Editor’s Note: This is Josh Beech’s first post for BHAM FM, and hopefully the first of many. He also writes for the Mobile’s Modmobilian.com and has recently assumed the mantle as their “Sr. Birmingham Correspondent”. His turn-ons include pretty girls. His turn-offs include ugly girls.
There is a very special demographic for Roman Gabriel Todd. His music presupposes that there are some who can agree that at a certain point vulgar obscenity transcends into something approaching maniacal glee. There’s also the notion that guitars are completely unnecessary to accomplish this, bordering on nuisance. This is a product of his innate third person perspective, where brutality (a protean mix of the farthest-out metal to the most prehistoric dino punk), jazz-fusion, and cheeky ridiculousness converge into a sound that, to a specific cross-section, is absolutely beloved.
His morbid, garish, vivid imagery is a great through-line, unifying his different combinations of genre, arrangement, and personnel. With the exception of his early (and recently, briefly reunited) band Supreme Dispassion, each incarnation has been served under the umbrella of “Roman Gabriel Todd’s” Band Name Here, furthering the conceit of a coherent pseudo-narrative.
Most people know RGT’s music through his most perplexing and intense incarnation, Roman Gabriel Todd’s Beast Rising Up Out Of The Sea, whose name belied their nature as a violent sea change of synchronized syncopated blasphemy. The duo of RGT and Benny Divine (the supreme drum jobber on the Gulf Coast) present Todd’s sound at its most muscular, but just as much as he seems to enjoy overwhelming the earholes, he also likes to prune it into a much more peculiar and more skeletal species. Hot Displeasure featured RGT on drums, leaning into a bass-auto-piloted take on nerve-wracked jazz. Roman Gabriel Todd and Bobby Sweatpants were a groovy yet lurching monster.
His most recent offering, an untitled six song EP positioned as his solo debut, is a tome of dense, mechanical electro punk. The repetitious figures throughout create a malevolent hypnosis that is both thankfully and frustratingly brief. The EP’s quirky and unyielding drum programming, the caustic bass frequency with which RGT delivers sickly grey color and melody, and the cheeky hatefulness is boiled down into simple, punishing, and inexplicably catchy bursts. The efficiency with which he wreaks mischievous havoc is admirable.
There’s a cartoon plasticity to the EP that holds it all together as a consistent piece, and the 7” format definitely reinforces the momentum of the album while enforcing a more monastic devotion to the EP’s demands for focus. The lyrics step away from the immediately disgusting and provocative in order to paint sly silhouettes. Even at their shortest (the two-line “Uncircumcised Stranger In The Sanctuary”), they each lyrically capture a still shot to explore.
The disc is best segmented by its sides, with each representing the line of beliefs. The Catholic imagery of side one contrasts with the Satanic imagery on the back side. “Black Pope” is a cheeky race-baiting nightmare for racist believers. “…Stranger…” uses sexual imagery to equate beliefs with deflowering destruction, while “Born Again Without A Brain Again” equates it with premature death (it’s also quite easily the catchiest and most hypnotic track on the disc).
Side two is about an intellectual and spirtual freedom in open defiance of the criminal repression of the capitol-C Church. “My Worm Will Not Die” is Roman Gabriel Todd’s “evil” affirmation. “Satanism in School” promises knowledge of a secret alphabet, something those born again without a brain again will never receive. By the end, RGT is the master of this death.
“Don’t stop thrusting in the shadow of death,” he says, finally. In the backwards world where Frank Zappa is called a composer and the local Cardinal is called a monster, the defiant attitude of this song and of the EP in general (the title on the back is “Darkness Upon The Face Of The What The,” a cheeky reference to the artwork, not the content of the disc) strike as a form of bizarro motivational speaking. Keep your brain alive, your beliefs dead, and get all up inside the grim reaper.