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SNAFU: Detroit Punks Go Podunk

I’d spent a large part of the afternoon licking a week’s worth of journalistic wounds: unapologetically abusing a slew of strong IPAs from the comforts of the front porch, getting all glassy eyed in between regular fill-ups, while watching the October sky serve as a reminder of how all things, both the good and bad, come to an end. The night was over, and I decided to stay in. I had little to offer the outside world. You could just as easily wallow in self-loathing. Perhaps I’d check out the new HellraiserFlicker or just gobble up some junk food as a penance for my life. “To hell with it,’ I thought to myself. I’ll get ‘em next time.” There’s always tomorrow. 

Tomorrow would be too late. It’s not often that a band as aggressive as a cranked-up badger being held against his will by his tiny, little nutsack comes barreling through the cornfields of Southern Indiana on a wild-eyed mission to clobber its inhabitants and prove themselves worthy of the next level of metaldom. That was what I missed. These newfangled bands such as SNAFU have a reputation for being the hungriest and most prone to liver damage.

Since their latest tour was dragging these poor bastards through the armpit of America – a place where music is often stillborn, unoriginal and uninspired — it was clear the foursome wasn’t being given any preferential treatment. Nope, just like the black and white predecessors of punk, they were being shot out of the sphincter of some foul beast, forced to pay dues upon dues before they’d ever be allowed to pass through any gate where their souls weren’t inevitably doomed to be sucked dry by unaffectionate crowds. This group of heretics didn’t realize what they were doing when they arrived in town.

We’d find out soon enough.

Last year, SNAFU partnered with Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records for the release of the band’s long-awaited full-length album Exile//Banishment. The record is loud, raw and often hauntingly unhinged – the way any bombastic blend of punk and thrash should go BOOM! At times, it sounds as though it was recorded inside the drug-ravaged brains of Jeffery Dahmer’s victims while he rammed a power drill into the top of their skulls in a psychotic quest for zombification. Songs like “Eyes of Your God” and “The Pear of Anguish” are an unabashed nod to a rabid generation of metal fanatics, back when anyone who made a derogatory comment about some head’s jean jacket because it was branded with a Hell Awaits backpatch had better be prepared for war. These songs represent a musical allegiance back to the good times. Damn straight! Finally! Each song is one rip, and then shreds right after the other. No, you won’t hear any of nu-metal’s flaccid pseudo-crooners on this offering – this isn’t some crunchy rendition of the glam crybaby culture – nor will you be insulted by some feeble attempt to reinvent Meshuggah. You should stop doing this! SNAFU can be likened to snorting glass shards covered with formaldehyde, while perched on a huge horny electric eel. Don’t bother giving me a Rorschach test. Even if the music may cause permanent damage to vital organs – and if the song “Bring Suffering” has anything to say about it, it just might – basking in this abhorrent ensemble until it becomes second nature is possibly the only way to ward off a snuff. 

This support is what would encourage many other would-be riff masters to go toe-toe with the Devil. After all, Anselmo’s label, while just a vocational launching pad for musical miscreants and visionaries, is responsible for helping a number of bands carve out modest careers. Author & Punisher (Tristan Shone), for one, was out there obliterating smaller clubs until his one-man mechanically engineered noise construct got the attention of Tool, landing him an opening spot during the band’s 2020 arena tour. The point is that SNAFU can go everywhere from here. That should be enough to scare all living shit.

When a new band emerges on the scene, such as this one, there are many questions. Were they a viable option? Would the booze and drugs get ‘em? One of the key members would have to mug a Podunk princess on tour and take a job in a Detroit 7-Eleven to pay child support. Instead, would they take a page from Harley Flanagan’s book and start to eat well while taking jiujitsu. They also continue to punish people until their late fifties. They were faced with a difficult choice. These were not large tours, but they were important. The band’s performance over the following months would set the stage for the rest of their career. 

For one, I was excited to observe. It was all part of the game for me. I would have gone to this show even though it seemed like there might be some violence. That’s all.

