Mr. Bungle's sound and approach are a unique mix of the experimental, the abstract, and the absurd. Commencing in 1985 as a neck-snapping death metal outfit, the Northern Californians underwent a full sonic lobotomy in the '90s, operating under the influence of ska, heavy metal, disco, thrash, funk, and avant-garde jazz (often in the same song), and issuing a trio of acclaimed and idiosyncratic albums (Mr. Bungle, Disco Volante, and California) before ceasing operations in 1999. Mr. Bungle reconvened in 2020 for a series of shows and released a re-recording of their 1986 demo The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. It all began in 1985, in a small California town named Eureka. The group (bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Danny Heifetz, alto saxophonist Theo Lengyel, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Clinton McKinnon, vocalist Mike Patton, and guitarist Trey Spruance) met while in high school and took their moniker from an extremely corny children's educational film regarding bad habits (it was featured in a Pee Wee Herman HBO special back in the early '80s). The band's first demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, was recorded around this time, and soon others followed: Bowl of Chiley, Goddammit I Love America!, and OU818. With each release, their sound became progressively more mutated, until musical boundaries began to melt (metal, funk, experimental, jazz, ska, techno, etc.). Mike Patton landed the lead vocalist slot with Faith No More in 1988 (it was in fact a Mr. Bungle demo that got Patton the job), and instead of breaking up Mr. Bungle, Patton decided to keep both bands going simultaneously. Due to FNM's success (1989's The Real Thing), Mr. Bungle was signed to Warner Bros., which released their self-titled debut in 1991 (with almost all the members going by obscure aliases). The band built a large and loyal cult following on the subsequent tour, as they performed in masks to hide their identities, and played unlikely covers during their set (Billy Squier's "The Stroke," "The Star Wars Theme," John Sebastian's "Welcome Back"). When the tour wrapped up in 1992, Patton returned to Faith No More while the rest of the group focused on side projects (Spruance on Faxed Head; Heifetz on Dieselhed and Zip Code Rapists; and Spruance, Dunn, and Heifetz on the Secret Chiefs 3); Spruance briefly joining Patton in FNM for the recording of 1995's King for a Day. It took Mr. Bungle four long years to follow up their debut with the superb Disco Volante (1995). A long and extensive world tour followed, with the group widening their fan base. Mr. Bungle quickly regrouped in early 1997 to record an album of their eclectic cover songs, which was eventually put on hold before completion as Patton began a tour with Faith No More and the others returned to various side projects. The group reconvened in 1999 for the release of California and split up after the following tour. After decades spent working on myriad other projects, Mr. Bungle reunited in early 2020 to play a short series of shows, with Patton, Dunn, and Spruance joined by Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. This lineup returned to the studio to re-record songs from the band's demo tape. The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo was issued in October of 2020.
© Greg Prato & James Christopher Monger /TiVo
© Greg Prato & James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Pop - Released July 2, 1999 | Warner Records
Four years after Disco Volante, Mr. Bungle returns with California, which immediately distinguishes itself from its predecessors -- it's probably their most heavily orchestrated record to date and their most melodic overall, as well as the least dependent on rock styles. That's certainly not to imply that this is a tame or immediately accessible record, nor that Mr. Bungle has suddenly gone sane. There is a stronger lounge-music orientation to the group's trademark rapid-fire genre-hopping; we hear more pop, swing, rockabilly, country & western, bossa nova, Hawaiian and Middle Eastern music, jazz, Zappa-esque doo wop, arty funk, post-rock, space-age pop, spaghetti-Western music, warped circus melodies, and even dramatic pseudo-new age, plus just a smidgen of heavy metal. Sure, some of those sounds have appeared on Mr. Bungle records past, but the difference this time is the focus with which the band deploys its arsenal. California is their most concise album to date, clocking in at around 45 minutes; plus, while the song structures are far from traditional, they're edging more in that direction and that greatly helps the listener in making sense of the often random-sounding juxtapositions of musical genres (assuming, of course, that you're supposed to even try to make sense of them). As with any Mr. Bungle album, California requires at least a few listens to pull together, but its particular brand of schizophrenia isn't nearly as impenetrable as that of Disco Volante, even if it will still make you marvel at the fact that such a defiantly odd, uncommercial band recorded for Warner Bros. © Steve Huey /TiVo