Mention Mr. Bungle to your average alternative music fan, and their minds will go to strange places — clowns, retro California, the pope in a gimp mask. Not many of them would immediately think of merciless thrash metal. And yet, when they decided to revisit their original demo The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, the three guys at Mr. Bungle’s core — frontman Mike Patton, guitarist Trey Spruance, and bassist Trevor Dunn — decided to fill out their ranks with two speed metal legends, specifically Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and ex-Slayer/Suicidal Tendencies drummer Dave Lombardo. The result is a line-up so impressive, one wonders if the 15-year-old thrashers who wrote that original demo would soil themselves with glee.
“Yeah, definitely!” laughs Spruance. “Holy shit — if we’d known in 1985 that we’d have Scott Ian standing there, and Dave Lombardo on our drum throne, in our fucking band…I don’t know what we’d have done. You couldn’t even fantasize about such a development!”
The product of this teenage fantasy is a reward for metal fans the world over. The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo is an absolute blast, its breakneck gallops and frantic shrieks imbued with just enough Bungle weirdness to put it a step above so many others like it. And while music snobs will undoubtedly scoff at the band behind “Carousel” and “Retrovertigo” performing rabid face-melters like “Anarchy Up Your Anus” and “Spreading The Thighs of Death,” listeners who had their own extreme metal dreams growing up will hear the childish glee with which the band have returned to their roots.
“The most negative ones that we get are, ‘Oh, great, they went from being a really creative, groundbreaking interesting avant-garde band to being a generic, boring metal band that does the same riffs everyone else did,’” says Spruance. “Which is really great — it’s a really solid criticism! Because yeah, it’s not as adventurous as our subsequent music. But at the fucking time, yeah, it was as adventurous as we could possibly be.”
This is kind of a broad question, but: why now? Why bring Mr. Bungle back in 2020?
I don’t think any of us have an answer to that other than — similar to how other records and projects came together for us in the past — it was just kind of a collective thing that took over. It’s one of many ideas that’s floated around, but it’s the one that took root, and everybody who was involved — which was Lombardo this time also — just got obsessed with the idea. That’s when you know it’s time to go with something — when everybody’s obsessing on it. That’s the way it’s always been that way with Mr. Bungle.
Can you remember who ‘lit the fuse,’ as it were?
For sure, it was Trevor. My band Secret Chiefs 3 was on tour with Patton and Lombardo’s band, Dead Cross. Trevor came to see us in Brooklyn. So what became the basis of the Raging Wrath era of Mr. Bungle was standing there. And he kind of pointed it out: ‘What if this group right here just went back and redid the demo that’s been on our conscience for so many years, not having had proper representation at the time? We can play all those fucking riffs, do it with Lombardo, make a thrash metal record!’ It was just too good. So from that day forward, all of us just chewed on that.
As a lifelong Slayer fan, I have to ask: do you ever just look over and think, There’s Dave fucking Lombardo in my band?
Oh, totally. All the time. Even when I was making the demos — because on our original tape, you can’t hear the drums at all, so I was making guitar-drum-bass demos for everybody — doing that, originally, it was already, ‘What would Dave Lombardo do?’ And now, he’s here. I don’t know what he would do, because since then I’ve played with him, and I know that he’s more of an improvised or unscripted musician. So it’s more like, ‘Here are some fills that Dave Lombardo might do, here’s how I think he might do those parts.’ I knew once he had the material, he would just fucking own it, which is exactly what happened. That’s what you want — you want Dave Lombardo to do it. So yeah, the whole time, I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ!’ He’s always surprising me. He’s so fun to play with because it’s fresh every single time you play one of those tunes.
That’s funny — you found yourself basically writing Dave Lombardo fan-fiction.
It’s kind of embarrassing! Of course, all of us had over-analyzed his playing on Slayer records to the point where we had everything memorized, every meticulous detail of his drumming. And then to find out that most of this is stuff that he’s just pulling out of his ass in the moment — which is why it’s so fucking good! — was a big lesson in the metal thing for me. As I touch down in metal periodically, I tend the shift gears, because most of the other music I do is more…I don ‘t know if I’d say loose, but it’s interpretive, and when I do metal I tighten up and do this super-precision thing. But I find that no, with Lombardo standing there, you have this uncaged beast! Let him fucking go crazy!
Mr. Bungle’s new album is definitely your most straight-up metal. Is the creative space from which that comes different from where your clown- or California-based sound comes from?
Oh yeah, like completely, dramatically different. For the three of us, it’s going back to the original basis of our friendship, which was playing thrash metal! Mr. Bungle truly, truly started as a thrash metal punk band. What happened later in the music…was kind of the sophistication we were dealing with, orchestration and all that. It became a very different beast, and we handled it very differently. But secretly underneath all of that, all of us have had that metal core. So it’s gear-shifting — the approach is different, but I’m playing guitar, is all I’m doing. With Mr. Bungle in the ‘90s, I was putting on a different hat every five seconds. It’s really different for me, and for Trevor as well. And for Mike — he’s singing tonally, atonally, screaming, doing all these different things you don’t do much in metal. At least not in our metal, when we thought we were a Bay Area thrash band in 1985!
Do you feel like that thrash side of Mr. Bungle never got its due, or went under-appreciated?
I think it’s been pretty easy for us to categorize and clarify what each little moment of music that Mr. Bungle made was and was about. So there was never really an intent to metalify our subsequent music. But we definitely regretted never getting our pure metal moment. Again, here we are, feeling like a metal band at heart, and nobody knows it but the three founding members of the band and a couple of guys we traded tapes with back in the day. So yeah, there’s been a feeling of regret for missing that metal moment.
It’s crazy that you’re starting this new chapter of Mr. Bungle with the first thing you guys ever did as a band. Are there now plans for original material? Is this a rebirth, or a regression?
Right now, we’ve definitely been focused on doing that first moment justice. We’re exclusively focused on that — not updating the music and adding modern elements, other than rerecording it. We haven’t really thought beyond what we would do with this sort of configuration. I’ll tell you one thing: Mr. Bungle doesn’t ever really limit itself. Nothing’s off the table, but nothing’s on the table either! We wait for that lightning to strike, and when it does, it’s time to go.
That’s nice work if you can get it. No pressure, no rush.
Even the ‘90s period, Mr. Bungle was never a band to plan out its career and have Machiavellian plots to take over the world and all that shit. What I love about the collective creative process with Bungle is that it’s only right when the spirit of collaboration balances out and everybody has this group sync, almost like a psychic thing, and we all know it’s good to go. I’ve played in a lot of different musical organizations subsequently, and it’s not like that.
Mr. Bungle’s The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo is out now on Ipecac Recordings.
Words by Chris Krovatin