(Listen to Six Point Groundhog Head while you read)
Lately I’ve been caught in a late night cycle of watching lots of “bad” 80s movies on instant Netflix. They’re never great, but they can be pretty entertaining. Last night I stumbled upon the campy horror/adventure cult classic, The Gate, which involves a couple of suburban kids who accidentally open a gateway to hell in their backyard. Tiny, almost cute, claymation demons start showing up all over the place trying to establish their new evil kingdom, and reality takes a turn for the worse. The phone melts when somebody tries to make a call; there’s a reanimated corpse living in the walls; one kid has a beautiful moment hugging his dead mom’s ghost only to realize he’s actually dancing with the corpse of the family dog; a giant demon bursts out of the floor and implants an eyeball into a kid’s palm. Serious bad trip shit.
The movie was pretty good by my standards, but that’s not what I want to talk about. One of my favorite elements of the film was that the kids figure out what’s going by consulting a satanic heavy metal LP by a fictional band called Sacrifyx. The album is called The Dark Book and it contains explicit instructions about how to open (and close) the portal to hell for the demons (AKA “old gods”) to enter our world and assert their dominance. What little we hear of the music itself is generic Iron Maidenish fodder, followed by an interlude that sounds like Hawkwind’s ridiculous spoken-word tangents but cheesier (check out this clip). However unoriginal and even satirical it may be, the concept is intriguing: a long-playing record connected to a dark realm, and a band messing around with evil like it was some kind of game (we learn that all the members of Sacrifyx died in a plane crash shortly after recording The Dark Book).
Listening to Six Point Groundhog Head by Bloomington noise mavens, The Belgian Waffles!, I’m struck by how much more fitting their music is when I try to imagine an LP with the power to summon demons and turn reality inside out. In fact, The Gate would probably be an amazing piece of stoner art (in the vein of Pink Floyd-meets-Wizard of Oz or Captian Beefheart-meets-Follow That Bird) if one were to start playing Six Point Groundhog Head at the moment in the film when the nerdy metal kid discovers the Sacrifyx album and let The Belgian Waffles!’s bizarre sonic trip score the rest of the nightmarish adventure. It’s not metal, and it’s not particularly “scary” sounding, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the most unsettling, otherworldly albums ever put on tape.
On their MFT page, The Belgian Waffles! describe Six Point Groundhog Head as “a bad trip... no incense and peppermints here. Dripping in noise and paranoia, this was the sound in our heads, a document of times most of us are glad we left behind.” As happy as I am that the Waffles moved on to a different sound which is even more experimental and cacophonous in certain ways, this ahead-of-its-time indulgence in nightmarish noise is by far one of the most interesting albums I’ve heard from an Indiana band. They manage to combine rock, free jazz, psychedelic freakouts a la early Red Crayola, abrasive noise, warped humor, snarling post-punk, no wave nihilism, squealing feedback, and hardcore punk energy into a cohesive and deep exploration into life’s darker side.
Bloomington’s The Belgian Waffles! (they later moved to Louisville) had an always-changing membership, and they successfully freaked out the squares from the 1980s through 2006, when they declared an unspecified hiatus. Six Point Groundhog Head was recorded in Muncie, IN, in 1990 with Jeff Weiss. Shortly thereafter, the band picked up horn players Dan Willems and Heather Floyd, and their sound changed direction. Six Point Groundhog Head is dense and tension-ridden. It’s pretty evident that the band must have been battling some demons of their own, making it even more obvious why they would want to forget about the recordings and move on to their next phase. Lucky for those of us who get into super freaked-out, fucked-up sounds, Six Point has been preserved at MFT, and it still stands as a singular and mind-altering work.
"Semioticians on Acid” starts things right with warped turntable sound effects that drill into the ear canal like a demented dentist. The beat kicks in and the band launches into outer space as quickly as possible. There are buzzsaw guitars, anxiously-smashed drums, and incoherent lyrics delivered in a mumbled baritone. By the third track, “Rochester,” the brown acid has kicked in and the mutant baby is staggering around the room, banging its head into walls. The drummer can’t hear the rest of the band because the tiny demons have crawled into her ear and taken over her control of the kit. The vocalist hallucinates that he’s Jonathan Richman fronting the Grateful Dead in hell, and the guitars turn into space serpents, squirting laser beams from their scales before melting into a vomity heap of vibrant colors that swirl into something utterly disgusting, writhing on the floor.
“Jacques” struggles to take the form of melodic space rock, but then it settles into sublimely loose, kraut-inspired territory that would have made Sonic Youth proud if they’d been paying attention to (or cared) what was happening in Indiana in 1990. “True Stories of Flag Desecration” sandwiches a punked-out, static-clouded jam between an intro and outro Residents-style rendition of “Iko Iko” (yes the traditional New Orleans song). “Purge” is angular, disjointed post-punk with a memorable bassline, more frantic drumming, alien-guitars, panic-ridden atmosphere, and strange textures. Vocalist Tony Woollard keeps up his “Jonathan Richman on a doom trip” vocal style throughout Six Point Groundhog Head - it’s a bit of a strange match at first, but it helps tie the album together. The lyrics are never very audible, but Woolard’s inflection and timing are all that matter in this chaotic setting.
We watch horror movies because they take us out of our comfort zone and force us to confront, even to embrace, the things that terrify us the most. For those of us who listen to “experimental” or “abrasive” music, our reasons may be somewhat similar. We dive boldly into albums like Six Point Groundhog Head, knowing that we may not be able to withstand the harshest moments. But within tornadic blasts of white noise, tortured vocals, and alien sounds, we realize our own strength and begin to see a new definition of beauty amidst the confusion.
The Belgian Waffles! are an incredible band that I definitely want to explore in more depth. Browsing through their other recordings, I can tell that Six Point Groundhog Head probably isn't even what they do best. But it’s a hell of a trip, and it's plenty of fun to experience as an outsider who knows little about what the band was going through personally when it was recorded. I especially think this album will be relevant and familiar to fans of the current breed of experimental music in Indiana: bands like Learner Dancer, Crys, and Thee Open Sex come to mind. They’re not necessarily taking cues from The Belgian Waffles!, but they’re definitely exploring similar terrain 20-some years later. And who knows? Six Point Groundhog Head may just turn out to be one of those “lost classics” that ended up predicting an entire musical movement decades ahead of anyone else.
(Note: We would love to know your opinions about this album in the comments section below. Also, any info, photos, more recordings, or anything else pertaining to The Belgian Waffles! would be greatly appreciated - firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something for me. Thanks for reading.)