NO, NOT THE EMBARRASSING US STREETPUNK BAND... THANK YOU. GOOD NIGHT.
Reforming. The eternal myth and paradox. The shitstorm starter. The excuse for endless online arguing, boasting, radical postures or justifications for selling-out. It is the punk equivalent of online name-calling between football supporters. There are usually two fighting sides on this issue. The intransigent will claim that any act of reforming is a betrayal of the punk ethos and, assuming they are into postmodern theory, add that the text is nothing without its actual context. In other terms, what is the point of watching men in their forties sing about topics relevant to them when they were 16? At the other end of the argument, you will find those who think that it is all just music and that they will be happy to hear old favourites of theirs being played live, the idea that the band (or indeed the songs) may have lost its significance not carrying much weight.
While carefully written punk lyrics keep their significance throughout the years (to some extent at least), expressions of teenage frustration may not translate as well when re-enacted by balding men who have had nothing to do with the music world for 25 years. To put it bluntly, on a strictly musical level, texts written by Antisect, Icons of Filth or Amebix are pretty timeless, still relevant today. On the other hand, I would feel a little uncomfortable seeing The Partisans or Abrasive Wheels doing their songs about being 16 and on the dole, not that these bands are necessarily bad today, I bloody love them, but to me they epitomized the youthful, snotty aggression that can't be recreated and I'd much rather see a young band cover them. Know what I mean?
And then you have to consider the motivations of a reforming band. It may not be fair since we rarely question the motivations or the "morality" of a new band, but here you go, old bands have been glorified and mythologized to such an extent that any act of resurrection is akin to heresy and has to go before the punk inquisition. I remember the late Andy Shocker, in the last issue of the sadly missed Punk Shocker, writing something along these lines (I'm paraphrasing here) "who wants to see a reformation of a band that only had the one track on the 'You're bollocks, we're bollocks, fuck the fucking bollocks' compilation Lp in 1984?" And really, what's the point of reforming if you're only going to play big festivals with other reformed bands, doing your old songs because the new ones are really not that good since you've lost the flame, and because the audience only want to get drunk and sing along to your two old hits anyway, because they're the only songs they really know, just like they do at home. It's like an expensive karaoke night really.
I used to be astonished when I was told that some old classic band reformed. It was a mixture of excitation, suspicion, disappointment and curiosity. To be honest I had no idea who Virus were when I got this cd the year it came out (and I was a little upset that I did not). I remember the label saying they were an old anarchopunk band who were extremely good live but never really got to record anything decent back in the 80's. Seeing that it was Jon Active writing this and he certainly knows his shit when it comes to the British anarcho scene, I decided to give it a go. So although Virus were indeed a reformation, since I had no idea who they were initially, I tend not to see them in the same light as "bigger" names (or just bands who did an Ep back then) I am familiar with and therefore scrutinize with a more critical eye.
Back in the 80's, Virus only appeared on one compilation Lp in 1985, "We won't be your fucking poor" on Mortarhate records. To be honest, their offering on this record is hardly memorable (and the band wholeheartedly agree with this as their interview in "The day the country died", which was done before their 00's reformation, attests) and with a chorus that goes "It's about fucking time that a turkey has its say" it almost achieves the same cult status as Oi Polloi's unbeatable "Whale song". Basically, if you were a cynical bastard, you could say that the Punk Shocker reformation theorem could be applied to Virus. But not only am I famous (if not envied) for my legendary open-mindedness but it appears that this Virus cd deserves your attention.
