For punk rockers who grew up in London, Ontario in the eighties, the singer for the Black Donnellys was something of a messianic figure. An infectious wordsmith with a venomous charisma and gnarly set of gnashers, Dan Rudbal was London, Onterrible’s answer to Johnny Rotten.
He first made a dent as the front man for London’s best hardcore band October Crisis. In 1986, after a spectacular homecoming gig at Centennial Hall and just as they were positioned to break out as one of Canada’s definitive punk rock acts, October Crisis imploded in a bizarre fit of self-defeat, much to the dismay of their loyal legion of young fans.
In the wake of this unexpected debacle, Dan resurrected his first love, the Black Donnellys, named after an ill-famed family of Irish immigrants who in the late 1800’s terrorized the small town of Lucan, Ontario before being brutally massacred by vigilantes.
Formed in 1982, Rudbal’s tribute to the infamous clan went through a steady succession of member changes before arriving at its classic line-up, the Donnellys IV. With the self-distributed Life’s A Scream cassette in 1984, this was the only version of the band to have ever released any original material.
After quickly becoming the darlings of the London, Onterrible punk scene, and very much like October Crisis before them, The Donnellys IV suddenly and violently collapsed. At this point, it became clear to many London music fans that the caustic qualities that made him such a compelling songwriter and front man would likely sentence any project with Dan Rudbal to a short shelf life. And though many iterations of the Donnellys followed, they rarely lasted more than a couple of gigs if they were lucky to progress from the practise phase at all.
Fast forward twenty years and musician / producer Al Hate enters the Donnelly’s mythos. A former member of another short-lived but influential local band, Hate was a guitarist for techno-thrashers Dyoxen who in 1991 became the only act to emerge from the eighties London, Onterrible music scene to score a worldwide record deal. Their one and only album First Among Equals was released in North America on Cargo and in Europe through Active Records to significant international acclaim, getting rave reviews in Metal bibles like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer with the likes of legendary British music critic Chris Welch calling it, “Seriously powerful, skilled modern thrash, played by thinking beings! Yes, and you can use that on all the publicity blurbs.”
A dedicated fan of October Crisis and advocate of Rudbal’s lyrical intensity and general propensity for on-stage aggro, Hate had long entertained the idea of collaborating with the notorious singer. With a keen understanding of how to compose tracks to compliment Rudbal’s song-writing strengths, Hate figured that if he could negotiate the singer’s volatility long enough to record some original material, together they could make a serious dent in the Donnellys’s dubious musical legacy.
Recruiting the services of local lads Rob Carvell (drums), Jay Brooks (bass) and fellow October Crisis devotee Trevor Wilkins (guitar and co-writer), the Black Donnellys 13 were born, kicking and screaming into a world long forsaken by its creator. The mutually corrosive sensibilities of Rudbal and Hate produced some of the finest work of their erratic music careers to date, resulting in the five song Orchestrate A Disaster EP, a work of epic lyrical nihilism executed with precision riffs and no-nonsense production.
As a whole, the tracks combine the abrasiveness of the Pistols, the big choruses of The Clash and the dark intensity of Discharge with a melodic influence that leans towards contemporary metal and industrial soundscapes. But there’s another, less obvious influence at work.
It’s long been rumoured that Rudbal was weaned on his big sister’s record collection and he’s previously credited the likes of The Supremes for influencing his melodic sensibilities. So if you listen very carefully, you can vaguely sense the spirit of Motown hanging over the proceedings, if ever so elusively.
Unfortunately by 2007, after a brief but blistering onslaught of performances with the likes of The Misfits, DOA, SNFU, Abrasive Wheels, The Casualties and The Unseen, the Donnellys 13 predictably self-destructed in a hurricane of acrimony and the recorded material was indefinitely shelved.
Ten years later, after the dust had settled and the wounds had nearly stopped festering, Hate teamed up with engineer Darren Morrison to revisit these long-forgotten tracks. They slaved over the mixes with painstaking detail before enlisting the services of audio whiz Stephen Marsh in Los Angeles to master the final results. Their mission was straight forward enough—to capture the orchestrated chaos of a live Donnellys gig with a confrontational Dan Rudbal furiously spitting his lyrics right in your face.
The first cut Dead and Bleeding sets the tone—an anti-romance parable that boasts some of Rudbal’s nastiest bits of wordplay to date: “Love is Like a Nail and I’ll Hammer You!” The nihilistic fun continues with Left Amongst the Bugs and Twigs, a tasty bit of existential hell with a huge, major key chorus that contrasts violently with Rudbal’s dismally bitter worldview. Then there’s the obvious single—the relentlessly catchy Lucky Man followed by the almost equally single-ready Away.
But it’s the final track that delivers the goods, The Great White Way—a musical nervous breakdown and the most progressive experiment of the lot. It’s a fitting show-stopper with an intro plucked out of something by Bauhaus followed by an epic sermon of rejection, betrayal and disappointment, themes threaded throughout every track on the disc. This is music you play for people in desperate need of having their enthusiasm curb-stomped.
To celebrate the tenth year anniversary of these songs (and the 34th birthday of the Donnellys in general), these rare but unforgettable tracks are being unleashed for the first time in their finished form. Too good to stay hidden forever, Orchestrate A Disaster is destined to endure as the definitive Black Donnellys statement—an audio assault that captures the visceral attack of this doomed punk rock juggernaut at its most uncompromising intensity.
Stuart F. Andrews