More Ways than One
Butcher Babies are a Los Angeles heavy metal band that is notable for featuring two women as the band’s lead vocalists. This is notable because heavy metal is generally such a male-dominated obscureland, but also because Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepherd have not been coy about sexxxing it up, performing in the past with little more than nipple tape above the waist. The provocative semi-nudity and the band’s professed love for household name, often radio-popular acts like Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, Slayer and Pantera is enough to make a serious metal-head wonder – is all this attention-getting a means for drawing audiences to Butcher Babies’ serious music, or just another bid for the fleeting attention and disposable income of the masses?
2013’s full-length Goliath would provide a better answer to that question, because Butcher Babies’ Uncovered EP… is a covers album. Still, inferences can be drawn from how Butcher Babies choose and execute their covers. The inferences in this case, are not good, as Uncovered digs for some interesting material, but fails to enrich any of it, even bungling away some of the charm and novelty of the originals.
“Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” (ZZ Top) sets the head-scratching tone. Immediately apparent is the arena-sized production, with industrial and EDM touches rearing their questionable heads. Any punk immediacy is lost in space, and generic downtuned riffage stands as the unexciting bedrock of the song. Vocalists Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepherd bounce their lines back and forth, recalling the singers from the Blood Brothers or The Number Twelve Looks Like You, but capturing none of the wild, roller coaster energy those bands often exemplified. “Beer Drinkers” remains static, with a short double time section and a featureless guitar solo barely moving the needle. The formula of Djent-y background music with singers in the foreground shouting slogans at you recalls nothing so much as The Hell’s 2014 LP Groovehammer – which was a silly and patronizing record.
Harvey and Shepherd are skilled and versatile, but their performances are so saturated with affect (and sometimes effects) that it’s hard to engage with them. The pair do so much decidedly macho posturing on Uncovered (excepting parts of “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” [Napoleon XIV]) that there’s little room for femininity and humor (which metal could always use more of). Eventually Harvey and Shepherd want audiences to stop staring at their breasts and pay attention to their voices – right? Harvey and Shepherd don’t seem to realize that for many male metal dorks, the most terrifying sounds of all are defiant womanhood and emotional vulnerability.
Butcher Babies also get outdone by some of their originals. The Butcher Babies’ version of “Crazy Horses” is thudding, leaden and confrontational. The original, performed by The Osmonds (THE OSMONDS!), actually kicks a hell of a lot more ass. The big fancy studio production on Uncovered does take the metal intro of “Pussy Whipped” (Stormtroopers Of Death) to epic heights, and the speedy thrash section is all but assured to start the pit. However, the lyrics are delivered so damn fast, angry and unintelligible that the humorous undertones of male frustration that floated around the original are blown away, leaving a sort of half-baked, gender-ironical statement to end the record.
Usually bands that want to become famous use a different vehicle than heavy metal. However, for reasons that are probably genuine, Butcher Babies have gone the loud and scary route. If Uncovered had some pathos or innovation to it, the band could have added a little underground respect to their popularity. Unfortunately, Uncovered does little to disprove the idea suggested by all the eye makeup, hair dye, fake blood and nipple tape – that Butcher Babies are just bunch of scenesters who have knowingly prioritized fame and attention over innovation and expression.