BY MICHAEL TOLAND
When the roots rockers met the punks in early 80s Los Angeles, they probably had no idea that one of the ultimate expressions of the collision would be 1981’s A Minute to Pray A Second to Die. The second LP from singer/lyricist Chris D(esjardin)s’ loose collective the Flesh Eaters, the record was more of a side project for all concerned than as a seminal document. With Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman from the Blasters, John Doe and DJ Bonebrake from X and saxophonist Steve Berlin (then from Top Jimmy’s Rhythm Pigs, though he would become an adjunct Blaster and member of Los Lobos) on board, ‘zine writers of the time probably expected something analogous to X’s rootiser moments. What they got, however, was a bluesy Americana horror show.
The band may be a dream team of early ‘80s West Coast rockers, but make no mistake: Chris D. is firmly in charge. The film critic/writer bends the five luminaries to the will of his Gothic pulp visions, expunging any trace of angel from their DNA. Berlin’s free jazz sax skronk and Alvin’s amp-frying feedback support D.’s ugly mutter on “Satan’s Stomp.” Bonebrake’s marimba gives the grinding “See You in the Boneyard” the appropriate atmosphere of bone clacking bone, as D. moves from horror host leer to werewolf howl. The burning “River of Fever” and the roiling “Divine Horseman” pull the band up to the heights – or is that down to the depths? – of this noisy, warped collection of tall tales.
With thirty-four years between it and jaded 21st century apathy, this record should sound less thrilling, even quaint. But Chris D.’s noir nightmares and his esteemed collaborators’ feral roar keeps A Minute to Pray A Second to Die as bracing now as it was then.
DOWNLOAD: “Divine Horseman,” “River of Fever,” “See You in the Boneyard”