I could try to find something not by Foetus for #musicmonday, but that wouldn’t be honest. I’ve listened to this song four times today, because I just bloody love it and you should too.
No, I have absolutely no idea why there’s a pic of a random stranger on this clip, but it’s the only one I could find. No, the pic’s not of Chopper Read (on whom the song is apparently based) if that’s your thought.
Steal Your Life Away is from 1995’s GASH album which, if you’re remotely familiar with JG Thirlwell’s work, was the peak of his commercial visibility – billboards in Times Square, the works – just before his catastrophic breakdown (from which he’s thankfully recovered).
The one thing I didn’t understand about Foetus was that I thought it was a rock band that used classical samples, when it’s a classical band that uses rock samples. That’s why a lot of people find the music impenetrably dense in the same way they switch off after four seconds of Wagner – it’s just too big and loud and austere in the unfriendly way that rock isn’t. (The muddy mix doesn’t help.)
On the other hand, GASH is the most rock album Foetus ever made. Thirlwell’s voice on this is Trent Reznor amplified: anguished howls of rage, like a wild animal caught in a trap.
Although there’s the usual sardonic wit, the lyrics throughout are heartbreakingly direct: when he sings “I’m feeling suicidal”, it’s not for show – but it’s hard not to smile at “me and my mental health don’t agree most times”, especially when the stripped down Brooklyn affectations are contrasted with the softly-spoken, erudite man who sings them.
It’s that dichotomy that makes Foetus so thrilling: pure-id music that satisfies the mind. Every guttural shriek and growl is gratifyingly cathartic in a primal, almost subconscious way, but underneath it the music is a masterpiece of composition.
Steal Your Life Away isn’t my favourite track on GASH (that’s Mutapump), but it’s a song I love very much for the same reasons. It’s like watching a really spectacular thunderstorm – but one that’s been designed by a master architect. That awesome sub-bass funk – many years before Korn or Slipknot; the slow, almost lazy drumbeats; the dissonant guitar lines that wander off and do their own thing; and that unforgettable brass. (I’ve only just noticed what I think is a xylophone on this track. I’ve owned the album 15 years.)
This song sums up the reasons I ever loved Foetus – or NIN, or Slipknot – or anyone else who’s pulled off the trick of making you feel everything, all at the same time.