Albums that time forgot…

The Los Angeles band Gasp were an anomaly in the hardcore punk scene when I picked up their full length LP Drome triler of Puzzle Zoo People, on Slap a Ham records in 1998. This wasn’t before the internet obviously, but it was a time when most hc punk was a regional affair: relationships and trends made within areas close-by, at shows played, or when the odd touring band passed through. The internet was looked at with a certain amount of Luddite-lite scorn by the punk scene (some might remember His Hero is Gone’s advice: “Boot ’em up? Boot ’em down!”), and ebay hadn’t created the inflated market for vinyl quite yet. At this point, crusty hardcore from the Profane Existence crew out of Minneapolis was the de rigeur in my small area of West Central Wisconsin– bands like Misery, Code 13 and State of Fear were what everyone was listening to and the so-called power violence scene out of California wasn’t widely known or influential except for the random LP from the brilliant prog-punk mutations of Man is the Bastard or a mention of Crossed Out in a battered Heartattack ‘zine. Let’s face it — power violence is certainly a subject ripe for further inspection: the bands coming from that scene were among the most interesting, novel and creative of the era, while the psycho-sexual baggage of the aesthetic and style would be something to unravel in a much needed major overview. A post-modern read of the whole scene would be both hilarious and maybe even illuminating.

“Gasp at the time was a pure Fear of God tribute band,” wrote singer/guitarist, Mike Nelson in posthumous overview of his band. But it’s hard to see the influence of those great Swiss grinders on Drome Triler… None of the songs are the same kind of blurred grind explosions, but in general are more leisurely. . . grind influenced, sure, but certainly not grind with a capital G … Some where along the line, Gasp set itself up as something different from the typical stable of punishing hardcore punk from the likes of Crossed Out, Dropdead, and No Comment. After their initial attempts at straight grind, they got a little weird, as Nelson commented,

“No shows were planned. We re-vamped our sound to also incorporate more psych and weird sound scapes and started really using all kinds of different drugs to help find the style we were looking for. We started getting into Hawkwind and all kinds of cool prog rock shit like Cactus and Yes.”

No doubt, it sounds like a recipe for disaster and/or madness, especially in a scene that was as addicted to straight ahead brutality as it was to its black and white graphics of mans’ inhumanity to man. And in that way Gasp is an anomaly as well– Drome Triler is as interesting to look at as it is to listen to. The insert is an amalgam of truncated photos of zebras, cellular constructions, and children engaging in, em, child-like behavior – all within jutting psychedelic collage. The cover is a pink cloud distorting what appears to be the skeletal frame of a bridge or roller coaster, but honestly it’s hard to tell. It looks more like a cover to a Red House Painters’ album than to a hardcore punk band. As Gasp didn’t put their name on the album the only source to hint at what it might contain is the Slap a Ham logo on the back, only adding to weirdness; as Chris Dodge, the owner of Slap a Ham, commented in an Oral History of Power Violence, “When I was starting my label, I remember thinking how funny it would be if some of the world’s most brutal bands all wanted to be on a label with a ridiculous, non-brutal name.”

The music itself on Drome Triler is remarkably varied, incorporating dense acid-fueled soundscapes with harsh rhythmic thrash… the first song, “Can’t seam a mongrel bly,” sinks away into a tape addled landscape as soon as you get a handle on it’s thrumming bass lines and spiking guitar lines. The tape manipulations that are interspersed throughout the album can often be longer than the thrash and pound, as though each song is short blast of incoherent rage and confusion struggling out of a drugged out haze only to sink back down again. It could be part of the minor genius of this album, its allowance for the visceral, grinding attacks to stand out due to a breather provided by the disorienting ambient passages. This tack is probably nothing new at this point, but in 1998 in hardcore punk it was revelatory. On “Little Jupiter Come Home to a goat man,” the tape collages are seamlessly integrated into a morass of psychonautic screaming, and peals of starry-eyed guitar, creating a pulverizing hardcore punk acid jam sans the usual psych genre’s masturbatory length. And while the tape manipulations often form a respite from the onslaught, they are far from a gimmick or placement holder and are effective on their own merits: take for example, “Eating the Translucent old Folk’s Village,”(I can’t make these names up) where the sound manipulation conjures up the peaceful and ephemeral beauty of a Akira Rabelais’s treatment of old Icelandic vocal recordings, a comparison hard to come by on a hardcore punk album.

Even after 12 years this experimental punk album still holds up, possibly even more than some of the stalwarts of weird hardcore from the same time like Man is the Bastard or Spazz. In fact, Drome Triler sounds mighty prescient at this point, with it’s combination of noise, post-rock passages and woozy psych and thrash; I can hear influence of this in many bands that came later from Usurp Synapse to Wolf eyes… In some ways the precedent for this type of music is Sonic Youth or Harry Pussy, but I hear little to no influence from either band on Gasp. I would be interested in knowing if they were even aware of these bands at this point. Gasp’s sound seems more organic and natural than a simple conglomeration of influences, as Gasp’s drummer, the aptly monikered Professor Cantaloupe commented,

“….we were just exploring stuff that was exciting to us. Now flash forward nine years and you’ve and you’ve got all kinds of crazy hybrid subgenres with more than just a few bands operating in each. I mean, in 1998 would you have predicted such a huge acceptance of noise like we have today?It makes me wonder what would have happened if we had done another full-length with the material we had done another full-length with the material we were working on just before our demise.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t as well liked as it could have been at the time, as Chris Dodge comments, “[Drome Triler was] another unappreciated album when it came out. It seems like people are just now showing an interest posthumously.” Even so, the interest is limited, which is a shame as it’s a great album, singular and oddly visceral despite the slightly hairy Philip K. Dick song titles and lyrics. Scratch that, when is that a bad thing to have PKD inspired lunacy on your album?

Pick this one up on ebay, or in the used bin of one of the remaining record stores, as copies surely abound. There was rumor of a discography cd out there somewhere, as for now there’s a myspace page here: Gasp.

I know there’s a few sites you can download the entire thing from if that’s your thing, as well.

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3 Responses to “Albums that time forgot…”

  1. […] around the area. “I was playing in Phobia for a while, the grindcore band from Orange County, then I formed the hardcore band Gasp. We had a record out on Slap-a-Ham back in ’98. I did that for bit. That became a little bit more experimental; we were doing a lot of drugs back […]

  2. Reginald Galactic Ladder Says:

    I played guitar and some vocals in gasp. I really appreciate everyone’s support and enthusiasm for our album. We will have an LP/CD coming up soon of our ‘Sore for days’ Demo on Dark Symphonies Records. Look out for that one sometime in 2017.
    Thanks so much for your interest in Gasp.
    12/26/20fx*kkn16.

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