A decade ago, the noise-rock band Arab on Radar was the hottest thing since Heaven's Gate. Hailing from the experimental-noise stronghold of Providence, R.I., they sounded like something out of a Troma film. Their singer, known as Mr. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mr. Pottymouth, spat out psychosexual wordplay in a nasally voice. The drummer, Mr. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, threw down testosterone-charged rhythms. The two guitarists, Mr. Type A and Mr. Clinical Depression, sounded like a couple of drunken banshees going at it in a run-down motel room.
To many listeners, Arab on Radar was the most obnoxious band ever. But to their devoted fans, they were the second coming of no-wave. Indeed, as hideous as their music was, its blend of post-punk groove, free-jazz freakiness and pulp-fiction-style perversion was strangely hypnotic, even groundbreaking. Yahweh or the Highway, a chaotic yet deeply cathartic album released in 2001, is a classic of the noise-rock genre.
After an eight-year run, Arab on Radar broke up in 2002. They reunited in 2010, announcing a U.S. reunion tour and making plans to record a new album. But a band this dangerous can never last. Shortly after the tour started, they split. Now, former members confirm that Arab on Radar will never play a stage again.
But with the death of the old band has come a new one. Rising like a phoenix from Arab on Radar's corpse, they are Doomsday Student.
Formed last year, Doomsday Student features three-quarters of Arab on Radar—Eric Paul (Mr. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Pottymouth), Stephen Mattos (Mr. Type A), and Craig Kureck (Mr. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)—plus guitarist Paul Vieira, who plays with Paul and Kureck in the disco-noise band The Chinese Stars. Absent from the lineup is Jeff Schneider (Mr. Clinical Depression), who's taken to Facebook to protest being left out.
“It comes as a slap in the face to me personally to have this fraudulent band playing in the likeness of [Arab on Radar],” he wrote on Arab on Radar's wall last September.
Claims of fraud are questionable, at best. In fact, Doomsday Student has cleansed itself of Arab on Radar. The former members don't wear their trademark workers' outfits anymore, and they've disposed of their aliases. Their Facebook bio doesn't even mention the previous band by name: “You know who these men are. They have been other men. Who they were before does not matter. What matters most is who they are now.”
Doomsday Student's promo photo says it all: Wearing matching orange tennis shoes and covered in a crime-scene-style sheet, they resemble the Heaven's Gate followers who committed suicide en masse in 1997 as part of a mission to reach a higher plane of existence.
“We were inspired by the idea of killing one's old self in order to advance into a more evolved self,” the band says in an email interview.
A Jumper's Handbook, Doomsday Student's debut album, finds the quartet in top form. As Paul snarls about UFOs and suicide bombers, his voice is as nasal as ever. Pounding his drums relentlessly, Kureck has the brutal vigor of an obsessive-compulsive who can't stop washing his hands. Providing the key ingredient to the ferocious combo, guitarists Mattos and Vieira churn out distorted screeches and angular riffs in a dizzying display of noise-rock insanity.
“The chemistry in this band is astounding, and this combination is, in my mind, what all the years of doing this were leading to,” Kureck says in an email. “We each play the distinctive way we play and sound the distinctive way we sound. But this combination is constantly forcing all of us to play off of each other in a way that forces us deep into the depths to where the real shit is. It makes me tingle all over.”
It's still unclear exactly what happened to Arab on Radar. In the email interview, the band brushes off questions having to do with the previous band. Asked about Mr. Clinical Depression's protests on Facebook, they write: “We'd rather make records than drama.”
Of course, you can never be sure what to believe with these notoriously enigmatic musicians. Asked about his vocal style, Paul's vaguely plausible explanation comes with a punch line: “When I was young I was in a terrible car accident. I smashed my face on the windshield and permanently damaged my sinus cavity. That is why I sound like a car wreck.”
What's clear, however, is that they'd rather let the music speak for itself. There, it seems, beauty and chaos will always be intertwined.
“It is sort of like the dichotomy of the tornado,” the band says. “It can be both hypnotic and beautiful to look at, yet at its root it is completely destructive. We are most comfortable between these two worlds. It's a beautiful mess.”