However hard it is to believe now, Peaceville used to be a DIY punk label anchored in anarchopunk politics. "A Vile Peace" is refered to as "Vile 1" on the jacket although it is not the first Peaceville record since the "Will evil win?" compilation flexi, the Deviated Instinct Ep and the first Atavistic Ep were all released prior to it albeit during the same year of 1987. The name of the compilation has a political meaning and reflects the record's antiwar theme. On the backcover, in addition to a gruesome picture of a dead hero, there is an almost exhaustive list of all the major military conflicts and interventions that took place between 1945 and 1987. At that time, Europe was celebrating a supposedly forty year peace, which was extremely cynical to say the least when one considers the number of wars European powers engaged in during that time period. Interestingly enough this myth is still very much alive today (the EU did get the Peace Prize for that...), as if the wars being fought outside Europe didn't count as real wars with real people dying in it. "Peace is at hand. A Vile Peace. Peaceville."
That Peaceville started out as an anarcho label (it was originally a DIY tape label that Hammy used to make tapes of the band he played in during the early 80's, namely the Instigators) can also be seen in the bands' selection on the compilation. Apart from Dark Crusade who were an all-out metal band, all the bands were essentially punk bands and had something to say. It might just be an impression but I feel sometimes the connection between anarchopunk and crust is downplayed or even ignored. Let's not forget that members of Axegrinder used to play in Stone the Crowz, that Deviated Instinct's first demo was an ambitious, if a little cheesy, anarchopunk recording or that Scruff from Hellbastard played at some point in the Apostles. This link between these two moments in British punk history is epitomized by the presence of a poppy Chumbawamba song on this comp. But let's talk about the music, shall we?
The first song is the famous Axegrinder's "Slayer song": "Where evil dwells". I have already written that I don't think it sounds like Slayer but I have to admit that they could have done without that fast part in the middle that just comes out messy and anticlimactic. The band explains in "Trapped in a scene" that they had rushed through the recording of the song at the time in order to be included on this record which accounts for the song's flaws. This said, I really love the song and it stands for a transitional period in Axegrinder's life. It is a heavy, raw, dark, mid-paced number with a great riff, smart drumming and a perfect gloomy intro. Classic crust indeed. To be noted that Effigy had a song with the same name on their split with Hellshock, but then they were no strangers to borrowing ideas, riffs or even songs (Bathory and Antisect anyone?). "Where evil dwells" is anti-religion song that uses gory and macabre images to stress the manipulative, blackmailing, evil nature of the Church. There is a short and sharp explanation from the band that poetically ends with "Fuck your religion". Axegrinder were not deprived of a sense of humour either as they claim the song was "recorded in London, mixed in New York, produced in Sweden, practiced in Leyton and sent to Hammy in Yorkshire". Who said globalization didn't work?
Next is Decadence Within and their brand of hardcore crossover. I never really got into their later stuff. Too American-sounding for me I guess. However, DW always had good and genuine lyrics and this one is no exception as "Crushing of the intellect" is about alienation and how we are content to live as unquestioning sheep.
Feed Your Head's "ABC" is the next song and while I always thought of Feed Your Head as a band primarily influenced by US hardcore, this song made me dig deeper and I really like what I found. In fact, "ABC" reminds me a little of Paranoid Visions or Terminus with its folk influence and its dark tunefulness and is bound to please any old anarchopunk lover. The lyrics are pretty smart as well and deal with social conditioning at school and the lies of a perfectly ordered world that we are told whereas dystopia is what we are getting.
Three songs of the Hippies are next on the menu. This was the more hardcore period of Electro Hippies, before the massive "The only good punk" Lp. Three (very) fast and loud numbers about madness and vivisection. I imagine the metal artwork complete with a sloppily drawn devil was meant to be a joke (let's be optimistic).
