- Antiseen, North Carolina's badwill ambassadors.
Antiseen is ugly, loud, and violent. So is its music. The band has been pumping out a redneck take on punk, metal, and boogie-rock from the backwoods of North Carolina for what seems like forever. Frontman Jeff Clayton's voice is a gravelly growl that's equal parts Lee Ving and Lemmy, and the band's music supports that roar perfectly. The songs all seem to have the same riff, but it's a decent riff, somewhere in the neighborhood of Elvis Hitler, with a little less rockabilly and slightly more raw, simplistic brutality. That brutality plays an even greater role in Antiseen's lyrics and imagery (album covers, logo, etc.).
And this is where the group becomes troublesome. In a recent e-mail interview, Clayton wrote, "[Rednecks] are the only type of people left in the world that it's OK to make fun of without recourse." He claims that the "parody image" of rednecks in the mainstream media doesn't accurately reflect the band, and that it "may as well be The Dukes of Hazzard." This from a guy who's penned such controversial anthems as "Talk Show Trash," which criticizes white folks who act black, and "Melting Pot," which begins with the lyrics, "I thought I lived in America/Not Mexico, Africa, or Vietnam." In the same song, Clayton goes on a diatribe about "some raghead in a turban" at a convenience store. Come back, Axl Rose, all is forgiven.
Live, Antiseen covers "I Don't Like You," a song whose title suggests it's a traditionally misanthropic punk anthem. And it is, but the listener's grin sours once it's revealed that the song was written by the infamous Nazi band Skrewdriver. Antiseen also covers two Ramones songs -- "Commando" and "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World." "Commando" is pretty easy to let slide, since its lyrics are clearly a joke (the line "Follow the laws of Germany" precedes "Eat kosher salami"). But the version of "Today Your Love" is problematic. Performing it on its new live album, Screamin' Bloody Live, Antiseen slices off the song's second half, in which the title is chanted as a coda. This leaves only the first verse and the chorus, which includes the line "I'm a stormtrooper fighting for the Fatherland." This leads, without a break, into the Antiseen original "Stormtrooper." Nice. When Ron Asheton of the Stooges walked onstage in an SS uniform, it was meant to shock, to bait as many members of the audience as possible with the most potent iconography available. When Antiseen designs a logo that consists of a Nazi-style eagle holding a wreath in its talons, and in the center of the wreath is the Confederate flag, there's something a little deeper going on, and "punk" shock value aside, it's not cool.
Granted, all this is merely one facet of Antiseen's overall onstage persona. The band also sings about guns, sex, and professional wrestling. It has gone so far as to record tributes to wrestlers Sabu, Terry Funk, and Cactus Jack. "I like all forms of wrestling," Clayton says. "Much to many people's dismay, I also like the backyard stuff. My favorites are the over-the-top Japanese companies like W*ING, IWA, and FMW. XPW here in the States is great, too. I'm still a huge fan of the WWF, even though they seem to be under a lot of critical fire right now. It's still the best thing on TV."
Furthermore, Antiseen does have pretty good taste when it comes to choosing other cover tunes. On the recent studio album The Boys From Brutalsville and the live album, the band performs Dave Dudley's trucker anthem "Six Days on the Road." The live version kicks ass all over the studio take, which finds the players prettying themselves up with piano and organ. Onstage, there's none of that -- the song morphs into a rabid stomp that fulfills all the potential that "cowpunk" had back in the early '80s but somehow never quite delivered. They also rip through Roky Erickson's "Two Headed Dog" with suitably psychotic fury.
Still, no matter how good their tunes may be, it's one thing to pose on an album cover with Wild Turkey bottles and handguns (and Clayton sporting a barbed-wire crown of thorns), and it's entirely another to take it where Antiseen is clearly going. Some time ago, Antiseen served as the late G.G. Allin's backing band for an album and tour. It's ironic that Clayton says of Allin, "I knew G.G. would box himself into a corner eventually. Too bad that he won't be remembered as much for his music as he will be for shitting onstage." Ironic, not only because Antiseen's racism and general thuggish vibe will always precede any serious consideration of its music, but also because its shows are nearly as violent as Allin's were. While Clayton doesn't sodomize himself with the microphone or lose control of his bowels during performances, he does routinely gash his forehead open with broken bottles, and "audience engagement" of the backyard-wrestling type isn't uncommon. The band's attitude toward fighting with the crowd is simple: "Anyone with half a brain in their head wouldn't want that type of stuff to happen all the time, but our whole attitude towards it is, if it does, we will be the ones ending it," Clayton says. "We aren't there to take any shit from some little half-assed know-it-all. Our audiences, for the most part, have always been great and seem to police themselves."
Perhaps that's because an Antiseen gig serves as a cathartic release of mass mania as much as it exists as a musical experience. As loud and raucous as the Screamin' Bloody Live CD is, it's missing the aura of barely controlled mayhem that certainly seems to be a big part of this band's appeal. But that mayhem's rooted in a lot of sublimated rage, and it's not all based on skin color. Any veteran of small-town bars knows that the most dangerous words in the English language are: "You think you're better than me?" When that question cuts through the smoke and the noise, somebody's gonna lose teeth before the night's out. Antiseen seems to be setting itself up as the perfect soundtrack to that night, in that bar. Maybe that's why its small but rabid audience hasn't really grown much since 1983. And maybe that lack of forward momentum is, in turn, a hopeful sign.