ALBUM (1985)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 October, 2010, 12:00am

Bad Moon Rising
Sonic Youth

Devil worship, grimoires and ghoulish horror are no strangers to rock'n'roll - but they've rarely hit it off. Name any band that have tried to dabble with the demon on disc and chances are, they've all come across as contrived, corny or just plain rubbish. Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Screaming Lord Sutch - the list of B-list rockers who've made fools of themselves trying to shock with satanic references runs as deep as Dante's descent to hell.

New York noise rockers Sonic Youth pulled off the feat with their second studio album, 1985's Bad Moon Rising, which has Halloween written all over it with a flaming jack o' lantern pictured on the cover. It's a terrifying but brilliant - and hugely influential - collection of tracks so visceral and disturbing that they were not so much songs as sonic representations of the pits of despair.

Conceived as a snapshot of an America the band felt had gone to the dogs under the right-wing administration of Ronald Reagan, its eight tracks (12 on the CD re-release, including the single titled Halloween) tackles the very real horror of a nation divided by politics, wealth, race and religion. While some of its themes were not new to rock fans - Charles Manson, Satanism and human degradation had all been touched on by other artists - it was the way in which the sounds were created that made an impact and lifted the band from the post-punk underground.

Until then, full-time band members Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo had stuck mainly to orthodox means of cranking noise from their guitars: regular tunings and lots of feedback. On Bad Moon Rising, Moore took it upon himself to refocus the sound, moving more towards irregular tunings and novel means of playing, including use of bottles and sticks to hammer sounds into the pickups.

Further, the album comprised mostly fade-in and fade-out pieces played alternately by each band member, a practice the Youth had crafted to fill the stage silences between songs as each guitarist changed instruments. Adding to its unorthodoxy was the selection of Elliott Sharp as producer, who until then had recorded only rap artists.

The result is a melange of drone and distortion that scrapes right to the listener's soul. It's a deliberately unsettling album, created to reflect the band's sense of distance from their native country as the austerity doctrine of Reaganism wrought civil unrest and deepened poverty across the US.

Often described as the band's most morose album, it nonetheless set them on a course that would later see them redefine American underground music, most effectively with Daydream Nation, their acclaimed 1988 double album.