Throughout their legendary, decade-long run, the Shadow Ring were an enigmatic force on the international musical sub-underground. Before their disbandment in 2002, this shambolic rock outfit, formed by a group of rowdy teenagers in southeast England, left behind a mighty run of eight LPs, a handful of 7"s, and a spate of raucous live shows and cryptic zine appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, all which have bolstered their enduring word-of-mouth mystique. Beginning this year with the first-ever vinyl pressing of the self-released pre-Shadow Ring tape The Cat & Bells Club (1992), Blank Forms Editions is conducting a systematic retrospective of the storied group, including a multi-year LP reissue effort and a forthcoming comprehensive CD box set and an over five hundred page book.
Recorded in summer of 1994 at S.H.P studios (frontman Graham Lambkin’s parents’ home), the group’s sophomore record Put the Music In Its Coffin is a more sinister, saturnine affair than their debut City Lights. Coffin was many listeners’ introduction to the Shadow Ring, who had hitherto self-released their music, courting a steady stable of international fans through the magazine and mail-order catalog Forced Exposure. For their follow-up, the duo reached out to the ascending Philadelphia label Siltbreeze, whose eclectic roster of sneering, low-fidelity rock and noise connected disparate subterranean scenes from rust-belt America to the English Midlands, Dunedin, and beyond. As luck would have it, Siltbreeze proprietor Tom Lax was already a fan of the band’s first record and arranged to release both a 7” and their “difficult second album.” The connection proved to run deeper than vinyl within six months, Lax would pick up the pair from the airport for their spring 1995 US tour. This episode marked not only their first trip to the States but their first live performances at all, formally introducing the Shadow Ring to the American underground and solidifying the allure of the Folkestone pair.
From the get-go, the record has a menacing, vile ambience. Its opening track “Horse-Meat Cakes,” inspired by an anecdote by pulp author Philip K. Dick about how he and his wife subsisted off low-grade pet food when he first arrived in San Francisco, sets the tone lyrically and sonically. Subsequent tracks are filled with Rabelaisian body horror and sinewy, haptic diction. “I try to pass out vital organs, convinced that they are waste,” intones Lambkin in “Heart, Liver & Lungs,” before a chorus of detuned guitars kicks in, nearly drowning out the speaker’s account of consuming chevaline intestines. Later songs similarly detail vernacular cooking (“Caribbean Porridge,” about a cornmeal hangover cure), bodily processes (“Nocturnal Middle Rumbles,” about nighttime defecation), and creaturely conflict (“Crystal Tears” and “Spin The Animal Dial”). The album’s makeshift percussion and teenaged rawness resembles the verve of City Lights, while its screeching strings and gnarly distorted vocals give it a sparse, miasmic atmosphere that look towards the uncompromising, otherworldly experimentation of the band’s Hold Onto I.D. (1996) and Lighthouse (1997), making this one of the Shadow Ring’s most distilled musical statements.