Friday, 13 March 2015
The Smartpils "No good no evil" Lp, 1987
Those of you who actually read the mad man's ravings that can be found on this world-renowned blog must have noticed that I love good, authentic crust music. I am therefore very much into Instinct of Survival and needless to say that I was, at first, quite surprised with their change of direction illustrated by their last Lp. From what I could gather, the IOS crowd has had miexed feelings about that record. I know a few people who dislike that Lp pretty much because it doesn't stick to the "stenchcore agenda" (whatever this might mean... and if it has to involve nicking Bolt Thrower riffs every other song, thanks fuck that it does not!) and that it doesn't sound "crust enough". To these people, who must be nearing utter deafness, I should only indicate that all long-running crust bands, in order to survive as bands, did change their sound at some point (a quick look at the discographies of Misery, Panikos or SDS attest to that).
There are also those who claim that IOS are surfing on the postpunk trend and that the incorporation of music elements that could be considered as "postpunk" in the new Lp is merely a means to be fashionable (usually, claims that the band is selling out are never too far behind). Even assuming that the IOS blokes give a damn about fashion (and I am pretty sure that they don't), their change in musical direction is not inconsistent with the history of crust music and the connections that bands from that wave formed. After all, their new sound is not quite unlike a heavier Zygote's. Or, indeed, a metal Smartpils' (now you didn't see such a glorious transition coming, did you?).
The Amebix revival from a few years back did not, for some reason, cause a renewed interest in Zygote which could have, in turn, brought The Smartpils to the unsuspecting public's attention (that's a lot of "if's", I know). The Smartpils were contemporaries of and close to Amebix (in fact the Pils' bass player, George, played the synth on "Arise!") and two of their members ended up later in Zygote (often seen as the sole "post-Amebix band") with Stig. Both bands even lived in the same city at some point, in the "quieter-than-nearby-Bristol" city of Bath. There was another thing that Amebix and Smartpils had in common, one that can be seen especially in Amebixes' early recordings: their love for Killing Joke. In fact, you could argue that The Smartpils were the sonic bastard child of Killing Joke and The Lost Cherrees conceived during an acid-fueled night at some Stonehenge Festival while a Siouxsie cover band was playing. You have these almost industrial, pounding tribal rhythms, a bass work that would not have been out of place in "No Sanctuary", haunting female vocals and a gloomy but distinct psychedelic vibe. Post-industrial anarcho psychedelic punk-rock. Or something.
1987's "No good, no evil" Lp is The Smartpils' only proper record, released on Bluurg Records, though they also contributed two songs to "Open mind surgery", a compilation Lp also released on Bluurg in 1985 that also included Civilised Society? and The Instigators. Prior to their Lp, the band had recorded two great demos for Bluurg Tapes: "Excerpts from the toxic state" in 1985 and "Zen punk" in 1987. As good as these two recordings are, I feel that "No good, no evil" sees the band at the top of its game. The six songs are solid, catchy and memorable and the clear sound production works perfectly, especially on the first side as it was recorded over two sessions. For the record, only the second side has the two female vocalists, Nikki and Claire (who would join The Hippy Slags later on) although the sound is not quite as heavy as on the first side (again, two different sessions). It is not a record that you can grasp in its entirety on the first listen as the different layers of vocals and the rather subtle guitar leads require several listens and a rather careful listener (but don't worry though, you can definitely play that record at a party too, it still works just fine). "No good, no evil" is a unique record that will please fans of Mortarhate/Bluurg old-school anarchopunk, of Siouxise-tinged goth-punk and Killing Joke-styled heavy rock.
Like most Bluurg-related bands, The Smartpils have not yet enjoyed the discography treatment. In fact looking at all the productions of Bluurg Tapes, one can see an amazing number of great demos that deserve to be unearthed: Freak Electric, Phantoms of the Underground, End Result, The Pagans, Insurrection... I can definitely picture a neat cd with the Pils' demos and the Lp. Aesthetically, The Smartpils were quite striking. Dark, pagan-inspired artwork with a lot of symbolism celebrating freedom, not as macabre as Amebix but along the same lines I suppose. The lyrics are quite cryptic I suppose but also poetic: Gothic tales and imagery, evocations of ideas and emotions, mythic creatures, metaphysical stuff about the duality of human nature (as expressed on the backcover "Showing his gorgeous disguise") with some songs reading like (drug-induced?) journeys.
Throughout their hectic life, The Smartpils shared the stage with a lot of good bands: Subhumans, Flux, Disorder, Rubella Ballet, Decadence Within and of course Amebix, with whom they seemed to have played quite a few times. After the demise of the band, George and Tim formed Zygote, Richard joined Hawkwind in psychedelic unity and Claire the Hippy Slags.
So now, who wants to run around in the nude a bonfire on a winter full moon? And more importantly, who's still unconvinced about the new Instinct of Survival Lp???