DigHayZoose’s debut album (1991’s Struggle Fish) made it readily apparent that the Kansas City-based funk/rock group knew how to lay down a groove. However, it was — not incorrectly — described by reviewers at the time as being too much of a Red Hot Chili Peppers clone, something that’s particularly obvious on songs like “Psychedelic Mommy,” “Water’s Way (Part 2),” and “Zeptune.”
The band’s follow-up, 1993’s MagentaMantaLoveTree, built on their funk origins while adding metal, grunge, psychedelia, and even hip-hop to their repertoire. The resulting album is considerably more ambitious than its predecessor. Indeed, it might’ve been too ambitious. With twenty-two tracks, nearly half of which are short sketches, interludes, and gags, spread out over 65 minutes, along with the aforementioned genre mash-up, MagentaMantaLoveTree is a sprawling, uneven album that’s by turns fascinating and frustrating, impassioned and inconsistent.
One minute, you’re listening to the pitch-perfect funk/metal blend that is “Slatherage” (my favorite DigHayZoose song, and arguably their heaviest) or the title track, an eight-minute psychedelic proclamation of love for a future spouse. The next, you’re wading through samples of Mr. Rogers and cow tipping escapades, or songs like “Secret” and “B.D.O.C.” that hew closer to Struggle Fish, and as a result, feel more pedestrian compared to the rest of the album.
One thing that’s never in doubt, however, is the band’s musicianship. DigHayZoose tear it up on every single one of MagentaMantaLoveTree’s songs. Their playing is tight and precise, even on the album’s weaker moments. Of special note is Phil Schlotterer’s vocals. His wailing reaches Chris Cornell-like levels of throat-shredding on “Slatherage” while “MagentaMantaLoveTree” features a dreamier side and “Diggin’ Away” finds him striking a lounge singer pose.
These days, it often feels like Christian artists, and specifically those working outside the mainstream Christian music industry, tend to refer to their faith subtly or obliquely. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, and indeed, it may be a necessary response to both our current age’s skepticism and the Christian music industry’s proclivity for watered down “positive and encouraging” music. In any case, it’s both strange and refreshing to hear DigHayZoose sing so openly and fearlessly about their faith, albeit with some psychedelic imagery thrown in for good measure.
“Dancing in Concert With the Infinite” opens the album on a worshipful note with Schlotterer singing “Up on a mountain scaled by the praises we sing/Worshiping you God, grace that transcends everything… I want to thank you for your Son you willingly gave/He is alive now bringing me out of my grave.” Later, on “Lift,” the band considers their own mortality and the questions that it raises, while “Doubt” wrestles with… well… doubts (“Well I’ve been waiting for You such a long time/Sometimes I think you ain’t ever comin’ back”).
The album’s lyrics tackle other topics, such as the title track’s aforementioned longing for a wife expressed via imagery from a trippier Song of Solomon (“Blue-green grasses cradle us/Underneath Orion’s Belt as we two melt into sun”), “H8 Machine“ ‘s excoriation of racism, and the groovy environmental concerns in “Black-Eyed Pea.”
Side note: The artwork on the actual MagentaMantaLoveTree CD featured a fetus, and I seem to recall that caused some controversy with certain Christian bookstores and retailers (which were pretty much the only avenues for getting this album back in 1993). It tells you something about the weirdness that was the ’90s Christian retail market when a band so openly and poetically Christian could generate controversy over such a trivial detail.
All “controversies” aside, MagentaMantaLoveTree remains a strange, intriguing, and eclectic nugget of heavy Christian music from the ’90s, the product of a Christian indie/underground scene that sadly doesn’t exist anymore (or even could exist anymore). They might’ve been too ambitious for their own good, but when DigHayZoose was on — as is so obviously the case with “Slatherage,” the title track, and “H8 Machine” — their heavy brand of funk was absolutely righteous.