Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 9): Putrefaction "Scavenger" Ep, 2015

If you ask your next-door neighbour about his favourite contemporary crust bands, Putrefaction are unlikely to come up in the discussion. And the hypothesis is not rhetorical, go ahead, chat him up and you'll see I am right. It is, along other dismaying things like the recent French elections or international shipping costs, one of the many sad truths of our time and I do not have a reasonable explanation for this discrepancy. 

It would be far-fetched to claim that Putrefaction have gone completely unnoticed, as I remember that their 2012 Lp did garner some well-deserved attention, but this wonderful Ep pretty much flew under the radar. If the amount of active crusty metal-punk bands is any indication, it is then sound to assume that Putrefaction's sound is not happening at the wrong time. Could they be at the wrong place, being from Dublin? Yet another instance of the "had-they-been-from-Portland" syndrome? Still, the ever-increasing globalization of punk music through the internet should precisely keep great crust music from remaining relatively unknown and, ideally, foster both a more horizontal way of apprehending music from multiple backgrounds and an urge to discover exciting bands from all over, as vertiginous as it might be given the spectrum of inquiry. But then, the internet also tends to exacerbate pre-existing glorifications of some parts of the scene at the expense of others. We have a window open to the world and yet use it as the mirror of our obsessions. Could the world wide web be the ultimate reflection of this duality? Or has our attention span been permanently damaged by the overwhelming mass of information continuously renewed before our eyes? Or perhaps the name "Putrefaction" sounds too ingrained in death-metal lexical mythology and might scare "da punx" away? 

You should ask your neighbour again, unless he threatened to call the cops the first time. If so, it might be safer to leave him on his own and just leave a note in his mailbox or something.

Putrefaction are friends so I could be a little partial to them but have no fear, I will be just as subjective as usual, prone to defend the crust underdogs against the trendies (that I always picture wearing Fall of Efrafa shirts and Metal Punk Death Squad hats for some obscure reason that even my shrink cannot make sense of). As I remember it, the idea of Putrefaction was born in 2005 in Dublin when Eric (the handsome guitarist/singer, formerly in Easpa Measa and currently also singing for Rats Blood) mentioned that he was thinking of forming some kind of D-beat band under that moniker. Helped in this task by brothers Donal and Eoin, it first came into being with the 2007 Destroyers demo. The demo was a rather raw but promising 8-song effort that gave the listener an idea of what the band was then trying to achieve. It could be roughly described as an aggressive blend of State of Fear-type crust, Hellshock's epic stenchcore style and Repulsion's primitive extreme metal (the punk as fuck Sepultura cover is pretty ace). There were some genuinely good ideas on this one. Though it was partly impaired by a raw punk production, it still conferred the demo some sort of Hellhammer charm, so even if it was not a groundbreaking recording, at least it had the relative merits to sound unpretentiously spontaneous and angry. It did not, however, prepare the unsuspecting listener for the mammoth metal-punk scorcher as unleashed on Blood cult five years later.

To be fair (time for confidences), when the Blood cult Lp came out in 2012, I had almost forgotten about Putrefaction. I do not know how active they were locally between 2007 and 2012, but the truth is that I thought they had basically stopped playing so I was both pleased and surprised when a full album was released on four reliable labels such as Underground Movement (also responsible for the Coitus discography and the brilliant Bullet Ridden album), Distro-Y Records, Phobia Records and Ratbone Records. Without even getting into the songwriting, the progression from the demo is immense. The album has a massive sound and, as tempting as the claim that the musicianship considerably improved appears, it might be closer to the truth to say that the effort is that much more focused and cohesive that it allows the instruments to really shine. Blood cult is a more diverse work which borrows more heavily from the world of extreme metal than the demo. The direct crustcore element is toned down to give room to a more refined death-metal influence that never feels contrived and mechanical. Although Putrefaction's investigative fields are apparent, the band never sounds derivative or generic. More crucially, despite the diverse stylistic additions, the music does not feel disparate and the different phases sound like adhering parts of a smooth whole and not like a bland series. I would argue that this is what makes the album good: it sounds whole. I may not love to death all the elements when taken separately, but as an entity, they all work. On this album, Putrefaction borrowed from old-school death-metal bands like Repulsion or Autopsy, but also from modern metal crust acts like Limb From Limb or Hellshock, from the dark hardcore punk sound of Tragedy or World Burns To Death and the epic cavemen crustcore of Cop On Fire and Consume. The list of possible influences is endless and it would be pointless (and a probable tedious read) to go on, as what really matters here is that the band tied all of these elements in the songwriting with one thing: mood. Whether they go for a brutal death-metal beat or for a mid-paced heavy hardcore moment, the mood remains the compass. Putrefaction sound like a trance-inducing apocalyptic ride into the industrial wasteland as a symbol of the decay of an ever-rotting society. Sure, the hellish bike (it has to be a motorbike, right?) sometimes takes a turn or goes faster but the destination does not change.

When Putrefaction released their Scavenger Ep two years ago, this time I was ready to ruck and when they played in Paris I bought it in a heartbeat (and let me tell you that they were one of the most convincing crust trios I have ever witnessed live). If Blood Cult was a dantean journey to the threshold of Hell's gates, Scavenger can be described as the mad descent into the Inferno itself as it sounds like the (un)natural progression of the Lp. It is a great Ep with memorable clever riffs that never falls into complacency, enhanced with a thick, heavy and aggressive production that is burning and abrasive and never sounds overdone or artificially angry. Superb job on that level. The bass sound is ominous and distorted and confers a crunchy texture to the songs, the guitar has that vibrating, filthy metallic quality but keeps a distinctively hardcore aggression and the drumming is excellent, just at the right level, pummeling but neither buried nor overshadowing everything else. The vocals are hoarse, guttural and aptly expressive of the sense of desperate rage that the band goes for, and, more importantly, they never sound forced or ridiculously grandiloquent. 

Despite the shorter format, Scavenger is still a pretty varied, highly mood-driven work with some delicious hooks in the arrangements and the articulations. "Welcome death" is a crushingly epic introduction to the record, reminiscent of vintage Stormcrow (especially in the textures), Limb From Limb and of a punkified Bolt Thrower; "Wasted time" is a mid-paced dark hardcore anthem (skipping on my copy for some unfathomable reason) that brings Tragedy and Wolfpack's best moments to mind; "After the storm" is an epic mid-00's "gruff-yet-modern" crustcore number that nods towards Cop On Fire and Nuclear Death Terror (with perhaps something of the Spanish D-Beat/crust school as well); finally, "Ballast existence" goes back effortlessly to Stormcrow heaviness and concludes the last ride in style. Although they certainly build on old-school metal and punk (you won't be hearing silly technical blast beats, pseudo screamo atmospheric parts or similar nonsensical atrocities), Putrefaction sound modern in a good way, dark, powerful and epic. They are not openly referential and, in spite of some unavoidable sonic familiarity, write songs that are singular, catchy and strong enough to stand out from the crowd. The lyrics are another definite strongpoint, pissed, genuinely political and carefully written despite their directness, they depict the homicidal and exploitative nature of modern politics instead of rehashing dull doomsday allegories. I particularly enjoy "Wasted time," with words about "A vicious ruling class crucifying the poor. Ireland 2015" that read bitterly familiar in the current era of austerity politics. 

A truly cracking record released on Distro-Y (and still available) that you could argumentatively recommend to your neighbour now (never underestimate the connective power of crust).       

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Interlude: Ελληνική κρούστα's apocalyptic crust epics

Alright then, this is not the next post of the "Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST" series but more of an interlude, a creative break.

I had been toying with the idea of doing a classic Greek crust compilation for a while now and finally got to it. The purpose of this modest compilation is twofold. First, it makes for a bloody amazing crust compilation; second, through its making, I intended to select songs that embodied and epitomized the specific characteristics of the Greek crust sound, so that after you listen to it, you can have a clearer picture of the defining traits of the genre. Because it is a proper crust genre. "Greek crust" does not merely refer to a particular geographical area, it is not just "Crust from Greece", it must actually be understood as a particular subgenre, with its vibe, its patterns, its recurring motives and themes, its aesthetics, its language and its own referential schemes.

Undeniably, Greece was - along with the British initiators and the Californian scene - a crucial, pivotal spot in crust history. Although a lot of the Greek bands remained quite little-known and obscure, the quality and the prolificity of crust there is breath-taking and I do hope that the renewed interest in Greek crust along with old bands reforming and recording again (with great results, let me tell you) will lead to more reissues, articles and, of course, new bands.

