Madison heavy metal band Last Crack is back

Group will release its first album in 28 years
Madison heavy metal band Last Crack is back

Over the controlled chaos of Todd Winger’s bass, Chris Havey’s drums and the dual guitar assault from Paul Schluter and Don Bakken comes the earnest yowling of lead singer Buddo Xavier Rank. Their sound is even bigger than in 1987 when they were 18- to 22-year-olds in the Madison heavy metal band Last Crack.

These songs, heard through the mixing board at Megatone Studios off the West Beltline Highway, will be on “The Up Rising” — the third Rank/Last Crack studio album and the band’s first in 28 years. Using some drum and guitar tracks recorded a decade ago, the album was “99.5 percent mixed” in early December. The album will be released May 31 by EMP Label Group, an independent heavy metal record label founded by David Ellefson, the bassist for Megadeth.

“It’s what Crack has to do, had to do and just does,” a now gray-ponytailed Rank says from the studio couch about putting out the new record. “Even though 28 years has gone by, if we had recorded a third album within three to five years [after 1991’s ‘Burning Time’], this would be it.”

“It’s just the next logical step,” adds Schluter, co-owner of Megatone, Last Crack’s rehearsal space and home base.

“The Up Rising” is also the next step forward for a band that was considered groundbreaking by fans and critics before early success overwhelmed and broke up the group.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Last Crack was on the verge of commercial rock stardom. Signed by major label Roadrunner Records, they tracked their first album at Prince’s Paisley Park in Minnesota and had the second produced at Eldorado Studios in Hollywood by Dave Jerden — who helped hone the sound of Jane’s Addiction, Alice in Chains and other big rock bands of that era.

If you were among those watching “Headbangers Ball” on MTV in mid 1991, there’s a chance you saw in rotation Last Crack’s “Energy Mind.” The video focuses on Rank, who had the permed tresses and hairless chest required of a lead singer in a ’90s rock band.

On the road, Rank was prone to unpredictable antics at live shows that included starting a fire on stage, throwing his mic stand over the heads of audience members and sitting motionless during half a show until suddenly smashing his stool in the middle of the crowd.

“He got us arrested and detained in three different cities on tour,” Bakken says of Rank.

“It’s sort of cool looking back on it now, but I never liked it then,” Schluter says.

Rank sang in a punk rock band before Last Crack and was known to act out impulsively and emotionally onstage, but he says he was largely responding to pressure from the band’s record company to make shows more exciting. That pressure got to him, he says, culminating in his quitting the band just months after starting a tour of the U.S. and Europe in support of “Burning Time.”

Soon thereafter, original drummer Phil Buerstatte — whose loud personality frequently clashed with Rank’s — also left to join the heavy metal band White Zombie for a couple years. He died in 2013 in his early 40s.

The remaining members of Last Crack marched on, even recording a third album, “Runheadstartscreaming,” with vocalist Shawn Anthony Brown in 1994.

Since then, the members of Last Crack have played in numerous other Madison bands — Muzzy Luctin, Cudasigh, She Might Have a Gun and Magic 7, to name a few.

“We’ve all been in multiple different bands with greater control than we had in this band [Last Crack]. But things haven’t popped for any of those projects,” Rank says, his bandmates nodding in agreement.

In recent years, the near-original lineup of Last Crack (with soundman Havey having replaced Buerstatte) reunited to play shows — most notably by opening a sold-out Bon Jovi concert at the Kohl Center as the backing band for Oregon singer Trinity James in 2005; playing reunion shows in 2009, marking the 20th anniversary of their first album, “Sinister Funkhouse #17” (named after the storage unit in McFarland where the band initially practiced); and opening for Winger and Dokken in Wisconsin Dells in 2016.

Last Crack is back playing metal that is heavier, funkier and more progressive than what the popular “hair metal” or grunge bands were playing in their heyday.

“It was always said that we were ahead of our time,” Schluter says. “If we had made it to a third album, we could have been in that grouping somewhere with all those cool ’90s bands.”

While Last Crack picks up where it left off, a significant difference is that the new music is entirely the property of the band. Back in the day, studio and record label executives controlled the process and owned the final product. In contrast, “The Up Rising” was recorded and mixed by Schluter at his studio, and a GoFundMe campaign raised a modest $8,500 for the album’s production.

“The music’s paid for. It’s already copyrighted. It’s already on ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers]. So all this stuff is ours,” Rank says.

Rank pays his bills primarily as a real estate appraiser, and Bakken, Winger and Havey are all interior house painters. Each is either married or divorced and looking after teenage children.

While several of the guys continue to moonlight in bands other than Last Crack, only Schluter is working full-time as a musician. “I’ve got a recording studio, I play music and and I teach guitar lessons. And now we get to do this again,” Schluter says.

With the band members now all in their late 40s and early 50s, they argue that their new music is the product of maturity and seasoned musicianship.

“It was always a good band when we were wild and raw and immature,” Schluter says. “But we’re all so much smarter and wiser and mellower. And we’re still good.”

Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.