Monday, 11 October 2021

Free Speech for the Dumb: a Luc at Tomorrow

Alright then, this is the first attempt at an interview for Terminal Sound Nuisance. The idea is to have a friendly talk with people from "da scene" who, I feel, have insightful things to say about punk-related topics I have been interested in since I the dawn of time, more or less around the year 2012. I have been toying with the idea for quite some time in order to Discussions about the ramifications and evolution of hardcore punk, about how we collectively relate to music, how the internet has affected how we related to and write music, how we connect with the story of punk as a subculture, the importance of context in the process of creating music and so on. I guess this is a pompous way to say that we are going to get shamelessly nerdy and feel good about ourselves. Ideally, the interviews will prove to be thought-provoking or even, though I cannot stand the word, "inspiring", but more realistically and at the very least, they will incite you to blast some Discharge in order to piss off the Man and that is good enough for me. 

Today, we are sitting down with Luc from Bordeaux, rebaptized A Luc at Tomorrow for this occasion. If you have never heard of him, Luc is our renowned Discharge and käng expert on the national level. His resume speaks for itself: he is a two-time recipient of the D-beat Without Borders award, has coauthored the very successful self-help guide book Where there is a will, there is a waaaayyy and his former band Gasmask Terror represented France for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest making it to the 37th position (the country's highest ranking to this date) and is currently the Head of the Department of Käng Studies at the Sorbonne. We will be talking about Discharge's Why, the 90's d-beat wave, Discharge worship, käng hardcore, the evolution of Discharge worship, Disclose and even more serious stuff like the impact of streaming on our perception of classic hardcore music or alarming concerns like the recent popularity of Grave New World.



Terminal Sound Nuisance: Alright then, let’s get right into the heart of the matter and start with the prehistoric period of hardcore punk: Discharge. Common punk sense has long established that there are three main ways to discover Discharge. a. The metal way through the band’s influence on famous 80’s metal acts like Metallica; b. The UK punk way through famous bands like The Exploited or GBH who borrowed from Discharge; c. The hardcore way through the revered 80’s hardcore scene in the U$A where the name Discharge kinda floated around. What and when was yours?

A Luc At Tomorrow: Mine was a mix of A and B. I started to show interest in both punk and metal simultaneously, circa 1986 – possibly even 1985 (I was 12). I first had a very short Pistols / Clash phase but it didn't last long as I was soon introduced to louder sounds by a couple of school mates: GBH, Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Chaos UK, Dead Kennedys… but also Eskorbuto and Kortatu since I grew up in Iparralde (the North/French side of the Basque Country) where "rock radical vasco" was all the rage. Anyway, 1986 was the year crossover and thrash metal hit big time and there was no way escaping it – with grindcore soon to follow. I immersed into both punk and metal at the same time, and have loved both "genres" ever since. Discharge came to my attention really quickly, they were an established household name by then and you'd see pictures of Metallica or Slayer members wearing their shirts. It was a name that popped up all the time as they were obviously very influential, but it took a little longer before I first heard them.

TSN: A first encounter with Discharge through "Massacre Divine" could be enough to deter the listener from the band for at least a decade. What was the first Discharge record or song you came across? What did you spontaneously think about it? Did you charge your hair?

ALAT: My initial interest in hardcore and punk started around the time Grave New World came out. Haha, bad timing, right? That was my first exposure even though I hadn't listened to it yet. I remember seeing the cover art in a metal magazine, reading a couple of really bad reviews, so for a while I didn't pay much attention. But in the corner of my mind I knew Discharge was more than that, since the name was mentioned pretty much everywhere, their shirts were worn by all the cool bands, etc. But information was hard to come by. No internet of course, I yet had to discover the world of fanzines and tape trading, I was super young, lived in a small town in rural Southwest France, had no connections in "the scene", so I had no idea what was up, how to acquire cool tapes and records. First I'd swap tapes with the other two guys in my school that liked louder music, but everyone had very small collections and limited knowledge at that point. Strangely enough, this older guy who lived in my street, literally one block away, was ALWAYS wearing a Discharge shirt. He probably only owned one band shirt because he had it on his back every time I'd cross his path. I never talked to him because I was this super shy skinny little boy and he was a couple years older (a huge gap when you're 13!) and looked intimidating. One day I walked past his apartment building and this super loud, super aggressive punk music was blaring out of the window. I KNEW it was Discharge, and it sounded fantastic. It reminded me of a more chaotic, noisier GBH, because that was my only point of comparison back then. Haha. Fast forward a few months, I'm not sure why but I remember getting tapes of Discharge-influenced Swedish bands (Anti-Cimex…) BEFORE I even heard a full Discharge record. The first Discharge record I heard was Why. It's still my favorite to this day.

TSN: It could be argued that "Why", released 40 years ago, is one of the most influential punk records of all time and the impact it had is overwhelming. Why do you think it still is the object of such fascination and how much of a game-changer do you think it was at the time of release? Many people don’t consider Discharge as a real « hardcore band ». Do you?

ALAT: I've come to realize over time that most people consider Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing as the quintessential Discharge record and I understand WHY. It's cleaner, tighter, has a huge guitar wall of sound that appeals to both punks and metalheads. But for me Why is their cornerstone. It takes the intensity of the early EPs to a next level, it's savage as hell, and the production is stellar! Every instrument sounds amazing and well-balanced on Why, the guitar and bass tones are perfect. A few years back I even played the drums in a one-off Discharge cover band named No Feeble Bastards with some friends, we only covered the Why record – all songs played in order. It was so much fun. Anyway, I understand why some people won't consider Discharge a real "hardcore band", especially since the term hardcore is a very American thing. But they totally are first wave hardcore pioneers, just like Black Flag were in the US. Rooted in early punk, but taking things to a whole new level sonically.

TSN: For a long time, post-1984 Discharge was something of a joke, banter and a subject loyal fans did not really want to get into (like the early Blitz fans actually). However, once deemed terrible albums like Grave New World seem to have taken a cult status recently and some people even claim to love the thing. What is your take on the taboo era of Discharge? Do you think that it is so bad that is ironically good? Did you enjoy it when your first heard it?

ALAT: Like you pointed it out, it's so bad it becomes ironically good. It is such an anomaly it becomes fascinating. But let's be honest, it's pretty unlistenable. I do own a copy but have never managed to listen to the full album in one sitting. Those vocals are insufferable. The music I can stomach though, and Dissober proved it wasn't THAT terrible by speeding up their cover of "Grave New World" and playing it in the 1982 style. That cover is actually pretty raging!

TSN: The Discharge influence in the 80’s quickly spread, notably in Sweden where armies of young punks embraced the band (and still do) creating a Discharge-inspired genre of their own. As a world-renowned expert in Swedish hardcore and head of the Department of Käng Studies at the Sorbonne, could you give us some sort of chronology and defining moments of the Discharge invasion of Sweden in the 80’s? How and when did you get drawn to the Swedish hardcore scene? And why are they so good at it? Is it because they are taller and better-looking than us?

ALAT: You'd better off ask a Swede about the chronology, I'm nowhere near the expert you assume I am, haha. I'd say a bunch of dorks in bands like Skitslickers and Anti-Cimex probably started it. My introduction to Scandinavian hardcore was the "1984 The Second" compilation on the French label New Wave Records (featuring tracks by Sound Of Disaster, Krunch, as well as Finland's own Mellakka), and I remember vividly getting a mixtape in the mail from Rak (of Sodan Tragedia band and zine) featuring full EPs by Anti-Cimex and Mob 47 amidst a few other international bands. They all left a lasting impression right away, the extra pinch of rawness and brutality appealed to me in a big way. In the late 80s I totally immersed myself in the up and coming death metal underground, trading tapes like a maniac, and the Swedish scene was fascinating… Unsurprisingly, the punk and death metal scenes in Sweden had strong ties – a lot of original dödsmetallers had a punk background. I have no idea why it caught on and spread like that in that particular neck of the woods though. Fuck the spoiled Swedish master race though, you bunch of handsome, tall, smart humanoids. Haha.

TSN: On the contrary, the massive U$ hardcore scene of the 80’s - which most would call the cradle of hardcore - did not seem to be that much into Discharge in the early 80’s, with some exceptions, although the Stoke-on-Trent lot could be said to have been « the hardest core » then as early as 1980. Do you have any theory as to why that is? Where, apart from Sweden, do you think were located the best early Discharge-loving bands in the 80’s?

