Sunday, 2 September 2012
Antisect & Sacrilege - Live at the Mermaid, Birmingham, 5.4.1986
If you thought I couldn't have a worse-sounding live tape than the previous post, I am about to prove you wrong. However, as I said before, don't let the sound quality put you off, especially when we are dealing today with two classical, genre-defining bands like Antisect and Sacrilege.
Sometimes, it is difficult to step back and try to describe bands one has loved for so long. If you have never heard Antisect and Sacrilege, I envy you since you'll be in for quite a discovery. If you have (as it is more likely), you'll be happy to hear live performances of both bands at the peak of their abilities and if the sound doesn't do them justice, I'm sure you understand that the recording conditions of the time and place didn't really allow for a top-quality job.
Antisect is probably my favourite band. All rational thinking goes down the drain when I think about them. The funny thing is that I loved them before I even got to listen to them. Though it's probably of no interest to anyone but me, let me tell you my Antisect story. The first time I read their name, was on a distro list I took from a record stand at a festival in Geneva in 2002. The distro was called Missing the Point and I later realized it was run by Jules from Substandard and Constant State of Terror (two very fine bands indeed). There were tons of records and bands I didn't know about on there as I was pretty much starting to get into anarcho-punk (I have always been a late bloomer). And there was a patch section. Browsing through this section I noticed a strange band-name, Antisect, but what really caught my attention was the font. It was mysterious, beautiful, dark and very intense. For some reason, I just knew that I was going to love this, not in your usual colloquial sense, but truly love the band. Antisect quickly became an obsession, I wanted to hear so badly but no one around me seemed to know about them. I finally met an older punk who had the records so I went to his place with a tape and recorded "In darkness there is no choice" and "Peace is better than a place in history". I was of course completely taken although it did take me a few years to really appreciate their metal period (the notion that punks could even listen to metal music was totally alien to me back then). Since then, I have become even more obsessed with them, a passion that the book "The day the country died" only made more intense. Finally, I got to see them three times and hang out with them a couple of months ago, and they are lovely chaps. And they like cheese pizzas.
How's that for a romantic introduction, right?
But back to what pertains to today's post. Both sets were recorded on 5th of April, 1986 (a time when I was still learning colours and shapes and when my favourite occupation was eating my own bogeys when mommy wasn't looking. Happy days) at an infamous pub in Brum called the Mermaid (a funny name considering most of the audience must have looked like pirates). I have already talked briefly about this place where pretty much all the English punk bands playing heavy and fast music got to play at some point. On that particular night, the audience had the pleasure to see Antisect, Sacrilege, Generic and Decadence Within. Antisect were then in their metal-punk shape, the probable result of a tag-team match that saw Discharge and their "In darkness" era wrestle Motorhead and Venom. The music is intense and hard-hitting, the guitar sound is fantastic, filthy and powerful, and the solos never distract you and bring an almost ominous presence tone to the music. If an angry nuclear mutant living in a slimy sewer started playing the guitar, I'm sure the noise he'd make wouldn't be dissimilar. The bass is groovy and rocking and the drumming style is varied but always right, but what makes Antisect so good is the song-writing. There are no fillers, each song is catchy and tells a good story. The setlist is the same as the "Live in Leeds 86" that was recorded just three days before this one (a live recording that is far superior and whose Lp version is packed with interviews and amazing artwork, if you haven't got it yet, then there's something wrong with you and you should see as soon as possible).