There are 22 bands with 22 songs on the compilation, all recorded between 1988 and 2003 as I felt a 15-year span was enough for a panoramic retrospective glance (and besides, an 84 minute comp is fine). I have often heard people complaining that the Greek alphabet is too complicated thus rendering the discovery and memorization of Greek names more difficult so I have included romanized versions of the names as well as English translations (but it makes more sense to try pronounce it correctly, right? After all, punx can pronounce Suomi monikers - badly, I'll give you that). Some of the recordings are a little rough but keep in mind that these were DIY operations. Whenever possible, I used my own rips of the songs and I did try to find the best ones for the other. Anyway, es lo que hay.

The tracklist:

1.Χαοτικό Τέλος (Chaotikó Télos / Chaotic End) « Επιτάφιος Για Νεκρές Συνειδήσεις », taken from  « Πέρα Από Τα Τείχη Της Σιωπής » demo tape, 1991

2.Ρήγμα (Rígma / Rift) « Κρυφή Επιθυμία », taken from « Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας » Lp, 1994

3.Πνευματική Διάψευση (Pnevmatikí Diápsefsi / Spiritual Contradiction) « Σκέψεις Άγνοιας », taken from « Ανεξίτηλα Σημάδια » demo tape, 1995

4.Απολίτιστοι (Apolítistoi / Uncivilised) « Γενοκτονία », taken from « Η Ώρα Του Κυκλώνα Δυο » compilation tape, 1996

5.Ανθρωπινος Ληθαργος (Anthropinos Lithargos / Human Lethargy) « Οι Ασκοι Του Αιολου », taken from « S/t » demo tape, 1992

6.Βιομηχανική Αυτοκτονία (Viomichanikí Aftoktonía / Industrial Suicide) « Η Ζωή Του Θανάτου », taken from « demo # 3 », 1990

7.Μι-άσμα (Mi-ásma / Miasma) « Το Πιο Βρώμικο Παιχνίδι », taken from « Διατάραξη Οικιακής Ειρήνης » compilation Lp, 1996

8.Ανάσα Στάχτη (Anása Stáchti / Ashen Breath) « Κελιά Ανυπαρξίας « , taken from « S/t » Lp, 1994

9.Ανατέλλων Τρόμος (Anatéllon Trómos / Rising Terror) « Μια Ριπή Στο Μέλλον », taken from « Ο Παιδικός Μας Πόλεμος » cd, 2001

10.Ναυτία (Naftía / Nausea) « Συνθετική Εμπειρία », taken from « The Ναυτία Kinky Horror Show » split Lp w/ Graue Zellen, 1994

11.Μάστιγα (Mástiga / Scourge) « Δηλητηριασμένη Γενιά », taken from « Σύνδρομο Άγνοιας » tape, 1992

12. Ψύχωση (Psýchosi / Psychosis) « Ο Δρόμος Της Σφαγής », taken from « Unreleased cd », 1994

13.Ατομική Σχάση (Atomikí Schási / Nuclear Fission) « Τα Σύμβολα Του Μίσους », taken from « Ακροβάτες Στο Κενό » demo tape, 1995

14.Υποταγη (Ypotagi / Submission) « υποδουλωση του αυριο », taken from « Καθοδικη Πορεια » demo tape, 1998

15.Ξεσπασμα (Xespasma / Outburst) «  Μέλλον », taken from « S/t » demo, 1998

16.Σαρκασμος (Sarkasmos / Sarcasm) « αιώνια τιμωρία”, taken from “S/t” demo, 1990

17. Ξεχασμενη Προφητεια (Xechasmeni Profiteia / Forgotten Prophecy) « Οι Αλυσιδες Σου », taken from « All Hail Discordia » promo tape, 1990

18.Πανικός (Panikós / Panic) «  Όλα Για Το Χρήμα », taken from « Όλα Για Το Χρήμα » Ep, 1995

19.Αρνητική Στάση (Arnitikí Stási / Negative Stance) « Έρημος », taken from « Άγγελοι Του Ψεύδους » Lp, 1993

20.Αρνηση (Arnisi / Refusal) « Στερεοτυπη Απαντηση », taken from « Το Ψωμι Να Βγαινει » tape, 1988

21.Πυρηνικός Χειμώνας (Pyrinikós Cheimónas / Nuclear Winter) « Πύργος Καταιγίδων », taken from « S/t » cd, 1997

22.Χειμερία Νάρκη (Cheimería Nárki / Hibernation) « Εφιάλτες », taken from « Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης » Lp, 2003

Because we're becoming lazier with the progress of technology and because for some, downloading a file and clicking four times are apparently colossal tasks that have no place in 2017, I have uploaded the compilation onto youtube (so just the one click). The download link with the wav version is at the bottom of the post.

I hope you enjoy this slice of heavy, apocalyptic, atmospheric crust music as much as I enjoyed compiling it. TRIGGER WARNING: there will be synth parts.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 8): Femacoffin "S/t" Ep, 2014

Until today, I had never given much thought about the semantics of the word "femacoffin". And then, as I was meditating about the band's music (as I always do, occasionally to the point of levitating), it struck me: "but what the hell is a femacoffin?". I tried to figure it out by myself, and thought of possible etymological roots for the prefix "fema" but I could not find any satisfying one. So I did what anyone with too much time on his hands would: I looked it up on the internet. The results were a little unsettling, I must say, for most of the sites referring to "fema coffins" appeared to be heavily into conspiracy theories and these are not exactly my cuppa (litotes for you). But there you go, the online world is the new heart of darkness. From what I understood, fema coffins are ugly disposable things made of black plastic that, though they probably are very convenient if you need to find thousands of ready-made coffins, make for a pretty grim sight. Conspiracists believe that fema coffins (FEMA being the acronym for Federal Emergency Management Agency so you know this lot doesn't fuck about), which were supposedly stocked in camps, are to be used for the body disposal of thousands of political dissenters after martial law is declared in the U$ of A. Yes, it does sound like an Atrocious Madness song. I don't know whether Femacoffin believe in the fema coffin theory or not but I reckon that it is a fitting name for a crust band as it conveys the idea of claustrophobia, anonymity and massgraves. Cheery stuff.

I first heard of the band through Terminal Escape, when the demo tape was posted on the blog. I genuinely liked it and proceeded to order it promptly. Like a simpleton, I had not realized that Femacoffin was a post-Stormcrow band and thus my nebulous amazement at the quality of the songs was left unexplained, shrouded in mystery. Before checking out the line-up, at first, I even thought that the singer was female and listening closely to the demo today, judging solely from the vocals, it was not implausible (right?). It did take to see them live in 2014 to be struck by the truth, and even then, they had to play Stormcrow covers for me to be enlightened. What can I say? There are days when I am just not the quickest. But at least, I could originally listen to Femacoffin (which I shall call FC from now on because it is still a ten-letter word) with an open mind and a fresh ear, unaffected and uninfluenced by the intel that they were - OMG - ex-Stormcrow. But once I knew, this made me ponder actually. Does knowing that "band X" has ex-members of "older well-respected band Y" completely condition our reception of "band X"? Does this piece of knowledge send us in a limited direction and a circumscribed appreciation of a given band? But then, not knowing means that you are going to miss important points and be unable to properly contextualize the band diachronically? And who wants that??? Existential questioning, to be sure.

Getting back to FC, their 2013 demo particularly impressed me with the unpredictability of the riffs and the drummer's natural ability to change beats. The band never really picked the obvious solution in terms of songwriting and it felt good to have a band with a real identity. I am not saying they re-invented crust but I love how seamlessly they integrated elements from sludge, death-metal and doom-metal into the music. In general, I am quite orthodox with my crust and I am suspicious with bands borrowing too heavily from other metal genres, not because I dislike the idea - on the contrary, I feel it is important to try things and widen the fields - but because, more often than not, the balance has not been thought through and the result becomes very mechanical or strays too far away from crust for my liking. So I was thoroughly pleased with FC's tape, it was heavy, very much so, but with an organic, cave-like quality, the riffs were rocking and dark without being cheesy, the drumming was top-notch, song-oriented and diverse and the vocals were desperate and coarse but definitely punky. Of course, the Stormcrow comparison is unavoidable since Brian and Tony were both in the band and the latter's riffing style is unmistakably similar to "Enslaved in darkness"'s (Tony has got a very distinct sound and strumming technique), an Lp whose opening song still sends chills down my spine when it kicks in and one that I have just incidentally realized is almost 12 years old... The other guitar player, Nick, used to play in Sanctum but I do not hear any strong resemblance between both bands other than the Bolt Thrower tonalities. 