ALAT: I find it intriguing how some bands had a huge impact on local scenes far away from their home turf. Discharge in Sweden, Disorder in Finland, Finnish hardcore in Brazil, Chaos UK in Japan, bad oi! in France… Sometimes it's due to bands touring and leaving an impression, but not always. Sometimes you can blame it on a handful of influential local scenesters pushing/promoting certain bands. Still happens these days, I guess. Discharge's imagery and obsession with war was prompted by the geopolitical context of the time – Thatcher had just been elected, the Falklands war was soon to follow, the Cold War was in full swing and the threat of nuclear annihilation was real, with the UK at the forefront: the US maintained a stockpile of nuclear weapons in the country throughout the cold war. US punks had other concerns, and wrote lyrics and music from a different point of view. But I'm just scratching the surface here, we could make a deeper analysis. Every country seemed to have at least one Discharge-like band in the 80s: MG-15 in Spain, Eu's Arse in Italy, Subversion in Belgium, The Iconoclast in the US, Crow in Japan, etc. But truth is nobody did it like the Swedes.

TSN: The worship continues. Sometimes I am under the impression that Discharge have never been as popular and cult as they are today. Do you share that opinion? Do you see any meaningful differences with 90’s Discharge worship for example?

ALAT: I think Discharge has always been popular, since day one. What may have changed over time is the target audience. But I feel there's always been a solid core of Discharge lovers. It's more spread out today though. US hardcore kids are way more into Discharge than they were in the 90s, that's for damn sure.

TSN: Although there were certainly genuine Discharge-loving and mimicking in the 80’s (Discard being possibly the first?), the 90’s marked and codified the creation of Discharge love as a style and took it to its extreme and logical conclusion with the birth of the d-beat genre (with Sweden being unsurprisingly at the forefront of the movement). When did you become really aware of d-beat as a proper genre? How did you relate to the 90’s wave? Did you feel it was a natural evolution or a silly-but-enjoyable trend?

ALAT: It's hard to tell exactly when the "d-beat" thing really took off and became a "genre" per se. I remember the terms "Discore" or "Scandicore" being used loosely as early as the late 80s or very early 90s, then when the Swedes started coming up with the first Dis- bands, we used to call that "Dis-beat". The term "D-beat" (or D-Takt in Swedish) started sometime in the 90s and I suspect people like Jan Jutila in Sweden and Kawakami in Japan may have coined it, or at least helped make it popular. I'm just speculating here. When the 90s Dis-tsunami hit the shores, I ate it all up… It just popped up at the right time: I was growing out of my death metal phase at the time as the scene was oversaturating. Black metal was taking over and I couldn't relate to it politically and musically, so the whole Swedish / Distortion d-takt explosion provided a perfect alternative. It had a slightly similar vibe, a very dark/desperate imagery, and in hindsight I realize a lot of former dödsmetall kids were also involved (some members of Dischange, Skitsystem, Disfear, etc were in death metal bands prior.) It was like a gateway back into punk.

TSN: I remember reading in one of your old zines a rather nasty review of a Disfornicate Ep. Did you get bored of Dis-bands at some point? Almost 30 years after the first d-beat wave, how does it hold up according to you? How outdated is the Distortion empire?

ALAT: Haha yeah, Distortion releasing the Disfornicate / Disregard split 7" was a turning point for me, the Active Minds phrase "Dis is getting pathetic" really made sense at that point. That's when my interest in all things "Dis-" started fading a little bit.

TSN: Where and when do you locate the first proper, just-like Discharge hardcore punk bands (pre d-beat wave so to speak)?

ALAT: I believe there were a handful of bands in the UK trying to sound like Discharge very early on, but none of them actually achieved it. You can tell GBH or The Varukers were possibly heavily influenced by them. I'd say Discard in Sweden and Disattack in the UK were probably the first ones to actually mimick Discharge by ripping off the name, logo, layouts, and lyrics.

TSN: Were you aware of Disaster? And more largely, were many people familiar with Disaster at the time of "War Cry"? They are seen as a classic band today but what about then? Also, do you remember the first time you came across the phrase « d-beat »? Did the genre have other names before it settled on « d-beat »?

ALAT: Funnily I was aware of Disaster early on for the sole reason my friend Alexis, whom I used to skate with all the time back in the Basque country, started his own punk zine circa 1990 or 91 and he conducted an interview with Disaster by mail! I didn't get the 12" until a few years later though. Like I told you above, terms like "Discore", "Scandicore", and "Dis-beat" were all used randomly prior to "D-beat" taking over.

TSN: Alright, let’s tackle the most famous d-beat band ever: Disclose. You are also something of a Japanese hardcore punk nerd so I’m guessing you followed the band early. What was the first Disclose record you bought? What did you think then? Just another 90’s dis-band? Did you notice that there was something special about them? Today, they are seen as this legendary iconic band but was is always the case? I remember people being much less enthusiastic about them in the 00’s. And in the 90’s? And what is your favorite Disclose record?

ALAT: I was heavily into Disfear et al when I came across a review of the first Disclose 7" (Once The War Started) in a great Swiss zine named No Sanctuary. Sounded right up my alley, so my friend and I stuffed a few dollars in an envelope and sent it to Overthrow Records. We were blown away by it. It was everything we loved about the Swedish bands, but I thought they were even better. That 7" actually didn't sound THAT distorted compared to a lot of their subsequent releases, and to this day it remains one of my favorite Disclose records. They were pretty popular in Europe, but I guess at some point they were so prolific that people paid less attention? But their popularity still grew and by the early '00s the US started paying attention and they suddenly got huge. Other than the first EP, some of my personal favorites include "A Mass Of Raw Sound Assault" 7", "Nightmare or Reality" 12", and "Apocalypse Continues" 7".


TSN: Looking on YouTube or bandcamp gives the impression that there never have been as many bands from all over the place flying the d-beat flag through the #d-beat. Do you share that impression? Why does the dis phenomenon never ends? What is its essential appeal? Could you define what is a good d-beat band and a bad d-beat band in terms of music and visuals? Do you have to actually play a Discharge beat on the drums to be a Discharge-loving band?

ALAT: I dunno, I guess d-beat punk can be related to some sort of primal trance. I'm sure theorists like Jan Jutila would possibly draw a parallel with ancient traditional African beats or something. There is something inherently primitive, organic, and driving about it. There's a bazillion bands flying the d-beat banner these days, and the good bands tend to be lost in a sea of mediocrity. The absolute worst d-beat move is obviously double bass drumming! Also I can't fucking stand all the generic artwork featuring bullet belts, winged skulls, or the Discharge typeface, it's all been played out to death… Worst of all is words like "D-BEAT", "RAW", "NOISE", etc. in record/song titles. This is a no-no! As for your last question, look at bands like Final Bombs (Japan) or Price Of Silence (Sweden), they don't necessarily do the d-beat thing yet they're some of the best Discharge impersonators around!

TSN: You played in an openly käng-inspired band and your current band Bombardement is even more Dischargish. Why do you think the Discharge wave never really took in France, be it in the 80’s or the 90’s (with some rare exceptions)? Did you see Gasmask Terror as a way to even the score with this sad cultural fact? What was your own first attempt at playing d-beat?

ALAT: The first true Dis- band in France was actually a -charge band, haha. It was a short-lived early 90s (or late 80s?) Parisian band known as Surcharge who didn't do much. Which is unfortunate because they were pretty awesome, and I know you can back my words. In the 90s, the South West seemed to be the hotspot for crust and d-beat sounds, with Enola Gay paving the way in the small rural town of Auch, followed by Disbeer and Sickness. Another highly overlooked band from the same region was Four Monstrous Nuclear Stockpiles, who started as a straight up HNSNSN cover band, but ended up writing original material by popular demand. Even though it has a few goofy lyrics, I consider their 10" as the best French d-beat record ever released. It sounds just as good as any of the Swedish bands that were coming out on Distortion at the time. But this was still pretty marginal. I didn't start playing music until my mid 20's. Gasmask Terrör initially started more or less as a joke (hence the stupid name, which was just generic punk words put together randomly), we were really into Totalitär at the time and wanted to start something along those lines since there were hardly any bands in France playing that style in 2003. We approached Shiran to play guitar because we knew he loved Discharge and Disgust even though he was primarily a doom metal musician, but I don't think we had actually planned to record more than a tongue-in-cheek, cliché Dis- demo or something at the time. The band ended up lasting 14 years, releasing many records, playing hundreds of shows on 3 different continents… definitely far beyond our initial plan, haha.

