I don’t normally prefer to talk about myself in reviews, but Diamonds & Rust is one of those features that affords the Last Rites blockheads an opportunity to get a little more personal while dredging up gems of old that have managed to maintain their sheen over oh-so-many years. In this episode, we turn the clock back thirty years and connect the dots between a Southern Californian band and a young hair-farmer in the Midwest who was doing his best to avoid yet another Principles of Economics class in favor of pumping endless quarters into a majestic Super Contra machine.
I first stumbled across Wreckage in Flesh back in 1988, during a time when the only thing puffier than my high-tops was George Lynch’s hair, and the only thing more acid-washed than my jeans was George Lynch’s hair. I called Columbus, OH home back then, and on one notably lucky day, this particular cassette called out from a Magnolia Thunderpussy record store and convinced me that taking a chance on new music was a more prudent use of eight bucks than a shitty gyro and a Jolt.
The cover was…a challenging obstacle, but the label—Metal Blade’s crossover offshoot, Death Records—had already delivered classics from the likes of Cryptic Slaughter and D.R.I. to the world, so I was game. Plus, as amazingly awkward as that artwork seemed at the time of purchase, there was also something weirdly magical about the way that lowbrow air-brushed motif seemed destined to land itself on the side of a greasy van. Win.
The 1988 version of me was a very metal kid, however, through and through, so the most I knew about punk was whatever distillation managed to cross over into thrash. Dr. Know’s sound tinkered with metal via 1986’s This Island Earth, but their fundamental concern up until ‘88 was predominantly nardcore, a brand of aggressive SoCal skate punk the band was largely responsible for slamming onto the map.
Wreckage in Flesh, on the other hand, was different. Different and decidedly heavier and metallier than any and all crossover up until that point. Songs like “Wreckage” carried over shades of This Island Earth’s surviving scraped-knuckle punkiness, but a fairly turbulent line-up shift produced a sort of “perfect storm” that threw a decidedly metal fist to the chiclets, thanks in part to a production/mastering job done by two dudes who were also responsible for bands such as Tyrant, Rigor Mortis, Zoetrope and Slayer.
Thunder drums. T H U N D E R. D R U M S. The man responsible for the kit throughout Dr. Know’s formative years, Rick Heller, bolted in the midst of recording Wreckage in Flesh, but Larry “Larz” White’s heavy-handed style delivered a true sense of heft to the the record that almost sounded as if Armando Acosta had wandered over from the land of Saint Vitus.
It’s that second half of “Wreckage” that truly separated Dr. Know from their former selves and all their crossover peers beyond a shadow of a doubt, though. In short, the Sabbath Effect had entered the game. For every step Wreckage in Flesh skanked, a Master of Reality strut or Iommi-styled “lightning bolt across the fretboard” countered, which gave the overall mood a very dark and doomy swagger. The album’s longest trip—the ten minute stretch of “City Wheels”—was the clearest and most gloomy nod to the Birmingham rulers’ influence, but “Master Mind” was perhaps the nastiest and blackest rendering, and sole founding member Kyle Toucher’s sour snarl intensified the animus a hundredfold.
If that don’t properly curl your edges, maybe you spent too much time listening to Bruce Hornsby & The Range in 1988. Or perhaps, you know, you weren’t yet gifted to the planet back then. Suffice to say, in a year that offered up fresh ’n’ brutal gems such as In Battle There Is No Law!, Leprosy, Malleus Maleficarum and the insanely dense Godflesh EP, the only thing that came close to the sheer gravity in the burgeoning crossover scene was Prong’s (equally overlooked) Force Fed.
Adding to the savage uniqueness of Dr. Know’s brand of Sabbathrash is the fact that no one, including Dr. Know themselves, ever managed to make a record that sounds quite like Wreckage in Flesh again. It’s an admittedly dated sort of racket, but even today it barks with a heaviness that flattens like a D9 driven by King Kong wearing full plate armor. “Rise” is perhaps the clearest illustration of that point, as the 1:40 mark alone represents one of the heaviest moments 1988 managed to summon.
Sadly, like far too many other classic bands that played a historic role in making heavy metal great, members of Dr. Know split and came back and bickered to the point where multiple versions of the band ended up bubbling to the surface—one that featured founding members Brandon Cruz and Ismael Hernandez that focused on the nardcore days, and one that rekindled the line-up featured on Wreckage in Flesh with founding member Kyle Toucher on guitar and vocals. The Cruz version has since concluded and resurfaced simply as Know, and Kyle’s rendition continues to play shows today.
Messy is as messy does, but that doesn’t detract from the truth that the band produced a hell of a lot of great music that’s very worthy of tracking down. Unfortunately for the metal lords in the house, Wreckage in Flesh remains insanely difficult to find, so it would be nice if one of the kindly doctors would get this shit up on a place like Bandcamp to better serve the masses. Then, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, some venerable label will do us all a favor by giving the record a proper reissue that includes their snazzy cover of “Into the Void.” Until then, keep your fingers crossed that you’ll come across a pristine copy at some old burnout’s garage sale, I guess.
Dr. Know in the year of our Lord, Wreckage in Flesh were and mostly still are:
Kyle Toucher – guitar/voice
Tim Harkins – guitar
Larz White – drums (now replaced by Steevo Morrison)
Mike Purdy – bass (now replaced by Nick Minasian)
Release date: November, 1988
Label: Death Records, 12″ LP & Cassette; Roadrunner Records CD
Cover design: Eric Gottesman
Producer: Scott Campbell
Mastering: Eddy Schreyer
Engineering: Bill Metoyer