FC's vibe is close to Stormcrow's early years, both bands share the same punishing heaviness and magmatic tension but I would argue that FC does not rely as much on atmospherics for their songs are not as long and dilated as Stormcrow's (especially in their later incarnations). I also hear something of late 90's Misery (the split with EOM to be specific), not in terms of sound or songwriting, but for their ability to incorporate smoothly discrete metal elements, and bands like Bolt Thrower (I would even say that FC's use of Bolt Thrower-type riffs and guitar tone is exactly right), 13 and Dystopia are - each on different levels and to varying degrees - other highly relevant points of reference. However, I think the other main source of influence in FC's musical approach can be located in a classic Oakland crust band from the 90's: Skaven. I can already hear the head-scratching of people staring in disbelief at their screen, certain that I have positively lost me marbles, but if you consider both bands' music in terms of vibe and tension, and not just as the sum of correlating instruments, the parallel is sensible. There is a similar atmosphere of lucid dementia pervading the music that is conveyed through the pained vocals, the versatility of the strings and the almost tangible slimy thickness born from the relationship between all the instruments - including the vocals. There are also significant differences, as Skaven were a much more inventive, narrative-oriented band, but still, it does situate Femacoffin in a specific crust tradition.   

The first and only Ep from FC was released in May, 2014, on local Brainsand Records. On this recording, the band switched to a three-piece with Nick only playing on the third song, although FC were back to a four-piece when they played live with the addition of Erika on second guitar. The first riff of the energetically mid-paced "Dismal twilight" exemplifies meaningfully and eloquently Tony's ability with the guitar. The riff is catchy but not stereotyped, it has an undeniable chugging, galloping metallic groove and works perfectly in a loop. The vocals are threatening and expressive, with some reverb, while the drumming is adequately pounding without sounding obnoxious. The guitar sound is filthy but aimful and the all-out boltthrowerish part concluding the song tells you that they could do that all day but would rather use it wisely and pointfully. In fact, the last part of the song illustrates the flowing quality of FC's songwriting and how, in just 90 seconds, they effortlessly (well, so to speak, I am well aware that it does take some work to achieve it) go from their mid-tempo dirty crust epics to a heavy and monumental doom-metal part, then to a short suffocating sludgy interlude and finally to the death-metal epilogue I mentioned above. The key here does not lie in the multigeneric nature of the finale, but rather in how the different parts seamlessly transition with one another. The second song, "Trinity", is faster and globally closer to death-metal, possibly a little too much for my taste and I am not completely convinced with the team work between the guitar and the drums (it could be just me). This song blends with a cover of Icons of Filth's "Midnight" which is introduced by creepy noises (a little like on Antisect's "THEY" or "The moor" from Amebix or what SDS did on "Ameber", you know, that kind of ominous atmosphere), notably the death rattle of Kayako from Ju-on which is undoubtedly the most horrific, frightening sound I have ever heard (seriously). This unexpected prologue to an Icons of Filth song somewhat announces the song's change of mood initiated by FC and turns it into a lugubrious danse macabre made possible by the obsessiveness of the original riff, played here with an almost black-metal tone. The righteous anger is still present in the vocals but it now feels like it comes from the underworld. This is a great cover, not overdone or forceful, which is well adapted to the band's sound thanks to this clever sonic mood change. 

The Ep looks really good. The cover, a smug-looking Apocalypse angel playing the harp and dropping bombs, and especially the backcover, with its lovely reworking of a classic Icons of Filth artwork, were drawn by crust artist Stiv (from Visions of War), while the words of the lyrics were written by Dino from Dystopia in that characteristic fashion of his (I love how it looks but you do need to focus in order to read it). Unfortunately, the band stopped playing not long after the Ep's release, a real shame since I would have been very curious to hear a full album from them, with all the possibilities that a longer format entails.   


Friday, 7 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 7): Swordwielder "S/t" demo tape, 2014

Before unleashing my usual wisdom, I need to get something off my chest. Swordwielder was an obvious choice for the "Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST" series and I suppose the most faithful of my readers (meaning those who purchased the much-coveted Terminal Sound Nuisance membership card which came with a signed picture of yours truly in full Amebix cosplay for the - non-refundable - princely sum of £9,99) saw that one coming. Their music has left a lasting impression on many people - myself included - since they released this demo and not including them here would have been akin to high treason to the crust crown. Still though, Swordwielder. I cannot help thinking how ugly it must sound if you pronounce it with a strong American accent. I realize it is a silly thought, but I mean, /sɔrdwiːldər/ does sound like a bit of a mouthful and I have been trying to utter it like that this morning and ended up giggling like a schoolboy upon hearing a loud fart in biology class. If it can make you feel phonetically better, with our horrendous French accent, we pronounce it something like /swɔʁdwildœʁ/ so you still have it pretty good my North-American friends. 

But why "swordwielder" then? In a rather informative interview for Terrorizer (read it here though I do not get the interviewer's enthusiasm with Fenriz' validation of Swordwielder's music, and nor did the band, but that must be a metalhead thing), when asked about the choice of moniker, the band replied: "who doesn't wanna be a Swordwielder?". I personally do not mind the fantasy of wielding swords although I know perfectly well that I would injure myself badly if I ever tried for real. There is always that medieval reenactment thing (aka traditional European cosplay) but I am not sure I want to hang out with that Manowar-loving crowd. Anyway, that the name refers to the lexical field of ancient battles, pagan warriors and bloody heroic fantasy coheres with crust's visual mythology and its ontological use of allegories to look critically at modernity and it also allows to locate Swordwielder in the specific crust tradition of metal epics (a wide and fluctuant spectrum that goes from Amebix to Bolt Thrower). There is however another answer to the query "why Swordwielder?" that I find more nerdishly appealing. A friend of mine recently asked them that fateful question and "because Axegrinder" was the response. Of course, I like the postmodernist quality of such an exchange based on the shared knowledge of a common set of references that would be utterly unintelligible if taken out of the crust context (though it could be still be enjoyed if you're into Theatre of the Absurd). Besides, from such an answer, the name could then be read as being the logical continuation of "axegrinder" since once the weapon is sharpened, attack becomes possible. Would that make Swordwielder an offensive, more aggressive version of Axegrinder? It could just be paronomastic lucubrations on my part, but approaching SW as a modern reenactment of AG is not unsubstantial. Right?

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first heard of the band, but I suppose it was through Crust Demos in late 2012, a little while after the demo was first released. I do recall being a little suspicious upon noticing their name though and thought inwardly (or, more likely, I threateningly said it out loud): "If you so openly refer to the mighty Axegrinder, you better do it properly". By no means was it the first time that I had come across a band nodding textually toward the londoners (Grind the Enemy and Axebastard are the first ones springing to mind) but paying a tribute to the crust canon is tricky and if you do a half-arsed job of it, magnanimity is not an option. But the demo completely baffled me: it was brilliant. So good that its flaws made it even more lovable. And the best part was that SW came from out of nowhere. Well, not exactly, they are from Gothenburg, Sweden, but what I mean is that this was not a band relying on an "ex-members" list (something which they reasserted in their Terrorizer itw and that I am grateful for). This was just a young punk band with their first four-songs DIY demo and they completely nailed it. That's the spirit. This demo was actually first released in May, 2012, on a cheap-looking cdr - which confers SW 100 additional punk points - and then, in December, on tape thanks to Boneyard records (a label dedicated in heavy metal-punk with releases from Last Legion Alive, Hellisheaven or Mörkhimmel) and on digital files. My own copy is the tape reissue that was released in April, 2014, on Malaysian label Blood of War Records (picking this release date, I therefore tackled SW at the 7th position of this series although the recording is from 2012).

SW is a Swedish crust band that does not play Swedish crust (cracking subject for a dissertation, you've got four hours). I have already written about the development of crust in Sweden and how its old-school avatar (understand Amebix, Antisect and their natural Peaceville successors) never truly materialized over there. You can find exceptions in some Warcollapse records ("Crust as fuck existence"), the sadly short-lived Jesusexercise and, most of all possibly in mid-90's Counterblast. Although the Swedish punk scene has produced a large number of bands affiliated to crust (Skitsystem, Uncurbed or 3-Way Cum come to mind), these mainly built on the national hardcore and metal sounds rather than the UK ones (Doom being a deceptive exception to that statement since they were themselves very Swedish-influenced). But then, when you have Anti-Bofors, Bombanfall or Entombed as a legacy, I suppose it makes sense. SW's sound however does not fit in with the traditional Swedish crust sound and is decidedly rooted in the old-school stenchcore sound.

