- Jeremy Harris
- Chrome’s Aleph Kali, Lou Minatti, Tommy L. Cyborg, Steve Fishman and Helios Creed.
When seminal San Francisco post-punk band Chrome's debut album The Visitation (1976, Siren) dropped, it was disorienting, discombobulating and alienating. The initial strains of opening track "How Many Years Too Soon" seemed to emerge from a synthetic fog. The group incorporated themes and sounds of science fiction—grating, sometimes otherworldly noises, and lyrics about living in futuristic dystopias—but their sound wasn't so foreign that it was completely unfamiliar. The industrial noise was fueled by driving drums and rapid-fire riffs that were critical elements of punk rock.
Chrome didn't fully achieve its trademark sound, however, until founder, singer/multi-instrumentalist Damon Edge was joined by guitarist Helios Creed. Creed's flying saucer-slash-buzzsaw guitar sound and his songwriting took the band's futuristic freak show to the nth degree, and burnished Chrome to a high luster. The band's next two albums—Alien Soundtracks (1977) and Half Machine Lip Moves (1979)—would become Chrome's best-known efforts.
Their partnership lasted until 1983, when Edge relocated to Paris with his wife, singer Fabienne Shine, issuing a number of releases as Chrome while Creed went solo. In the mid-'90s, Edge—having separated from Shine—returned to California. Although he discussed a reunion with Creed, Edge passed away before it could happen. Ultimately, Creed re-formed Chrome, touring and releasing four albums between 1997 and 2002 before returning to his solo career. In 2014, after a 12-year hiatus, Creed reactivated Chrome again, releasing Feel It Like a Scientist (2014, King of Spades) and Techromancy (2017, Cleopatra).
The band influenced several generations of industrial and post-punk bands, though they never really fit under a tidy label. You can hear Chrome in artists like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, who were immensely more popular and commercially successful. Numerous other musicians borrowed some of their elements, but none were quite able to replicate Chrome's surreal nightmare, so mechanistic and macabre, yet spacy and psychedelic. To many ears, they were a head trip gone bad, but to more adventurous listeners, the band provided insidious enjoyment.
"We have our own audience of musical outcasts," Creed explains by phone. "They don't like average, mainstream music."
But where adherents of industrial music have often incorporated dance clubs, fashion and political activism into their musical interests, Chrome has always remained purely about the music (notwithstanding their social commentary). The typical Chrome listener, if there is such a thing, is an outcast even among outcasts.
Chrome is half-machine and half-human, a hybrid that's intriguing and still incredibly original 41 years after The Visitation. The music is robotic, and often seems borne from the grinding of gears or some bizarre extraterrestrial technology—but it's always passionate and, at times, angry.
Take "T.V. as Eyes," from Half Machine Lip Moves. The opening guitar scream sounds like a missile soaring into the stratosphere to intercept some interplanetary invader, until it coalesces into a Stooges-like riff. (The song is a not-so-distant cousin of "T.V. Eye," from The Stooges' classic 1970 album Funhouse.) "Something you feel, desire/ Back at the wheel again/ Something you feel inside/ Waiting at the back door of my mind," Edge intones. If Iggy Pop was animalistic, Chrome showed that the machinery of industry, as menacing as it could be, was also an engine of desire.
In the '70s soft-rock era, this stuff was completely foreign to middle-of-the-road ears. Listen to "You've Been Duplicated," also from Half Machine, with its backward masked samples leading into a perversely galloping rhythm, or "Insect Human" (from 1981's Blood on the Moon), with its disembodied voices in the intro. Try "Pharoah Chromium" (Alien Soundtracks), with Creed's guitar leads flashing in the twilight like an outer-space Hendrix, and Edge sounding even seedier than New York Dolls-era David Johansen.
In the 21st century, the band isn't so odd—but they remain just alien enough to be compelling. In concert, Chrome combines material from their new releases with old favorites. For a band more than four decades old, covering three distinct eras (Edge/Creed and their individual tenures), and without its founder, there's hardly a seam in their music.
Chrome hasn't toured much over the past 15 years, so it's a noteworthy event for anyone interested in challenging, noisy music. "We're really tight; we sound like the records," Creed says, adding that he's left room in the set for weirdness. "There's an experimental section, where we go off and make wacky sounds, noises and use frequencies of distortion."
In retrospect, it's apparent that the essence of Chrome is, and maybe always was, the vision of Helios Creed. Chrome turned out to be not only musical visionaries, but culturally prophetic. The dystopia they predicted starting in the '70s is coming closer to fruition every day. "It's becoming a machine-based society, with nanobots and clones," Creed maintains. "We express the idea that the planet is kind of a scary place."