Words by Luke Buckler
Photos by Photoyunist
Melbourne’s Religious Observance are a coven of creepily-monikered miscreants who like their tunes bleak and blasphemous, and they’ve been keeping their Sundays pretty busy. Their sound is born from the back corners of video shops, amidst blister packs and ‘Banned in Queensland’ stickers, an embodiment of a 15-year-old with a bag of weed’s menacing euphoria the first time they manage to hire a VHS copy of Bad Taste. Since December 2015, the band has been steadily putting up new recordings online – for their third release of 2016, they approached engineer Max Ducker to nail their most devolved material to the cross. The result is Boiling Excrement.
UB caught up with Religious Observance’s noise bloke ‘X’ to talk about their band, but mostly ended up talking about the fuckedest films ever.
How did Religious Observance start? How long have you been doing it for?
We’re pretty much a mash-up of two bands of ours – myself (noise) and Wayniac (vocals) as the live component of harsh noise group Colostomy Baguette?, and Gooch (guitar), Acid Witch (bass), and Gnome Lord (drums) from sludge metal band She Beast. Wayniac had been mates with Gooch for a while, and was a fan of She Beast, which is how we first wound up playing gigs with them. After the first gig we played together in May 2015, Gooch suggested we do a split EP, and before we’d even released that we started talking about catching up for a jam with the idea of banging out some material somewhere between Eyehategod’s nastiness and Corrupted’s sluggish noise. We finally caught up for a jam in December 2015, banging out the Naraka demo in one afternoon. We always tend to rehearse on Sundays. Huh.
Bands that play loud and slow seem to be scrambling to avoid ‘doom’ and ‘stoner’ as descriptors for their music. The jury’s still out on sludge. How do you feel about those words, and how would describe your sound?
In my mind, labels are just the start of the conversation. You can get too hung up on how close a band might be to the tag they use to self-identify, but knowing the kind of broad sound that a band is aiming for can be helpful as a frame of reference. So, for us, it’s ‘sludge/noise/doom metal’ – sludge for the overdriven nastiness of the riffs (and also the link with punk genres, given that most sludge riffs are just hardcore and grindcore riffs played much slower), noise for the layers of static and feedback that I spread amidst the sound, and doom for the pace and heaviness. What labels people choose to use to describe us after engaging with our sound is up to them.
UB are fans of Max Ducker, who helped out on your most recent recording, Boiling Excrement. How did you end up working with him, and what do you reckon he brought to the recording?
Gooch made the initial contact. We’re all big fans of BØG and Dead, so knowing he’d worked with them to wonderful ends in the past sold it for us. There are so many things he brought to the recording. For one, he was totally relaxed and welcoming throughout the whole session, and gave plenty of time to listen to our various ideas and suggestions as to how we wanted it to sound. This was even more important because all of our sound elements are so large, and in many cases over-driven, so giving them all prominence in the mix was quite a delicate balancing act. I personally learnt a lot about the recording process just through watching him work. The drums finally stood out clearly, the fuzz and thick textures of the guitar, bass, and noise sat strongly alongside each other, and the vocals got to a properly frightening point. We’d definitely work with him again.
This is your third release for 2016. Do you think you can keep going at this pace?
We’re probably gonna stick to more polished recordings, like on Boiling Excrement, given how wonderfully positive the responses have been to that recording in contrast to our rougher earlier releases, which were necessary at the time to get our sound out there. Pumping out tons of rough recordings can be great, and has worked in a bunch of my other projects (like Expurgatory and Hadal), but with this group, I feel, it would be a step backwards to go to our older, rougher sound again, even though our sound is quite nasty.
There are heaps of samples all over the record. What are they from?
