Loving the Alienation
Helios Creed and Chrome continue making iconoclastic music for outcasts
By: Brian Staker
Salt Lake City Weekly
March 28, 2018
When seminal San Francisco
post-punk band Chrome's debut album The Visitation (1976, Siren)
dropped, it was disorienting, discombobulating and alienating. The
initial strains of opening track "How Many Years Too Soon" seemed to
emerge from a synthetic fog. The group incorporated themes and sounds
of science fiction—grating, sometimes otherworldly noises, and lyrics
about living in futuristic dystopias—but their sound wasn't so foreign
that it was completely unfamiliar. The industrial noise was fueled by
driving drums and rapid-fire riffs that were critical elements of punk
Chrome didn't fully achieve its
trademark sound, however, until founder, singer/multi-instrumentalist
Damon Edge was joined by guitarist Helios Creed. Creed's flying
saucer-slash-buzzsaw guitar sound and his songwriting took the band's
futuristic freak show to the nth degree, and burnished Chrome to a high
luster. The band's next two albums—Alien Soundtracks (1977) and Half
Machine Lip Moves (1979)—would become Chrome's best-known efforts.
Their partnership lasted until
1983, when Edge relocated to Paris with his wife, singer Fabienne
Shine, issuing a number of releases as Chrome while Creed went solo. In
the mid-'90s, Edge—having separated from Shine—returned to California.
Although he discussed a reunion with Creed, Edge passed away before it
could happen. Ultimately, Creed re-formed Chrome, touring and releasing
four albums between 1997 and 2002 before returning to his solo career.
In 2014, after a 12-year hiatus, Creed reactivated Chrome again,
releasing Feel It Like a Scientist (2014, King of Spades) and
Techromancy (2017, Cleopatra).
The band influenced several
generations of industrial and post-punk bands, though they never really
fit under a tidy label. You can hear Chrome in artists like Nine Inch
Nails and Marilyn Manson, who were immensely more popular and
commercially successful. Numerous other musicians borrowed some of
their elements, but none were quite able to replicate Chrome's surreal
nightmare, so mechanistic and macabre, yet spacy and psychedelic. To
many ears, they were a head trip gone bad, but to more adventurous
listeners, the band provided insidious enjoyment.
"We have our own audience of musical outcasts," Creed explains by phone. "They don't like average, mainstream music."
But where adherents of industrial
music have often incorporated dance clubs, fashion and political
activism into their musical interests, Chrome has always remained
purely about the music (notwithstanding their social commentary). The
typical Chrome listener, if there is such a thing, is an outcast even
Chrome is half-machine and
half-human, a hybrid that's intriguing and still incredibly original 41
years after The Visitation. The music is robotic, and often seems borne
from the grinding of gears or some bizarre extraterrestrial
technology—but it's always passionate and, at times, angry.
Take "T.V. as Eyes," from Half
Machine Lip Moves. The opening guitar scream sounds like a missile
soaring into the stratosphere to intercept some interplanetary invader,
until it coalesces into a Stooges-like riff. (The song is a
not-so-distant cousin of "T.V. Eye," from The Stooges' classic 1970
album Funhouse.) "Something you feel, desire/ Back at the wheel again/
Something you feel inside/ Waiting at the back door of my mind," Edge
intones. If Iggy Pop was animalistic, Chrome showed that the machinery
of industry, as menacing as it could be, was also an engine of desire.
In the '70s soft-rock era, this
stuff was completely foreign to middle-of-the-road ears. Listen to
"You've Been Duplicated," also from Half Machine, with its backward
masked samples leading into a perversely galloping rhythm, or "Insect
Human" (from 1981's Blood on the Moon), with its disembodied voices in
the intro. Try "Pharoah Chromium" (Alien Soundtracks), with Creed's
guitar leads flashing in the twilight like an outer-space Hendrix, and
Edge sounding even seedier than New York Dolls-era David Johansen.
In the 21st century, the band isn't
so odd—but they remain just alien enough to be compelling. In concert,
Chrome combines material from their new releases with old favorites.
For a band more than four decades old, covering three distinct eras
(Edge/Creed and their individual tenures), and without its founder,
there's hardly a seam in their music.
Chrome hasn't toured much over the
past 15 years, so it's a noteworthy event for anyone interested in
challenging, noisy music. "We're really tight; we sound like the
records," Creed says, adding that he's left room in the set for
weirdness. "There's an experimental section, where we go off and make
wacky sounds, noises and use frequencies of distortion."
In retrospect, it's apparent that
the essence of Chrome is, and maybe always was, the vision of Helios
Creed. Chrome turned out to be not only musical visionaries, but
culturally prophetic. The dystopia they predicted starting in the '70s
is coming closer to fruition every day. "It's becoming a machine-based
society, with nanobots and clones," Creed maintains. "We express the
idea that the planet is kind of a scary place."
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