TSN: Let’s tackle some broader issues. The internet revolution has drastically changed our ways to relate to and listen to punk music. Once extremely obscure, mysterious and rather small local bands are now instantly accessible and hailed as 80's classics. On the one hand it is can be said to be the greatest democratic revolution making punk available to all, on the other many now take the free and instant access to every band ever for granted. What’s your take on this? Do you think the internet age has changed the way we relate to bands, even our own, and even how we write music?

ALAT: Yeah, a lot of bands that once only had local exposure, sometimes only playing a handful of poorly attended local gigs, have blown out of proportion thanks to the internet. And I'm sure this is also partly why so many bands are getting back together after years/decades: a mix of midlife crisis, nostalgia, and old retired punks Googling the name of their old band only to find out a bunch of nerds across the planet consider them legends, when hardly anybody gave a fuck back then. It can be pretty deceiving, but the web pretty much rendered the notion of "underground" obsolete. Everybody has access to everything without much effort or time now. On the other hand, it's kinda cool that people pay attention to what happens beyond their home turf.

Of course, pre-internet, information and access to music wasn't as convenient as it is now, it required a lot more work and involvement. Another huge difference is that a young punk today has well over 4 decades of stuff to dig through. Punk had only be a thing for a decade when I got into it, so obviously there was much less material out there. But yeah, having access to much less music, you'd play what you had on a far more regular basis.

So yeah, of course it all has an impact on the way we write music. When hardcore started, there wasn't any hardcore to mimic. Members of early hardcore bands grew up on Led Zeppelin, or Stooges, or Cheap Trick or Kiss or whatever their older siblings were listening to at the time, and that probably had an influence on the way they played their instruments. Nowadays a hardcore band has over 40 years of hardcore music to digest so chances are they may play it by the numbers. Hardcore bands are influenced by… hardcore bands. Guess that's the fate of pretty much any aging musical subgenre, like a serpent biting its own tail.

TSN: The amount of information about new punk bands and new records feels overwhelming at times. Do we produce too much? Are you still as enthusiastic about new bands? Have social media exacerbated the impact of trendiness, fashion and ultimately equalized our culture? How do you personally proceed in order to get to the really good stuff?

ALAT: At 48 it's obviously hard to be as enthusiastic about new bands as when I was 15. I'm much pickier now. As much as I'm trying hard NOT to be this jaded old fuck who thinks "things used to be better", I know I am in a way, but I'm trying to keep an eye open on what's happening. Sometimes you get good surprises. But I feel like in the past 20 or so years, nostalgia and rehash have been a mainstay in the punk scene.

TSN: Let’s have fun now and rank some favourite of yours. Let’s say that you are talking to a beginner to the hardcore punk scene. What 5 records or tapes would you recommend if he or she would like to get into the following :

- Five 80’s Swedish hardcore bands that loved Discharge very much:

Anti-Cimex - Raped Ass 7"
Anti-Cimex - Wictims of a Bomb Raid 7"
Skitslickers - GBG 1982 a.k.a Cracked Cop Skulls 7"
Discard - Death From Above 7"
Avskum - Crucified by the System 7"

- 80’s non-Swedish hardcore bands that loved Discharge very much:

Diatribe (US) - Aftermath demo/7"
Eu's Arse (Italy) - split 7" w/ Impact
The Varukers (UK) - Another Religion Another War 12"
The Iconoclast (US) - Demo/comp tracks
Doom (UK) - the early stuff. Basically a UK band paying tribute to Scandinavian bands that were paying homage to Discharge in the first place, haha.

- Five 90’s d-beat bands:

Meanwhile - any
Disclose - any
Disfear - s/t 7"
Totalitär - they started in the 80s but reached their peak in the mid 90s in my opinion
Times Square Preachers - Don't Be Numb! 7". The whole Uppsala crust scene was pretty amazing (Harass, Cumbrage, etc.)

- Five 00’s d-beat bands:

Warcry - Demo, Deprogram LP, Nausea 7", Savage Machinery LP.
Bomberegn- s/t 7". Had to be seen live to fully appreciate.
Framtid - Under the Ashes LP
Kvoteringen - first couple of 7"s
Contrast Attitude - any record, but LIVE is where they really shine!

- 10’s d-beat bands:

Kylmä Sota - 10 Tracks 12"
Herätys - s/t LP
Bloodkrow Butcher - Anti War 7"
Rat Cage - Caged Like Rats 7"
Final Bombs - There is no Turning Back LP

- Five ace Discharge covers:

Dissober - Grave New World is #1 of course. Genius move.
Times Square Preachers - Maimed & Slaughtered, partly because the drumming is the closest you'll ever hear to Bambi's drumming.
Totalitär - Born to Die in the Gutter
Siege - It's no TV Sketch. I doubt there's a recorded version of it, but it was pretty awesome to witness live as they had this amazing guitar/saxophone trade-off solo going.
Soulfly - The Possibility of Life's Destruction. Laugh all you want but I'd rather hear a shitty mainstream band cover Discharge than an umpteenth generic d-beat band these days. I had never listened to Soulfly before my work mate played this for me a few years back. It's a pretty raging cover, gotta love the bouncy drumming on it.

The full live set of Bordeaux's one and only "Why" cover band, No Feeble Bastards. You know you want it

TSN: To wrap it up and I want honest answers.

What is your favorite dis-name?

Recharge was a good move when all the bands were going Dis-, but I can't think of any really good Dis-name to be honest. Disclose was probably the best, in retrospect. Four Monstrous Nuclear Stockpiles was a pretty nice one too.

What is your least favorite dis-name?

There's so many bad ones. Disfornicate was mentioned earlier and it's hard to find worse. Disfear and Dissober were bad enough monickers, Disbeer too obviously but they were friends and didn't take themselves too seriously so they get a pass. In recent times, Disturd is a pretty embarrassing monicker, but we all know we can blame it on poor English skills from this otherwise excellent and friendly Japanese crust band.

What is your favourite Discharge song and why, why, why, why, why?

There's no way I can pick a single favorite song, but I have a soft spot for "Ain't no Feeble Bastard", which ironically doesn't even have a d-beat. Haha. (Side note: it's "Why why why BUT why", not "Why why why why why", no idea WHY so many people hear it wrong.) (TSN edit: very true that, shame on me, I'll NEVER AGAIN make the mistake).

What is your favourite, most precious piece of Discharge paraphernalia?

I don't really own crazy paraphernalia. But I do cherish some of my rare vinyl bootlegs, like the "Live in Philadelphia" LP (raging set!) or the "Live in Preston" 7" (mostly for the artwork/packaging… and unreleased track of course!) Oh, and does my retarded Discharge tattoo count? I designed it myself so it's pretty unique, haha.

"Troops of Tomorrow" or "Leather, Bristles, Studs and Acne"?

GBH hands down because the band had such a strong impact in my teen years, but I gotta admit Troops of Tomorrow is an excellent record – Exploited's best by a long shot, if you ask me, even though I hate Wattie's racist ass.

"Wind of Pain" or "Wasted Dream"?

Wind Of Pain, no question. I remember exactly the day when I first heard it, back in 1994 or something. Chris of Urban Alert Records played it for me and I became obsessed instantly and ordered it straight from the Finn Records mailorder list in Sweden. When my band toured Japan in 2011, we covered "Misery" (we had been covering it on and off since the band inception) and at a gig in Yokohama – coincidentally booked by Koba-san who used to drum in Bastard – we were approached by a very drunk Tokurow-san (former Bastard singer) who asked if he could join us on stage to sing "Misery" with us. How could we turn down such an offer? It was a beautiful moment, I felt like a spoiled kid on Christmas day! PS: Wasted Dream isn't even my favorite Death Side record by the way.

Bombanfall or Svart Parad?

Fuck you and your impossible to answer questions, Romain! I'll say Bombanfall because they almost sound like proto death metal, and I LOVE death metal!

And the winner is!

Meanwhile or Disclose?

What the hell (on earth)? Come on, they're the best 2 Discharge worship bands ever. Maybe Disclose by a small margin?

Eskorbuto or RIP?

I was into Eskorbuto long before I heard RIP, actually they were one of the very first punk bands I heard, so they have a very special place in my heart. But they got a bit derivative as years went on. RIP had a smaller but better discography. I'll still pick Eskorbuto because they were a formative band for me.

Kaaos or Riistetyt?

Love both, but once again I heard Riistetyt first so they resonate with me more, especially the Valtion Vankina LP.

EU’s Arse or Underage?

