It still amazes me how unfashionable the 90's are nowadays. Whereas any old band from the 80's gets a spot in the digital sun (meaning "some geek with a dodgy sense of hygiene is going to glorify its one and only demo on an obscure punk blog"), the bands and individuals in the 90's who helped shape the DIY punk scene as we experience it today, remain largely ignored. Could it be because they are still too close to us in time? Not old enough to really be vintage? Do we really need to act like bloody hipsters?
Anyway, as my faithful dark legions of readers already know (and how could they not? I basically always repeat the same old bollocks anyway), I hold 90's UK punk in high regard. Bands like Substandard, Coitus, Hellkrusher, Disaffect, Extinction of Mankind, SST, Policebastard and many more were at least as good as most of their 80's counterparts. The record we are dealing with today significantly exemplifies this statement. Judging from how much it goes for on discogs (also domestically known as "the doom of the record collector"), neither Maggot Slayer Overdive nor Corpus Vile seem to be of much interest to "da punx of today". And how wrong can this lot be...
I must admit that a name like "Maggot Slayer Overdrive" may dissuade the least brave and curious people to actually check the band out. I must also agree that the cover of this split Lp is just atrocious. But let's not judge a book by its cover (and after all Forward never really seemed to suffer from their horrendous artwork). MSO was, quite simply, one of the very finest English punk band of its generation. They were original, unique-sounding, funny, powerful and punk as fuck. Even today, I can't really think of a band that sounds even close to them. MSO were from Bristol and formed in 1989 with former members of early 80's bands Lunatic Fringe and Rancid (yes, funnily enough there was a British Rancid before the Californians). I have to be honest here, in spite of my often blind love for UK punk, I have never rated neither Lunatic Fringe nor Rancid very highly music-wise, and for some strange reason that probably have to do with the prospect of free cider, both bands have recently reformed... It is indeed difficult to imagine how great MSO is if you think of the former bands...
Judging from their chapter in "Armed with anger", MSO was made up of fun-loving punks with a love for parties and an absurd sense of humour bordering on the deranged. Song subjects range from the anger felt when having flies in one's home-made brew, visiting deserted warehouses, being a giant cephalopod, hating traveling jugglers or, and I quote from the book, "sustaining oneself with homely thoughts of Yate llamas in times of adversity". Now, that's not something you hear everyday, right? This sense of the surrealist and the absurd is also reflected in the theatricality of the music itself and of the band performances which apparently sometimes included home-made fireworks. The music is completely glorious, uplifting and epic but always with that humorous tone. This is exactly what you want to sing along to when trying to make a snowman blind drunk in your underpants or when dressed up as a camel at a cider convention. This sort of things.
And the music... Close to perfection I must say and yet rather difficult to describe in a coherent fashion. MSO might be defined as a metallic punk band but that would be far too restrictive a comment and wouldn't even give you an actual idea of the band's sound. Try to imagine a snotty and glorious cross between "Porkey men" era English Dogs and "Forward into battle" era English Dogs, or even a decidedly punkier GISM. It certainly has a lot of mid/late 80's metal-punk elements borrowing from aforementioned English Dogs, Onslaught, Broken Bones or Metal Duck (thinking about it now, they may also have borrowed some of their sense of humour). But MSO are fundamentally a punk-rock band with a pure, old-school punk-rock energy (think the Underdogs, the Threats or 90's era Chaos UK). The guitars manage to bridge the gap between vintage UK82 punk and old-school metal through a warm, heavy, thick sound and super catchy solos; the bass does a fine job leading the music with cracking lines while the singer's raucous voice always keeps its tuneful quality (the bloke actually sings if you listen closely). This is CATCHY as fuck.
Before their demise, due to their rather chaotic lifestyles and extensive touring, MSO released an Ep entitled "The angry buzzing of a million flies" in 1995 that was a bit harder and that I personally enjoy slighly less than this Lp (this is still bloody awesome though). Pig, one of the guitar player, would subsequently join the fantastic Gurkha later on (a band I already reviewed on that blog).
The other side of the Lp hits harder. Corpus Vile were also from Bristol (with members coming from nearby Bath if I get it correctly, a town that also had the brilliant Muckspreader at the time) and offered top-of-the-shelf 90's UK crust although, for some unfathomable reason, they don't seem to be remembered much today (a bit like Embittered really). The band probably formed in 1990 or 1991 since there is a rough and ready demo from 1991 called "I am glad I'm not in Danzig and I bloody mean that" (a demo that won the much coveted "most ridiculously funny demo title" award at the local Bristol fair that year). By 1993 however, Corpus Vile had considerably improved as their seven tracks attest. This is powerful, metal-tinged crusty punk with dual male/female vocals. The male singer uses the type of really gruffy, hoarse vocal that I love while the female one has a raspy, raucous voice and, on the whole, the combination works very well and suitably over-the-top. The guitar sound is thick and heavy, with an almost organic texture, quite reminiscent of Disaffect's. Contrary to most of bands calling themselves "crust" these days, the drummers doesn't beat a boring D, if anything, it's closer to -order than -charge, and he uses a variety of drum rolls and of fitting mid-tempo introductions or breaks. Corpus Vile could be compared to a blend of Disaffect and Embittered, Excrement of War and Extinction of Mankind. This is good shit. The definite highlight of their side is the song "Mourn the shadow", a synth-driven epic mid-tempo number that brings Amebix, Axegrinder, Misery and Antisect to mind and that every self-respecting crust fanatic should know.
Lyrics are more typical than on the MSO side with songs against religious morality, the continuous absurdity of war or mankind's self-destructive behaviour. And then there is the song "Absolute crust" that is quite astonishing to say the least. It is about "travellers" who are constantly on drugs and spend their time either begging for money with their dogs or getting into fights because they are too high. Although I can imagine the kind of people the song is about, I am pretty sure it is linked with the particular context of the early 90's in that part of the country, with the collapse of the political traveling scene (I'm thinking Stonehenge festivals and the likes) and the rise of the dumb, mindless rave scene with its lot of violence and hard drugs. Chaos UK and Policebastard (among others surely) also had songs about this specific moment. But what strikes me, is last line of the song that says "Crusties... overdose and die!". Now, that's pretty harsh but that's not even what I'm concerned about. It's the term "crusties". Because when looking at the picture of Corpus Vile in the insert you realize they look like... crusties! Or in any case, they look like what has been commonly called "crusties" for 10/15 years. However, the band in the early 90's didn't identify at all with the term "crusty", to them, a "crusty" was a traveling dickhead that is maybe remotely punk (sort of) and only thinks about drugs. Ironically enough, some in "da scene" still equate "crusty" with that sort of people today. What surprises me is that people obviously really into Amebix used the term in that meaning in the 90's. Who said word didn't matter?
Anyway, Corpus Vile released another demo in 1996 entitled "Dark comes the dawn", after some serious line-up changes I suppose. This recording impressively mixed crust with doom-metal, a cross that was then far ahead of its time (only Greek bands like Nuclear Winter toyed with that at the time) and would have deserved a proper record. You can find it on the wonderful crust-demos blog (here) where you will also learn that Corpus Vile's singer actually did a song with Extinction of Mankind that appeared on the "Scars of mankind" Ep that was posted here a few months ago. Small world.
The "Soggy" split Lp was released on MCR UK, the Bath subdivision of the long-standing Japanese label, that released some top stuff in the 90's like Zygote, Disorder or... Amebix!