1986… It was a seminal year for metal with Reign in Blood, Master of Puppets, and Peace Sells all being released. I was 12 and diving deep into metal music. One night at Hastings Records in Coronado Mall in Albuquerque, I bought this album thinking it was someone else. I was extremely lucky as I likely would have completely missed this album at the time. I don’t remember seeing any reviews or hearing about the album at the time.
I did not have any hardcore or crossover albums at the time so the songs were unlike anything else in my collection. The first thing you hear is the fire truck siren introducing “fire at the firehouse.” A spoken word metal type verse leads into a brilliant hardcore part that serves as the chorus sets forth a template that is used to great effect.
There is little time to catch one’s breath as the 19 songs go by quickly with songs addressing: racism, big business, Dr. Seuss, the environment, chemical warfare, religion, nuclear war…. and having a god in your soup. This album also had one of the first blends of metal and rap (if not the first) with the brilliant “green eggs and ham.” It is straight hardcore for a little over half of its two minutes before a monster riff transitions it to a cover of “rock box” by Run DMC. I hate to imagine how many times I have played this song in the past almost 35 years.
One of the things that always set this record apart is the jazz influence. This permeates the guitar work throughout the album and even has “legal murder” start as a mellow lounge song before transitioning into warp speed.
Upon my first few listens when it was new, it was a very tough challenge to decipher a lot of the lyrics, but it became easier and easier to make out the words over the years as I never had a lyric sheet. It was not until the late 90’s or so that I was able to upgrade from cassette to CD. It is a miracle that the cassette never snapped in half. When it was reissued on CD, it came with a lyric sheet, and I was quite pleased with myself that I had so many correct.
Ludichrist’s follow up record “powertrip” was a good album, but it has never matched the debut to me. The songs had grown a little longer and the metal influence was a little more profound. Line-up changes had also occurred which continued with key members going onto start the band Scatterbrain. They had some success on college radio with a really solid album that included a totally different version of “down with the ship” from “Immaculate Deception.” Sadly, Scatterbrain emulated Ludichrist in having the debut overshadow the follow-up album and EP.
With this record, Ludichrist created an album that rests within my Top 10 or 15 of all time. It remains a go to album for me today. Part of me still remembers playing Castlevania on the NES while this provided the soundtrack.
This review is dedicated to Richard Campbell who left this world way too soon and who enjoyed this album as much as me.
Author: Gerald Stansbury
First off, thank you Tommy for taking some time to talk about Ludichrist. I was 12 years old when ‘Immaculate Deception’ was released, and it was like nothing else in my record collection at the time. I had got into Megadeth’s ‘Peace Sells but who’s Buying’ around the same time, but you guys were something else completely. Obviously, the hardcore scene in New York at the time was a hotbed of great bands with the likes of Agnostic Front and the Crumbsuckers just two of the great ones at the time. How did Ludichrist figure into the scene in the early days of the band?
We started out playing a couple of “Pay to Play” type shows, selling tickets to our friends, but then starting playing real gigs, opening for others at CBGB. I think we were considered hardcore, but as we changed and added guitar players, the sound started to get tinged with some metal.
How did the crowds at your shows compare to the other bands in the area?
Once we had our demo out, we got good crowds at CBGBs and eventually headlined there. We were definitely not the most popular NYHC band in the mid 80s. Cromags, Agnostic Front, and Murphy’s Law were. Our best local crowds were at Sundance on Long Island, which is where we were from. Well, technically Chuck was from Queens.
You had recorded some demos. Did you try to actively shop those to labels? Were you guys approached by multiple record labels?
We sold our demos in record stores, (in a plastic baggie with stickers!) I don’t remember if we shopped it or what. Probably record company people that would come to CBGBs got our demo, but I really don’t remember. Combat was the biggest label we dealt with. Probably some smaller ones too. I don’t remember. Profile (Cromags label) being too excited with us. Chris Williams or Williamson was never really a fan.
Combat Core seems to be something a little more unique in the 80’s as you were seemingly on a subsidiary of an independent label. What was the relationship with them like?
I liked the people we worked with a lot. Howie Abrams, Steve Martin, and the art department guy whose name escapes me, but I can picture him, and some of the PR people were great.
Before I get to one of my favorite moments in music ever, tell me a little bit about the songwriting approach at this time within the band.
Almost all of the stuff started out as either a chord progression, or a few chord progressions. I would write the lyrics (except for a few of the very early Ludichrist songs that Al wrote the lyrics for), and then I would sit down with whatever guitar player wrote the music and we’d put together an arrangement. Then we’d get together as a band and play with it a little more.
I had recently shared some YouTube links to songs from ‘Immaculate Deception,’ and they were met with a lot of appreciation. A comment that followed was if the band’s lyrics were a joke as she had looked at the song titles. I pointed out that you guys were addressing things like racism and taking care of the Earth in your lyrics as well as a variety of other topics. How did people generally react at the time as it is probably fair to say that people might not catch some of the lyrics on a cursory listen?
I guess people liked the lyrics. My favorites were the stories, because that’s what I liked to write. On the first album, “Young, White, and Well Behaved” comes to mind as a fun story. I also liked adding some humor to even the serious topics. I guess “Most People are Dicks” was, and is, the most popular line I ever wrote.
