While patriots condemn the French for not being proper sycophants to Uncle Sam’s forever war, I have always applauded the naturally obstinate and perverse among them. Take Metal Urbain, guys who attempted a failed trip around and through punk rock as a flailing guitar band without a flesh-and-blood drummer in the late ’70s.
With big-deal axes, bitter attitude, indecipherable ranting—all you could grasp were the panicked cries of “Fasciste!” in “Paris Maquis”—and a pre-Linn drum machine, Metal Urbain were a recipe for singles success in a record shop in Northampton, a Pennsylvania town valued for its concrete mix. A few locals, starved for rock violence that didn’t sound like FM, patronized the place and fought over dibs at the kranky Frenchmen.
The Metal Urbain micro-mania was duplicated across the country in a few stores that could import the band’s synth-percussion-augmented punk. A year or so after, a few imitative American bands began peddling tapes. Smersh in Jersey, F/i in the Midwest, the Psyclones in California, and others tried their hands with tweezed synth-drums and garage rock. But it was too early, apparently; Big Black were a year or two away. If you were using a drum computer, it was art-dance à la mode—ooh, that’s French—or die. Even their countrymen didn’t like Metal Urbain much; their homies snubbed ’em for foreigners and the likes of Ganafoul (a boogie band), Telephone (a Franc Rolling Stones cruelly heckled in their one trip to the States), and Trust (a deadening third-string metal act).
But now Metal Urbain, as brutal pioneers, finally have a proper American archival release: Anarchy in Paris! The lyrics are still a mystery, but the spare punch-yer-face power chords colliding with snarls from agitated men get your blood flowing. The band’s trashed electro-drum widget whirs angrily in time, crunching through an idea of how “Train Kept a Rollin’ “/”Honey Hush” ought to sound—Foghat for the Hansel und Gretyl crowd.
Following an album-listening party November 5 at Niagara, Metal Urbain play Southpaw November 6, the Mighty Robot November 7, and Tonic November 8.