In true Antisect fashion, there are no gaps between songs which makes the set even more intense and unrelenting. So after a really epic-sounding, long and building intro you have: Out from the void II / They came / Behind the lines / New dark ages / Bedlam / Out from the void I / In darkness / Into the flames / Ritual. Sadly, I only know the lyrics of the two "Out from the void" and "In darkness", but I can still grasp some sentences here and there from the other songs. Lyrics are, of course, also one of Antisect's strongest point. While always remaining of a political nature, they often embrace a more metaphysical ("Heresy") or metaphorical ("Out from the void") approach to the struggle of the alienated individual lost in the madhouse of destruction that we call life. They are very often songs of empowerment as well, making us aware of our potentials for rebellion and creation ("Freedom is here / In each and everyone of us"). If they can be described as being dark and sometimes desperate representations, the words are also means for questioning and finding the inner strength necessary for acting upon the outer world. Dark yet warm, desperate yet hopeful, that's what I hear there. A pessimism that fights back. The always striking artwork plays a big part in bringing forth the meaning of Antisect as well and you could say that music, lyrics and artwork are closely interwoven and that the links between these three aspects create the meaningfulness of the band. The cover of this tape is a piece of "Out from the void"'s (are these trolls? Gobelins? They sure look like the monsters in "The Descent") which was itself only a part of a much bigger drawing depicting a really apocalyptic landscape full of horrid creatures killing each other even though they are already dead (I am not quite sure about the interpretation yet). You can look at the entire picture on the back cover of the second edition of the "Live in Leeds" Lp.
And for those who haven't seen them since the reformation and have doubts (and I can't really blame them as we have all seen reformed bands that were just so embarassing to watch), I can assure you that they are a powerhouse live and one of the most intense bands I have ever seen play.
On the other side of the tape is a live set of Sacrilege, when they were still great. The gig took place between Sacrilege's two Lp's (well, there is a third Lp but I usually pretend it doesn't exist) so basically, you have a couple of songs from "Within the prophecy" ("Sight of the wise and "The captive" namely) but played with the aggression and power of "Behind the realms of madness" whose songs make the majority of the set ("The closing irony", "A violation of something sacred", "At death's door" and "Life line"). I always thought the songs on that second album were quite good but the sound really puts me off as it makes the record sound like a full on thrash metal album in terms of production and atmosphere. Maybe that's what the band was going for at the time, a cleaner, more polished sound. After all, Sacrilege can be seen as the most metal of the all the punk bands of their time (they really could play, which helps). But to me, few records can match the intensity and the sound of their first Lp, with that typical guitar sound that makes me go ape-shit and the raucousness of the female vocals, with just enough reverb, that sounded angry and outraged (an anger that seemed to have disappeared by "Within the prophecy"). Just like the Antisect set, the sound is pretty shit. You can still understand what's going on, but you will have to make an effort to get into these recordings.
There were many punk bands at the time that went for an almost complete metal sound: English Dogs obviously (I always saw Broken Bones as being inherently a punk-sounding), Anihilated and the most spectacular instance, Onslaught, who went as far as having a bloke pretending to speak like Satan on the intro of "Power from Hell" (but with a title like that, what is one to expect?). But if Sacrilege had taken a metal path in terms of aesthetics from "Behind the realms of madness" on, the sound they managed to create on that album, heavy and powerful but keeping that paramount punk urgency and filthiness, makes the album one of the best hybrid ever. Take the harder-hitting British punk bands of the early 80's (like the Varukers, of course, since two Sacrilege members were former Varukers, just listen to "One struggle one fight" and you'll know what I mean, or Discharge, Antisect, Anti-System, One Way System, Icons of Filth...) and mix them up with energetic and mean thrash-metal (Sodom, Kreator, Metallica...). And despite a reference to Mordor, the lyrics on that first Lp are still rooted in protest punk. "Life line" is about social alienation and the consequences of materialism, "At death's door" is about starvation and poverty, "A violation" deals with the brutality and the bigotry of those in power, and even "Shadow from Mordor" had a political content as it metaphorically criticizes the greed of the capitalists and the desperate fear and apathy of the masses. Songs about dragons only came after. If you're looking for a better sounding live of Sacrilege, I would recommend you get the double-cd called "Reaping the demo(n)s". It has demos and a good live recording taken from a gig in Leeds just one month after this one.
Now, where is that bogey I had saved.