Eu's Arse. Those unhinged vocals are the best.

"Massacre Divine" or "Shootin’ up the World"?

Neither, but Massacre Divine has better artwork… as well as "Sexplosion", featuring slap bass.

PS: Wait, no Broken Bones vs English Dogs? Ripcord vs Heresy? Priest vs Maiden? ZZ Top vs Thin Lizzy?

This is THE END of the interview. Massive thank to (A) Luc (At Tomorrow) for taking the time and playing the game. Hopefully it was a pleasant read for men, women and children too. Cheers mate and see you after the gigs!

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

The Empire Crusts Back (part 4): Mindrot "1990 demo" tape, 1990

Alright then, this is the last part of The Empire Crusts Back (rolling out with laughter, right?), my short and humble series about the so-called OC crust bands of the late 80's. As usual, it was a fucking pleasure to be able to school the great unwashed about so crucial a subject if one seeks to understand how the world works and to make sure as to what trendy crust shirts to wear this winter 2021 (in case you haven't heard, OC crust fashion is making a massive comeback so you'd better take my word for it). If you missed out on the first three instalments of the series, I recommend you take a bit of your precious time to take a look at them since it will provide some important musical context from a diachronic perspective and a definition of what is meant through the term "OC crust" at that particular time. As I moaned about previously, the peacepunk and crust bands of this era and area unfortunately remain largely undocumented although Jang from Resist and Exist has interviewed some bands that were part of that wave - along with classic bands from the UK, current anarcho bands and videos about political activism - and uploaded some rare recordings and live performances for his youtube channel. Check it out punk as it is truly a work of passion and dedication that could not be further from the online posing contests that punk-rock sadly too often engages in nowadays.
But enough grumbling as I am not here to act like a middle-of-the-road gammon and today we are going to talk about arguably the most famous of the OC crust bands, the brilliantly-named Mindrot (which I have already tackled here with their top notch 1991 Endeavor Ep so I will try to keep it short). Although Mindrot can be said to be something of a respected and recognized band in the extreme metal world, they are rarely connected nowadays to the hardcore punk and crust music scene from which they originally emerged. Just knock on your neighbour's door and ask the geezer about Mindrot. He is very likely to reply "The doom metal band from the mid-90's" rather than "The early OC stenchcore from the early 90's". Or he might just let his staffies out. He'll probably do that actually so let's just pretend you knock on his door. So Mindrot are basically the biggest name of the original OC crust and yet are largely seldom identified as such, although things might be different in California and punk old-timers, who knew of Mindrot before the mid-90's Relapse period, might say otherwise and link the band to the hardcore world so it could be a generational thing.

I mentioned in the review of A//Solution's mastercrust Ep that I first heard of them thanks to the Mindrot's thank list included on their Dawning album, a cd (of course it was the cd version) I bought after reading, or being told, that they used to be a crust band. But then, I tried hard to remember where I might have read such confidential intel or which gentle soul guided my virginal self through my discovery of OC crust. Could I have made that story up or do I actually have imaginary friends? Who cares. Probably both. Perhaps the cd looked enticing enough, with the Relapse label being vaguely associated with hardcore in my tiny mind, and spotting Final Conflict, Total Chaos and Chaos UK on the list - it was second-hand so I could open the case - was enough to convince me that Mindrot was possibly a band that I should know about. That sounds like a much more plausible story actually. Anyway, Dawning is a doom-metal album and at the time the genre was about as alien to me as disco polo so to say that I was disappointed and above all completely out of my comfort zone is an understatement. I did not play the cd much - although I did try to be honest - but I often consulted the thank list and did my best to get information on the bands graced with a punk-sounding name that were included on it. Thank lists are dead, long live thank lists. This grail-like manuscript from 1995 illustrated significantly the position that Mindrot occupied: the space between Orange County's flourishing extreme metal scene and the peacepunk/crust world. With them rubbing shoulders with Morgion, Nausea LA and Fear Factory just as casually as they did with Armistice, Total Chaos or Final Conflict, early Mindrot can be approached as the definitive bridge between both worlds as their sound could appeal to metalheads addicted to doom and death metal as well as crusty punks craving for mean and heavy metallic hardcore music. But then, maybe it was a case of "too metal for the punx, and too punk for the metalheads", an argument that can sometimes be said to be something of a poor excuse used by terrible bands to justify their lack of recognition from either world.

But back to my personal conquest for crust. Because I was unimpressed with Dawning (which I used to call Yawning), I did not really bother researching the earlier Mindrot material and focused instead on bands like A//Solution, Glycine Max or Carcinogen, and of course Apocalypse. When I realized that some Apocalypse songs listed as belonging to the Terror Tapes on the discography cd had actually been released as a split Ep with Mindrot, I immediately got curious and decided to investigate the band's early years further. Fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a copy of the Endeavor Ep from some Profane Existence sales, which proved to be a thoroughly convincing and solid slice of old-school crust metal, and I did manage to find alright mp3 files of the split with Apocalypse, a top record and a genuine crust classic that I rate as one of the greatest crust split Ep's of all time (although it looks absolutely shit, a real shame when you see what both bands were able to offer visually). But the best was yet to come when I finally managed to go back in time and listen to this 1990 demo, an astounding recording that left me in awe.  

The Mindrot demo is undoubtedly an old-school crust classic. The term "demo" might be more than a little misleading in this case. When you read about a demo recording from an early crust band, you are entitled to expect something quite rough around the edges, an enjoyable if rather raw and primitive work that, more often than not, is characterized by dodgy musicianship and a certain ineptitude in the studio, a punk-as-fuck sound which is precisely why people love them so much. The Mindrot demo does not correspond to that definition at all. The boys were already quite accomplished musicians and knew exactly what they wanted to achieve. In fact, it sounded far more like a proper debut album - it is a thirty-minute long sonic behemoth - than a demo as it easily outclassed, not just in terms of production but also very much in terms of creative intent, of cohesion, of focus, of what the band aimed at creating, most crust demos of the era and beyond. 


Mindrot were undeniably the most metal-tinged band of the OC crust wave. In fact, you would not be wrong to describe them as "doom crust" or "crusty death-doom" but the recording still retains enough of this chugging and filthy threatening crust edge for it to rightly belong in the crust canon, though I would understand that others disagree (not a common sentiment on my part, let me tell you). When I first heard the demo, I was strongly reminded of a blast beat-free Prophecy of Doom, or a doomier, more mournful Bolt Thrower or a death metal act trying to be sound like Axegrinder on antidepressants. Know what I mean? The music is mostly slow, heavy, suffocating almost and very fucking dark though songs like "Lifeless beauty" and "Impurity" have faster moments. The atmosphere of despair, rage and pain that Mindrot try to create is meaningfully enhanced by the amazing sense of storytelling and narration permeating the demo. From the first song till the last one, a whole story is being told, unravels and the listener can spot classic elements of a narrative plot: the demo starts with an instrumental introduction; "Dying breed" and "Hidden people" are eerie spoken poems interspersed between songs; "Demoniac death metallers (from the satanic realm)" is a Sore Throat-like comic relief; and of course, the absolute hit "Darkened existence" halfway through the tape can be considered as the ultimate stenchcore ballad of the OC crust wave. I particularly enjoy recordings that tell a good story and reflect a creative process from the band. They are not just a collection of songs - as great as they might sound individually sound like - as they act as coherent, self-reflexive wholes that engage the listener through music as a narrative. For that reason, I much prefer the 1990 demo to Mindrot's 1991 Ep's as, I feel, the band was more comfortable with a longer format that allowed them to really weave their punishing stenchdoom vibe.  


The tape was originally released on Wild Rags records (a label that was responsible for releases from Nausea LA, Pungent Stench or Benediction) and I have no idea why this fantastic demo was never reissued especially when one considers how good and coherent it sounds. And it looks brilliant too, with an iconic cover and proper cut'n'paste DIY visuals. The absence of reissue is basically criminal, especially when one looks at the amount of very average demos from totally anecdotal UK82 bands being rereleased. As was customary with early crust/grind and extreme metal bands, a seemingly endless thank list is included where the accomplished punk maniac will be able to notice the usual OC crustpects but also UK's Sacrilege and Hellbastard, local anarchos Media Children and even Lance Hahn from Cringer. Small world, punks of all scenes unite and fight. Following this demo, Mindrot released the aforementioned Ep's in 1991, and then a live demo on Life Is Abuse (guitar player Matt's then brand new label) in 1992 that saw them going in an even more doom/death metal direction and they eventually recorded Dawning in 1995. As indicated previously in previous reviews, Matt Fisher (RIP) played the bass in Mindrot in parallel with his singing duties with Confrontation and his modelling career with Apocalypse, while Mindrot's guitar players Dan and Matt (although the latter had left by the time of the album) formed the legendary Dystopia in 1991 along with Dino from Carcinogen and Todd from Confrontation, which can be seen as something as the OC crust equivalent of the 1992 Dream Team.

