The Australian electronic group Severed Heads has always used video as an integral part of their music. Stephen Jones and Tom Ellard were the pioneers in mixing video with their live performances as well as using video synthesizers. Earlier this year, Tom Ellard (who is the sole member of Severed Heads these days), released “Robot Peepshow”, a DVD collection of updated videos from his most recent releases and live performances, such as “Op” and “Op 1.1” along with “Haul Ass” and “Gigapus”. These videos were crisp, clean, and weird.

The true fans wanted the older videos too. There is a huge back catalogue of LPs and videos that we haven’t seen in years. Albums like “Rotund For Success”, “Bad Mood Guy”, and “Here Comes The Big Bigot” had incredible videos for songs like “Petrol”, “All Saints Day”, “Hot With Fleas”, and ‘Greater Reward”. Tom Ellard and Stephen Jones teamed up again to go through tons of tape and make a DVD compilation. “Paleolithic” is that collection of old Severed Heads videos from 1983 to 1994. And while many of the videos do look dated (especially compared to their later stuff), “Paleolithic” is a must for any true fans of Severed Heads.

Psychedelic and filled with a quirky humor, Severed Heads used many of these videos as background visuals for their live shows, and some may argue that they are not strong enough to stand on their own. However, hardcore Severed Heads fans may beg to differ.

The first video is a Metro TV live performance of “Petrol (live)”. The images are dark and discolored on purpose and the viewer cannot see the expressions on Tom Ellard’s face but this all adds to the synthetic 80s quality of the track, despite lacking the falsetto melody in the second half. The final video in the collection “Dead Eyes Opened” is one of the best. The hypnotic beat is accentuated by the flashing images and the dancing woman (Donna Burnage). “Twister” (from the “Cuisine” LP) is one of the cleaner videos with sharper animation. Unfortunately, it is not the same version as the one on ‘Cuisine”. On this remix version of “Twister”, Tom Ellard whispers his vocals and the falsetto crescendo at the end is gone. Still, “Twister” is an amazing video. “We Have Come To Bless The House” (which is an edited version of a much longer song called “Kato Gets The Girl”) is another example of a hypnotic video. The diamond shape and the different colors can either cause seizures or acid flashbacks.

Some of the videos are interesting because they are the original, older versions of videos that were on “Robot Peepshow” (released last year). “All Saints Day” is a beautiful collage of dancing buildings. The new version is a computerized ballet where the architects dance in the buildings they made. This older version of “All Saints Day” does not have the same precise and sharp computerized animation. Instead, it has patterns, and moving images of the buildings. The dancing Chrysler building was always my personal favorite. While the video has been improved on, this original version is still interesting and should be appreciated. “Greater Reward” is wonderful with the bats doing the moonwalk. Inside the bats, we see moving pistons. Welcome to the mind of Tom Ellard.

“Dollarex” is another video that is shown here in the early stages. On “Robot Peepshow”, the “Dollarex” video is mind-blowing. Here, the video (which was also made with Jason Gee) works but compared the more recent version, it is not as powerful. Alone, the “Dollarex” video is a powerful and satirical look on how society consumes with the help of the media. Both versions of the video are excellent. This original version gives fans a glimpse on how Ellard and the crew have evolved. “Hot With Fleas” is a great video because we a close up of Tom Ellard singing. Fans of Severed Heads know that this does not happen all the time.

Even though wonderful Severed Heads songs back the videos, the viewer may feel they are bombarded by images. “Canine” and “Jetlag” all have this feel. The teeth, skulls, and dogs in “Canine” could possibly drive the viewer mad. The video includes mud wrestling with a piano and an elephant made out of recycled garbage. “Big Car Retread” is an interesting video but the original “Big Car” video (a personal favorite) is absent from this DVD. Instead, we get an instrumental version. The Asian lettering and blue people are especially a nice touch.

“Paleolithic” DVD is for die-hard fans Severed Heads and fans of technology. The booklet included has linear notes for each video written by both Tom Ellard and Stephen Jones. These notes are not only filled with writings about the technology and the equipment but notes on the actual creative process as well as images chosen. It is also interesting to see how the two artists write about the same video.

The one major problem with the DVD is that the videos look and feel dated (hence, the title). Newer videos from “Robot Peepshow” have the potential to age more gracefully. However for fans of Tom Ellard, the ability to watch Severed Heads’ creative development and the rare spectacle of watching Tom singing is worth the price of admission.

Severed Heads
Paleolithic (2004)

Genre: Weird, Techno, Electro
Record Label: Sevcom

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