Let's start with the Axegrinder comparison which is fairly conspicuous. From the atmospheric use of the synth, the thick riffs, the delicate and eerie arpeggios to some obvious emphatic and repetitive drum beats, without mentioning the placement of the double-bass pedal, you can tell that they have been listening closely to "Rise of the serpent men". This said, SW do not aim at recreating Axegrinder's music like a band with a more referential intent would, rather, they pick generously from the Axegrinder bag of crust tricks those that are the most relevant to their own songs. Some ingredients are similar, but the recipe and the oven aren't. It is a different cake. On the whole, SW's songs are faster, more aggressive and not as atmospheric and thick as AG's and the textures are dissimilar and do not serve the same purpose. To a lesser extent, I suppose 86/87-era Deviated Instinct is not an irrelevant point of reference too, especially in the songs' structure and in the way the riffs work together and are arranged so as to create different vibes. In spite of these parallels, I definitely hear more of a 00's sound in SW. Their highly dynamic, epic, almost galloping changes of pace (one of the band's strongest points) remind me of Contagium's mid-tempo moments (they really excelled at these) while their slower apocalyptic parts are not dissimilar to After The Bombs', especially since both bands have two guitars whose orchestration conveys a delectable sense of both doom and heroics, and some of the catchy guitar leads typically bring Hellshock's to mind (SW wisely do not overuse them). All the instruments ride epically in the same direction: the metallic guitar riffs are monstrous, heavy and energetic, the bass is groovy and organic and the drummer definitely has Weetabix in the morning. Because of its rather rough production, the demo displays a genuine primitive, pagan metal feel, enhanced with some occasional and tasteful old-school doom- and heavy-metal elements, that goes perfectly with its almost trance-like rhythmic quality. It sounds both modern and atavistic, reflexive and yet spontaneous.

There is some proper inventiveness at work on the demo. The eerie bass line opening "Shadow," with the sound of rain in the background, is slightly disconcerting at first but works very well at creating a gloomy soundscape. And then you have got that long emotional spoken part at the beginning of "With my dying breath," with a mournful synth melody, the wind blowing and Misery-like guitar arpeggios, and the dramatic monologue keeps flowing from the mouth of an apocalypse preacher resigned to our impending doom, and it should sound cheesy and corny and lengthy but the prosody is so passionate and heartfelt that it incredibly works. Daring move indeed that proves that you can still come up with new ideas and use the crust template creatively. The vocals in SW play an important role in setting up that primitive epic vibe. They are not exaggeratedly gruff, goofy growls or pseudo black-metal piercing howls, on the contrary, they are raw, passionate and desperately angry shouts which confers that threatening punk intensity to the songs, very much like early UK crust actually or even 80's Swedish hardcore. As I mentioned, the production is raw and rather thin, but then it was done in a totally DIY fashion as the band recorded it with Garageband. I would argue that in this case, the rough sound and the relative blurriness of the textures contribute to the dirty primal vibe that permeates and identifies the work. SW re-recorded the four songs for the first album "Grim visions of battle" with a more polished, heavier production that certainly highlighted the subtleties of the songwriting but also changed the overall mood to something more monumental while the demo is all about filthy epics. I enjoy the Lp a lot but it is texturally and narratively a different animal.

The lyrics are appropriately pessimistic and apocalyptic and can make for a lovely afternoon of intertextual crustpunk bingo with lines such as "Recognize your own potential" or "Face, destroy your tormentor". And if you need more proofs that you need this demo, SW use a slimy hairy font for the band's name AND there is a drawing of a one-eyed skull in the booklet, which says it all really.           

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 6): Đornata "Simple, Fast and Good + So What" Lp, 2014

Đornata is exactly the kind of band I go to festival for. I stumbled upon the band last summer at the Monte Paradiso festival in Pula, Croatia, and instantly loved them. I am not going to pretend I had heard of them prior to that gig, but then, the discovery of yet unknown local bands was precisely what prompted me to travel there (well, that and the rather flimsy - it appeared - rumour that you could set camp close to the seaside without too much hassles). Obviously, the presence of familiar faces on the festival's lineup (in this particular case, FUK and Extinction of Mankind) and of bands I was really curious to see (Pizda Materna and Crude SS) comforted and reassured me, but the prospect of watching bands I was utterly clueless about was a thrilling factor and therefore, in order to make the whole thing more exciting, keep an open mind and give a proper chance to all the bands, I chose not to check those I had not heard about before I went. The Monte Paradiso is an old-school punk festival, one that does not go for monomania and instead offers a diverse array of punk music, which is totally fine by me as I usually have troubles with festivals that only have one or two subgenres represented. They always get tedious after the first day and, even though I specifically favour certain types of punk music, I no longer can stand eight crust bands in a row, as good as each one of them is separately.

But on the whole, I am not a huge sucker for festivals anyway. You inevitably get pissed early and you usually have to bear with grindcore bands playing for far too long (without mentioning their contractual encores), survive the apocalyptic state of the bogs after dark and deal with wankers bellowing and bleating all night on the camping site. Call me a diva all you like, I am seldom in the mood for idiots, even when they wear studs, dreads or a mohawk... But let's not digress, I'll tell you all about my fascinating holidays when I write my autobiography (or more likely, when I finally get someone to do it for me). A local friend of mine had told me good things about Đornata and how I would probably like them, which made me both eager to watch them play and, paradoxically, slightly vexed that I had not heard of them before, although I had decided not to on my own. And she was completely right, I did like them a lot and got their record after chatting up to the lads when they were done playing. The rest of the festival was good but Đornata remained my personal highlight because I did not expect to appreciate them that much and because, nowadays, it can prove difficult to be pleasantly surprised and, let's get real, this feeling is unbeatable.

Đornata (it is pronounced something like "Djornata") are based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and have been playing since 2012 according to their website. The drummer, Gaber, also sits behind the kit for the national grindcore heroes, Extreme Smoke 57, while vocalist/bass player Dan (who has been in quite a few bands apparently) and guitar player Lisko had already teamed up together in Wasteland, an interesting mid-tempo dark metallic crust project, somewhere between Warcollapse's slow moments, Misery, Intoxicate and Bad Influence, but with a modern twist. The recording dates on the Lp are not indicated (or maybe I just did not get the insert or the memo, which is plausible) but seeing as it was released in March, 2014, I suppose that 2013 is not such a wild guess (thanks fuck Captain Obvious was whispering in my ear on this one). There are actually two different recording sessions on the Lp, each corresponding to a side, as the first one contains the "Simple, fast and good" Ep while the other includes the "So what" Ep. It is unclear whether these Ep's saw the light of day in physical format before the Lp's release, for all I (and discogs) know there could have been cd or tape versions of them or just digital releases. Angry Voice, from Germany, a label with a focus on international punk music (they also released records from Antimelodix, Los Rezios, Mutabo, NoWhiteRag among others) was responsible for putting out the vinyl.  

Live, Đornata's music screamt eurocrust so I was looking forward to seeing how they had managed in the studio. Despite an undeniable crust element, "Simple, fast and good" does not dive head first into the genre like their live performance could have suggested. This first Ep is actually pretty diverse and cross over genres with an ease, a distinctly punk energy and a noticeable snotty enthusiasm that are refreshing and bring the 90's to mind. The production is very dynamic and clear but not needlessly heavy (it is arguably lacking in power sometimes). I suppose I was expecting the songwriting to be more strongly inclined toward eurocrust but I do enjoy the versatility as it remains coherent. I am sometimes reminded of early Patareni, not in terms of sound as they were much rawer, gruffer and grind-oriented, but for the ability to switch from a register to another while keeping a sense of focus (there is actually a Patareni cover on this side of the Lp). The main direction of the nine songs included on "Short, fast and loud" is still European fast crust à la Warcollapse/Hiatus/90's Doom, but there are punky grindcore numbers too and even a demented-sounding song called "Funky-punky". Clearly, Đornata are not a one-trick pony and their obvious technical proficiency (the top-notch pummeling drumming and the inventive bass lines point to strong musicianship) open possibilities that they joyfully embrace on this one. One could suggest that this kind of manic structural songwriting was influenced by bands such as Panic Overdose, a mid/late 90's Slovenian band - whom Đornata covers on the second Ep - that frantically blended raw hardcore, crust punk and grindcore (there were quite a few similarly-disposed bands in the Balkans in the 90's), or perhaps Polish crust acts like Infekcja or Toxic Bonkers. The bass parts are quite fascinating on this recording, very catchy and punky, somewhere between proper noisepunk and Patareni, while the bass sound is high and undistorted. The vocal work maybe stands as the Ep's cynosure to me. The voice is deep, hoarse and gruff, crustness incarnated (like Warcollapse singer's for instance), but can also maintain a sense of - dare I say it - tune when needed, on the song "Marchin in" for example, not unlike Ste's from EOM or Ralphyboy's from Disassociate. "Simple, fast and good"is a mise en abyme: it is simple, fast and good (simplicity pertaining to the composition).

In terms of sound, "So what" can be seen as the logical progression from the first Ep. The production is heavier, punchier and has that sweeping, buoyant quality that defines eurocrust. Texture-wise, this is definitely a crustier effort, and even though songs like "Kill" or "Punk" still retain a crazy Balkan grindcore feel, the sonic crustification combined with some clever ventures into mid-paced dark crust make "So what" stand out. The vintage Warcollapse feel remains important, and I still hear something of Polish crust in the riffs (think How Long? or Infekcja) but the influence of Belgian and Dutch crust is more pervasive, with bands like Hiatus (the eponymous song is a case in point of Hiatusitis, a medical condition that used to be common among punx in the 90's), Fleas and Lice (especially vocally), early Visions of War or even the protocrust, raw hardcore sound of Private Jesus Detector. As the number of covers demonstrate, Hiatus had a huge influence on Balkan crust in the 90's so the fact that Đornata work on that type of sound, probably best embodied by the truly excellent Spiridon Mekas Crust from Croatia at the time, makes sense (though it should be pointed that it had slowly become marginal in the area like everywhere else).