On the night, it was the usual black hoodie scene, with beer guts and old white guys. Life can be unkind to those unaware of how time passes while they’re busy wasting it. All of them were drinking shots like they were backstage at Pantera’s 1994 concert, thinking back to days past. Some of the people made sense while others took a wrong turn in Albuquerque. That was typical in a place like this – a bar and grill style atmosphere that moonlights as a multi-genre music venue. Everybody fits in. As true wonders of society, abnormalities are always present. This can, sometimes, disorientate the vibe.

It was during the opening band when I was approached by Scott Curnow, one of SNAFU’s guitar players and vocalists. I didn’t recognize him. At first, I thought, “Oh fuck, my number is up.” It was distinctly possible that the large, strange dude headed in my direction from the other side of the room was on a seek and destroy mission to take me out. The fact that I was there probably made me feel guilty. Perhaps I had boned his girlfriend years ago, or maybe written some disparaging remarks about the derivativeness of his band – whoever the fuck they were – back when I was penning reviews for a local radio station to make ends meet. It’s impossible to tell what this is in the business. Needless to say, I was relieved to learn that the man soon towering over me wasn’t on the unfettered prowl for retaliatory violence. Whew! Curnow is a colossal 8’13” tall, all dressed in leather, bearded up like a bloodthirsty Viking with dreadlocks. He’s a true monstrosity on genetic stilts. I was just hoping, praying actually, that the entity creeping up on me wasn’t into leisurely disembowelments for sport. “Holy shit, you’re a big dude,” I said during our introduction. “Yeah,” he snapped back, adding that the band’s size (none of these dudes are small) may have something to do with the water. 

Holly Crolley, photo

The discussion about the new album continued and we moved on. Curnow doesn’t mince words when it comes to who’s responsible for the uniqueness of the band’s latest release. From beginning to end, it is one cohesive effort. “There’s a few different elements that make the album awesome,” he told HIGH TIMES. “One would be our song writing process. Unlike most bands, all four of us (Curnow, Rian Staber, Patrick “El Toro” Saldivar, and Mike Jurysta) contribute equally to the process and I believe that is what gives us our distinct sound that’s packed full of lots of different elements of extreme music.” 

Curnow states that production was also crucial.

“We were lucky enough to track this entire album down in Richmond Virginia with Josh Hall and Phil Hall of Cannabis Corpse,” he continued. “They were amazing to work with and gave a lot of great pointers throughout the recording process. Adam Shepherd was also a great helper with the vocal mixing and tracking. We then went to Joel Grind from Toxic Holocaust for mastering. Everyone knocked it out of the park and made the album sound beyond what we could have imagined.”

Although some of metal’s elite may have played a significant role in the creation of Exile//BanishmentCurnow believes that cannabis is responsible for these riffs. “It definitely played a crucial role in the writing process,” he declared, crediting Sour Tangie and Jack Herer as his go-to strains. “I personally love to use cannabis when it comes to the creative process. This helps me to see the world in a new way. Sometimes when I smoke there’s like a symphony of guitars in my head and I need to stop what I’m doing and grab a guitar to make notes of the riffs.”

Then, he vanished.

It was clear that Curnow wanted to take revenge on my moral lapses from years ago. I’d have to provide an additional set of testicles to escape there alive. “That guy, as nice as he was, would fuck you up,” I told my photographer as he walked away from us to prepare for the show. She agreed. Everyone knows, and if they don’t, they should, that you have to be careful about who you mess with from Detroit. The D, besides the NOLA-based dive bar scumpers, can prove to be equally difficult to manage. Motor City people, many of whom are constantly in survival mode within an economic crash, have little to no choice but to accept that they will soon be out of work. So, above all, you’d better watch your mouth. 

Moments before SNAFU hit the stage, I was standing in the front row screaming at the top of my lungs, “let’s fucking go!” This reaction caught some a bit off guard. Although the sleepy Evansville crowd has grown accustomed to just loitering idly with their thumbs up their butts as touring bands bleed, sacrifice, and starve onstage, I wouldn’t be party to such trumpery. My beer-soaked lips did not spit out impatience but anticipation. I knew from previous experience that the SNAFU would bring down a savage show of decimation and that I desired, no, I needed it.