Crucial piece of crust history here. All crusties should be required to own at least one '90/'91 era Mindrot patch. 

Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Empire Crusts Back (part 3): Confrontation "1989" Ep, 1992

Growing old sometimes sucks. Well, I am not technically quite old enough - though Tik Tok would definitely disagree - to utter such pompous and peremptory statements and therefore may lack the necessary legitimacy and worrying back pains. But still, one observes, one witnesses and one is not a fool. As punks grow older, their record collection gets more and more important, threatening to make the living room's floor - and oftentime their marriage as well - crumble and collapse under its weight of vinyl, potentially crushing a charming gran living downstairs or, better, a twattish busybody who could not stop complaining whenever you play Chaos UK supposedly too loud. We've all heard horror stories of honest, ebay-abiding record collectors being squashed under a landslide of single-sided Japanese flexis, of granduncles being knocked out cold during a family reunion by a box of demo tapes that you had promised to take care of or of innocent pets being flattened by the limited edition of the Noise Not Music Discharge box (there are far worse deaths than this one actually). The exponential activity of collecting records can be hazardous physically but also mentally. 
Indeed, as records keep piling in their living room, old punks can become quite pedantic about some aspects of hardcore music (it is almost always about hardcore music), especially about the correct terminology of subgenres and about the inclusion or exclusion of specific bands in specific genres. Just ask on a message board roaming with officially recognized record nerds who the first real powerviolence band was and enjoy the ensuing verbal brawl and below-the-belt name-calling. Occasionally, physical violence can ensue - although it is quite rare as record collectors usually only resort to fighting to get first to merch tables - and combatants end up solving their personal issues in the octagon to assert their supremacy. As much as I would love to tell you that I am above such rivalries and epistemological disagreements, I must confess that I have already engaged in heated arguments about the archaeological position of Los Saicos in punk culture or the value of post-"New age" Blitz and while I haven't headbutted anyone because of my proverbial lack of basic bravery, also called being a wimp, there was a lot of finger-waving, scornful looks and offending accusations about being a middle-class poser and only getting into Blitz after I did. Oh well. I still think genres do matter and should be discussed and that precise descriptive names can be useful in order to reflect on histories, eras and areas. But instead of being bones of contention, arguments about genres should improve our appreciation and not limit it. Peace and love my friends. Which takes me to today's record: the 1989 Ep from Confrontation.

I have seen Confrontation being qualified as grindcore, as powerviolence, as crust - and even as modern hardcore but it was an honest mistake and the person was actually talking about the late 90's German band on that one so that the virtual tar and feather might not have been totally warranted and I probably should have refrained from sending anonymous threats to his house but I prefer to see this incident as a life lesson for the both of us. In actual fact, you would not be wrong indeed to qualify the band as grindcore, powerviolence or crust as each appellation makes sense for different reasons. Because of its dirty metallic groove and its blast beats the grindcore tag would fit Confrontation; but then 1989 having been originally released on Infest's label Draw Blank and because of the band's typical hardcore breaks and riffs you could say that powerviolence is not far off the picture either; and of course, because of the band's close connections to Glycine Max, Apocalypse or Mindrot - in a word the OC crust galaxy - and its raw and filthy punk production and emphatic cavemen vocals, claiming Confrontation were an old-school crust act is not irrelevant, and since we are on Terminal Sound Nuisance here, the Ep will be approached and tackled through a distinctively crust perspective, without discarding the other influences, because I am, after all, known, among other things, as The Magnanimous One. However, not being particularly well schooled in old-school grindcore - though I can hold my own to some extent - and being absolutely clueless about powerviolence - it always sounded too American to my delicate ears and I never really got the appeal, I will ask you to bear with potential inconsistencies. Now that the issue of terminology and nomenclature has been settled, we may proceed to the crux of the matter: my own record coll... I mean the band.
Confrontation was actually the first OC crust band I came across although at that time I had absolutely no idea that there had been a fabulous crust source over there and, apart from Resist and Exist, I don't think I was aware of other anarcho/crust bands from that area or aware that this area had its fair share of extreme bands. I was, as you might say, still green. Because finances were low and grim while enthusiasm was high and unquenchable, I was able to lay my hands on a second-hand copy of the Confrontation's discography cd after hearing the In Crust We Trust compilation that a gentle soul had found for me on soulseek, back when it took two days and a half to download an album. I did not enjoy In Crust We Trust as much as I thought I would to be fair. At that time, I was still in the process of discovery of crust and the title, which I now find cheesy as fuck, announced something spectacular and developmental. There were some good bands on that compilation, don't get me wrong, it had Disfear, No Security, Concrete Sox and Heresy, but if you look closely, there was not much proper crust and it was bit misleading really. In retrospect, I understand that it was just a sample of Lost & Found's catalogue and that the misleading title did not illustrate the content, much like The Best Crust Compilation in the World Ever! compilation whose hyperbolic irony was lost on me when I bought it, especially since, without really disappointing, there was, again, not much crust in it. But I did like the Confrontation songs - they are some of their best numbers - and seeing that Lost & Found also released a full cd of the band and that it was cheap, I did not fuck around and bought the copy online. I learnt later on that the not-so-virtuous label released this cd because they claimed that the band had received an advance payment for the recording of a full album which they never did since they broke up and the cd was a way to get some money back. Not really the classiest act on the part of a label that was famous for this kind of dodgy moves and it is no coincidence that the cd is listed as "unofficial" on Discogs. Just bad punk ethics.

I couldn't find many details about Confrontation's noisy career and I really wish some heroic old-timers from that time and place will one day write a book about the Californian 80's peacepunk/crust scene like Ian Glasper did for the British waves. A boy can dream. The band formed in Huntington Beach probably in late 1988 - the Ep was recorded in May, 1989, so that sounds plausible enough. I have seen a mention of that record being a demo Ep and it might have originally been some sort of demo tape that they decided to reissue as a proper Ep. Still it does not seem very likely as this practice was not widespread at the time, whereas releasing a demo again on a vinyl has become very commonplace these days. What's the point of engaging in an activity bound to saturate the already fragile punk records market especially since demos are readily available online and, well, they are demos, I hear you ask from afar? I ain't got clue guv. To get back to Confrontation, the band was from Huntington Beach and had Matt Fisher from Mindrot on vocals and future Dystopia bass player Todd on the bass. As my jaundiced speech indicated earlier, the band remained mostly associated with the mean and manically fast hardcore bands - the early powerviolence wave - and they shared some common ground with the groovy grindcore freaks that roamed this very part of California at the time. Just consider that powerviolence legends Infest were from Valencia, Crossed Out from Encinitas, No Comment from North Hollywood and the unique Man Is The Bastard from Claremont. All those hardcore acts lived in a 50 kilometers radius and therefore it is little surprising that the area, in punk's more or less unreliable collective memory, has often been closely connected with powerviolence. Similarly, just consider that grindcore legends Terrorizer - the grindcore equivalent of the 1992-era Ultimate Warrior - were from Huntington Park and Nausea from Los Angeles. The Infest connection is clearly the most relevant since 1989 was initially released on Infest's own label Draw Blanks Records - it was only DB's second release - although Confrontation sounded nothing like them so that's the grand network of friends in action for you. The version we are dealing however is not the original but the remastered one from 1992 that Misanthropic Records - the first output of Todd's label - took care of. 