The two mid-paced songs "Why?" and "Squat" particularly caught my attention as they confer an additional dimension to the recording. "Why?" is a dark number with sung (but still deep and coarse) vocals reminiscent of the anarchopunk branch of the crust family. It is a really catchy song with a moody twist, not unlike Bad Influence jamming with Fleas And Lice after listening to Saw Throat all day. "Squat" is melancholy but ragingly so. It starts in a slow fashion with a rather mournful bass lines and Warcollapsish gruff spoken words before the chorus bursts into an excellent, intense, potent Anti-System/Antisect riff with hoarse, bear-like screams of anguish. I am not completely convinced with the emotional-sounding break at the end, but then they are always difficult to pull out (Jobbykrust were experts in those). "Why?" and "Squat" are two really solid songs that turned what was essentially a classically good eurocrust Ep (I would have signed for that anyway) into a highly promising crust one. Like on "Simple, fast and good", the bass is the focal point in the songwriting and in spite of the uncommonness of its lines and sound for the genre, I tend to think that it brings something more to the table and gives the song some extra dynamism instead of the usual layer of heaviness, which is an interesting option. The drumming is tight and song-oriented; the balance between the bass and the guitar's textures is adequate and stronger than on the previous effort. And of course, the vocals ideally cover every nuances of the 90's eurocrust repertoire, from gruffest savage growls to threatening doomy moans (what an ace alexandrine, right?).

I have read that Đornata had something coming out soon so I am definitely looking forward to seeing where they will take their band of crust and how they will transcribe in the studio what I have recently seen them do live. Breath held.      


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 5): Παροξυσμός "Οι Θεοί Της Λήθης" Ep, 2013

Throughout the years, punx borrowed more than a few significant concepts from metalheads. Things like high-pitched guitar solos, embroidered patches, lengthy song titles or even tuning (perms have been mostly avoided so far, which I am grateful for). Or like that oxymoron everybody knows but that few know it is one: one-man bands. I cannot think of many pre-00's solo projects in the realms of crust (I am not including the noisecore subgenre in this statement, which has its own long-rooted tradition of noise-making loneliness) but there have been quite a few instances in the past 15 years, covering mainly - but not exclusively, like Besthöven can gloriously attest - the most metal-tinged punk subgenres or diverse shades of solitary D-Beat. In general, these companionless endeavours into punk music (and metal really) remain studio experiments as it is just one geezer playing all the instruments by himself. This type of studio-only one-man band must not be confused with quintessential one-man bands that are keen on playing live but these are very rarely of the crust/grind variety (with some particularly memorable exceptions however, especially in France) and are more often musical performances, happy hippie folk punk or Béruriers Noirs wannabes. But enough sociolectal convolutions already. All this to stay that Παροξυσμός (aka Paroksysmos) is a one-man band.

I am not sure about where I stand on one-man bands. On the one hand, the inherent absence of a proper group dynamics in the music-making process can be seen as a downside and the music becomes very much personal and personalized (that and the fact that the artist may not necessarily be as proficient in all the instruments). On the other, a one-man band implies another way of writing music and can result in a very focused, cohesive, uncompromising result (assuming the technical abilities allows the creator to do so), especially if you are a particularly obsessive person who likes to write music on one's own and cannot be arsed with the bass player always showing up late at rehearsals or with the drummer's tendency to add double bass parts whenever someone is not looking. A one-man crust band is a tricky business but it also implies a love and dedication to the music that I find admirable and a literal application of the DIY spirit. The lovely bloke responsible for Παροξυσμός is Βαγγέλης (aka Vangelis) and he is from Greece (you had figured this one out, hadn't you?), Athens to be specific.

I think I first heard about Παροξυσμός on Crust Demos, a blog that focuses in reviewing and promoting new demos from crust/grind/d-beat/noisy bollox acts with a tireless, almost masochistic, energy that is awe-inspiring. But it was not the first time I had come across Vangelis' passion for gruff crust (grust?) since, prior to Παροξυσμός, he had another one-man band called Diseptic that released a split tape with Wormrot in 2008, a grindcore band from Singapore that recently recorded an album for Earache. To be honest, there are few actual similarities between Diseptic and Παροξυσμός and, if I hadn't known beforehand that they both had the same Frankenstein, as well-trained to the arts of crust as my notorious ears might be, I would have been clueless. To be brief, Diseptic sounded like a boisterous street brawl between Disrupt and Warsore, one that was rather enjoyable if you like the discipline (I do) and more generally if you are interested in music that sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned sewer. I have no idea what happened in the ensuing years, between the death of Diseptic and the birth of Παροξυσμός, but a demo of the latter, entitled "Χημικά Κατάλοιπα" (or "Chemical residues") emerged in digital format in mid-2013.

Not really craving to be in touch with the passions of the populace, I am quite unfamiliar with the ways in which today's commoners declare themselves. Rumours of selfies and snapchats have reached Terminal Sound Nuisance's ivory towers but they were only met with appalled bemusement and circumspect stupefaction. I do know one thing though, that if someone had given me "Χημικά Κατάλοιπα" as a present, I would have married that person on the fucking spot. The effects of Greek crust's seductive power are that strong. Forthrightly put, Παροξυσμός is basically a one-man tribute to vintage Greek crust and thrashy hardcore and there is a profoundly romantic idea behind this concept that greatly appeals to me (granted, I am a huge sucker for that sound and therefore utterly partial). I have already written about Greek crust on several occasions (when dealing with Ρήγμα, Ανάσα Στάχτη and Πανικός) so you might already be aware of my stance on the subject and how I consider Greece to have been one of the three most important places crust-wise in terms of quantity, quality and creativity for almost a decade. So of course, when I read about a band trying to recreate that sound, I was about as excited as a gran at a Julio Iglesias concert.

Upon hearing the demo, I must confess that I initially and wrongly thought a drum machine had been used on the recording, which gives you an indication of the metronomic tightness of the drumming. I guess you could say Vangelis is a human drumming machine then. The mastery of the rhythm section is truly impressive and there are moments when the skills really shine but fortunately never so much as to overshadow or suffocate the songs and the other instruments and, overall, we are still in raw crust territory. "Χημικά Κατάλοιπα" adds an old-school grindcore influence (akin to Filthy Christians or Unseen Terror for the thrashiest bits) to the traditional apocalyptic crust sound of Greece, a recurring trait in Παροξυσμός' work. Despite some production flaws (keep in mind that it is a demo) this first recording conveys a sense of focus and direction that is impressive. The riffs are excellent, simple in themselves but always adequate and powerful, dark and aggressive without feeling too intentional and, if the guitar sound lacks a little crunch, the texture is still right. The drumming offers plenty of variations, yet never overdoes them or overwhelms the listener. On the whole I feel the balance is good because of the songs' strength and of the thought-out articulate simplicity of the riffs. The vocals are absolutely crushing and you sometimes wonder if you have not come across an unreleased session from Χαοτικό Τέλος or Ξεχασμένη Προφητεία. They are hoarse and gruff but distinguishable, with that sense of forwardness and anger inherent to the Greek crust sound, sounding pessimistic yet combative.

I loved that demo to death and was clearly not the only one as it was released on a proper Lp in late 2014 by Scarecrow records (a strong Greek label that puts out new bands as well as reissues) and Weird Face Productions with "Χημικά Κατάλοιπα" on one side and (wait for it, wait for it) a tribute to classic Greek crust on the other, with top-shelf, flawless covers of Ναυτία, Ανάσα Στάχτη, Χαοτικό Τέλος, Άρνηση, Μάστιγα and Ξεχασμένη Προφητεία. Absolute Greek crust porn that pretty much made my year. To say that I was looking forward to a follow-up to the demo is an understatement and it came in the shape of the "Οι Θεοί Της Λήθης" Ep (it translates as "Gods of oblivion" in English) in December, 2013, thanks to Scarecrow, Weird Face, No Sanctuary (from Poland), Now or Never and Sabrota DIY (both from Greece). Unfortunately, the vinyl pressing was not exactly smooth and it ended up sounding too compressed and rough (which is why, on Vangelis' request, I included my own vinyl rip as well as the much better-sounding wav versions from the bandcamp in the file). I personally do not dislike the actual sound of the Ep, since it is the one I am accustomed to but truthfully, the files available for download on Παροξυσμός' bandcamp are far superior.

