Known as a live animal setting up its bank of Marshall stacks not on the stage but in the middle of the floor -- Lightning Bolt is often hit by writers with hard-ass hyperbole that makes them sound like experi-metal terrorists. But the Providence bass/drums duo is merely the scariest fish in the art-punk pond, not full-fledged members of the noise-core subculture of shadowy tinkerers for whom the conventional equates to fascism. The cover of Wonderful Rainbow, the band's sophomore album, tells the story: Where progenitors like SoCal's Man Is the Bastard have used anarcho-horror scenes like Saddam sodomizing Bush Sr. on a pile of human skulls, Lightning Bolt's cartoon apocalypse comes with zoo animals.
Now, that's not to say Wonderful Rainbow doesn't contain the elemental force of noise-core. Bassist Brian Gibson's minimalist arpeggiating sounds like Thurston Moore serving up an interpretation of Yngwie Malmstein. He stretches the boundaries of bass playing to a place where even Les Claypool has yet to travel. Meanwhile, Brian Chippendale either patters around the din like a jazz drummer or hammers Gibson's calibrated, industrial Sabbath riffs into the concrete. Pummeling experiments like that, in the hands of Bastard, or the Locust, would gun for "Feces Bullet in the Heart of Donald Rumsfeld." But Lightning Bolt opts for goofiness over brutality. Titles include "Dracula Mountain," "Two Towers" (a Renaissance Fair-on-crack workout that probably suggests The Lord of the Rings, not 9/11) and "30,000 Monkies."
Yet it's when Lightning Bolt isn't being cheeky or thunder-god-like that it attains the raw beauty of the best experimental music. The album's highlight, strangely enough, is the 45-second opener, "Hello Morning," a complex feedback-painting of a sunrise with the Zen ether of an orchestra tuning up.
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Po-mo headbangers be damned.