There are eight songs on this Ep and let me tell you that Confrontation had little time to waste. The opening song "Deathtrap", my favourite number on the record, is a grinding crust masterpiece that reminds me of the early rawer Napalm Death, Electro Hippies and crust maniacs Mortal Terror. The first riff epitomized what old-school crust has always been supposed to sound like and Instinct of Survival on their split Ep with Guided Cradle had no reservation about borrowing it - to great effect I must say. After that groovy metallic crust introduction, Confrontation unleash their brand of fast and abrasive crusty hardcore with harsh cavecrust vocals. The rest of 1989 keeps maintains this high level of quality, navigating between snotty UK hardcore classics like the above-mentioned powerhouses, local OC crust heroes like A//Solution and Apocalypse and that contemporary brand of punishingly fast and violent US hardcore (some of the breaks undoubtedly fall in that category). In terms of production, and in spite of a second mastering work, the Ep sounds like raw and urgent early stenchgrind - the band included a five-second burst of referential noise called "Scum..." to wrap up the Ep, just to make sure the listeners understood where they were coming from - and can be said to be a typical and solid example of the sound of the area at that time. I love the cut'n'paste DIY look of the foldout bringing to mind the traditional early crust aesthetics and the band's logo depicting a roughly-drawn picture of a rather melancholy-looking crusty punk's shrunken head is wonderful and gets an A+ for me. The cover is undeniably more enigmatic as it is a picture of a prisoner-of-war or concentration or refugee camp with a dozen of miserable-looking men behind barbed wire. Pretty shocking and grim really. True realities of war. I do not know when this was taken or if it holds any relation to the year 1989 but judging from the prisoners' clothing I doubt it. I suppose the band's choice was meant to reflect the constant war mongering and disdain for basic human rights that defined the twentieth century and while I agree with the sentiment and the content, the visual form can be considered as awkward, or even, in 2021, as "problematic". From a very prosaic standpoint, it makes their shirt particularly hard to wear and I only sport if at grindcore gigs where I am confident the majority of the audience will be wearing far more shocking and distasteful shirts. Clever me.
The following Ep was released in 1991 - before 1989's remastered version - on Tribal War Records back when it was still located in New York City. Entitled Dead Against the War, it was the label's very first release (or was it actually the Warning Ep?). Confrontation pretty much kept on the same old-school grinding crusty hardcore tracks with new singer Ben, although they started to include heavy and suffocating doomy sludge part in the songwriting, adding a suffocating sense of atmospherics that will characterized what Dystopia would be known for a few years later. In fact, you could say Dead Against the War and the 1991 split Ep with Cantankerous (a band that had Matt from Mindrot on guitar) pretty sounded like a raw, unfiltered blend between between early Deformed Conscience, Concrete Sox and Embittered. Although I like 1989 better for its superior bollocking power and filthier blasting bum crust sound, the later material is also solid and thoroughly enjoyable and an interesting pre-Dystopia endeavour. After the demise of Confrontation and Cantankerous, Todd and Matt formed Dystopia along with Dino from Carcinogen (he actually provided some artwork and drew the liner notes on Dead Against the War) and Dan from Mindrot, a band that went on to write some of the most potent, original and influential punk music of the 90's. 
This write-up is dedicated to Matt, who sadly passed a year ago.        


Saturday, 11 September 2021

The Empire Crusts Back - the OC Crust Years (part 2): A//Solution "Butterfly" Ep, 1989

Of course, no one could have known then. No punk band from the past could have predicted the effect their choice of moniker would have on future punk palaeoanthropologists. And let's face it, if a time machine had been working in the 80's, I very much doubt that it would have been lent to a scruffy punk band so they could check whether people still liked their music twenty years on - that would have led to at least 90% of bands splitting up - or whether calling themselves Genital Deformities, Pink Turds In Space or Seats of Piss was such a good idea after all. But then, they could have just asked their mum for a sensible assessment. It would be unfair and even far-fetched to claim that A//Solution picked a mediocre or embarrassing name. I actually like it a lot. It does not sound as straight-forward and ominous as Apocalypse or Misery but at least it suggests a glimmer of hope to the listener instead of openly offering the end of humanity or perpetual pain also known as the king size crust menu. A//Solution used a polysemous figure with the inclusion of a capital "A" at the beginning that can either indicate, on the one hand, the common indefinite article "a" which would mean that the band believed in one actual if indeterminate solution for our future or our peace of mind, or, on the other hand, because of the two slashes between "A" and "Solution", it could also stand for "Anarcho//Solution", the "A//" acting as a graphic substitute for the circled A. Both options satisfy me and I have to say that it might be more significant to keep the polysemic potential in mind rather than fixate on one interpretation. Know wot I mean?
Do people in 2021 think hard about A//Solution's lexical play? No, they don't. Should I? Absolutely, since the band's name - as appropriate and clever I found it - also implied hours of frustratingly unsuccessful internet searches when I first came across it. Before I lie on the couch and start getting into the details of my traumatic quest for A//Solution's music and biographical information, I should probably explain why I chose to tell such personal anecdotes about my first encounters with bands that I particularly love. Most of those stories are rather unromantic and commonplace and don't offer anything special. However, I feel that the way one discovers a band not only informs the relationship that will be built with it but is also part of a global punk narrative, evolving through time, contexts, technologies, with the hunt for the music sometimes far surpassing in intensity and pleasure the music itself, though the best is when both the quest and the treasure are exhilarating. I love reading about those micro adventures involving records, people and gigs and I feel that they do matter when considered as a collective choral of hearing-impaired stubbornly untidy persons. Beside, being paid 10p per word, it allows me to go on and on and still afford a pint of IPA once every fortnight.

After reading somewhere, quite possibly in an article in which the author had engaged in a self-rewarding heavy name-dropping session, that Mindrot had ties with the early Californian crust scene, I proceeded to buy their Dawning album. While the cd (of course it was on cd and of course it was second-hand) did not really do anything for me (what with being doom metal and all), it included a massive thanks section with a list of bands that read like a scene repertoire. Such lists were always very helpful at the time as they served as ideal starting points for younger punks like myself to dig deeper into a particular era and notice sometimes surprising links between bands (scenes were clearly not as clear-cut and discrete then). I was absolutely clueless about most of the bands mentioned on the list though - and still are to be honest with ya - but some were familiar faces (like Phobia and, well, Total Chaos) or already personal favourites (like Final Conflict or Dystopia) while others did catch my attention because of their evocative names. Among them were Armistice (the peacepunkest name in the world), Black Maggot (described as "total crusty black metal" with future members of Skaven) and A//Solution for aforementioned semasiological reasons. Because of my obsessive nature, I quickly started to look hard for materials from those bands. Armistice proved to be rather easy but A//Solution did not and Black Maggot remain to this day a myth. None of the venerable punks above 30 around me seemed to know or care to know about A//Solution while searching on the internet by myself proved to be a particularly labourious and gruelling undertaking. Just try typing "A Solution punk" and look at the results. Pages upon pages of rubbish that were often about finding a solution to keep your kid away from the ills of punk-rock. Face it parents, there's nothing you can do about it.

 Mindrot's formative thank list
Eventually, things sorted themselves out when the band created a Myspace account sometime in the second half of the noughties, which felt like a glorious victory against malicious and clearly nebulous odds. A miracle, that's what it looked like and I was elated. For good reason as the band had uploaded their Butterfly Ep, a work that can arguably be considered as the best Ep of early US crust, a big statement that, in my estimation, is quite reasonable indeed. A//Solution, from Fountain Valley, California, were the quintessential OC crust band (if you need a conceptual definition of the term, I invite you to take a look at the first part of the series here). In actual fact, as Head of the Crust Department at the Sorbonne, the carefully crafted curriculum of the Master's program - often nicknamed Crust Enough among students - includes an intensive comprehensive course about OC Crust. In the first week, students who were brave enough to enroll are required to listen to the Butterfly Ep for three hours straight and will be evaluated on a 10 000 word essay about it. No arsing around. That's how good and crucial this record is. 

A witch emerging from a... vagina?
A bit of history first. Information about A//Solution is scarce to come by to say the least and even in 2021 typing "A//Solution butterfly crust" in a search engine or on fucking youtube does not always lead the curious dork to the right corridors, and while I am quite fond of butterflies as metaphors of transiency and ephemeralness, the actual insect kinda disgusts me since I unintentionally swallowed a tiny butterfly upon riding a bike as a child. Not only did I become especially careful when opening my mouth since then, but I also completely gave up riding bikes, which was for the best anyway considering my poor skills and the destruction inflicted on the local fauna. Still, thanks to my relentless tenacity, I managed to find a recording of their short and lovingly sloppy demo from 1986 entitled Animal Pain/No Human Gain released on Vegan Babies From Hell Tapes (you can't make this up). It was quite certainly A//Solution's first recording, possibly done in the practice room in pure teenage punk fashion. The tape, I believe, included four songs and poems in less than four minutes and exemplified the strong aesthetical and political ties between the mid-80's Californian peacepunk waves and the late 80's OC crust bands. With animal rights activism as its main theme, this early demo was a rough and raw blend of early Antisect, Anti-System and local influential heroes Body Count and prefigured what bands such as Resist and Exist or Armistice would be doing at the turn of the decade.