Holly Crolley, photo

SNAFU is known for destroying towns such as this for many years. They have opened for the well-known thrash band Municipal Waste, and EYEHATEGOD to name just a few. Pros are pitted against pro in this domain. You are likely to be crushed without summoning seven ghouls to show up to the venue, or hiring a Ouija board player for a pre-show mass. A band like SNAFU, built on belligerence, needed something vile, disgusting and inherently evil to leave on that stage – and it damn sure better be an honest representation, too – or else they’d risk being devoured by mightier forces and shat outside the venue into a puddle of dumpster juice. If they weren’t tight and combative in the eyes of both peers and idols, they’d be labeled hack jobs and slop artists – dead band walking! They would be cursed with playing podunk venues such as the Friday night show where Skynyrd requests would haunt them for all eternity. 

SNAFU had been through the wringers to some degree, far more than anyone else on the bill, so I felt confident that the prematurity of my metal-adorned war cries wouldn’t come back to bite me in the ass.

The lights went out. 

For some strange reason my stomach was knotted like it might be during heated arguments, right before the punches were thrown. It could be an indication that something was up? The beer billows lingering inside my stomach was an overwhelming cocktail of adrenaline and anxiety fighting for the main artery. It was an intense power battle to see who could make me die from massive coronary syndrome before I heard the next song. The band was making their way up the stairs, and bets were being placed. My only task was to keep my eyes open at the 12-1 odds. “Man, I hope one of those bastards used to be an EMT,” I thought. This was not likely. Their pathetic appearances suggest that they could not help with funeral services. You can drain, embalm and smile. The thought occurred to me that maybe I would have to accept what was available. This could be it, and my driver’s license would surely reveal to these sadistic fiends that I’m an organ doner. They would be delighted to have a spare organ in case one goes out of date. 

Perhaps the band would ultimately seize the opportunity to preemptively avenge their reputation following this review – Scott appeared borderline suspicious of my intentions anyway and probably warned the rest – blasting me square in the noggin at full throttle with their guitars, and with the breakneck intensity of a sawed-off shotgun, guaranteeing that my wake, if my family opted to give me one, would be a closed casket. Only, the joke’s on them. Even though it was as painful as being brained by a Gibson Korina Explorer, I refused to be killed in such a place. My fate was to not be being taken out on a slab and covered with a stained white sheet, just miles away from my apartment. I wouldn’t give my hometown the satisfaction. 

They were against me. 

It was obvious that I would lose this battle and possibly the entire war from the moment the first chord was unleashed. But everyone else would too, so I didn’t take it personally. The foursome was determined to slit everyone’s faces with the rusty, acid-treated razor. The production, however, wasn’t steeped in malicious intent – well, maybe it was for drummer Mike Jurysta, who I suspect is an actual serial killer. They were just conjuring whatever wicked spirits necessary to ensure they weren’t the ones who ended up in the dumpster. The show was a showcase fight for these guys. But, they knew that success is about keeping their heads up. For the entirety of the band’s blistering thirty-minute set, they embarked on a violent incursion of auditory mutilations and feral breakdowns, all of which were compounded by the clamors of madmen pitted against the repugnance of a nation. The entire ensemble was packed and placed in an opaque black hole, which presumably led to the Seventh Circle. It was clear that this is where the violence had arrived. Based on their confused expressions and arms crossed, the crowd seemed baffled by this crude, inhumane display. “Shit,” I thought to myself. “That’s how you know these guys are doing something right.” It occurred to me following the show, as I made the journey home, that if tinnitus was a sexually transmitted disease, everyone in the venue was going to need to see a doctor come Saturday morning. It was only a few decibels more and I became convinced that Hellen Keller would appear from where she currently resides to tell us to quiet down. Still, my ears ring with blood. 

SNAFU are currently working on their next album and continuing to support Exile//Banishment. You can catch them on tour in November, along with Mutilation Barbecue.