"Οι Θεοί Της Λήθης" contains six songs and is the logical continuity of the demo, a solid notch above it. Despite the Ep format, it displays a sense of narration and wholeness through the use of an intro and an outro (of sorts) that I find fitting for the genre. The opening minute of the opening eponymous song is made up of a rather thin-sounding, almost fragile and vulnerable, melancholy guitar part with the sound of thunder and falling rain in the background. It is not spectacular in itself but it works perfectly since it puts an emphasis on the following dark and groovy mid-paced crust that brings that threatening sense of epics that one traditionally associates with Greek crust, somewhere between Celtic Frost, Axegrinder and Antisect. The outro to the record is a marvelous instrumental metal crust number reminiscent of Coitus, Ξεχασμένη Προφητεία and more specifically nodding toward the immense Ψύχωση, who managed to pen hard-hitting, heavy, atmospheric crust instrumentals in the mid-90's (and it's not that easy when you think about it). Sonically, Παροξυσμός is perhaps thrashier and grindier than its crust forefathers and I am hearing a distinctive early grindcore influence (like Terrorizer or Filthy Christians) and, closer to home, riffs and arrangements that bring Πνευματική Διάψευση and Βιομηχανική Αυτοκτονία to mind. The mood is firmly rooted in the crust side of the force though and I would argue that the superb and diverse drumming musicianship (the beat variations and accuracy in the execution are breath-taking and almost machine-like at times), instead of dispersing and fragmenting it, which sometimes happens with too much technicality, serves and enhances that crust vibe. The riffs are dark, heavy and purposeful, familiar and correlating with the Greek crust canon but without ever being derivative. The guitar sound goes in that same direction, it has an appropriate texture, dirty and aggressive with a heaviness that is closely tied with the composition. As I mentioned, the vocals are to die for if you are into that type of sound (and if you are not, you may leave your Crust Membership card on the desk on your way out. Thanks for your cooperation.). They are highly reminiscent of Χαοτικό Τέλος and the likes, not only in their texture but also in how they flow and fit with the music, how they specifically convey anger, how confrontational and monumental and yet how spontaneous and vital they sound like. Just brilliantly done. On the whole, you could relevantly approach this Ep as a meaningful reactualization of the 90's Greek crust sound, which it uses as a clay, and of its creative spirit through the innovative insertions of grindcore elements, and the fact that it was a one-man operation possibly smoothens this process.

The foldout cover of "Οι Θεοί Της Λήθης" is a lovely, DIY-looking poster depicting an adequately morbid cut'n'paste design. The lyrics are mostly about religious and alienation, which is reflected in the cover which has an angry-looking Jesus whipping a poor bastard and whose overall aesthetics are, I feel, strongly reminiscent of 90's crust for the boldness. Following this Ep, Παροξυσμός released a top notch split Ep with Doomed Again in 2014 and a full album last year, entitled "Σἠψη Γενεών", that comes highly recommended. It might be even faster than the band's previous works and the lineup has changed as Vangelis is now helped in his crust quest with two actual persons on the guitar and the bass which has allowed Παροξυσμός to play live recently. A really strong Lp with a different but good production.    

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 4): Instinct of Survival "Lapsed into absurdity" s/sided flexi, 2013

Back on tracks after a short break due to a mean-spirited and acute maxillary sinusitis that has reduced me to a constant state of useless grumbling and migrainous self-commiseration. Despite what the doctor said, I was pretty sure I was going to die in excruciating pain, but when I woke up this morning I felt kinda alright, so I suppose I wrote down my last wills and testament in vain yesterday night. Bummer. My head still hurts enough to make me feel that I have been punched all night by an angry twat, but it is surprisingly manageable (the painkillers always help though). And besides, I have been looking forward to write about Instinct of Survival properly since I had the idea for this series. So piss off Sinusitis.

Let's put something straight first: I am a huge sucker for Instinct of Survival. This unrestrained passion takes its roots in the past decade and I can remember the exact time I figuratively fell arse over tit for them: the 2005 Yellow Dog Festival in Packebusch. We were staying in Berlin with some mates that summer and had thought of going to that open-air festival as it had a lot of hard-hitting bands and who doesn't enjoy being deafened by blast beats at 4pm while enjoying a warm lager? The headlining band was To What End? and Sweden had sent a rather large delegation to Packebusch with Uncurbed, Bombstrike, Massgrav, Reign of Bombs and Black Star Rising being also on the bill (reflecting upon the line-up makes me realize how much times have changed since then). Everyone was looking forward to TWE? and I remember them to be rather good live even though they took ages to instal and tune their three (yes, three) guitars together. Listening to their material more than ten years later, their highly polished sound feels quite dated, but then most bands who were going down the "melodic hardcore/crust" path at that time haven't exactly aged so well. Or maybe they just stand as bands of their time, and there is nothing wrong with that, as all bands do to an extent, and the nostalgia industry just hasn't hit the lounge crust (or lounge mangel in TWE?'s case) market yet. For all we know, there could be an epicrust revival in 2025, as ominous and sinister as it might read.

I don't remember much of the other Swedes. Bombstrike were very heavy, Uncurbed very fun and Massgrave very (VERY) fast. Of course, there were many German bands as well at this event, some that completely went over my head like Keitzer or Mörser (at that time I was completely unfamiliar with the genre, though I did buy a Keitzer tape that I have probably listened to twice since), others that were thoroughly enjoyable tight grindcore acts like Crude BE, Cyness or Infanticide (or Spain's Looking For An Answer) and one in particular, Room 101, that was a very pleasant surprise, dual-vocals metallic anarchocrust, whose 10'' I remember getting. But to me, the real highlight of the festival were Hamburg's Instinct of Survival and quite unexpectedly so. Before we embarked on our journey of tomfoolery East of the border, I had checked the Packebusch line-up and tried to find songs of all the bands that were planned to play there. I was able to find an IOS mp3 (possibly on the website of the Yellow Dog label), and well, they sounded like what I thought Yellow Dog bands mostly sounded like, fast and grindy. So when they took the stage at the festival, that is what I was expecting. It was not very late in the evening and I was already a bit tipsy (not unlike them actually, judging from their demeanour) but I can still distinctly remember the moment during their first song when I realized that, contrary to my expectations, they were playing proper old-school crust. It was too good to be true and I was frantic. To my knowledge, bands that were going for that specific sound, one that was steadily growing to become my favourite then, were few and far between. You had old-timers like Extinction of Mankind and Misery (Warcollapse had not yet started to play again), bands like Filth of Mankind, Χειμερία Νάρκη, Effigy and obviously Hellshock, but that was it. And here I was, witnessing an amazing performance of crunchy, groovy and tense CRUST from a band I virtually did not know, or rather from a band I did not know in that configuration. After they played I rushed to ask one of the members (the one that looked the least drunk I think) if they had something out with that new sound. "Not here and now, but soon," was the reply. From that moment on, upon returning home after a month of having Sternburg and dumpstered bread for breakfast, I checked the internet almost on a daily basis on the lookout for some news about IOS and consistently raved about them to everyone and anyone who would (or even wouldn't) listen. "They are the real deal, crustier than crust itself, and just wait until they released something and you'll see I'm right" became my motto.

By the end of 2005, the so-called "stenchcore revival" was officially in full bloom with the release of Stormcrow, Sanctum and After the Bombs' first records and I suppose that many took the IOS/Guided Cradle split Ep, that saw the light of day in mid-2006, as just an additional petal to this new modern crust flower. But was it really? Listening to the early IOS period, their eponymous 2000 Ep and especially some songs from the 2004 split with Wojczech, you could already spot that brand of groovy metal riffs that would become the band's trademark in the late 00's. From the start, the new IOS felt like punks who had grown up listening to 90's eurocrust and were keen on taking on its more metallic anterior entity. I am not going to delve too much on this glorious late 00's period. Suffice it to say that they were the best European crust band of that decade, taking the crunch of British bands like Deviated Instinct, Hellbastard, Napalm Death and Concrete Sox, the apocalyptic versatility of Misery, the gloominess of late Nausea and early Extinction of Makind and infusing it with the old-school death-metal of Autopsy, IOS didn't use this set of old-school influences to merely play the crust bingo, but to write actually GOOD songs. The influences served their songwriting, rather than the other way around, and that is why their releases are so strong. Their technical proficiency notwithstanding, there is a genuine drive to write riffs and songs that are heavy and catchy, diverse but cohesive tempo breaks that enhances the whole without sectioning it, vocal arrangements that are complementary and memorable rather than monotonous (the dual vocals in IOS are particularly interesting on that level, with Kalle's going for the gruff-yet-discernible crust texture while Padde's sound more evil and almost death-metal)... Basically songs that you can hum to (or whistle to, if you're good at it, I'm really not), that provides the listener with an immediate appreciation as top-shelf crust music but that you can also appreciate through time for what they are intrinsically: great songs.

