Home Music Mr. Bungle: The Night They Came Home

Mr. Bungle: The Night They Came Home

When Mr. Bungle reunited (at least partially) after a two-decade hiatus, it came as both a shock and not particularly a surprise. After all, the core members of Mike Patton, Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn had operated in the same avant-rock circles for years as part of the greater web of artists linked to freak-jazz maestro John Zorn, and their respective creative projects all showed that their old band’s mixture of surf rock, world music and extreme metal still infused their work. The new lineup’s inclusion of regular Patton collaborator Dave Lombardo and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian reaffirmed Mr. Bungle as an unlikely legacy act, and a re-recording of the band’s original demo seemed poised to relaunch the group as a major live act.

Then, of course, COVID-19 hit, throwing a wrench into touring plans. The Night They Came Home, a more permanent document of a 2020 livestream conducted, as so many artists did, to make the best of the situation, makes an immediate case that as venues begin to re-open, Mr. Bungle should be at the top of adventurous concertgoers’ list of acts to see ASAP. With a setlist that comprises songs from the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo as well as a string of covers, the live album is a bit disappointing on its face for not plumbing the small but rich catalogue of Zappaesque, pan-genre music that the band crafted on its original three studio albums. As a matter of cementing the odd genius of reuniting with an upgraded version of a demo its founding members made just out of high school, however, it’s oddly ingenious.

Because there is none of the carnival-like whimsy of the self-titled studio debut, the Zorn punk of Disco Volante or the mutated easy listening of California, The Night They Came Home first and foremost puts the band forward as a mosh-friendly quintet of blasting metal, crisscrossing nearly every subgenre of extremity to crop up in the metal scene since the early ‘80s. “Bungle Grind,” as the name implies, slams in and out of grindcore riffs, all buzzsaw guitars and blastbeats, only to slow down into the relatively groovier tempos of thrash to let Spruance and Ian lock into a headbanging riff before Patton enters with death metal bull roars. Lasting six-and-a-half minutes, the track dives through the kind of hair-trigger transitions into various time signatures and grooves that once made Metallica the most exciting metal band since Black Sabbath. “Methemeatics” stretches things out even more, leaving plenty of space for Lombardo to seemingly fill even a second’s pause with two minutes of fills as Dunn weaves thick bass stabs amid the drummer’s rolling toms and galloping bass drums. Patton, as much an instrumentalist as his bandmates, sends his voice into strange, angular leaps, screeching, yelping, raving and, yes, even singing as he makes as many sudden change-ups as the players.

On the shorter tracks, this overwhelming complexity is compressed to crushing density, all while showcasing the band’s loopy, enduringly juvenile sense of humor. “Anarchy Up Your Anus” is a skull-rattling two minutes of impossible speed metal, while a cover of hardcore icons Circle Jerks’ “World Up My Ass” embraces the shock comedy of forebearers as the guitars bleed into a glistening wall of noise that ruptures into surf licks that sound like a 33 rpm record played on 45. “Loss for Words” finds Patton getting a Jello Biafra-esque nasal warble as his lyrics pass into intelligibility while he sings at the same tempo that the band careens through old-school thrash that gradually slows down on Lombardo’s marching snare before inverting and becoming death-doom metal that trudges through tar-thick riffs.

For all the ferocity, there are, of course, moments of extreme levity. The set itself begins with a cover of Mr. Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” as Patton softly coos over delicate guitar patterns that abruptly lurch into a metallic explosion. Elsewhere, the grinding intro of Slayer’s iconic “Hell Awaits” suddenly drops off a cliff into twinkling bells and dancing guitars of Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze.” Patton’s inexhaustible vocal range lets him divebomb out of throat-shredding metal barks into adult contemporary croons with ease. There’s always a blatantly ironic touch to such unexpected moments of gentleness in Patton’s work, but they equally betray a sincere love of schmaltz as being no more or less embarrassing or niche than a love of, say, death metal.

That crucial dash of open-heartedness informs the closer, a bafflingly great cover of Van Halen deep cut “Loss of Control” in tribute to the departed guitar god Eddie. The track’s riffs are knotty and angular, which one might attribute to Bungle’s own input until you check back in with the original and realize that Van Halen themselves assembled its baffling imploding riffs. In a move that is as hilarious as it is endearing, Patton even does a devastatingly good David Lee Roth impression, capturing Diamond Dave’s distorted yelps, quasi-croons and abrupt jumps into sarcastic falsetto. In playing the song straight, they manage to offer a reminder that Van Halen could be just as weird as they were commercially formidable. As much a statement of intent as their re-recorded demo, Mr. Bungle’s live album is as funny as it is ferocious, and a stirring indicator that despite being defunct for 20 years, they remain as cutting-edge and peerless as ever.

Undaunted by the suspension of concerts during the pandemic, Mr. Bungle take a well-earned victory lap with this recording of a livestream performance.
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Bungled Livestream
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