Album: Living In Darkness
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Though many may try to deny the connection, it is impossible to ignore the strong bond between the styles of surf rock and punk rock. From the carefree feeling to the actual musical constructs of both genres, there are countless examples of how similar the two sounds are at their core. Though clearly, the punk sound borrowed from the surf sound, when the two styles collide, it can yield some of the most exciting and original music ever recorded and few bands capture this idea as perfectly as one finds in the music of punk legends, Agent Orange. Pulling heavily from the surf sound, as well as unquestionably incorporating a strong foundation in heavy metal, the group's music remains some of the most fierce and original ever recorded, and this core sound can be heard in the later projects of the band members. This unique sound set them far apart from their peers, and few bands since have so brilliantly fused together these seemingly distant sounds. Furthermore, though the band has gone through a handful of lineup changes, Agent Orange remains one of the few of the "early" punk bands that still performs and records to this day. Though they are often overlooked, one cannot deny the fact that Agent Orange was leaps and bounds ahead of their peers, and the amount of influence that the band has had on later groups is similarly undeniable. As is the case with many bands, it is Agent Orange's first full length recording, 1981's Living In Darkness, that stands as their best, and the album is powered by the classic song, "Bloodstains."
In reality, there are actually two rather distinct versions of "Bloodstains," though the second was not made widely available until Rhino Records re-released the album in 1992. In fact, this "second" version of the song, dubbed the "Darkness" version, was originally recorded for the EP that got Agent Orange their record deal, and the song was then re-recorded for the full length album. Both versions follow the exact same musical progression, yet the "Darkness" version is far more aggressive and has a faster pace. Within the music itself, "Bloodstains" is driven by the brilliant guitar work of band founder, Mike Palm. With the speedy, crunching riff, the song captures everything that makes punk rock great, and yet the solos are unquestionably derived from the surf rock sound. Along with this, the winding, almost stalking bass of James Levesque (LP) and Steve Soto (EP) is a perfect compliment, and the fact that such a similar sound was able to be achieved by two different players is one of the things that makes "Bloodstains" such a distinctive track. Rounded out by the drumming of Scott Miller, the song is a true punk anthem, and few recordings so perfectly mix together such distant musical sounds. The fact that Palm is able to make the surf-style solo fit so flawlessly into a song that is unquestionably punk serves as a testament to his amazing abilities, and it is this fusion of sounds that makes "Bloodstains" so distinctive. The entire band moves as a single unit as they careen around corners, and at its core, "Bloodstains" is a truly "fun" song, and this is clearly a key element in why it remains such a classic.
Along with writing and playing guitar, Mike Palm also handled vocal duties on "Bloodstains," and he proves to have one of the most ideal punk voices, and the sound of his singing is instantly recognizable. Sounding most akin to Jello Biafra, Palm's voice has all the grit one could want in a punk singer, and the spirit he brings to the vocals pushes him into the most elite of all singers of his style. When the rest of the band joins in for the chorus, it becomes clear that at its core, "Bloodstains" is a true punk anthem, and one can easily imagine the song being shouted at Agent Orange's live performances. It is this group spirit that not only embodies the ethos of the punk style, but it is what makes "Bloodstains" so amazing, and along with the singing, one can find it in equal measure within the lyrics. Truly a song that can be applied to nearly any situation, few lyrics so perfectly capture the angst and frustration of being "down and out." While the opening verse speaks to being judged and looked down upon my parents and authority, Palm takes an almost passive-aggressive approach when he sings, "...they can tell me lots of things, but I can't see eye to eye..." Clearly working around the idea of "listening but not buying in" with the ideals of others, Palm makes it easy for like-minded individuals to be "proud" of their unique views. Yet in the second verse of "Bloodstains," Palm turns the pen on his peers, and questions the "authenticity" of the punk world at the time when he sings, "...things seem so much different now, the scene has died away..." Bringing a brutal honesty with a vocal delivery that refused to be taken lightly, "Bloodstains" perfectly represents everything that makes punk rock great.
While Agent Orange may not have as instantly recognizable a name as many other seminal punk bands, their influence on alter artists cannot be denied. In reality, one can even make the claim that The Offspring completely lifted the core riff from "Bloodstains" on their own hit song, "Come Out And Play." Though the later group denies this fact, simply listening to the two songs makes this denial very hard to believe. Regardless, if nothing else, it solidifies the importance of Agent Orange, and one would be hard pressed to find a group that so seamlessly brings together the sounds of punk rock and surf rock. The bands' debut record even features covers of surf classics like "Miserlou" and "Pipeline," yet there is also never a question of the groups' base within the punk style. Largely the brainchild of Mike Palm, "Bloodstains" is perhaps the ultimate punk crossover, as the band makes no attempt to hide their love for surf rock, and somehow manages to make a clearly surf-based solo fit perfectly into the punk chaos that they created. The trio bring as much power and angst as larger bands, and on both versions, the group manages to create an uncanny sense of tension that drives the song to a brilliant frenzy that surely set off any and every live crowd. Based around Palm's core guitar riff, it is within this aspect of the music that one can also hear the influence of the heavy metal sound, and the fact that the group was able to incorporate this sound as well makes the song even more impressive. Though often lost among the "larger names" of the punk movement, one would be hard pressed to find a more uniquely innovative band of the genre than Agent Orange, and their musical brilliance is perfectly captured on their legendary song, "Bloodstains."