Monday, 14 January 2013
Icons of Filth "Show us you care" Ep 1999
2012 has confirmed that a certain brand of 80's UK anarchopunk was back in style. Suddenly, bands like Rubella Ballet, Lost Cherrees or Internal Autonomy got to be appealing again. While I love these bands to death, I can't help thinking that it is just another trend and the renewed interest in them is both amusing and a bit shallow. Considerations such as this one notwithstanding, will 2013 bring us a revival of the harder-hitting fringe of the anarcho movement? Will the learned punks from Portland or Barcelona be starting bands that sound like Conflict, AOA or Anti-System? Or, indeed, like Icons of Filth?
A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with an older punk, the kind that saw the Subhumans in 1984. He told me that at the time, he didn't rate Flux of Pink Indians and Icons of Filth that much. To him, Flux sounded too much like Crass and the Icons were just Conflict wannabees. Harsh probably, but I can see where he was coming from. After all, Conflict and Icons of Filth were close and they played with each other very often (without mentioning the fact that Mortarhate released no less than five Icons records). There are, however, significant differences between both bands. First, Stig's distinctive vocals made the band's sound very special. Not really spoken but not totally shouted either, his voice shaped the Icons' identity and you can actually understand what he is talking about despite the aggression of the music. Second, Icons of Filth were, mostly, heavier, faster and darker than Conflict. Finally, the artwork that they used was more twisted, intricate and gloomier than the outward revolutionary imagery that Conflict adopted. In fact, it could be argued Icons of Filth are remembered for their striking aesthetics (courtesy of Squeal and even Blinko) as much as the are for their actual sound.
The "Show us you care" Ep was released in 1999, a few years before Icons of Filth reformed. It was a joint release between BBP records and Yellow Fever. As we learn from a small card placed inside the record sleeve, Yellow Fever was started by a member of BBP and this Ep was its first release. The label went on to release two subsequent records (the Diaspora Lp and the Bug Central Ep). BBP, on the other hand, began in the 80's and released 94 tapes (the Nausea / Jesus Chrust / Apostates tape was a BBP release), 8 "proper" records and distributed hundreds of great punk tapes. Sadly, the founder of BBP died last month but his distro and label are testimonies to the undying spirit of DIY punk-rock.
As you may have guessed, "Show us you care" is a live Ep, recorded in March, 1984 and re-mastered by none other than Sned from Flat Earth records. The artwork was made by Squeal who drew most of the Icons' artwork back in the days, so although this Ep was released 14 years after "The filth and the fury" (1985), you still have the feeling that it is a proper Icons of Filth record, an actual follow-up. What I mean to say is: it looks great! Even the two ads from the labels were printed on nice, thick paper and displayed some beautiful artwork. The large drawing of the skull was later used for the cover of "Nostradamnedus", albeit in a coloured version. The Ep cover has the famous Icons of Filth anarcho logo drawn as either a church stained-glass window or as some ancient mosaics. Could it be a comment about the stagnation of a punk scene so prone to idolize and almost deify old bands? Or on the contrary, could it be a tribute to a band that belonged in the past (they still did in 1999!), thus making the mosaics/stained-glass a reflection of the band's reflexivity?
But enough blabbering already. There are six songs on this record: "Virus" and "Asking too much" that appear on the "Used abused unamused" Ep, while the other four ("Power for power", "Self-styled superiority", "Mentally murdered" and "Show us you care") are from the "Onward Christian soldiers" Lp which was the band's latest release at the time (the "Brain death" Ep was recorded in October of the same year). You have the full Icons of Filth experience here, with both fast and mid-paced songs. The sound quality is good considering the recording conditions and you can tell that the band's performance must have been intense indeed. If you are unlucky enough to be unfamiliar with Icons of Filth, imagine a cross between the anger of "Increase the pressure"-era Conflict, the heaviness and despair of "All systems go"-era One Way System and the extraordinary of Discharge (pre-hair metal period, that goes without saying).
Lyrically, Icons of Filth were at least as remarkable as they were visually and sonically. They were a direct band, not messing around with metaphors. They were pissed and threatening and although some of their lyrics reflect a sense of hopelessness before the system's power, they always remain defiant and combative. "Mentally murdered" and "Virus" are about the social conditioning, the alienation imposed on people so that they fit in, as "slaves to other people's expectations": soldiers, workers, parents, decent church-going and law-abiding citizens. "Asking too much?" tackles the same issue but from the different perspective of a kid who has to put up with the madness of his parents, his teacher, the heads of state and sees the world going mental and heading toward its imminent self-inflicted destruction. "Self-styled superiority" is about the arrogance of Man, obsessed with the domination of others. "Power for power" is a song against nuclear power and has the brilliant line "you're better active today than radioactive tomorrow". Finally, "Show us you care" is an anti-vivisection song written from the point of view of an animal that has been experimented on and calls for help.
Fantastic songs from one of the most crucial anarchopunk bands ever.