Now, being that ‘Immaculate Deception’ is one of my favorite albums of all time, I wanted to drill down a little bit into some of the songs on the album. I am not going to go in order though so let’s start with ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ which I think is one of the first metal rap songs in history with you incorporating ‘Rock Box’ by Run D.M.C. for the second half of the song. The part where that riff comes in is pure magic for me. How did you guys decide to do that, and what did the people around you guys think?
I don’t remember the details. Chuck was listening to a lot of rap then, and working at Rick Rubin’s Chung King Recording Studio, where a lot of rap was happening. Glen wrote the music to the first part of the song. I don’t know exactly how we added the Run DMC part. My guess is Chuck and Glken did it, but I honestly don’t remember.
The same year that Slayer was being met with resistance around getting ‘Reign in Blood’ pressed because of ‘Angel of Death,’ you were also singing a song addressing ‘Mengele.’ Did you receive any similar pushback for tackling what a monster he was?
No. At least not that I can remember. Slayer lyrics are quite a bit different than mine.
One of the beliefs the band had that you would come back to at times is that ‘Most People are Dicks.’ Was there one thing or several things that helped create those lyrics at the time as I know we have all felt like that at times?
I wish I could remember! It’s just a fun line…
I mentioned addressing racism earlier. The first song ‘Fire at the Firehouse’ does an awesome job lyrically of pointing out the stupidity of racism. What were you seeing around you at the time that made you want to address it?
Again, I really don’t remember. It’s like 35 years ago!
Since it was the 80’s, nuclear war was addressed as well as the effects of big business, but you also did incorporate a lot of humor in places too. I am thinking of your line in ‘God is Everywhere’ where you complain there is a god in your soup. This was an approach and balance you would take with you through the next record and then Scatterbrain. Digressing with Scatterbrain for a moment, more people probably know Scatterbrain’s version of ‘Down with the Ship’ than this version. What made you want to revisit it, especially with the way you incorporated all of the other musical nods on the Scatterbrain version?
By the time we were reworking that song, the band had changed a lot. Every player was ridiculously talented, and for Guy, Paul and Mike, theri backgrounds were not hardcore, and not even metal, so other influences creeped in. We probably just started screwing around at practice, and it stuck.
Returning back to Ludichrist, I often looked for another band that I felt really shared similar musical ground to you but really never found one as your individuality really shined. The jazz feel of ‘Legal Murder’ could stand perfectly side by side with the rage of ‘Murder Bloody Murder.’ Your vocal style would change to fit what each part of a song would need. Who were some of your vocalists you enjoyed then and now, and how did they influence your style, if they did at all?
Some of my favorite hardcore bands early on were Dead Kennedys and Discharge. I always liked singers that kind of talked too, like Lou Reed and Lux Interior. So my style kind of became a cross between talking and screaming.
The album also had several guests on ‘You Can’t Have Fun’ with the likes of Roger Miret, Eddie Sutton, John Connelly, and Chris Notaro providing backing vocals. Was that planned or something spontaneous that happened during the recording?
We were friends and in some cases labelmates. We planned it and invited them to do it.
I mentioned ‘Peace Sells’ earlier which was also produced by Randy Burns. What was it like working with him in the studio?
I don’t remember much about recording the album with him. I do remember mixing it in Los Angeles after the recording. Some of the guys thought there was too much reverb.
One last question regarding ‘Immaculate Deception,’ I think it is fair to say that the album cover represents the band perfectly with Edward Repka providing one of his iconic works here. Did the band give him a general idea of what you wanted, or did he create it without any kind of influence?
While the focus here has been ‘Immaculate Deception,’ Ludichrist put out an excellent follow up album in ‘Powertrip.’ There were several changes internally in the band. I am one of those annoying people who always preferred the debut as it hit me at the right time and definitely carries some nostalgia with it too. ‘Powertrip’ has been one of those records though that I enjoy more and more every year. Musically, the band continued to expand with excellent musicianship, and some signs to me that made the transition to Scatterbrain a logical next step. What are your thoughts on ‘Powertrip’ today?
Some songs are really great, some not so much. The speed and changes and technical playing of those guys is amazing. For example “Johnnypump” and “Powertrip.” I don’t like some of the lyrics I wrote. Some generic stuff, and some dumb metal shit ,like “Johnnypump” and “Damage Done.” I like “Zad” a lot, musically and lyrically, and with “This Party Sucks,” you can hear what would become Scatterbrain.
Finally, I don’t think I am alone in saying that I have really missed not having more musical contributions from you over the years. Ludichrist plays the odd show every now and a great while in New York. Do we have any chance of seeing new music from you in some form in the future?
Maybe. I still write, but have been doing stuff besides lyrics. I doubt we’d ever do another album, but I could see us writing a new song or two to play live.
One of the last things I want to mention is that for all of the craziness that Facebook can create at times. I had the fortune of meeting another diehard Ludichrist fan named Richard Campbell many years ago. We would often talk about the band. This interview is dedicated in his memory.
Thanks Gerald. Rock on Richard…
Author: Gerald Stansbury