The Damage Manual
One EP
Invisible Records

The Damage Manual were, in their first iteration, an industrial/post punk super group centred around Martin Atkins, of Pigface, who also played with Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and damn near everyone else.  The idea for the band grew out of vague discussions he and the legendary bassist Jah Wobble (ex-PiL) had about maybe working together one day over the course of the 90s.  They brought aboard Geordie Walker, guitarist, from Killing Joke, as Wobble wanted to work with him.  So then the three of them, in their own studios on both sides of the Atlantic, created some music together and traded ideas.  They needed a singer.  Legend has it that they asked John Lydon, both Atkins and Wobble’s ex-bandmate, to front the band.  Legend also has it he said no.  Good move, frankly.  I love Lydon, I love PiL, in all its iterations, but his voice wasn’t right for this music. Watkins and Walker had worked with Chris Connelly in Murder Inc., and so they asked him to join.  This was a good move.  And so we had the Damage Manual.  And Atkins had his own record label, Invisible, so they didn’t have to worry about any of the industry BS.  Invisible is still around today, based, like Atkins, in Chicago.

One came out in April 2000 and it was an event.  I don’t know how I came across this ep, to be honest.  It likely had something to do with the fact I have been a huge Wobble fan for about forever, due to his work on the first two PiL albums First Issue and Metal Box).  I was living in Ottawa at the time, counting down the  minutes before I could blow that popsicle stand and move back home to Montréal, where I was due to start my PhD that fall at Concordia University.  I know I listened to this in Ottawa, but it’s sitting in my cheap 4 1/2 in the Mile End, Montréal, that I remember it.  I moved into the Mile End in September 2000 (at the same time as The Damage Manual released their first album), about 15 minutes before it became the hottest neighbourhood in Canada, as all the hipsters moved in and then the the Montréal music scene exploded, in the Mile End, with the Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Malajube, and so on.  I remember sitting in my flat, a converted cold water flat of an old tenement at the corner of av. du Parc and rue Saint-Viateur, listening to this ep, blown away at how it all came together.  It was a constant that year, and the next year and the year after that.  And as great as their début album was, I loved this one more.

This is a 7-track ep, and it is well nigh-on impossible to find today.  It’s not on Apple Music (nor is it in the iTunes store), it’s not on Spotify, and it’s not on Amazon music.  More’s the pity.

The Damage Manual’s sound is centred in industrial, with the pounding thud of Atkins’ brand of that form of music, but Walker’s guitars and Wobble’s bass also add a major post-punk feel to it.  Atkins is a phenomenal drummer, and he is a skilled manipulator of sound through loops, engineering, and production, and so much of the sound on this ep is his vision. But each of the other members are central.  Nobody can play the bass like Jah Wobble.  Nobody. He creates this massive sound, rooted in dub, but also foundational for everything that’s come since 1978.  In fact, insofar as alternative music goes, I would argue that he and Peter Hook are the most influential bassists.  But the thing is, people can play like Hook, they cannot play like Wobble.  Nobody sounds like him.  And Walker, well, he invented a new way of playing guitar in Killing Joke and he brings his talent here.  And Connelly has the absolutely perfect voice for this.  He has incredible range, which he can use when singing low over Wobble’s bass, or at a higher, faster pitch over the fury of the bass/guitar/drums of the band.

The ep kicks off with ‘Sunset Gun,’ which starts off with Atkins’ pounding, and I mean pounding, drums, crashing into the speakers.  And then the guitars and bass arrive, in this churning beauty with Wobble’s fat basslines surfing along.  And then Connelly:

From the moment I woke
In receipt of a blackmail note
And these curious eyes
A new disease of the last seen eyes.
A live Christ in the city
I got my black-eyed mind
I’m gonna poison up the wrong way ’round
Like a bad design.
It’s in the way that I’m cold
Left dealing with a famished soul
I won’t give you the time
It’s greed sparked in a goldmine.
I can’t view your condition
It’s as failed as they come
Great failures are forced
Into our famished eyes with a gun.
It’s in the way that I’m cold
Left dealing with a famished soul
It’s all fake as they come
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun.
Your point of collapse
My mark of indifference
It’s all fake as they come
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun.
It’s not like you care
Even at my insistence
It’s all fake as they come
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun.
I won’t give you the time
It’s grief sparked in a goldmine
It’s in the way that I’m cold
Left dealing with a famished soul.
It’s all as fake as they come
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun
(Like a sunset gun)
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun
(Like a sunset gun)
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun
(Like a sunset gun)
Burn my eyes like a sunset gun
(Like a sunset gun).
Atkins’ drums dominate this song, even with all the other instruments, and Connelly’s voice.  One of the greatest songs ever written.