The opening sample from “Black Rope” is from the climax of Hostel II, which also happens to be one of the finest and most graphic castration scenes in cinema history (the rest of the film is pretty disposable, alas). The sample in the middle of the track is a monologue from David Cronenberg’s first big film, Shivers (which also goes by a bunch of different names, like It Came From Within). It’s one of my favourite monologues in a film, and goes great lengths to explaining why he’s still considered the king of venereal horror. “Saṃghāta” opens with a grab from the violent climax to The Doom Generation. It’s the point in the film that signals the death of innocence for the protagonists, and snaps the viewer out of the dreamscape they’d previously found themselves in. I’ve seen that film more than any other. It’s wonderful, terrible, trashy, and utterly beautiful. “Arnold” opens with a sample of another delightful castration scene, this time from the first version of Last House on the Left, where a guy thinks he’s just getting a blow-job, but then winds up having his dick bitten off. Outstanding chutzpah right there. The cackling at the end of the track is from Renfield in the 1931 Bela Lugosi version of Dracula. It’s a pre-Hays Code Hollywood film, so manages to be far more psychotic and sexual than what you would normally expect from an early talkie. “Boiling Excrement” starts with the incredibly nasty and intense witch burning scene from The Witchfinder General, which still manages to shock these days. People think it’s just a camp Hammer Horror flick, but then all the brutality of the torture and interrogation of alleged practitioners of witchcraft come in, and there’s often little music during those scenes, and it’s still quite difficult to watch nearly four decades later, despite how so many of us are used to the last coupla decades of torture porn on the screen. The closing sample is from Nosferatu in Venice, which is a delightfully B-grade sequel to the late seventies Werner Herzog re-boot of Nosferatu. They managed to still have Klaus Kinski in the lead, though he refused to shave his hair again, so he appears more as an aged, dying Fabio who’s lost his will to live (despite still hypnotising virgins, for reasons). The middle of “Caged Worm” features a mash-up of the most famous quote from Flesh for Frankenstein (“If you want to know life…” etc) with a bunch of grabs of the extended Dracula-vomiting-blood-that-oh-no-it-wasn’t-virgin-blood-really?-oh-fuck scenes from Blood for Dracula. In both instances, it’s Udo Kier’s voice. Any film featuring him is worth taking time out to see. And finally, we get some Pink Flamingos in “Unremitting”. John Waters’ films are brilliant for sampling (even The Avalanches know this). This clip is from an out-take where Babs and Crackers are putting a hex on their rival’s house. Can’t believe this film is still banned in Australia in its uncut form, but a part of me kinda likes that too.
Are you big video nasty/exploitation film fans?
Most of us are, yeah. Speaking just for myself, I wasn’t allowed to watch anywhere near as much stuff as my mates when I was growing up, so I used to idolise the intense videocase art in the local rental store where I grew up in rural Victoria, with standout titles like Men Behind The Sun, Leatherface, and all manner of slasher films violently burning themselves in my brain. Nowadays, I’m more academically interested in them, as it’s always fascinating to see what crosses lines for people at different times and places. For example, one of the most controversial aspects of Psycho wasn’t the shower scene – it was that you saw a toilet, which had never really been seen in a Hollywood film before then (or at least whilst the Hays Code was in force).
A lot of the samples seem to involve sex and violence. Are you particularly interested in how eroticism and violence are depicted on screen? Or is it just for cheap thrills?
More the former, though there’s an undeniable morbid attraction going on here too. Subversive depictions, like you get in Baise Moi and In the Realm of the Senses, are particularly fascinating at the same time as being profoundly disturbing. When you consider the violence and extremity in art-house interpretations of this, like Peter Greenaway did with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and The Baby of Mâcon and A Zed and Two Noughts and what Jörg Buttgereit did with Nekromantik and Der Todesking, you really see the potential for beauty in so many of these abject transgressions. Our bodies are bizarre things, and often it takes representations of body horror and deviance in these extreme films for us to engage with the fragility and disgusting aspects of living in these bizarre meat sacks.
What’s more important – the riff, the tone, or the overarching grimness?
The songs always start with the riff, so that’s probably the most important part. We’ve got a fairly clear idea of the sound we’re after now, so the tone/texture and grim thematic elements fairly easily fall into line once the song structure is put in place by Gooch and Gnome Lord.
What is the grimmest thing in the world?
For me, it’s capital punishment. The absurd formality of such an abhorrent act, and the way it’s often altered to appear more ‘humane’, though in actuality just winds up hiding the horror and making it even worse for the condemned person. And it doesn’t work – we know this – but people still want revenge. If you want to punish someone who’s done something horrible, the worst thing I can imagine would be to grant them more life. Let them have all the time in the world to engage with and ponder what they’ve done. State sanctioned murder doesn’t solve anything. It’s a bullshit, cruel PR exercise.
Here, have some Boiling Excrement: