Monday, 24 March 2014
Ρήγμα "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" Lp 1994
The division of punk into a myriad of different subgenres sometimes create funny situations or even small, but real, cultural misunderstandings. I was chatting with a good mate of mine once on a boozy night, basically drinking on the streets and talking shit, and for some reason the subject of Greek punk came up. I spontaneously said that I was a sucker for 90's synth-driven Greek crust and that I really couldn't get enough of the genre. He stared at me blankly and then laughed. The very notion of synth-driven Greek crust was ridiculous to him (but then he doesn't even enjoy Amebix, so what can you do?), absurd, surreaslitic even. But for the proper crust fanatic that I am, synth-driven Greek crust obviously means absolutely classic old-school crust, with an actual Amebix/Axegrinder feel. There IS such a thing as the Greek crust sound and it means real crust (or stenchcore, assuming that term might be more helpful), and judging from the prices some of these Greek records go for, I am definitely not the only believer. But what is classic stuff to me is not classic stuff to others, and it certainly was not to my aforementioned mate who may even have thought that I was taking the piss with such a preposterous phrase as "synth-driven Greek crust".
You are probably guessing where I am going with all that cheesy reminiscing. Today, we are going to talk about the Greek school of crust, a school that never disappoints and has steadily produced a handful of classic records in the past 25 years. There are some places where the crust genre has never really taken root (yes France, I am looking at your right now). On the contrary, the politicised Greek punks in the late 80's embraced the ideas, the aesthetics and the sound of British crust punk with an incredible ease. One would believe that it just made sense to them and they seamlessly adopted and further developped the crust philosophy. There are no similar instances in Europe that offer such a concentration of superb metallic punk bands combining gruffiness with a true sense of epics, rage with despair. "Why Greece?", one will ask. "I don't have a bloody clue," I will reply. "But let's try to figure it out". First, Greece already had had a solid tradition of quality punk-rock throughout the 80's, with bands like Stress, Ex-Humans, Genia Tou Xaos, Gulag or Adiexodo (and that's without mentioning the postpunk/new wave side of the spectrum) so the foundations were already there. Second, I would argue that, quite simply, Greek punks must have been into extreme metal music, early thrash and death metal, and therefore the dark, rough and gruffy metallic punk sound of Antisect, Deviated Instinct, Axegrinder or Hellbastard did not just appeal to them, it must have appeared like the next logical step. But contrary to a lot of bands worldwide that basically turned crossover overnight and tried to punkify Slayer and Metallica (with varying degrees of success), a significant number of Greek bands chose the "slow, dark and heavy metallic path that regularly wanders in pummeling d-beat territory" instead (although there must have been Slayer-wannabe bands there too). And some bands, not unlike Amebix and Axegrinder, really loved their synth (arguably a bit too much for their own good at times). Bands like Chaotic End, Panikos, Forgotten Prophecy, Naytia, Psychosi, Industrial Suicide, and later on in the 90's Nuclear Winter, Ashen Breath, Rising Terror, Hibernation. The Lp that is being posted today is, according to your favourite self-appointed expert, a relatively unsung classic of Greek crust: Rigma's sole album "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας".
From what my informer told me, after the demise of the band, members of Rigma and of Olethrio (another quality band with top female vocals) formed Olethrio Rigma, which originally followed a similar metal-punk way (the first album is highly recommendable) before falling in the "let's be a real metal band" trap. Apparently Oethrio Rigma enjoyed quite a bit of mainstream success in Greece which may have overshadowed prior works of both bands. And, in the case of Rigma, that is an unforgivable shame since "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" may very well be the best Greek crust album of the period (that is a bold statement considering the awesomeness of Chaotic End's Lp but it will at least make people really listen to it).
The record starts off with a synth sound, just to let you know where you are heading toward. I wish I had the time to carefully describe each song but that would require an amount of leisurely time that I unfortunately don't have and beside, I am a lazy sod. The most striking thing about this Lp is the quality of the songwriting. Many think that crust music is generic and derivative, if not tedious. Well, this kind of work can undoubtedly prove them wrong. All the songs are memorable and, although the backbone is indeed metallic crust, inventive (not a term I use often on that blog). You will find all the elements that make Greek crust so great, the heaviness, the dark anger, the epic songwriting, the gruff yet not forceful vocals, the crushing mid-tempo numbers, the dirgy intros, so that you won't feel lost in a maze of musicianship pointlessly craving for originality (and we all know that trying too hard to be original never works). Rigma manages to enrich the crust formula with catchy guitar leads, witty tempo changes, but also with the addition of tasteful death-metal parts or "traditional" anarcho moments. Bands who try to mix too many elements from too many different genres often fail at doing properly, precisely because they consciously try. In Rigma's case, the disparate influences just seem to merge with ease and eventually end up making whole, coherent, cohesive songs. It sounds naturally heavy although the production is relatively raw; the riffs and the song-structures are not complex but they are always meaningful; the guitar sound is dirty, slimy and aggressive just as it should be; the drummer never overuses the double-bass and rather chooses to diversify his range of paces and his use of toms and cymbals, without ever getting technical (but then, I'm not sure he could!); the singer has a hoarse shouty voice but never overdoes it (aka, he doesn't want to be Bolt Thrower's frontman); the bass paves the way without being too up front and is used to great effect on some tempo changes and intros. The last song starts and ends up with the ominous sound of the wind blowing. The whole record reeks of spontaneity, like the original crust bands did, and it never tries to be crust. It just is. Rigma's "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" is a triple threat match between mid-90's Panikos, early Hiatus and late Deviated Instinct.
The Lp looks great too, an antisectish gatefold with hand-written words and drawings to illustrate the band's message. All the lyrics are in Greek, which definitely adds to the uniqueness of Greek crust as the language fits perfectly with the apocalyptic gloom conveyed by such bands. Fortunately for the non-Greek speakers, you also have - broken - English translations which will show you that Rigma were indeed pretty serious. Songs about social alienation and control, about the sombre feelings and emotions, about the insanity born from our survival in a ruthless world, about the difficulty to express anger and despair. Dark words for dark times.
For those interested, a demo also entitled "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" was recorded by the band in 1993 and includes even crustier, rougher versions of the songs on the Lp. A glorious listen if you are in an epic neanderthal mood. Prior to this recording, Rigma also released a demo tape in 1992, called "Στα Μυαλά Των Ανθρώπων" but I have sadly never heard it... Sob, sob. Rigma's Lp was released on Wipe Out Records, a prolific Greek label responsible for records from bands like Chaotic End, Panx Romana, Stress, Anti or the brilliant Chaotic Dimension.
So now, do yourself a favour and get some Greek crust in your life.