple lager to help me find solace in the misery.
Hey, EYEHATEGOD, fuck you!