Chrome – Chrome Box – Review


Chrome Box Set (Cleopatra)
by Nik Rainey

“The conventional is now experimental and is in no way noble.” – Mark E. Smith

The assimilation continues. The music that once rang discordantly in the ears of the mainstream cognoscienti (if they heard it at all) is now an accepted item on the aboveground bill of fare. The avant of yesterday has become the garde of today. Not to imply that such migration is wrong – in truth, it’s unavoidable and even kind of cheering that the bent brainbuds of experimenters past have worked their way into the genetic code of now. Even so, there remain those who, through the sheer contrariness of their nature, stubbornly resist conforming to the well-drawn form of the norm. Even now. This feature is an ongoing attempt to bring these artists (who have been around long enough to be considered seminal but have yet to impregnate the culture at large) to light.


There is simply no genre or category that will comfortably contain the music of Chrome. One can only imagine the reaction of even the hippest new wave minions of the late ’70s and early ’80s to the dense space jams constructed by Damon Edge and Helios Creed, who, under the Chrome banner, released eight LPs and numerous EPs, singles, and compilation tracks of stunning, frightening originality and disorienting power. There are touchstones to be heard, from Jimi Hendrix’s and Pink Floyd’s three-dimensional stratospheric soundscapes to Can’s sensual cut-and-paste workouts and the Residents’ cyborg smorgasbords, but Chrome combined the forward motion of the rock backbeat with an otherworldly array of treatments, effects, and conceptual game theorism to make a noise that laid the bridge between psychedelia and industrial music, a bridge that still stands several miles over the heads of most practicioners of either form. Theirs is the sound of rock music filtered through a series of artifical intelligences.

Chrome Box (Cleopatra), a three-disc distillation of six years of Chromatic electricity, covers the Creed/Edge era (from 1978’s Alien Soundtracks to 1983’s Raining Milk), a collaboration made in some clattering metallic junkyard of the mind. It covers the swift development of their sound from the passing complexion of their early work (backwards effects, processed voices, found sounds, and choppy structures abound, but are rooted in a semi-accessible rock context) to the more exacting, and thus creepier, thrall of records like Red Exposure (1980) and 3rd From the Sun (1982), where precise, mid-tempo rhythms and post-punk production flourishes take Chrome from atavistic, mid-fi chaos to moments that evoke how Joy Division might have sounded if they replaced Ian Curtis with a metal-larynxed replicant. From the Swell Maps-like “TV As Eyes” to the hypnotic terror-dirge “Jonestown” and the epic (and inevitable) “Armageddon,” Creed’s distorted vocals and Jimi-on-Rigel-Five guitar dovetail with Edge’s atmospheric future-shock treatments, forming robotic rock with a chilling sense of the evil that men do.

Accolytes and collectors will appreciate some of the bonuses, like six previously-unavailable tracks from a 1981 concert in Bologne, Italy, and many seven-inch and compilation tracks that, like most of the albums, are exceedingly difficult to track down. Creed and Edge later went on to solo careers of note (Edge died last year at age 45), but nothing they, or anyone else, has waxed in the ensuing years carries the glacial fire of their work together. Hold this Chrome to the light and bathe in its cyborgdelic glow.