Fast-forward to late 2013. On a cold Autumn night I learnt, out of the blue, that IOS had a new record out. I cannot remember what I was doing, probably arsing around on the internet, but that was news I no longer expected since the band had been silent record-wise since the 2010 "Screams of suffering" Ep. As is often the case with bands I love unreasonably, I started to fidget like a demented squirrel, sweat profusely, blame the whole world for not telling me and look through the internet for a copy that I eventually impulse-bought without even thinking of giving the songs a listen beforehand. It was IOS and nothing could go wrong. This record was the single-sided flexi "Lapsed into absurdity" released on Doom To Extinction, a very worthy label also responsible for records from Asocial Terror Fabrication, Nakot, Contagium and more recently, Dead Cult and Ulcer. Now, I must make a confession. I am really not that into single-sided records, meaning that I actually always feel a little ripped off by the missing side (more so with single-sided Lp's than Ep's), and I am not huge on flexis either as they can be capricious little rascals that sometimes just won't be played, and to my greatest embarrassment, the music files included in the download link are from the band's bandcamp as my turntable just refused to play my copy of the flexi despite numerous and strenuous attempts on my part to make it work (it was not a pretty sight as I spent almost an hour thinking about clever devices to read the fucker but ended up defeated, or rather, old, lonely, embittered...). So thanks a lot flexis of the world (but the scans are homemade of course).

My first reaction upon holding the record in my trembling hands was, first, one of satisfaction with the darkly evocative cover  - gone are the cheesy crust drawings - depicting a row of disintegrating stone faces with gaping mouths acting as pathways to nowhere. The second reaction, upon opening the foldout and gazing at the inner drawing, was one of bewilderment. Had they gone Japanese? This was Crashercrust Aesthetics 101 and I certainly didn't expect that, though I didn't dislike it either, far from it. Then looking at the label on the actual flexi, I noticed the ambivalent drawing of a hand emerging from a seemingly angry sea (executed in a Japanese style again). Even before playing the record (back when it was still an option...) you could sense that IOS had somewhat changed and that a sense of gloomy melancholy was pervading the wrapper.

"Lasped into absurdity" is made up of two songs and one outro that the band recorded themselves in May, 2013. The production is quite raw and foggy, far from the brutal sound of their precedent records, which was a little unsettling at first but that can be accounted for by the fact that they recorded it on their own. Taking into consideration the change of mood, I think it works very well here as it confers the songs a claustrophobic, eerie yet organic atmosphere, one of confinement and inner madness emphasized by the deceptive warmth of the sound. The mood of IOS' music has indeed shifted and you can hear it from the second part of the very first riff, which would have been written differently just a few years prior. The filthy, all-out crust crunch has given way to more darkly mournful tunes. The heaviness is still present but is expressed through texture and evocation rather than aggression. The guitars have that same vibrating, pulsating quality but the feeling is different, more woeful, sullen and introspective, the drumming is less metallic and more tribal and goes well into postpunk territory as times, while the vocals are more sung, keeping the gruff quality but actually going for some tunefulness. Strictly speaking, and as corny the term might sound, this is postcrust. The übercrust vibe of IOS did not disappear but was now balanced with heavy goth guitar leads and beats, not unlike what Zygote crucially did in the late 80's. Structurally the riffs and the songwriting haven't changed dramatically, one gets the feeling that they express a different aspect of a similar thing or a different version of a same story. Like everyone I suppose, this flexi confused me at first but, when I focused properly on the songwriting, I was still hearing that IOS vibe I loved so much and recognized their propensity to write good songs. Musically I was reminded of early Extinction of Mankind (especially "Baptized in shit" that has some guitar riffs not so dissimilar to "Lasped into absurdity"'s) meeting Smartpils and their heavy style of Killing Joke tribal anarchopunk, or even of Coitus, who penned some genuinely dark and moody numbers in their days. And anyway, there is some synth on "The blue distance" (the outro) and everyone should know the equation by now: crust + synth = top-shelf.

When this came out, and even more when the "Call of the blue distance" Lp did the following year, I read numerous comments about IOS and how they were "jumping on the postpunk bandwagon" and "not real crust anymore". Being blamed for following a trend is, in "the scene", one of the gravest accusations, only second place to being a poser (this one being assessed according to the number of studs, tats, ingested drugs and showers of a given punk). I cannot say I am that surprised with such reactions although I do not condone them as they denote more intellectual laziness and absence of self-reflexivity than an actual thought process. Yes, postpunk (or dark punk or whatever it's called this week) has been fashionable in the first half of the 10's and yes, IOS did use clearer guitar sounds, goth-tinged leads and drum beats and they even - may the Stenchcore Gods forgive them - sing sometimes. But, in terms of vibe and songwriting, they are still a crust band playing crust music. The mood and sound are more melancholy and they borrowed from another punk subgenres but then, isn't it what crust has always done? And isn't crust originally precisely the result of such an ontological move, punk borrowing from metal in order to create something new? And after all, from a diegetic point of view, the incorporation of Zygote/Smartpils elements is relevant with the crust mythology. It feels silly to state the obvious, but punk (and yes, crust too if you understand it as a vibe, a creative tension rather than just a template) needs to be multidimensional in order to be interesting and stimulating, and there have been - and hopefully will be - potent examples of bands unafraid of injecting crust with some outside elements to great results (apart from Iowaska, who would have thought psychedelic crust could work?). But then, if "crusties" are just content with listening to the same old Bolt Thrower rip-offs, what can you do? As IOS put it in the song "Lasped into absurdity": "In the soil of your complacency / Germinates the seed of our bitterness".

"Lapsed into absurdity" can be seen as a transitional record, one that ties "North of nowhere" with "Call of the blue distance," like a connective hyphen. Taken strictly by itself, although the two songs are really solid, the flexi still does feel a little incomplete - and I had second thoughts about including the flexi in this series - but from the perspective of IOS' story, it makes a lot of sense. It has a primal, incantatory quality that makes you crave for more and I wish "Call of the blue distance" had kept a little of that earthy sound in the production (that is my sole concern with the album). Lyrically, the content fits with the form. "Lapsed into absurdity" is about self-delusion, self-proclaimed superiority and bitterness, while "What will you do?" deals with bitterness, disillusion and meaninglessness.

And on a side-note, do yourself a favor and give a proper listen to Kalle and Padde's side-project, Psychotic Mind Battle. Their "Cleansing" demo from 2013 is a brilliantly brutal, over-the-top, gruff cavemen crust effort and definitely one of the best I have heard this decade in the "Extreme Noise Terror" category.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 3): Claustrophobia "Sobre las ruinas de la civilizacion" cdr, 2013

"Has nostalgia ever been more profitable than it is today?"  

This thought crossed my mind while I was doing the dishes today, an activity that, for some reason, I actually really enjoy for it allows to ponder and reflect upon things. I had just read some kind of corny and predictable mainstream article about how "old-school" - if not almost disgustingly "vintage" - the early 00's were, and it bothered me, probably more than it should have, but it did leave me with a feeling of unease. It seems that, although we live longer, because of the insanely constant technological innovations, things and ourselves ironically get symbolically old far quicker. With technology becoming so entangled with generational cultural practice and identity, a decade-old device is already seen as somewhat belonging to another time, like a relic or an artifact that will become valuable again as soon as its actual relevance and convenience are obsolete. The past has never been so recent and nostalgia is a flourishing business. To see twentysomethings bemoaning the disappearance of shite mp3's is quite baffling if you think about it. But I suppose that, faced with change and its dramatic speed, we all tend to reminisce about the past (even if it is objectively and chronologically close) with rose-tinted spectacles and boast about it, especially since our epoch glorifies even the most trivial of a consensually sanctioned past. I personally blame our own compulsive narcissism, the masochistic obsession with ourselves and the modern propensity to dramatize our egos...

And then I was basically done with the dishes and I made myself some coffee. I am not prone to nostalgia and I don't think things were better before. Some things were but other sucked and I generally prefer to think about it in terms of cycles and circularity rather than linearity because it feels more sensible and because it makes me look smart (or a smartass, depending on your perspective). But of course, just like everyone, it happens that I have Proustian madeleine moments and the acquisition of Claustrophobia's demo was a delicious one (you didn't seriously believe that my directionless rant would not serve an introductory purpose, did you?).

