"Medical authorities in Cumberland have concluded that in all cases, the killers are eating the flesh of the people they kill. And so this incredible story becomes more ghastly with each report."
-Night of the Living Dead
Snippets of dialogue from George Romero's seminal 1968 film Night of the Living Dead act as connective tissue on Grave Babies' 2009 debut full-length Deathface, but it's the penetrating post-apocalyptic goth-rock in between these clips that have garnered the Seattle band fans from here to Copenhagen (home of Skrot Up, the underground label that released Deathface on cassette and LP, and mans its U.S. distribution efforts from right here in the Pacific Northwest).
Grave Babies is the brainchild of Danny Wahfeldt, an ironic-mullet-sporting Illinois emigrant who wrote, performed and produced Deathface entirely on his own.
"I just had this shitty Yamaha PSR (keyboard)," Wahfeldt says, "and I took all the industrial-sounding beats off of it, and then just made it sound really exploded."
To achieve the record's signature "bombed-out" no-fi quality, he cranked up the volume on his soundcard and recorded straight to his bedroom computer. He might have turned his amps up, too, but that would have pissed off the neighbors. Deathface's lyrics - about cannibalism, abuse and chemical dependency - are plenty dark on their own, but they're matched by a production aesthetic that evokes the shattered beauty of Katsuhiro Otomo's post-nuclear Old Tokyo, where the screams of dissidents echo off the cracked asphalt skin of fallen monoliths.
If this sound dreary, know that Deathface is not without a sense of fun ("Blood" is in duple meter, "Bones" has jangly acoustic guitar), and is marked by a particularly haunting kind of prettiness, with vocal melodies recalling the melancholia of Thatcher-era U.K. acts. Thematically, the album's all about "really fucked up stuff like rape and genocide." According to Wahfeldt, "(It's about) imperialism, consumerism, everything that sucks. But it's sung about in kind of a ... romantic way? I feel like that's our love/hate relationship with the things we hate about ourselves, like, that's life basically."
In concert, Wahfeldt is joined by two other musicians, Tyler Robinson and Keith Whiteman. Robinson plays a Korg synthesizer in lieu of the album's bass lines, and Whiteman - a local drummer of some renown who also labors at a Seattle barge-based woodshop that supplies acoustic guitar manufacturers - plays atop preprogrammed drum beats, sometimes to the mystification of concertgoers.
Grave Babies' Olympia performance is one of three area dates with New York band X-Ray Eyeballs, a bite-sized foretaste of the massive nationwide tour they have planned for August. Something tells me their music will go over well, spreading with the rapacious rapidity of a zombie plague.
[Northern, Grave Babies with X-Ray Eyeballs, Unwilling Participants, Sick Jumps, Friday, May 13, 8 p.m., All Ages, 321 Fourth Ave., Olympia, northernolympia.org]