 The first demo DIY OR DIE
Following this first attempt at knocking on the door of punk history, A//Solution released at least another demo. I read somewhere that there were two demos recorded before the Ep, one called Butterfly sounding precisely like the final steps towards the band's definitive 80's moment, and another one apparently entitled Love, which I have never heard and whose very existence I therefore cannot attest to, but if you do know something about it, there is what is called a "comment section" below that you can use, it's a just like the comments on Shitebook and Instacrap without the gratification. Anyway, the Butterfly demo was released in 1989 and saw A//Solution's sound really take shape. At that point, the band sounded like the perfect - and I do mean that - model answer to the early UK crust bands like Antisect's Out From the Void era (for the darkness), early Deviated Instinct (for the filthy vibe from the gutter), early Hellbastard (especially them as some riffs are liberally borrowed) and Pro Patria Mori (for the sheer intensity and bollocking). I cannot really find any flaw to the Butterfly 6-songs demo. As if such exquisite references did not suffice, A//Solution tried to win the crust race with their three (!) gruff and growling vocalists (like Insurgence had), treading heavy blows and rabid bites with one another. I find that the singers complete one another very well and it does give the songs some additional aural aggression, uncontrolled anger and a feeling of vociferous despair before the destruction of beauty and life.

As I pointed out previously, the Butterfly demo tape was very much a brilliant draft of the Butterfly Ep that came out the same year. Even the covers were similar, both of them depicting two butterflies being threatened - I presume - by some sort of bat-like vampiric demon with the head of a fox, the drawing on the tape's cover looking rougher and maybe not as otherworldly as the Ep's. On the other side, the backcover of the record depicts a witchy being, possibly back from the dead, emerging from a misty vagina shaped opening which, I suppose, reflected thrash metal's visual influence of the time (and, from experience, I can tell you that it does make for a pretty decent shirt on most occasions, your nephew's eighth birthday not being one of them). The Ep includes four re-recorded songs that were already on the tape, with a heavier and crunchier sound that will have you mosh frantically and give up showering right away. Quintessential, ultimate old-school stenchcore here. It does not get really better than Butterfly's demonstration of metal crust virtuosity. The balance between metallic power, genuine punk as fuck anger and a dirty crust-drenched vibe is masterly. The aforementioned British crust classics are obviously invoked and the Ep puts forward a tasteful variety of tempos that can be qualified as the Crust Grand Slam, from thrashing fast, to heavy apocalyptic sludge and mid-paced groovy trot. If I had to find one minor flaw to the Ep, it would be that the song "State of rule" is perhaps too long of an instrumental - especially when they had so much vocal power at their disposal - and that it would have worked better as the opening or closing song. But I am being picky. Listening to "Love" makes me want to run to howl "Looooaarrghhhoooove" - a clear reference to Disorder's "Life" - at the top of a building overlooking a post-apocalyptic landscape, looking up to the sky for the last time. Cheery stuff. The inside of the Ep is all in traditional cut'n'paste fashion and the lyrics are hand-written to the point of being a little hard to make out at times. Words deal with the transience of beauty and harmony, the butterfly metaphor, unity, love and its absence. Certainly not as gloomy than you would expect, and more in line with the peacepunk prose (the Iconoclast come to mind). The Ep was released on a Scarborough-based label run by Stuart from Satanic Malfunctions, I suppose they were penpals since it the only other releases were from SM.

Cut'n'paste or die presents: the second demo
Following this masterpiece, one would have hoped for a full Lp, a work that would have confirmed A//Solution as one of the very best US crust band to have walked and crawled this Earth but this was not to happen as the band tragically split up in 1990. What-iffing (yes that's an actual, if ugly, verb) is pretty useless but still, one cannot help but wonder. However, the band reformed with the full former lineup, minus one of the singers, in early 1992, their reunion gig seeing them rubbing shoulders with Confrontation, Phobia and Mindrot for what was probably the most direct way to go terminally deaf if you lived in the area at that time. A//Solution - finally - recorded seven songs for a full Lp later that same year but it did not materialize then and they split for good afterwards. I came across contradictory information about the Lp so I am not completely sure as to what the original plan was. A full album? I also read that it was meant to be a split Lp on Tempest Recors - Matt Fisher's label - with a local act called Relapse which I have never heard but has a song on a compilation tape oddly called Southercalifornia Not Saudiarabia compiled by Mauz from Dystopia before he launched Life Is Abuse (a rip of this tape would be very welcome). In 1995, an unmastered version of the '92 recording finally saw the light of day as a tribute to singer Nedwob's tragic passing. The Things to Come cd was a clear departure from Butterfly but still sounded as a logical continuation of their savage old-school crust sound. With its strong heavy rock influence and an earthy, organic feel, the album sounds like a post-crust blend of late Amebix, Zygote, early 90's Neurosis and even genuine grunge music and is actually a very interesting work, still in the realms of crust but also progressive and very well-written. Although it did take me some time to get into it - when I first heard it, I could not get into the rockier vibe - I have grown to really enjoy Things to Come and I love the story it tells as the songs resonate well with each other and illustrate great narrative abilities. You can tell that the band gave some proper thought to what they were going to express in terms of narration. Too bad it remained unmastered.  
That there has not been an A//Solution reissue yet feels like an absolute shame as it would finally show the greatness of this band to the world (well the crust punk world anyway). A//Solution were incredibly significant in that they reflected the evolution of the OC crust/peacepunk scene and their progress pretty much told its story: from anarcho peacecore, to absolute old-school metallic crust and finally heavy crust rock, all different stages and sounds but still very coherent and logical. Butterfly still remains their best effort and I rate it as the best early American crust Ep along with Born, Fed... Slaughtered, Earth and Cybergod


Friday, 27 August 2021

The Empire Crusts Back - the OC Crust years (part 1): Apocalypse "Earth" Ep, 1989

Alright then, there's crust to be done. After a relatively long break this summer due to my annual meditation retreat in Stoke-on-Trent, I decided to tackle a topic that had been seductively floating around on the edges of my consciousness for a while. An immense task that no one dared to accomplish, that would secure Terminal Sound Nuisance a comfy spot in the Crust Hall of Fame. I could already picture myself being applauded by my peers as I walked to the stage in order to deliver my poignant speech (I guess I will have to thank my parents though my dad has always vehemently disapproved of Extreme Noise Terror for some reason) and lift the award for my lifetime achivements, a small but refined golden statue of a crust punk passed out in a pool of special brew. I would relish this moment of glory. But before this dream comes true, I have to push myself to the limit, yet again, and wrestle with a scene that has been particularly close to my heart for a while now: the venerable OC crust scene. 

The notion and concept of "OC crust" will be explored and discussed throughout this short series so that my desire to crush you with a three pages long essay straight away will have to be contained. However, some basic knowledge about the term "OC crust" and what it has come to mean and imply do seem necessary. Strictly speaking, it refers to the first wave of crust that emerged in South California, notably in the specific area of Orange County in the late 80's, making it one of the original crust waves in the States and beyond. It goes without saying that those early bands were deeply influenced by the early UK "Peaceville" crust bands and also by fast hardcore punk, anarchopunk (at least lyrically and ethically) and extreme metal, the three roots from which the original British stenchcore tree also grew. It should be pointed out that, while I am sure those OC crust bands were into the classic British anarcho and hardcore bands - like Discharge, Antisect and so on - they must have been stimulated by the local bands who had been or were then flying flags similarly adorned with doves, peace symbols and the archetypal antiwar lexical field: the so-called peacepunk wave. Local SoCal mid-80's noise-makers like Against, Body Count or Diatribe must have been inspirations while their peacepunk contemporaries Another Destructive System, Holocaust and Media Children evolved in the same galaxy but with different artistic intents on the scale of aural bollocking.  Now let's proceed.   

As my honourable sensei used to say to me whenever I felt blue back in the day: "Don't worry and focus on your life goals. If you pay enough attention, you will notice that the singing of the birds sounds just like Cock Sparrer's chorus on "Take'em all". Believe yourself and just wait patiently for the apocalypse". Of course, I was just a wee lad back then and I was not quite sure what to make of my master's cryptic pieces of wisdom and, in frustration, I would punch walls and spit on the floor like I thought a proper hard member of the barmy army would and draw cocks on my dad's car with spray paint. Good times. Little did I know that sensei was actually referring to the band Apocalypse and not the biblical punishment and purification - a myth that happens to have been one of the main, if not the only one, influence on crust lyrics to this day. I remember the pride in the eyes of my punk sensei when I used to tell him that, when I grew up, I wanted to front a crust band called Apocalypse. Even then I could notice a soft cloud of sadness on his face as he encouraged to pursue my dreams and get the crust pants-making technique right. Realizing that there was already a crust band with the Apocalypse moniker broke my heart and shattered my self-confidence. Had my master not overdosed on dodgy shoegaze music some years prior, I would have shouted "Why why, whywhywhyyyy" to him. I think he was just trying to protect me.


