Since its start four years ago in Los Angeles, GUN CLUB has cast about among the demons that haunt the shadowy side of blues, country, jazz and rock to extract the perverse, the lurid and desperate. Now comes "The Las Vegas Story," providing another gut-wrenching personal exorcism for leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce and a potent exercise in rock fundamentalism for the band.

The new album offers a clearer production of the band's primitive thrash than previously and marks the return of guitarist Congo Powers' elemental slide guitar. With the Blasters' Dave Alvin contributing more precise metallic solos on two songs and Pierce offering the occasional soaring lead, Gun Club remains hooked on the cathartic power of the guitar.

Pierce's singing still ranges from intimate deadpan to outlandish field holler. On "Stranger in Town," he drives Jim Morrison from his grave with a series of bloodcurdling cries that draw close to primal therapy. If Pierce can ever grant his somewhat plodding rhythms and changeless melodies as much color and fire as the ghosts that haunt him, he could make a big difference.

Unlike Gun Club's nightmarish assault, D.C.'s CRIPPLED PILGRIMS favor a much gentler, albeit haunting, musical sound. Their impressive six-song debut, "Head Down -- Hand Out," is full of ornate chordal guitar work, fractured lyricism and spooky vocals. To his credit, Pilgrims' singer-songwriter Jay Moglia lets his plaintive compositions find their own life, drifting from scene to surreal scene and from chorus to chorus. If their music sounds a little like R.E.M., the folksy psychedelia crafted by the Pilgrims has simply wandered onto the same dreamlike terrain.

GUN CLUB -- "The Las Vegas Story" (Animal APE 6006)

CRIPPLED PILGRIMS -- "Head Down -- Hand Out" (Fountain of Youth 008). Both appearing Friday at the 9:30 Club.