The Accüsed came to life in 1981 as a punk/metal-act from Seattle who indulge in a self-coined musical style interchangeably referred to as “splatter core” or “splatter rock.” Releasing their debut full-length album in 1985, The Accüsed developed tangentially to thrash luminaries such as D.R.I., C.O.C. and Cryptic Slaughter, with whom they share musical characteristics. Like the latter, the Accüsed applies metallic riffing to rudimentary song structures fueled by the raging intensity of hardcore punk.
Compared to their thrash peers, the music, lyrics and aesthetics of the Accüsed often assume a more over-the-top and low-brow horror-themed character. Presumably inherited from bands like the Misfits and Venom, these become twisted into something that is just as vile and in-your-face as it is ridiculous. This aspect is further enhanced by the vocals of ex-the Fartz member Blaine Cook, whose frenzied voice antics serve as a precursor to both grindcore and death metal.
Over time The Accüsed took a progressively eclectic approach to their repertoire, occasionally to great effect, but at other times at the expense of the overall listening experience. As with most of the original thrash/crossover outfits, the Accüsed produced their best material during the 1980s. Below follows a brief critique of the band’s key releases, from the landmark debut album up to and including their foray into funk/rap-metal on Grinning Like an Undertaker.
The Return of… Martha Splatterhead (1985)
By the mid-80s, hardcore punk had lost most of its initial spark, morphing into a forum for musical regurgitation, political sloganeering, and crass commercial interest. The Accüsed — formerly a third-rate act at the periphery of the scene — wrtr one of few bands who managed to once again kindle the fire. With a production drenched in horrible reverb and with little regard for accuracy, The Return of… Martha Splatterhead strikes like a whirlwind in vicious delivery, further enhanced by the band’s newfound interest in metal music and trash culture.
Over the course of thirty minutes, The Accüsed rip their way through a simple, yet super-effective collection of rapid-speed metallic hardcore punk tunes. Song material varies widely, which grants the album a sense of dynamics and listenability often lacking in similar recordings. As far as influences go, try imagining a hyperactive blend of early 1980s North American and European underground noise: Black Flag, Discharge, GBH, Slayer, Motörhead, Venom and Celtic Frost. Some songs betray the band’s early punk mischief, complete with “socially conscious” tirades. However, the choice of lyrical themes creates an amusing contrast to the music and vocal delivery, which are anything but righteous. It’s as if they are telling a joke at their own expense.
Granted, The Return of… Martha Splatterhead will not score points for subtlety or finesse. It’s one of those records that survive on sheer force and catchy riffs. Rather than suffering from the clichéd notion of being too punk for metalheads and too metallic for punks, The Return of… Martha Splatterhead thrives in its position between the two genres, providing a rejuvenating take on punk and metal tropes. In other words: a welcome addition for those who find speed metal too slick and punk too pedestrian.
More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral! (1987)
For their follow-up, The Accüsed doubles down on the punk in favor of speed metal, presumably after discovering the wizardry of their hometown contemporaries in Metal Church. The production has been cleaned up and the hazy guitars of the debut have been recalibrated to fit a standardized metallic tone. While this allowed speed metal acts greater precision and elaboration in riffcraft, it doesn’t work very well for The Accüsed. Except for their ability to perform at high velocity, The Accüsed weren’t exactly a technically or compositionally refined band. At this point, by choosing a cleaner production, they’re exposing their weaknesses. As a result, the music comes off as bland and lethargic.
Except for a handful of tracks that retain the frivolous rawness of The Return… of Martha Splatterhead, most of the album consists of sloppy speed metal performed by punks, kind of like those English Dogs EPs you really want to like but can’t get your head around. And when a Cliff Richard-cover enters like a welcome relief on a crossover album, you know there’s something fishy going on.
Martha Splatterhead’s Maddest Stories Ever Told (1988)
This is more like it. After the relatively straightforward More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral, The Accüsed returned with their most deranged and artistically rewarding album to date. And better yet, it features well-written, memorable songs! Stylistically, it provides a satisfactory blend of elements, channeling the velocity and raw energy experienced on the debut album with the vertiginous riffs and elaborate song structures of underground metal.
Buzzsaw-guitar lines are bent into spasmodic, stop-start rhythms punctuated by an onslaught of crashing percussion, thumpy bass riffs and manic, almost inhuman-sounding vocals, always on the verge of going out of control yet somehow kept together. Shattered bursts of melodic lead guitar make their way into the mix but do not overstay their welcome. This is probably the sound The Accüsed was going for all along, but previously lacked the capacity to write or perform. Listen to the music and contemplate on the artwork; whatever it is they’re trying to communicate, it definitely fits the imagery.
Grinning Like an Undertaker (1990)
How does a band proceed once they’ve reached some sort of creative apex? The most common answers — in a general sense — would be to either attempt a re-creation based on the same formula, or go for something diametrically different. With Grinning Like an Undertaker, The Accüsed went for the middle path. They keep to their general approach, but bring in a whole new set of stylistic markers. Except for a few tasty nuggets — a handful of cool mid-tempo riffs — the resulting product is, frankly put, a disaster.
Do you enjoy Red Hot Chili Peppers? Or maybe a bit of Rage Against the Machine? If the answer is yes and you can stand a little bit of harshness, then make sure to check this one out. For the rest of us, there’s not much to enjoy here. In what is at least hopefully an earnest attempt to stay relevant, The Accüsed successfully torpedoes their legacy with a horrible melange of dumb crossover, funk-metal, and rap. Some songs start off decently, but soon plumb into a veritable groove-nightmare.
What’s perhaps most detrimental about Grinning Like an Undertaker from a long-time listener perspective is that it introduces doubts regarding the band’s previous efforts. The underlying approach to song-writing is pretty much the same as earlier, but now draped in horrible packaging. Consequently, this begs the question: Was there ever any real substance behind the earlier albums, or was it just an aesthetic scam?
Having supposedly realized their misstep, the band returned to the fold and kept going for for a couple of more years, releasing EPs, promos, split singles, and one more full-length album: the somewhat more tolerable Splatter Rock. Since then the band has reformed, putting out a handful of albums sounding like a throwback mixture of their early material and Splatter Rock. Although the story of The Accüsed didn’t end with Grinning Like an Undertaker, their role as crossover pioneers was pretty much played out by this point.
In order to not end on a sour note, this author still wholeheartedly recommends that everyone with at least a slight interest in music at the intersection between punk and metal check out the band’s first and third albums. For all of their shortcomings, The Accüsed offers a unique take on crossover music and, despite their modest contemporary status, served an important role in the development of this often-overlooked pocket in metal history.