Drag City

As a struggling musician working at a plastic factory in South Carolina and spending his nights hashing out his opus in a trailer park, the life of Duane Warr is the stuff Hollywood should be begging to turn into an drug-infested, anti-heroic biopic. One listen to Animals, Dwarr’s long-gestating masterpiece from 1986, and you’ll realize why the man’s story has become so intriguing to those of us who thrive on private-press relics packed with this much pain and suffering. There should be some warning, though. You’re certainly not going to enjoy Animals unless you have a penchant for sludgy, lumbering, pseudo-metal blues that constantly teeter on the insane. Animals is an extremely bleak, Bosch-induced nightmare of Guitar Center–employee noodling and failed arena-rock dreams.

I’ve nothing to reference of Dwarr’s earlier works, but from what I can comprehend, they weren’t met with much fanfare. As such, Dwarr retreated into his chamber of solitude, piecing together Animals in post-midnight sessions, direct to 8-track with no dubbing. From the cover to the title track, there is a sense that there’s a binding concept at work. When Dwarr howls that we’re all “driving back to the way of animals,” the feeling turns to the primitive; this is a homemade caveman-rock ode to the fringes of metal and eternal loneliness. Of course, as is the case of many of ’80s-metal disciples, the echoes of Sabbath play a big role in influence, but as with “Ghost Lovers,” its Sabbath as conceived by an outsider savant. Or Deep Purple as basement creeps. Given the wild and frantic, punishing and depressing cloud that hangs over Animals, you’d likely suspect that pounds of bad weed and sheets of even worse acid (maybe even some inhalants) were involved in the record’s creation. “Chocolate Mescaline” and “Evil Lurks” are examples of where this Sabbath worship takes a downward spiral. The latter especially battles Iommi progression with expert precision but is always veering into a unique guitar style that accents scattered notes and piercing histrionics. This was doom metal before it was even defined.

Still, one shouldn’t be too scared of Dwarr, for all the chaos and trapdoors, awkward trips and hallucinations, Animals also boasts some strikingly beautiful and downright quirky moments. “Just Keep Running” perpetuates the outsider mystique, taking a slight detour towards loner psych-folk, twinkling and saddening all at once. Instrumentals like the new-wave warzone of “Time” and the funeral pyre march of “That Deadly Night,” add further transitions to take Dwarr’s usual slaying and sullying out of the dark. While the reissues keep coming at a clip that makes it hard to keep up—or even care for a private press record that no one cared about way back when—Animals is a truly unique and adventurous piece of music that I’ve yet to see repeated. Whether Hollywood takes the bait or we can see the dementia of Dwarr played out on a reunion circuit, this document is packed with enough revealing detail to show us the life of a tortured soul, or maybe just a dude on a never-ending metal journey.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Animals”