The next band is Bedlam and I must confess that I know next to nothing about them. Apparently, this was their sole vinyl appearance and I have never heard of a Bedlam demo either. The name "Bedlam" was originally used to refer to an old London hospital specialized in "treating" mentally ill patients in the 15th century. By way of association, it became synonym with madness and chaos and thus a word fit for punk-rock (Pleasant Valley Children and Antisect had songs entitled "Bedlam"). Sonically, Bedlam owes as much to the UK as to the US. I can hear a late Anti-System influence, as well as some Anihilated and Concrete Sox, but the vocals and some breaks are definitely of the American hardcore persuasion. The sound is quite raw indeed and it is sufficiently angry and energetic to keep me interested. Cool lyrics about a global uprising against world oppressors. I will drink to that!
Chumbawamba are next and they hardly need an introduction. They were one of the most formidable anarchopunk band before selling their souls to the enemy, aka EMI. As much as I find this move saddening, still early Chumba is not only original, but smart punk-rock (well, let's stick with a generic term like "music") that will make you question and subvert things. This song is a sarcastic take on armchair revolutionaries who dictate what shoud be done, where, when and how while they sit on their arses in the comfort of their home. This is NOT a punk-rock song in the musical sense of the term, more like a pop song really which could be seen as heralding a radical change in Chumba's creative production. In the context of "A vile peace", it is a breath of fresh air in the midst of all this stench.
Civilised Society? are next in line, a band Hammy was singing for at the time. I have already declared my love for CS? so there is no need to write another ode. Here we have a dub version of "Treedoom", a song about ecology that appears on CS?'s second Lp, "Violence sucks!". This is a great song and while I cannot really say that the dub treatment enhances its qualities, neither does it spoil them. More drums and bass, but less guitar. It loses its earthy feel but the rhythm section benefits from it. I guess if Antisect and Chumba had conceived a baby while high on drugs it could have resulted in a song like this one.
The last song of the first side of "A Vile Peace" is an epic stormer by Rest In Pain who didn't hesitate to borrow a couple of riffs from Hellhammer. Unfortunately, I know nothing about Rest In Pain apart from their location - they were from Bath, near Bristol - and their obsession with Tom G. Warrior. "How the mighty have fallen" is the longest song on the compilation and it is perfect choice to end the A side. One could venture that Rest In Pain were far ahead of their time when one considers the vast numbers of bands who have been openly ripping off Frost or Hellhammer for the past five years. The song has a distinct early crust sound and production which brings to mind the rocking power of Amebix or late Antisect. To me, this song is a winner and it has a great drawing from Jeff Gaither depicting a seriously zombified priest that goes well with the apocalyptic lyrics.
The B side doesn't start as well as the A one had finished. In fact, it starts with two songs of Dark Crusade and, well, I love early crust and the bands influenced by that wave, but that's just cheap thrash metal. Sorry lads.
After that much metal, I am pleased to announce that Visions of Change are next. Energetic, powerful and positive, melodic hardcore punk. Their song, "More than now", is anthemic, has infectious chrorus for added value and the singer can actually sing. Visions of Change were really Depraved under another name and I see them in the same light as I do Leatherface or Snuff, bands that take the American tunefulness and song-writing and give it the British treatment. Great Native American inspired artwork on this one as well.
Atavistic takes over with one of their best songs: "Maelstrom". This number is the perfect bridge between their fast as fuck hardcore early period and their heavier one. It starts with a classic, synth-driven, atmospheric crust intro that gives Sacrilege, Amebix and Axegrinder a run for their money with its heavy riff and drumming. Then, we have thrashy punk in vintage Atavistic style and after a short, faster transition, all hell breaks loose, lightning fast grinding hardcore hits you in the face. Quite a ride indeed. As usual with Atavistic - who were England's own "intellectual punks" (HHH reference, wink wink) - the lyrics are very good, though more obscure and metaphysical than their earlier stuff. Man's relation to nature and time is the subject of Atavistic's meditation, as well as the ephemeral vision of total freedom of the mind. Did I mention the song is fast?