‘Damage Addict’ is next, and it’s a dubbed-clubbed-tripped ditty dominated by that bassline.  Atkins’ drums crash and pound, Walker’s guitar is deeply processed, and explodes and disappears from the track, and Connelly delivers his vocals like he’s in a wind tunnel, but it’s Wobble’s bass that is the star of the show.

‘Scissor Quickstep’ is maybe my least favourite track on the ep, which isn’t really saying much, this is more a ‘Do you prefer a 15 or 20 year old Scotch, sir?’ issue.  Atkins’ drums pound, Walker’s guitars buzzsaw in the background and Connelly delivers his lyrics like a man possessed by a demon.  At the start of the track, his vocals sound like he’s running, and echo Bowie in his delivery.
‘Blame and Demand’ is another Wobble-centric song, as nothing the rest of the band can do can drown out the fat, churning bassline he lays down here. Not that they don’t try, as Atkins crashes his symbols, and Walker drops some of his best guitars of the ep, and Connelly’s vocals remain pitch perfect.  But the mix gives credence to Wobble, and that was a good decision, as his lays down both beat and rhythm that allows the drums to be more skittered and crashing.
The last two tracks, ‘Bagman Damage’ and ‘M60 Dub’ are both tours de force.  ‘Bagman Damage’ is heavily processed, and Wobble’s bass dances overtop Atkins’ drums, whilst Walker’s guitar slides in and out, along with a series of synthesizer noises. This is a remix of ‘Damage Addict,’ so Connelly’s voice is the missing component here, but you don’t really notice, too busy you are trying to keep track of the sounds, especially once Waker’s guitar moves into the right channel for a bit whilst the synthesized crashes hit you on the left (this entire ep is best listened to at an obscene level on good headphones).  The remix of the drum and bass create a bouncy, crashing sound, especially with Walker’s distorted guitar.
‘M60’ dub is, believe it or not, a dub reinterpretation of ‘Blame and Demand.’  Both Wobble and Atkins have dabbled in dub, and Atkins has worked with Bill Laswell a lot throughout their respective careers.  It shows here, as dub is also a very Wobble-friendly music form, but the studio effects of dub allow Atkins’ creativity to shine here.  His processed drums chug along, but Walker’s guitars are almost liquid at parts here.  His guitars are, to begin with, a mixture of buzzsaw and the classic post punk angular, cold sound.  When remixed through dub, they become downright terrifying in their sound, especially as Atkins fades him in and out on both channels.
The Damage Manual was a short-lived project, sadly.  After the album, One, came out in September, the band toured, but Wobble didn’t head out on the road beyond the UK, and so, after a US tour, The Damage Manual dissolved.  They did resurface in 2004, without Wobble and Walker, and Hate Dept.’s Steven Seibold playing both guitar and bass, though this version was just as star-crossed, as after one album, tours were cancelled, first due to a series of crises in Atkins’ family, and then Connelly got ill.
The four members of the classic lineup carry on today.  Both Atkins and Wobble maintain lively presences on Twitter.  Wobble has released approximately 4,592 albums and Eps since this one, in various iterations with and without collaborators.  He has to be the busiest man in music.  Atkins is today a professor, and co-ordinates the Music Business progamme at Milliken University in Decatur, IL.  He continues to put out music with Pigface, and also runs Invisible Records and its subsidiary, Underground.  Walker is still putting out  music in Killing Joke, their last album, Pylon, came out in 2015. And Connelly, like Wobble, is all over the place, and has released a billion albums, both as a solo artist and collaborating with others.  I wish someone could convince them to reform the Damage Manual, dammit.