AMN Reviews: Mr. Bungle’s Disco Volante 25 Years Later

In late 1995, I was reading a printed fanzine (remember those?), and came across a short blurb on Disco Volante from Mr. Bungle – a band that I had never heard of. I was looking for something left of center and the review made it sound as if this album would suit the bill. So I walked across the street to a Tower Records (remember those?) and bought the CD (remember those?).

From the moment I popped it in my portable CD player (remember those? – ok, I’ll stop…) I was hooked. The Bungles set forth 12 tracks combining thrash metal, prog rock, Middle Eastern music, free improv, and experimental noise with exceptionally dark overtones. I had never heard anything like it.

The most immediate aspect of Disco Volante, aside from the exquisitely diverse and creative writing, was Mike Patton’s vocals. He growled, crooned, whispered, and occasionally sang bizarre utterances with a twisted and tortured feel. The closest comparison was the great Demetrio Stratos from the Italian jazz/rock legends Area.

I quickly found out that Patton was also the frontman for the metal band Faith No More, who’s hit single I had watched with friends many times on MTV back in college days. The band also included bassist Trevor Dunn, who has been very active in the New York creative music scene over the last decade or so, guitarist Trey Spruance who went on to form Secret Chiefs 3, found the Web of Mimicry label, and appear as a guest on many recordings, and drummer Danny Heifetz. An array of guests, including noted classical percussionist William Winant, made appearances.

Disco Volante comes across as a drug-induced soundtrack to an imaginary David Lynch film. The closest album in feel, if not actual compositional approach, is perhaps Idiot Flesh’s Fancy, which came out two years later.

Rather than a track-by-track analysis, the album can be aptly summarized through one of its most disjointed pieces, Carry Stress in the Jaw. Patton wails and expectorates over speed riffing and free-jazz sax blowouts during the first half of the piece’s 9 minutes, as it changes styles frequently and with prejudice. Blues vamps, jazz, metal, lounge music – all too much to keep track of. The second half features a bouncy, almost-surf guitar/keyboard rhythm with Patton singing like an old man and making guttural throat noises. I have no idea what the song is supposed to be about lyrically, and I’m okay with that. Despite being pieced together from a dictionary of styles, it somehow all fits and is nothing short of remarkable.

A few years later I saw Bungle touring to support their third (and until this year, final) release, California. Somehow, the show managed be authentic to their sound even without the heavy studio manipulation of these tracks. What I remember most, though was being hot and crowded, and realizing that I had aged out of the mosh-pit scene.

In 2020, the demented eclecticism of Disco Volante still holds up (and is arguably a fitting mood for this year, but that’s another story). I remember telling anyone who would listen that the album is one of my top 5 favorites of all time, and I have no reason to change that opinion. Thumbs still way up, even after a quarter-century.