"The best review I've ever gotten was from a guy who came to see us at Giorgio's, on Electric Avenue in East Pittsburgh," says Mike Rensland, bassist for local doom-metal band Brown Angel. "He sat me down after the set and said, 'You know, I've got a job, and a wife and kids at home, and I don't get out much. When I go out and see a band, I want it to be fun. Your band is not any fun at all.'"
The band -- Rensland, guitarist Adam MacGregor and drummer John Roman (also of Microwaves) -- bears that review with a strange sense of pride. To be clear, they don't get off on offending people: Brown Angel just happens to make music that offers a different kind of listening pleasure than most are accustomed to.
Brown Angel formed in 2005, following the dissolution of MacGregor's techy grindcore two-piece, Conelrad. During this period of personal upheaval, McGregor says he used the noisy, aggressive Brown Angel as an emotional outlet. At times droning like a Southern Lord Records band, at others mixing feedback explosions with growling vocals, Brown Angel combines organic sounds with nearly robotic rhythms. And pins it all to Rensland's bass, which an early cassette release referred to as the sound of an "abandoned oil tanker."
The band recorded some new material in 2006, but before they could release it, the members decided to take time off. MacGregor concentrated on getting his master's degree in international development and traveled to India to work with a nonprofit organization serving underprivileged children in India and the United States.
Earlier this year, the band got back together; now, Brown Angel is releasing its 2006 recordings as a new LP -- its first foray into vinyl -- on Fri., Nov. 26, with a show at Gooski's.
While some things have changed, a lot has stayed the same. "A lot of what's behind this music is the same temper tantrums, but with different inspirations," MacGregor says. Some of the inspirations the band cites are obvious -- heavy bands with creepy vibes, like Godflesh, Swans and Chrome. MacGregor goes for long periods manipulating feedback and effects without even playing the strings; when he "solos," he pursues sounds along the lines of harsh noise artists like Merzbow and Whitehouse.
But there are other elements -- the mechanical repetition, the elongated song segments -- the parts that, were they a bit less harsh, one might be tempted to call "jams." Roman says some of the band's music takes an approach akin to dub music, the studio technique involving the repetition and extension of short parts, which grew out of reggae culture in the '60s. But you're not going to confuse Brown Angel with King Tubby. It's just the structural roots of the process that show: The band members refer to it as the "socialist groove," borrowing a term from Black Flag.
"The tension [that the songwriting process creates] is key," explains Roman. "A lot of bands want that celebratory release in a song. We don't have that. It's rare that we'll make a conscious effort to do that."
"Sometimes [Rensland and Roman] will just park on a riff and repeat it over and over for seven or eight minutes," adds MacGregor, "and I'm just shrieking through different effects boxes, and I could see somebody thinking that's self-indulgent. Well, yeah! You bet your ass! Deal with it!"
Roman, who has played in numerous bands over the years, says Brown Angel is his first in which one member -- MacGregor in this case -- writes the music and brings demos to practice, nearly dictating the direction of the entire song. It's not a problem, Roman says -- it's actually a relief. Though perhaps his subconscious disagrees.
"I don't know if this has anything to do with Brown Angel, but I suspect it does," says Roman, who then begins to relate a recent dream of his that featured MacGregor. "We were racing down this hillside in a big, beat-up Ford pickup truck. [McGregor] was driving, I was sitting in the passenger seat, and for some reason, he was driving as fast as possible, jumping over these gullies and rocks and other vehicles that happened to be parked along the hillside.
"And I kept saying 'You're gonna kill us!' And he just kept saying 'That's the idea.'"
Roman finishes his story. After a reflective pause, MacGregor reacts: "Maybe that does have everything to do with Brown Angel."
Brown Angel LP release with Mike Tamburo, Tusk Lord 10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 26. Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. $5. 421-681-1658
- Are we having fun yet? Brown Angel (left to right: Mike Rensland, Adam MacGregor, John Roman)