Years ago King co-founded Amok, an LA bookshop that sold cult bibles, black magic manuals, murderers’ journals and anything you couldn’t get anywhere else. There he met occultist Nikolas Schreck, whose sensationalist documentary Charles Manson Superstar, weaves the California legend into the seamy fabric of his state’s arcane underbelly, including Pasadena deviant Jack Parsons whose exploits helped laid groundwork for Scientology, the Manson murders and The Process Church Of The Final Judgment, a sect that took the famous bible line, “Love thine enemy,” and extended it to include a reconciliation between Jesus and Satan. “Love Thine Enemy” also happens to be the title of Humor Risk’s scathing opener, whose silvery, stadium organ line snakes through chugging guitar fuzz and competes with chaotic tape crackle, street noise, piano clatter and vindictive lyrics sung through gritted teeth. Only the drummer keeps it straight through the helter-skelter. Skip a track, and lead single “The Same Thing” keeps the high tempo rolling with a West Coast revision of Willie Dixon’s Chicago blues standard of the same name. The song, which declares love and hate to be interchangeable, stars a yin-yang inspired romantic lead in the same white hair, the same black dress…our blood, thicker than broth. Thorn, heroin, L. Ron Hubbard and the rest of the California cult circuit are all there, if you want to find them.
In “Mystery Mail,” a straight-ahead drug bust narrative and the last of Humor Risk’s uptempo tracks, McCombs reprises an old alter ego. Not the only lionkiller in a California State Pen, he sings, throwing a wink at Manson, but McCombs insists, “I’m not the lionkiller. I had a jacket that said lionkiller on it. That’s the closest I came. It’s a Bowie thing. That’s my Ziggy. The lionkiller is a scorpion. It’s an archetype.” A single scorpion sting can knock the king of the jungle dead. This theme of latent, dark power pervades the rest of the record, while the accompanying music does the opposite, seducing with smiling rhythm and jaunt. In this regard, Humor Risk offers a fiery counterpoint to waterlogged Wit’s End, which was also released in 2011, but even at its slowest burn, it goes the long way to achieve the same heartbreaking results.
It’s hard not to assume all this heartbreak is McCombs’ own, especially given the coincidence of his recent marriage and still-pending divorce. At the time of its release, Wit’s End’s precursor Catacombs, was widely accepted to be a wedding album. The direct, heartfelt high featured songs like “Dreams Come True Girl,” “You Saved My Life,” “My Sister, My Spouse” and “Lionkiller Got Married.” In that regard, you can’t help but read Wit’s End as his divorce record, with “County Line” presiding over a wide-open heart’s burial at sea. But with McCombs it’s never a straight story. “I’ve had many relationships since that record,” he says, irritated, “and half of it was written at the same time as Catacombs.” He claims the same of Humor Risk, attributing the bulk of three records to one manic era around the time of his marriage. “Why can’t they be songs about other people’s break-ups?” he counters. “No two lovers are the same. There’s all kinds of love and all kinds of heartbreaks and there are songs for each.”