A delighted looking skeleton sits upright on his throne, golden crown adorning his demented head, machine gun arms flailed like Jesus Christ. His regal threads, a red jumpsuit with gothic sleeves, strays open in a seemingly deliberate ploy at utter perversion, exposing a fleshless chest plate and rib cage. Somewhat suggestively, a nest of chastised, bloodshot-eyed baby birds with hungry beaks wide-open strategically place themselves at the feet of the demonic king, obscuring what is certain to be one giant slab of appendage flopping onto the floor. To the king’s right is a golden snake, all phallic and glorious in its sleek, semi-erect and uncoiling form. To his left, a rooster; stock standard in its farmer Joe-esque perch, yet menacing and cocksure enough to suggest that perhaps a cautious mindset need be deployed upon entering this dark palace of bondage, torture and doom. Giant cocks, snakes, hungry birds gagging for nourishment at the crotch of a half-naked skeletal king… welcome to punk rock, King Snake Roost style.
Mutating from the drug-addled ashes of Adelaide psycho-noisters and Jello Biafra favourite Grong Grong, and fellow Adelaidian twisted jazz trollsters Bloodloss, King Snake Roost hit the ground all gimp-legged and limping and, led by hacksaw guitarist extraordinaire Charlie Tolnay, soon moved to the hustle of Sydney’s infamous Cleveland Street to hone and ply their sinister wares.
Joining local acts like Lubricated Goat, The Splatterheads, Nunbait and Las Empaladoras on and around the notorious strip, the inner-city grit and inspiration was already set in stone for the freakish newcomers, and in 1987 King Snake Roost released their debut LP “From Barbarism to Christian Manhood.”
Staring wild-eyed at, and somewhat in awe of, the glorious medieval punk album cover nestled in the crated quagmire of the sticky-carpeted ramshackle of Melbourne’s Collector’s Corner record store, I simply couldn’t shake the strong urge to buy this thing despite never having heard a single whisper of this type of music before in my young, narrow life. The whole thing just looked completely nuts, and with song titles like “Napalm Factory” “Medusa’s Leer” and “Dead All Over” staring back at me, my 15-year-old self paid for the potential atrocity and promptly snuck it back home past the usually heightened eagle-awareness of the Colonel, my Mother.
“His life is a well known trademark
And it brands itself in your skull
Smooth as silk is the shake of his hand
As he spits another deal of poison
Turn around and you know it’s too late
When you hear the sound of hissing
The grass is too high, watch him slide home
An expert in striking and slither”
King Snake Roost ‘King Snake Roost’
The switchblade experience that virgin ears must endure during a trial listen to King Snake Roost is pretty much summed up in those lyrics. The savage brutality strikes like a pissed off cobra. Never before had my tender eardrums felt so cut up and violated without actually bleeding, and never before had my index fingers penetrated my earholes so much, just to check if indeed they were bleeding. They weren’t, but the damage was done. Never again would my ears be satisfied with the somewhat conventional spin of my father’s Zeppelin records.
To attempt to understand the completely misunderstood, King Snake Roost really should be explained from the very beginning:
There once was a band called Grong Grong, y’see, a more tinnitus inducing, sphincter clenching and utterly intimidating band of misfit degenerates you will not see or hear. Bubbling and troubling out of a low-class, government subsidised welfare suburb of Adelaide, two sons of Hungarian immigrants, Charlie Tolnay and Michael Farkas, teamed up with a couple of Greek immigrants, David Taskas and George Klestinis, to form not only one of history’s most incendiary and shock-driven acts, but also a group that would go on to coin the term grunge and even shock the likes of Mr. Shock himself Jello Biafra, not to mention soon-to-be Seattle heavyweights Mark Arm and Steve Turner.
“I lay awake for about two nights after seeing Grong Grong, still wondering if I actually saw what I really saw.”
By the time Grong Grong had whittled their act down to a utopian assault of manic blitz and primeval headfuckery, singer Michael Farkas had resorted to epileptically convulsing around the stage in an unzipped gimp mask, while half-brother Tolnay had developed a most menacing stance, viciously pulverising his guitar seemingly with his fist and sucking the life out of some poor unsuspecting cigarette. This was 1983, and a more screeching intensity had not been seen on an Aussie three-foot-high stage. Even Nick Cave’s Birthday Party was considered lame in comparison.
After years of drug abuse -the culmination of which saw Michael Farkas hospitalised for months in a heroin-induced coma- Grong Grong really needed to call it quits and the tight-knit brotherhood went their seperate ways. But from tragedy comes the insane, and before long the harsh punk-jazz stylings of King Snake Roost was born.
Migrating from the sleepy hollow that is Adelaide to the hustle-bustle of east coast Sydney proved a master stroke for Tolnay and the Roost, and before long they had interloped their way deep within the stinking colon of the experimental and occasionally ludicrous ‘Black Eye’ scene. Together with the afore-mentioned Lubricated Goat, Tex Perkins’ Thug and Scientists’ afterbirth Kim Salmon and the Surrealists, King Snake Roost blew a glory hole through the heart of the Australian music scene and before long were signed to the now legendary Aberrant record label.
Following “From Barbarism to Christian Manhood” came the split 7″ single with label-mates feedtime which saw each band covering a song belonging to the other, resulting in a cacophony of contradiction; screechy yet sludgy bliss. Then, in 1988, came a leaning towards what some may call sophistication, while the other some may call an extra helping of insanity, the brilliant “Things That Play Themselves.” With Tolnay’s screech now sandpapered down to a fine art plus the ingenious inclusion of a brass section, the album once again captured the attention of Biafra, and with the international release of 1990’s “Ground Into the Dirt” on Minneapolis’ Amphetamine reptile label, plus a release on that label’s never-ending compilation “Dope, Guns ‘n’ Fucking in the Streets”, Biafra promptly invited Tolnay to join his latest side project Tumor Circus. Together with members of Montana’s Steel Pole Bath Tub, Tolnay and Biafra blistered their way through a prominent self-titled release, plus the wholly entertaining 7″ ‘Take Me Back Or I’ll Drown Our Dog’ in 1991, showcasing the guitarist’s anal-probing idiosyncrasies to American audiences for the first time.
And it’s here where Tolnay’s and King Snake Roost’s stories lay to rest. From the heady days of Grong Grong and their coining of the term grunge, to the sonic blitz of latter-day King Snake Roost, the influence that this unique style of tub-thumping bass, jail-worthy guitar and jazz noodlings that spewed forth so readily from Sydney’s ‘Black Eye’ scene had on Seattle’s own grunge scene especially, was not only immense, but can never be discounted. From Mark Arm to Kurt Cobain and the Melvins’ Buzz Osbourne, the short-lived enigma that was King Snake Roost will forever be at least partially responsible for those singers’ esteemed legacy in a warped industry-created history of music that is not only often seen as unjust, but is downright perverted in its own right thanks to the corporate machine that is the grinding factory of a people-pleasing industry that simply has no commercial interest to even mention the symbiotic perfection that is King Snake Roost.
As it stands now, Charlie Tolnay and Michael Farkas are back living in that welfare dependant Adelaide suburb with nine street cats and the horrific legacy of lifelong drug habits. Perhaps if their album covers were arty black and white photos of longhairs in flannel shirts diving into a drum kit instead of skeleton kings suggesting rape to a nest of baby birds, things may have been very different.