Next are Insurrection from Guernsey with a track that was taken from their first 1986 demo. While their Lp could be described as the bastard child of Chaos UK and Extreme Noise Terror, their early sound was more akin to the second wave of British punk-rock. If you add a sprinkle of hardcore on the Actives or early Revulsion, you would a similar-tasting cake. But enough comparisons already, this is snotty, fast, straight-up punk-rock with anarcho leanings as the lyrics about multinational corporations and the artwork suggest. Odd that in a time when so many bands seem to worship at the altar of Chaos UK and Disorder, bands like Dirge, Ad'Nauseam or indeed Insurrection are seldom quoted as influences...
"Relief" and "Slave to convention" by the almighty Doom follow. This was Doom in its earliest and sloppiest incarnation. If you listen closely to the distorsion and the drumming, it is actually closer to a gruffier Chaos UK than Discharge (or Discard, the main influence behind it all). The two songs have this unmistakably youthful punk spontaneity that we all love so much.
Next is "Rock'n'roll conformity" by Deviated Instinct in a version that is much superior to the Lp's. It was recorded in 1987 and was part of the third demo, many tracks of which ended up on subsequent compilations. I think it is my favourite 80's DI recording. The sound is thick, chunky, groovy and it has a filthy and snotty vibe, something the Lp greatly missed. This song is about the capitalistic cock-rock circus, about the rockstar system, and how it can deprive one of the ability to think critically. After all, in these big rock shows, we are only expected to applaude sheepishly, get our lighters out and "rock hard". Great artwork as usual depicting a zombie, dressed like Bon Jovi in his prime, pulling the rock'n'roll strings.
Sore Throat is a bit of a Marmite band: you either love them or hate them. I, for one, am definitely in the first category. For this compilation, Sore Throat gave almost three minutes of noisy bollocks entitled "Only the dead know the end of the war". It oscillates between cavemen grindcore, neanderthal crust or just noise for the sake of it. There is a strange background noise that could be a grunt repeated endlessly but I am not quite sure. Amazing artwork here, maybe my favourite of the bunch, with a WW1 soldier waking up from the dead and skull-shaped nuclear explosion.
Next are Revulsion, a criminally underrated band from Norwich. Their song "Another bloody war" must have been recorded during the same session as their two songs from the "Consolidation" Ep. It has awesome, tuneful and epic guitar leads that give the Revulsion sound another dimension. In addition to vintage Conflict (think "Increase the pressure") and other 80's snotty anarcho bands like Symbol of Freedom or early Anti-System, I am reminded a bit of 90's anarcho band like A//Political and Counter-Attack with a healthy spoonful of Partisans and early Varukers. And yet Revulsion are totally unique as I can spot them in a heartbeat. Top band.
Dawn of Liberty is the only non-British (gasp) band included on "A Vile Peace" as they were actually from Belgium. They were an anarchopunk band active in the late 80's and beside a very good Ep, they also appeared on such great compilations as "Attack is now suicide" (alongside Asocial, Extrem or Deviated Instinct) and "Exclusion" (a feminist comp including Active Minds, Atavistic and The Ex among others). Though not locals, Dawn of Liberty lied sonically on the British side of thing. They played fast and angry hardcore punk with quieter mid-paced moments that bring to mind early Bad Influence, AOA or Legion of Parasites. The present song "Autonomia" is nothing less than a call for direct action.
Last but certainly not least are Hellbastard. I haven't posted anything from them so far so here is a good opportunity to do so. I am sure most of you have already heard about these crust pioneers who actually coined the term "crust". The song we are dealing with here is "Civilised?", taken from the band's second demo "Hate militia" recorded in 1987. The recording is raw indeed and it is everything you can expect from an old Hellbastard song: chunky riffs, heavy guitar, pummelling drums and gruffy vocals. I really like the HB's songs that have the spoken words done by Wendy and "Civilised?" is one of them. Lyrically, the song is about colonization and the theft of land and resources that Native people have had to endure.