People often claim that crust is a genre you tend to get bored with rather quickly. "It's always the same" as the saying goes. It is undeniable that crust is a music style proverbially described as monolithic and bands are seen as being similarly generic. To be honest, I'd rather listen to a solid crust band that never pretended to have reinvented the wheel, than a band screaming their supposed originality to the world. Innovation for the sake of it usually bores me, it comes naturally or not at all. This said, the statement that crust is boring and redundant is actually untrue and unfair, and the two bands that appeared on today's split Ep are proofs to that.
Let's start with Embittered. First, what an absolutely terrific name for a band. Really. Not only does it sound great, but it encapsulates the shift from the relative optimism of the first waves of anarchopunk to the darker, more pessimistic mood conveyed in late 80's crust punk. Superb metatextual stuff here... But anyway, Embittered formed in late 1989 in Middlesbrough, in the English Northeast. Now, I have never been there but I remember a joke about this particular place. In the early 00's, there was a Cameroonian football player, called Joseph Désiré Job, who played for the Middlesbrough FC. Apparently, the running joke back then was that he was "the only job in Boro". Now, it is a pretty grim joke, but if it is even remotely true, it sounds like a fertile ground for punk-rock indeed.
Like too many bands, Embittered suffered badly from the Oi Polloi curse so a not inconsiderable number of people played in the band. But originally, it was the brainchild of Bri (who played in a band called Catharsis!) and Ash (from One 2 One). A first demo that, according to Ian Glasper's appealing description, had "the finesse of a charging rhinoceros," was recorded in late 1990. But it was with the arrival of Anth as second vocalist - Bri being the first - that Embittered really found their style and, paradoxically so early in their career, recorded their best work in the shape of their "And you ask why? when you've got only yourself to blame" demo from July 1991. This recording incorporated all the elements that made up the essence of British hardcore and crust in the late 80's, blending them seamlessly into something impressive and both familiar and original. It had slow metal parts, fast as fuck grinding moments, typical crustcore with dual vocals, some vintage hardcore, some distinctively anarcho references... It makes one think of early Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, Electro Hippies, Disrupt, Anti-System, Disorder, Deviated Instinct but at the same time, it never feels like a copy of these bands, but more like a regurgitation of several meals. Granted, the sound is a bit thin and cheap, but it is nonetheless, without a doubt, one of the great recordings of British crust. Apparently, the band had coined their own style "anarcho grind" and I can't really think of a more appropriate description: anarchopunk meets old-school grindcore.
Following yet another line-up change, the band recorded two new songs just five months after "And you ask why?" that appeared on this split Ep with the almighty Hiatus. In the grand tradition of punk bands who have been plagued by production issues in the studio, as good as these songs are, I can't help but think that they would have sounded so much better with a beefier production. While they don't totally reflect the songwriting diversity of the aforementioned demo, they are still solid fast crust numbers with a vicious dual vocal attack in the consecrated "low growl replies to high shout" tradition. The two songs have enough tempo breaks to keep things interesting and fresh (well, fetid really) and are good examples of early 90's crust punk, a bit like a low-fi Decrepit.
The lyrics were definitely one of Embittered's strong points as well. Far from ranting about the "horrifying atrocity of endless bloody wars on innocent children", the band's message was quite articulate. The first song, "In case of opposition", is about the capitalistic exploitation of women's bodies through advertising and the mass media that reinforce sexist prejudices and gender assignations. "This utopian dream" is a positive (!) song about believing in the possibility of a better world and having a clear vision of it. In order to give more weight to the political aspirations reflected in their lyrics (and to their stage performance), Embittered added visual elements when they played live. While political placards and backdrops can be seen as a continuation of the early anarchopunk bands' care for the visual aspects of a gig, fire-breathing must have been something new back then (unless Poison Idea were already doing it?). Stories of setting clothes on fire or setting off fire alarms are bound to remind one that, while the idea can be good, doing it drunk in a small pub packed with punks can be a little dangerous. Chumbawamba meets Spinal Tap or something?
Following the split with Hiatus (which took no less than 18 months to be released!), Embittered recorded a split Lp with the brilliant Dystopia (which also took some time to be out...), that should have been Embittered's crowning glory but ended up being a collection of demo-quality songs that paled in comparison with the band's previous recordings... A real shame, since some of the actual songs are good... The band also toured Europe in 1993 with Hiatus, Svart Snö and Ανθρώπινος Λήθαργος (Human Lethargy) from Greece, a super gruffy metallic crust combo with members of Industrial Suicide. Afterwards, because of too many line-up changes, Embittered was put on the back burner and Bri and Ash formed Manfat, an industrial/hardcore outfit that released several Ep's and tapes.
Embittered came to life again in 1995 with Ash as the sole original members left, aided in his task by Michael from the infamous Voorhees and two members of local death-metal heroes, Malediction. This time, Embittered had three (!) different singers and probably their best drummer, although the band had little to do with what it once was. This last line-up recorded the really good "Choked" Ep in 1996 for Ecocentric Records, a collection of seven songs, as fast and crusty as usual and with great anarcho lyrics, with a decent production for once. In terms of sound and texture, this last Ep really showed Embittered as a "proper" mid-90's UK punk band, not so far from Policebastard or Genital Deformities, albeit still on a healthy Extreme Noise Terror diet. After the demise of Embittered, Bri ended up in John Holmes and Ash played in Sawn Off, Boxed In and War All the Time.
Almost 20 years after their split, there is still no Embittered discography, a crying shame that will hopefully be sorted once the 90's become the new trend everyone has to follow (according to my calculations, it should start in 2 or 3 years).
On the other side of the split, three glorious Hiatus songs await. I already dealt with this fantastic band about a year ago when I posted the live split Ep with Fleas And Lice (here) so you should know what to expect. The three crust anthems included here were recorded in late 1991 and perfectly illustrate what the band sounded like between 1991 and 1993, up until their first Lp.
Gone was the lovable sloppiness of the first Ep, from the "Way of doom" Ep on, Hiatus became an incredible powerhouse, taking the energy of Extreme Noise Terror to the first Doom Lp's. The sound is so crunchy and groovy that it is almost humanly impossible not to headbang to those songs. In fact, the only people I know who could actually resist the awesome power of Hiatus are Dream Theater fans, but they don't really count as music lovers anyway.
The vocals are gruffy and from beyond the grave but do not sound too forceful. They are more akin to a zombified mama bear than a constipated brutal death-metal singer if you know what I mean. The music is pretty simple but extremely effective and punchy. Just listen to the beginning of "Believer consciousness" and filthy dreads will start growing from your skull.
And Hiatus were far from being a one-trick pony either, if their early years epitomized European crustcore in all its sheer savage beefiness, later works like 1995's "El sueño" or 1996's "The brain" showed that they could write effective songs using more intricate guitar works and rhythms. Without mentioning that they considerably improved in their lyrics skills throughout the years (to be fair, Hiatus' early productions are a bit on the "War is bad" side of things).
I would argue that Hiatus was one of the most influential crust band in the 90's in Europe. They toured a lot, recorded a lot and were amazing live. Although they have certainly become rarer with time, quite a few bands did Hiatus covers, like Demant, Starvation and SMC from Croatia alone (was there some kind of Hiatus cult over there at the time?), Disgusting Lies from Poland or Totalickers from Spain.
This wonderful split Ep, so typical of all that was good about 90's crust was released on Louisville-base label, Desperate Attempt, that also put out records from Concrete Sox, Deviated Instinct, Disorder or Disrupt.