The first venue that Slaughter & the Dogs played was the size of a frickin' football stadium. The punk veterans initially gained fame opening for the Sex Pistols at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. And the fact that they've received so much attention since then probably has much more to do with timing than talent: In fact, lead singer Wayne Barrett has even admitted to being paid not to perform at a few venues because the band was so bad.
Over the years the band's notoriety has increased, despite their breakup in 1981 after releasing only two albums, 1978's Do It Dog Style and 1980's Bite Back, both on the now-legendary Captain Oi! imprint. Clips from their incendiary shows have been included in several documentaries about the early days of punk rock, including Granada TV's I Swear I Was There! and Don Letts's The Punk Rock Movie. Former Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford even sports a Slaughter & the Dogs tattoo on his arm.
Now, nearly 30 years after their "final" breakup, the songwriting team of guitarist Mick Rossi and singer Barrett are back together as Slaughter & the Dogs, embarking on their first-ever U.S. tour in support of their new album, Beware of... (TKO Records). With the help of bassist J.P. Tollet and drummer Noel Kay, the band has been a regular fixture at Blackpool's "Holidays in the Sun" festival since 1995; it was only a matter of time before they took their act on the road.
Instead of retreating to Rossi's studio in sunny California to record the new album, Rossi and Barrett agreed that the only place to record the new Slaughter album was in their hometown of Manchester. "[Manchester is] a very gray and bleak place," explains Rossi over the phone from his Los Angeles apartment. "There's this very repressed, pent-up energy that just builds and builds when you're there. And when you finally let go, you know, all this anger just comes rushing out. But it's a good anger. I don't think it's a negative thing." He laughs. "It's the only place we really are Slaughter & the Dogs."
To the casual listener, this new Slaughter & the Dogs album may feel strangely tame and anachronistic--almost as though, stylistically, the band had spent the past 30 years in cryogenic suspension instead of on hiatus. Although, to be fair, their technical skill as musicians has come a long way since those early days. They're not a fast, loud band, and there's not a lot of screaming and yelling on any of the songs: In fact, they're damned near musical--like, say, the Sex Pistols and the Fall were, as compared with punk rock today. It's the lyrics on this disc that can still get Slaughter into trouble, especially the now-controversial "Hell on New York," which was written by Barrett almost 30 years ago. In the song, Barrett describes "sky scrapers burning and falling down." "It is quite frightening," says Rossi of the song. "I thought Wayne was, like, Nostradamus or something."
But don't expect Slaughter to censor themselves to appease politically correct audiences--even if, during our conversation, Rossi hadn't quite made up his mind whether to include the song in their set list. "I think we'll have to leave it up to our American audiences whether or not we should play the song, you know?" he says. "Just ask the fuckers what they want to hear."
Whatever the audience says, I'll bet they play "Hell on New York" anyway. Isn't that punk rock?
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