I first came across Apocalypse sometime in the mid-00's through their 1998 discography cd Coldbringer. I remember picking it from the now defunct Crimes Against Humanity Records distro after reading the eloquent notice describing Apocalypse as an old-school metallic crust band from the late 80's resembling Antisect (there had to be a mention to Antisect for me to hyperventilate that much). Now such an introduction to an unknown band pushed all the right buttons and I immediately and authoritatively ordered the cd. I was already quite well versed in the arcane world of 80's UK crust by then, but I was all but completely unaware of the early crust scene of Southern California (I was unclear about where Mindrot stood exactly in this seemingly impenetrable equation as I had read somewhere that they used to do crust). While I knew that Misery, Disrupt, Nausea or Destroy belonged to the early U$ crust canon and greatly enjoyed the seminal SoCal political hardcore punk bands Final Conflict and Iconoclast, I did not really envision a proper crust scene in California, which, of course, sounds preposterous because that part of the world has had top representatives of every punk subgenres since the 70's (well, us French still rule over the sloppy-minimalistic-punk-with-a-drum-machine genre but no one really covets that spot to be fair). So upon reading about a SoCal stenchcore team, my mind immediately went wild and I quickly took to interrogate old-timers about a potential early crust scene over there, for, as the old punk saying goes "even if there is just the one bottle of brew, there are always more than one crust punk fighting for it", meaning that, because of crust's peculiar reproductive molecular structure, there was bound to be more bands in that style.

The reason why CAH Records had freshly received copies of Coldbringer is somewhat mysterious as it was released almost ten years prior, so by 2006 or 2007 (I think I got it around that time), it was no longer something new. Perhaps the record label behind it, Half-Life Records from Hacienda Heights, found some additional copies of the cd in the attic and offered them to CAH as it used to carry a lot of grindcore bands on the distro and Half-Life was precisely a grindcore label so it could make sense (the connection between Apocalypse and Half-Life was certainly more personal than musical, I guess they were mates and the latter offered to release a discography for them). Whatever the reason was, it looked like a sign from the gods of crust and although I am not the superstitious type and tend to disregard such beliefs, that the cd found itself in my path was not a coincidence. I had been chosen. It was a prophecy. And I also had some money in my pocket for the prophecy to happen but let's not dwell on such trivial, mundane details. 


There is little point in telling you how excited I was (and still am) about Apocalypse. They played exactly the style of crust that I loved and, like every old-school records included, there was a short but substantial thank list mentioning other bands I had never heard about, it was like a starting point for an archeological expedition as I was ready to embark into a quest for OC crust. The internet has made it possible, in a extremely short amount of time, to acquire some knowledge - albeit often superficial but it is beside the point - about any punk subgenres, even the most obscure. However, so-called OC crust (that has come to designate bands that were actually from Orange County but also from neighbouring localities), which was really an outgrowth of the strong SoCal peacepunk scene (as the thank list highlights with the presence of Another Destructive System or Media Children for example) rather than a scene of its own, remains something of an hidden treasure. I have already extensively written about the 80's Californian peacepunk scene and touched upon OC crust on two occasions when glorifying Mindrot and Glycine Max but this time I am going to do things properly and write passionately about four top records from that era.

So what about Apocalypse then? They were from Walnut (yes, like a walnut), formed in 1986 and disbanded in 1990. They got to release a fantastic demo tape and three Ep's (the present record Earth as well as splits with the mighty Mindrot and Transgression) and did the Earth Grind Tour around the country with Confrontation (a split Ep between both bands was announced for the tour but it did not materialize). And did I mention they picked the crustiest name for a band? So obvious and self-evident if not corny that it is brilliant (and I am not saying this just because I still envy them). The Earth Ep was recorded in 1988 and 1989 with a lineup that exemplifies the rather incestuous ties that existed among crust bands there: drummer Mark also hit things for Glycine Max then, bass player Al also drummed for Mindrot, while guitar player Rich and singer Ralph were literally brothers. One may justly infer that the OC crust phenomena might have been rather small, a specific and ultimately genre-defining moment that was part of a wider political hardcore punk metal scene in the 80's. 


Earth technically contains four songs but the first two "Mother..." and "Earth!" are actually tied to one another so that the former feels like a long dark metallic crust instrumental introduction rather than a separate track which gives it more of a narrative dimension to both. These two numbers make up the first side of the Ep and work perfectly together to create a brilliant and memorable crust epic with variations, from eerie moments to chugging and apocalyptic ones, there is a story being told here. Early Axegrinder, Deviated Instinct and Hellbastard come to mind (it is no coincidence that you can spot posters of the latter two pinned on the wall of the band's practice space, I'm assuming, that was used as a picture for the backcover), as this mid-paced track is groovy, raw and heavy, the perfect way to start the Ep especially since it provides depth and a distinct, sombre sense of doom, settling an atmosphere of grief and pain that would turn into anger in the following song "Earth!". Basically what a crust atmosphere is supposed to sound like and convey. Apocalypse's next song starts off with the canonical heavy-and-slow stenchcore beat before morphing into some mean metallic hardcore, not so far from the crossover style of the time albeit in a much darker version. I am hardly an expert in Californian crossover hardcore but  you get the gist. The great Final Conflict - undoubtedly a major influence on Apocalypse, Ron Martinez even produced the band's '88 demo - and Diatribe also come into the equation, especially in the vocals, which I think work well here, and I would add a spoonful of Concrete Sox as well. Top notch and pretty flawless first serving of proper crust. The other side kicks off with the Hellbastard-meet-Electro-Hippies-under-the-Californian-sun "Heart of man", a song that has a magnificent old-school vibe and ends with a typical US hardcore riff that probably had the whole audience run around in the pit (if they were still able to walk properly, the crawling version being far less impressive). The final song "Wimp-core" is a nine second blast of grinding hardcore, pretty puerile and anecdotal, but it acts here as a loving nod to the likes of Napalm Death, Sore Throat and Electro Hippies who had all previously engaged dealt in such primitive amusical bouts. I am into referentiality so that works for me. The production on the Ep is exemplary for this brand of old-school raw and heavy mean metallic hardcore as it gives a genuine punk edge to the songs and it makes sense that the engineer David Kory also worked with Infest, Final Conflict or even Hirax, exemplifying the ties that existed between the hardcore punk and the extreme metal worlds at the time.  


The cover is quite cryptic and a little too simplistic perhaps, although I suppose the conceptual idea was to offer an evocation of Earth and its beauty - a recurring theme in Apocalypse's lyrics - by offering a contemplative peaceful picture of flamingos - they are flamingos, aren't they? - and avoid skulls, nuclear explosions or decaying zombie punks. The poetry does not last long, on the backcover, as previously mentioned, there is a picture taken in the band's rehearsal space (I can only presume) showing faux model but real punk Matt Fisher probably in the nude - though the socks are still on for extra glamour - hiding his parts with a massive sign that says "Smash the skulls of vivisectors - It's your turn next". I can't disagree with this sentiment. The inside includes the lyrics as well as a thank list that adequately illustrates the mood of the time and the DIY network from which the band emerged (the list on the Coldbringer cd is even more eloquent on that level). There is also a text about swastikas (now that is much more uncommon) and how they originally symbolized balance and the Earth power instead of Poland-invading murderers. Still a little daring to sport one and some malign bands and people have been playing with this historical ambiguities for nasty purposes. 

Earth was released in 1989 on Crust Records, the label run by Ben from Dropdead - with the simplest and most desired name in the game - responsible for some classic Disrupt, Dropdead or Totalitär records. Apocalypse would then release two more Ep's, a split with crossover hardcore band Transgression from Indiana and another split, this time with crust neighbours Mindrot before splitting up in 1991. They reformed in the late 2010's and recorded a very convincing split Ep with Extinction of Mankind. 

The whole series is humbly dedicated to Matt Fisher, former member of Confrontation and Mindrot, who sadly passed away in October, 2020.