Big Black - The Hammer Party (Cover Artwork)

Big Black

Big Black: The Hammer Party

The Hammer Party (1992)

Touch and Go


2.5
So yeah, producer extraordinaire Steve Albini was once in a post-punk band called Big Black, who soundly shattered eardrums and perceptions of what music can and should be. The result was something very different, very gritty, and very abrasive. Being so, Big Black's music is something that many peo...

So yeah, producer extraordinaire Steve Albini was once in a post-punk band called Big Black, who soundly shattered eardrums and perceptions of what music can and should be. The result was something very different, very gritty, and very abrasive. Being so, Big Black's music is something that many people will dismiss as horrible noise. The Hammer Party is a collection of Big Black's first three EPs. As is such, let's break it down by each EP.

Kicking things off is the Lungs EP (tracks 1-6). Lungs was recorded by Albini in his living room on a four-track. At this point, Big Black was just him and Roland, the ever-present drum machine that the band used throughout its career. Things are rough here, with Albini talking in a heavily distorted voice over Roland's mechanical beats. Albini plays the guitar, but it sounds like a distant, high-pitched mechanical squeal rather than a musical instrument. "Live in a Hole" contains a very discordant trumpet line, adding to the abrasive nature of the music.

Tracks 7-12 make up the Bulldozer EP. Now Big Black is a full band. Albini still plays guitar, adding Santiago Durango on guitar, Jeff Pezzati on bass, and Pat Byrne sharing drum duties with Roland. The sound now is much fuller, but still things sound like an empty factory room. "Cables" is aptly named; the bass sounds like thick metal cables being struck, and the guitars continue to sound like some sort of horrible laser squeal. Albini ditches the processed voice and snarls along to the music in a gritty, slightly nasal voice.

The last six tracks make up the Racer X EP. The band remains the same here, with the exception of Roland now being the only drummer. This EP maintains the sound of the first two EPs, but the sound quality is (slightly) better. Roland sounds more like a real drummer than a machine, which is leaps and bounds above his work on Lungs. Guitars sound more like guitars here, rather than industrial machines. Overall, Big Black loses a bit of the harsh mechanical noise and comes together a bit more as a band.

Collectively, the music of Big Black alternates between slow and brooding, and fast and violent. It's all gritty and dark, with nary a lick of melody to be found. It's a bombardment of noise, with Albini squealing along. He talks more than he sings, and every song is a story. He tells stories of steel workers and Texans, Racer X and some dude named Seth. The lyrics are far from PC, but Albini's intent is to shock.

Naturally, production values are low, so the sound quality is fairly bad. In the end, the only way to describe Big Black's sound is a violent barrage of sound. This is not something anyone can pick up and enjoy, and it lacks the listenablilty of other post-punk bands, but if you feel up to the challenge, check it out. It is a document of the early developments of post-punk.