Sunday, June 2, 2024

Mourning Noise's "Screams/Dreams:" A Modern Horror Punk Classic

It’s time for Mourning Noise to settle unfinished business.

Way back in 1985, what was then the band’s final lineup (by that time featuring the late Mike “Ashley” Morance, always one of the more intriguing—and willfully mysterious—participants in New Jersey’s underground music scene) convened to record “Foolish Grief,” an epic tune much closer to The Damned’s gloriously melodic mid-’80s output than the fiery, Hardcore-flavored sounds of Mourning Noise’s earlier years. One listen to the track informed the listener that great new things should have been right around the corner for the group, but it wasn’t meant to be. Drummer Steve Zing was already well into his stint as an original member of Glenn Danzig’s post-Misfits band, Samhain, by that point, so Mourning Noise—already plagued by regular lineup changes and a singer (the talented and underrated Mike Mansfield) who quit, rejoined, and quit again more times than anyone could count—inevitably fell by the wayside.


Aside from a brief reunion in 1997, Mourning Noise seemed destined to be a footnote in the narrative of New Jersey Horror Punk—a great shame when considering that the band often outclassed all of its original-era Lodi scene contemporaries—yep, even that other group whose name starts with “M.” (Yes, you read that right. Listen to “My Demon Eyes” from the old days and tell me I’m wrong.) The injustice was finally rectified in 2021 via an extensive Mourning Noise compilation of 1981-1985 material released by Cleopatra Records. (An earlier collection, Death Trip Delivery, appeared—and quickly disappeared—in the ’90s through the seemingly now-defunct label Grand Theft Audio.) Before long, the band—now comprised of Zing, classic-era members Tommy Koprowski (guitar) and Chris “Draphobia” Morance (bass), and incredible new singer Robby Bloodshed—was back in the game and writing new material. Fast-forward to early June 2024, and the quartet is days away from releasing its first proper full-length album, Screams/Dreams.


Right off the bat, the fellas have a helluva lot to live up to—after all, a new record by a band featuring Zing (who’s been playing bass in Danzig for years now) will earn immediate attention. Also, things ain’t like they were in the late 80s when Bobby Steele was the only old-school Horror Punk guy in Jersey still keeping it real. The Misfits have been back performing with Glenn for nearly a decade (!), while the fiendom surrounding all things Lodi has never been greater. (Hell, kids around the country make pilgrimages to Lodi Pizza, for fuck’s sake.)


Expectations for Screams/Dreams are incredibly high, so how does Mourning Noise handle the pressure? Well, the guys could’ve played it safe and released an instantly crowd-pleasing retread of 1982 with perhaps a touch of 2024 audio recording sheen—something that would have had about as much appeal to me as, say, a Maor Applebaum remaster of Evilive. Thankfully, Mourning Noise has instead thrown balls of brass into the mix, followed through on the potential showcased on “Foolish Grief,” and expanded its sound into something fresh for the here and now.


These guys aren’t relying on their past glories on Screams/Dreams—they’re dead set on exceeding them. Finally, the world has been gifted with a reunion record done the right way.


What does Screams/Dreams sound like? Imagine My Chemical Romance writing a Misfits album after a lengthy Phantasmagoria listening binge while avoiding the low-hanging fruit of gratuitous whoas or generic lyrics solely based on horror film synopses.


Bloodshed—who’s already a scene vet despite only being in his twenties—is the biggest star of the show, adding second guitar and keyboards alongside his stellar voice. (If you’ve seen Robbie live over the past few years, you’ve witnessed our Dave Vanian gradually come into his own. You know how we all revere Glenn? That’s gonna be how we think of Robbie in 20 years. Just listen to “Island of Unknown.” The kid’s a goddamn phenomenon.) And Zing, Koprowski, and Morance have never sounded tighter and more inspired together as they do throughout this album’s 16 tracks.


Best song: A tie between “Kiss of Death” and the truly exceptional (and T.S.O.L.-tinged) “Frozen Fever.” Greatest Musical Departure: “Sin.” Career-Best Performance: Koprowski, whose Steve Jones-meets-Johnny Ramone power reaches new heights.  


Final Verdict: Screams/Dreams is the best New Jersey Horror Punk album since Walk Among Us.


Mic drop and fucking fin.

Order Screams/Dreams