I remember it very clearly. It was in October, 2013, and La Fraction, Klee Benally and a band called Gerk were doing a benefit gig in Paris. I was, obviously, familiar with La Fraction, a band I have always enjoyed, but I was rather intrigued by Gerk. It said "Crust Punk - Argentine" on the flyer and, since the glorious days when crust bands would happily cross paths with the French capital had been over for quite some time, I was enthusiastic about seeing Gerk, a band I had never heard of. And they played a fine show, undeniably, very intense and energetic, and they were wearing gorgeous lucha libre masks which made me like the performance even more (I am a wrestling nut and I have no shame) and fear that one of them was going to pass out because of the heat. Were they a crust punk band? Absolutely not. They certainly delivered a tight set of super fast angry hardcore with a lot of tempo changes but the music was pretty much crust-free (truth be told, the crust genre is so misunderstood in France that a lot of people cry "crust" as soon as they hear harsh vocals and fast music...).

Being in a rather good mood, I decided to take a look at Gerk's distro. You do not get to see Argentinian hardcore punk bands play every week and I wanted to see what they had brought on tour and, maybe, get a record or two, to support the band. So I was browsing through the cd's (they were mostly cd's as I recall it) and then, out of nowhere, I bumped into this one.

The crust detector went mental...

As you know, I am a crust fanatic and, although I have grown far more demanding and rigorous with my crust with time, I have a fondness for the old-school take on the genre that is unbreakable (to the point of silliness, I will be the first one to admit that). I was awestruck. There was a band, obviously of the metal crust variety, that had a cd with a cover saturated with crust references, that I had never even heard of or read about. I am not saying that I know every crust band in existence, since that would be impossible and, honestly, rather unpleasant when one considers what passes as "crust" these days, but I do pride myself in being quite knowledgeable about the old-school crust subgenre (or stenchcore, if you like). Now, I realize that it sounds like a terrible pick-up line and I would be the first to run for cover upon hearing it in real life. But I nevertheless spend a lot of time scouting the merciless world of the internet for quality crust music, often getting knocked out but always getting up again. But there I was, confronted with an enticing band I knew nothing about, but which was, looking at the rather cheesy "crustier than crust" cover, clearly right up my proverbial alley. And I absolutely loved that feeling. It took me back a few years before, back when the internet had not yet spoiled the mystery and the excitement of discovery, in those years when I was gleefully clueless about crust and looked starry-eyed at distro tables, asking the person running them what this or that band sounded like, then proceeded to read the thank lists to see if I could spot familiar names and then watched the artwork closely to check for actual clues about the musical content. The method was not infallible, by any means, and some bands had names that could trick you, like Anarcrust, who were not really crust (I have made peace with them but it did take some time), but I was enthralled to bring home records from bands I had never listened to, not quite sure if I was going to like them or not.

Of course, if I didn't check a band's sound all the time before getting their record, I could still feel the same, but then, there are so many new ones that one cannot just buy candidly all the time and of course my tastes have become far more articulate and I am now fully aware of which records I want to own physically and which ones I am comfortable just having a passing acquaintance with...

Realizing that there was a peculiar geezer who had been staring at that one record on his table, the distro bloke finally asked me, with some awkwardness as I remember it, if he could help. And yes indeed, he most probably could. He told me that Claustrophobia was a newish band from Buenos Aires and that it was their first record. Obviously, I took that one home with me, beaming with childish joy and self-indulgence. I mean, the cover had a zombified crusty punk with an Axegrinder top and a bow and arrow, with two sloppy human skulls at his feet and hovering crows in a post-apocalyptic sky over his head... How could it go wrong?

I am not going to pretend that I am some sort of qualified expert about the Argentinian punk scene. It is actually a scene I - sadly - know too little about, although I can do a decent job humming to Dos Minutos. In the early noughties, the country had some cracking political punk bands like Migra Violenta with their fast and furious hardcore, Terror y Miseria with their angry yet tuneful brand of anarchopunk or the little-known but clearly brilliant Axion//Protesta who played a great blend of bands like Apatia No, Elektroduendes or Estigiä and managed to do excellent Crass covers in Spanish (an impressive job when one considers how difficult it is to cover Crass at all). None of these bands were crust though and, to my limited knowledge, the genre was virtually absent from the scene at that time. There were hard-hitting, fast, manic, grindy hardcore-punk bands, to be sure, but none had that specific gruff crust sound. When looking for genuine crust music from Latina América, up until the mid-00's, one mainly had two options. You could turn to Sao Paolo and its raw and chaotic grinding take on the genre with bands from the second part of the 90's like Under-Threat, Dischord, Cruel Face or No Prejudice, or you could go for the Mexican scene (mid 90's/early 00's era) and crust-infused anarcho bands like Desobediencia Civil, Regeneracion or Crimenes de Guerra, all-out gruff crustcore acts like Discordia and Inhumanidad (both are highly recommended) or the rocking crust-punk sound of Tijuana's Massakro and Coaccion. And of course, it would be criminal not to mention the longest-running crust punk band of the continent, Los Rezios from Lima, who have been delivering the goods steadily for two decades (the "Clarificacion" Lp from 2011 is really solid AND has an Amebix cover).

Thanks to several very active Latino punk blogs in the late noughties, the materials of newer bands started to emerge and spread more globally. That was when I became aware of several bands from Argentina that had crust elements in their music (to varying extents but still noticeable) like Disvastacion (sloppy but energetic raw, gruff scandicrust with some metal in it) and A Duelo Con La Vida (rough and primitive but glorious pummeling grinding anarchocrust). But it was a band called Horror Humano and their eponymous album from 2008 that really grabbed my attention, heavy and crunchy, distorted, angry grind/crust with overblown dual vocals and an ear for good short songs, a bit like a cross between Accion Mutante, Disassociate and Rot. This specific sound is rather difficult to do well and, pretty much out of nowhere, Horror Humano completely nailed it.

But even though there had already been a couple of crusty Argentinian bands before Claustrophobia, none of them had (to my knowledge, again) taken the old-school crust path yet and been so visually deliberate and exuberant about it as they were (and in actual fact, I cannot think of many Latino crust bands referring so openly to the stenchcore visual canons before 2013). As I mentioned, the artwork is ripe with referential graphic clues that indicate a high degree of crustness, arguably almost to the point of self-parody. "Sobre la ruinas de la civilizacion" was recorded in mid-2013 and co-released by seven labels (some of which, judging from the respective discographies, were probably just mates of the band giving a hand), among which Quien Calla Otorga, a label also responsible for putting out stuff from Gerk, Doña Maldad, Migra Violenta or Hummus. The object itself looks really nice and certainly not cheap. It is a pro-done cdr with a glossy insert and they even included some sort of large flyer with extra artwork in order to promote and thank the people who took part in its making, so that from the outset, it already feels like a proper album rather than a first demo.

My initial reaction when I played the cd was one of pleasant surprise upon hearing the sound quality of the production. It is heavy but clear and quite well-balanced given the template, it sounds spontaneous and aggressive with enough punky raw urgency. There are a couple of sloppy moments here and there, especially when the band tries to wander in death-metal territories, but they are few and far between and are arguably part of the genre's charm. Despite the über-stenchcore aesthetics, Claustrophobia are not even that metal. Don't get me wrong, you will find the usual mid-paced crunchy metallic parts but these are mostly used as introductions or breaks as the band opted for a decidedly fast crust tempo which was the right thing to do. Modern metal-crust bands like Stormcrow and Sanctum do come to mind, especially in some of the riffing, but I am equally reminded me of the more direct dark crustcore sound of bands like Man The Conveyor, Nuclear Death Terror and Dödsfälla and - possibly even more - of the filthy metallic crust of Campus Sterminii, early Cancer Spreading and Giuda ("Decadenza" era), especially in the arrangement of the vocals and the overall mood of the songs. Claustrophobia mostly keeps up with their "metallic pummeling cavecrust" plan but at times some elements from old-school grindcore, death-metal and neocrust do creep in and do not always work smoothly, for technical or songwriting reasons (the grind bits do function fine enough for me). This said, "Sobre las ruinas de la civilizacion" is a solid, convincing first effort that can be seen as a worthy blend of 90's gruff eurocrust and 00's stenchcore seasoned with that delightfully relentless South-American hardcore rabia epitomized and intensified by the polyphonic approach to the vocal works (to put it urbanely).

Lyrically, Claustrophobia did not go for the usual "apocalypse darkness from hell" that too many crust bands entrapped themselves in and penned revolutionary anarchistic songs, usually from an insurrectionary perspective (something not unusual for bands from that area). "Enjenadxs" is about the coercive nature of the psychiatric world, "Muerte al patriarcado" deals with the patriarchal conditioning of our selves, "Armate y se violento" is basically a call to arms for revolutionary love while "Afila tus ideas" questions the validity of the concept of "authority" in order to wage a war on authorities. Pretty intense stuff that the artwork does not necessarily reflect.

Claustrophobia are still active although I am not aware of any particular plan for a next record. And on a side note, if you are interested in quality Argentinian crust music, I would strongly recommend Ruinas, another Buenos Aires band emphatically treading along the stenchcore road (their own 2013 demo is a strong one).