Virus were and are from the good city of Dorset, in the Southwest of England. They initially existed from 1983 to 1986, recorded two demos, both in 1984, and also got to play with Subhumans, Conflict, Liberty, the amazing Hex, the fantastic Blyth Power or the supersonic Disorder (epic mood you all). As I said my first encounter with the band was through this 2007 album and not their original 80's recordings so there are two ways to look at "Unacceptable noise levels". If you are not familiar with their 80's output, do not worry for a second, as this album does not require you to. It stands on its own two feet with ease, and although it undeniably sounds like English anarchopunk, the songwriting is solid enough to make one forget that this is a reformation album. I would go as far as saying that this is one of the very best British anarchopunk album of the 00's, my only complaint being that there may be too many songs (24 of them in 48 minutes, no less). If you already know their 80's demos then you won't be disappointed either, as "Unacceptable noise levels" contains both rerecorded old songs and new ones. If the first demo, "Infected", was indeed a little thin-sounding, the second one, "You can't ignore it forever", was excellent and some of its songs would have made a cracking Ep for Spiderleg or Bluurg at the time. Fortunately, some 20 years later, Virus have not lost their punk-rock skills, nor have they forgotten their political anger.
I won't deny that today I tend to prefer "You can't ignore it" to "Unacceptable noise levels", not because the latter is necessarily inferior, but mainly because of its production, which is probably a little too clean and lacks the spontaneity that you can hear in the first recordings. On the other hand, one of the main complaints that bands formulate in "The day the country died" has to do with what they sounded like at the time in the studio. For some reason, most of them feel that their demo, or Ep, or album did not have the sound they were looking for and did not represent them properly. The irony is that nowadays, modern anarchopunk fanatics like myself are usually drawn to the genre (among many other things obviously) because of the specific sound and characteristics it developped in the 80's. So while it makes sense that an old band would try to correct the mistakes of the early recordings and get a good production because they didn't have the opportunity to do so the first time around, a lot of people will prefer the old sound, as flawed as it might be, precisely because it is a raw and fragile embodiment of the DIY spirit of the 80's. Craving for the past is a young man's game. We live in an odd age.
If you have never listened to Virus at all, expect mostly mid-tempo dark punk-rock, with a couple of faster songs too, somewhere between The System, Subhumans, Part 1 and Flux of Pink Indians, but with a heavier modern anarchopunk production (think Bug Central or Active Slaughter). The songs are fairly simple if you listen closely. There are no incredible riffs or earth-shattering songwriting, but they work nevertheless, maybe because of their simplicity, their directness which makes Virus sound quite familiar even to an unenlightened listener. Still, the light, but distinct, cold, dark, mournful mood that pervades some of the slower songs, combined with the snotty and aggressive atmosphere of the faster ones, create a sense of peculiarity which also makes one notice and individualize them. It is both everything you expect from the genre, with the typical anarcho drum patterns, spoken parts about political issues and the typical prosody in the vocals, and there is this little twist that makes Virus stand out. It really is good and a meaningful, genuine continuation of their old demos: they expand on them without betraying their spirit.
The lyrics are quite long and well-written. You find a couple of numbers about animal exploitation and bloodsports, but also CCTV, capitalist industrialization, green issues, social violence, the shallowness of modern society, class justice and how fucked up the world is. The songs are seriously pissed off and the fact that they angrily wrote about modern topics show that they still give a fuck and that's quite reassuring. The artwork on the cd is nothing spectacular, a little plain maybe, but the band had the good idea to keep their great anarchopunk logo on the cover (i'm a sucker for that sorta thing). This was released on Active Distribution in 2007, an anarchist label and distro that also released their second album, "Virulence" in 2011, that I feel is not quite as convincing as this one. In 2013 they also did an Ep for All the Madmen Records called "It's not what it appears" that looks brilliant and is a solid effort. Virus are still very much active though as they will have a new Ep out shortly on Anthrax's label, Grow Your Own Records, which will be a split with Bug Central and The Sytem and they will also be part of a compilation Lp on the same label alongside The Sytem, Anthrax, Hagar the Womb and Flowers in the Dustbin among others. Now, I'm certainly looking forward to these babies.
And if you are interested in hearing their 1984 demos, the promising "Infected" and the fantastic "You can't ignore it forever", you can get it from the always reliable Terminal Escape.