The first time I heard The Witch Trials—a drunken, improvised four song EP recorded by Jello Biafra, Christian Lunch, Adrian Borland (vocalist of The Sound), Morgan Fisher (of Mott the Hoople) and Dead Kennedys’ guitarist East Bay Ray in Fisher’s Notting Hill Gate apartment in October of 1980—the person who played it for me bragged that it was “the most evil record I’ve ever heard.” (Of course, this piqued my interest immediately.) A few years later, I was looking through a girlfriend’s record collection and she said the same thing, that it was the most evil thing that she’d ever heard. Doing a Google search just now I see that in a 1985 issue of SPIN magazine that reviewer John Trubee quotes Biafra himself describing it as “The most evil record I’ve ever been associated with.” I’d have to say that I agree with all of them: It’s a pretty evil sounding thing, right up there with the Virgin Prunes or Nina Hagen’s Nunsexmonkrock. And this, of course, is a very good thing.
The somewhat anonymous (to the extent that Biafra’s voice could ever be described as anonymous) EP was released first in France and after that by Alternative Tentacles in the US (another clue). Only Morgan Fisher (who mixed it) gets a credit (tiny and on the label) the rest of the group deliberately stayed in the shadows. The lyrical topics include toxic environments, genetic mutation, post-apocalyptic survivors, rape from the perp’s POV and various other bits of dystopian mayhem and madness. The music sounds alternately like the Residents, Public Image Ltd., Chrome or (especially) Throbbing Gristle. If you’ve ever wondered what TG would sound like with Jello Biafra on vocals—and naturally who amongst us hasn’t—here’s your answer.
Biafra did the cover art and hand lettering. The back cover reads: “The elephant man poses nude in our centerfold. You poisoned our parents but forgot about birth control”). The four songs on The Witch Trials are dark and perverse—and yes, it does sound a bit like a particularly inspired jam session, obviously improvised—but I still pull this one out every few years and listen to it LOUD. Although it’s different from everything else in his discography, it’s still of a piece with the rest of Jello Biafra’s work.
“Humanoids of the Deep”
“The Tazer” essays a vicious LAPD cop’s demonstration of how the electronic stun gun device (relatively new at the time) works, on unsuspecting subjects.
“Trapped in the Playground”