No Weenies Allowed
John Darr | Tuesday, September 9, 2014
In the crushing neo-capitalistic dystopia of Bikini Bottom, hyper-realistic characters struggle to live a meaningful life. Captain Eugene H. Krabs, a victim of his own economic success, suffocates the life of working-class Squidward Tentacles, whose dreams of becoming an artist are constrained by his day job, his thoughtless childlike neighbors and his own pathetically average talent. Sandra Cheeks, an alien in a bubble, violently attempts to preserve her own culture to which no one in her new home relates. Pearl Krabs II is wracked by the shallowness of her own thoughts, given only her shell of a father to hold onto and love. In this world of unending struggle, only two characters find joy: SpongeBob SquarePants, the blind optimist, and Patrick Star, the blissfully ignorant.
xSPONGEXCOREx, the metalcore project of songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Neil Schneider, delves into the cracking minds of these survivors. Selecting as its source material the outcries and shrieks of these central characters, “How Tough Are Yah?” extorts the show’s most telling moments to reveal the hidden darkness beneath the yellow and pink exteriors. Glass-shattering caterwauls and primal roars scream over relentless guitars and militaristic drums, grating against the faux-cheerful soundtrack snippets from the so-called “children’s show.”
Opening track “G.A.R.Y.” rips into being at a snail’s pace — Squidward’s racing snail’s pace, that is. Like the capitalism that crushes us all, a massive metalcore breakdown annihilates Squidward’s plea to be spared by the heavy industrial machine of who’s-laughing-now goofy goober rock. Enter stage right the imagery of the forgotten briefcase, the damning blow of the you-alone-are-not-good-enough mentality instilled via mind control bucket from birth. Pain and terror, swelled like inflatable arms, batter the soundscape until any trace of love — even from sponge’s best friend — is burned down in a town-consuming fire.
Then comes “So You Like Kickin Butts, Do Yah?” Focusing on one of the most riveting moments in the show’s history, an angry mob ravages a defenseless elderly man on record. It’s a sonic jolt of green slime, flickering lights and unanswered phone calls that slash through the heart of the listener as if it were hash.
“How Tough Are Yah?” then delves straight into the heart of identity crisis. As Patrick screams that his name is not Rick, the audience becomes painfully aware of his predicament. Even if Patrick is not Rick, he’ll always be part Rick. Or maybe he’s Dirty Dan. The answer is unreachable, in a philosophical Davy Jones’ Locker.
“Dubby Dan,” in addition to bringing the identity crisis to the forefront, shows off xSPONGEXCOREx’s production skills. Turning to dubstep from metal, “How Tough Are Yah?” coyly goes from the genre with the least melody to the genre with the least skill required to make. But magically, xSPONGEXCOREx has hammered the marble once and created the David; “Dubby Dan” hits with the force of Patrick’s nihilistic Ugly Barnacle narrative.
Following “Dubby Dan” is “He Was Number One,” an exposé of fame and legend akin to Patrick’s posterior in the feature length. The equivalent of eating a bowl of nails without any milk, “Number One” divides believer from non-believer with one of Squidward’s brick walls.
Ultimately, behemoth closer “This is Patrick” unloads philosophical detritus on the listener, leaving the listener as salty as a pineapple under the sea. From confused nationality to person-as-establishment declaration to condemnation of certain Southern states, Patrick’s prophecies tear down the world around him like uranium bombs, leaving no survivors. The track’s heaviness reveals perhaps the most shocking truth of “How Tough Are Yah?” Given its thickness, artificial nastiness and likeness to egg product, the album could have only been made possible by using a secret instrument – mayonnaise.
Perhaps the most brutal release the world has seen in years, “How Tough Are Yah?” is easily the best album of the year. There is less chance of it being topped than one of SpongeBob forgetting pickles. It may bring hardship and truth, but one thing is certain: the xSPONGEXCOREx album is the album for you and me.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.