The Enemy Rose and Mercy Killers' split And to Become One is a CD that has been in constant rotation in my collection for several months now, but has just recently caught my attention and emerged as an exceptional effort from both bands. Since the styles of music both bands play have been popular for 30 years, it takes a while to appreciate the subtle creativity in the retro and traditional forms in which the bands craft their songs, but it's now clear that both bands have a good handle on what they're doing and how to do it right.
Enemy Rose was founded by Tommy X and Seven 0 of the Belgian punk band the Heartaches, not to be confused with the San Diego garage punk band on Swami Records of the same name. While the Heartaches' style seemed to be more geared towards straightforward contemporary punk, Enemy Rose clearly has the glam-punk/trashy rock and roll schtick down pat, a sound of equal parts New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers.
The energetic punk'n'roll of "Secrets & Lies" blasts through the speakers with a rolling bassline, foot-tapping rhythm, and typical snotty glam-punk vocals. "The Way It Is" follows, with a slightly more rock and roll feel, more akin to something like the Stooges, but still catchy and memorable with the chorus of "There's the way it is, and the way it oughtta be!." Track 3, "Enemy," is the edgiest of the band's work, with pounding drums, spat vocals, and an angular bassline that make for a rough, jagged sound that runs into a catchy sing-along chorus. Enemy Rose's half closes with the ballad-y "Down in the City," with extended guitar soloing and the lyrics
"You wanna burn out, not float away..." before fading out for nearly half a minute.
The Mercy Killers, led by punk journeyman Craig Fairbaugh who has done time in the Forgotten, the Transplants, +44, and Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards, contribute their half in the form of a four-song EP that was first available on Rancid Records. Influenced by late `70s and early `80s bands like TSOL and the Damned, "Lust for Hope" introduces the band with slowly picked and heavily distorted guitar notes, with an outlaw Western feel, almost similar to the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" or the melody of the Stones' classic "Paint It Black." A low ballsy bassline and throbbing tom-tom pulsations erupt into a steady marching beat as Fairbaugh's throaty vocals kick in and glide easily into the most insanely catchy chorus on the split. "End Transmission" shows some experimentation with synthesized vocals and throat-shredding shouts, though the lyrics of "I just want you to live today / I don't want no tragedy / No more being a slave for free" leave a bit to be desired, but are redeemed by the sinister line "I'm laughing at the end of the rope." The classic punk-sounding "Not About You" gives a nod to the horror-themed era of the Damned with a flat melody challenged only by some melodic "whoa"s. Unlike Enemy Rose, the Mercy Killers end their portion with their most energetic tune in the 1:24 slam-along "I'm Not Wasted."
And to Become One is an interesting album, because it isn't nearly as striking upon first listen as it becomes after several listens. These bands aren't setting out to change music as we know it, but in And to Become One, they've both provided a stellar introduction to their abilities to reformulate the classic punk sounds of the past without sounding like ripoffs, and put forth a fine split in the process.