2013 was an important year for me: that year, I fell in love with Greek punk-rock. The weird thing is that it wasn't love at first sight between Greek punk-rock and I. Whereas my ever-growing passion for Greek crust started the second I played the Hibernation Lp for the first time in 2004, it took me longer to really get to understand the beauty and majesty of its punk-rock uncle. Before 2013, I had already heard classic 80's bands like Panx Romana, Genia Tou Xaous or Adiexodo, but, stupid me, never bothered to really dig deeper for some reason. Not unlike in a cheesy romantic comedy, Greek punk-rock was like someone I would regularly bump into at social gatherings, enjoyed exchanging a few words with, but didn't actually know that well or even care to. And then, something happened and all of a sudden, a passing acquaintance became a tumultuous passion. And since then, we have been having an affair and we've quickly become lovers on Discogs. So, what made my ears beat so hard in 2013? It was the Πανδημία (Pandemia) Lp, an unpretentious album that took so many people by storm when we least expected it. When looking desperately for dark, anthemic, moody, brooding punk-rock, all our faces were turned toward the US or Scandinavia, but it really came from Athens.
Now that my relationship with Greek punk-rock has become stable, I can see things more clearly and I will try to define and explore what makes Greek punk-rock stand out. I picked five great, significant records, ranging from 1986 to 2013 that illustrate what I term the "bellicose pessimism" of Greek punk-rock, a genre that sounds both melancholy and combative. I would argue that this sense of "bellicose pessimism" is present in every early Greek punk bands. Panx Romana and Stress were very Clash-influenced, very energetic and had somehow a rather hopeful sound, however a few of their songs (I am thinking about "Genoktonia" for Stress and "Zo sto fobo" for Panx Romana) were definitely flirting with the darker tones of post-punk but still kept that raging punk edge, something that is fundamental to understand when dealing with the Greek "dark punk" sound. Anti... on the other hand were obviously already experimenting with the sound of melancholy but, while they were undeniably part of the political punk spectrum, their songwriting and their keyboards-based music made them influential in terms of tunes but no so much in terms of music strictly speaking.
I would argue that the early bands that best illustrated the dark aggressive quality of Greek punk-rock were Adiexodo, Ex-Humans and Genia Tou Xaous. Despite rather rough, gritty vocals, not dissimilar to some Oi! bands', Adiexodo's music was incisive and intense but the basis were there: bass-driven, deceptively simple, mostly mid-tempo punk-rock with dark and yet fiery riffs blending UK punk and postpunk. Ex-Humans certainly played a sadder-sounding brand of punk, closer to postpunk than Adiexodo's raw rendering of second-wave punk-rock. Once you get past the rough production and the almost depressive, "out of tune" vocals (that would be a misleading listening of Ex-Humans, I am pretty sure the singing is purposefully performed), their 1984 album, "Ανώφελη Επιβίωση", looks like the genre-defining, brilliant classic record that it really is and it perfectly reflects how crucial the joint work between the drivingly catchy bass lines and the intricate guitar riffs is to Greek punk-rock. Finally, yet another band from Athens, and my favourite one from the 80's Greek scene, are Genia Tou Xaous (Chaos Generation). And they are my first pick for today's post.
GTX formed as early as 1982, although it took them a few years to reach a stable line-up and shape their identity as a band. Their first venture into a recording studio took place in late 1983 and materialized the following year with the release of a split tape with Adiexodo. Despite the overall sloppiness, GTX's songs indicated that the band had potential, although they were still far from what they would achieve. Recorded with their first singer, their side of the tape included 6 songs of dark, raw punk-rock that can remind one of early Spanish hardcore-punk (think IV Reich and the likes), of UK anarcho bands like Part1 or Peni and even of what some current noisepunk bands are doing, but all in all they are pretty difficult to describe. The split tape has been reissued as a split Lp in recent years for those interested.
GTX recorded their first self-titled Lp in 1986 and it was released on Di Di Music, an independent rock music label that put out Greek pressings of records from Dead Kennedys, The Ex and even Sonic Youth (and Les Thugs!). It is always very difficult, if not precarious, to assess a band's importance and significance in a given context from a stranger's perspective. This said, GTX's first album is a ground-breaking record, unlike anything Greece had produced so far (in fact, I am even struggling to think of any another band from that era that sounds similar). Building upon their previous work and possibly taking cues from the Ex-Humans' Lp, this album is not only one of the best Greek punk Lp's of the 80's, like 1987's "Paidia sta opla" from Panx Romana, it shaped a world of its own from the sounds of second-wave punk-rock and postpunk, and yet escaped easy categorization. Of course, it is not deprived of flaws, the sound is a bit thin in places and the vocals are not always perfectly placed, but it has such a strong identity that it definitely transcends such matters. "Genia tou xaous" is a masterpiece of dark punk-rock.
Strong leading bass lines that are thoughtful and careful; intricate guitar works with a clear sound that oscillate between the delicate pathos of goth-punk and the boldness of punk-rock; a wide, but amazingly cohesive, variety of beats ranging from Crass-like tribal rhythms, binary punky tempos, mid-paced punk-rock to slow and mournful postpunk dirges. The vocals on this Lp would almost deserve a post of their own (I'll spare you the effort, I promise). They convey so many genuine emotions, sometimes in one single song, and yet, they never sound overdone or self-conscious. From breathless, furious despair, to overt defiance, deep sadness or beautiful melancholy, GTX's voices are sombre, passionate if not totally epic on some choruses. And despite the different tones and musical variations, the Lp always sounds like a cohesive whole and is deprived of any patchwork-feel that diverse records sometimes demonstrate. Finding relevant points of comparison when dealing with this Lp is a thankless task, let me tell you, that could give one the impression of a mismatched work. In addition to local bands like the Ex-Humans, I can hear some UK anarchopunk like Flux or The System, some Part1/Peni dark weirdness, European hardcore-punk bands like Contrazione, Armia or Chaos Z perhaps, some Yugoslavian postpunk vibes too like Paraf or Termiti and other European postpunk bands... and I am sure it all sounds very confusing now. Sometimes, comparing is just not worth it.
The addition of a second guitar player, among other things, is a defining factor in GTX's second Lp, entitled "Ρέκβιεμ" ("Requiem"), which was recorded and released in 1989, the year that also saw GTX split up (not exactly the best way to promote a new album, but there you go). However, the most fundamental change in this follow-up is... metal. Now, I can imagine what you are thinking, something along the lines of "yet another good punk band that turned into cheap crossover by the end of the 80's, I've heard it all before and I'll have none of it". But hear me out, if "Ρέκβιεμ" is not made of the same stuff as "Genia tou xaous", it doesn't mean it is irrelevant to the Greek "dark punk" style or that it is a minor album. As we will see in the next posts, metal got to be an actual influence on Greek punk-rock from the late 80's on, although most bands used it with moderation and, indeed, taste. GTX were by no means the first punk band to add some metal to their punk recipe (since by 1988, the Greek crust scene was slowly rising with bands like Naftia, Xaotiko Telos or Xaotiki Apeili) and they certainly didn't turn into Metallica-wannabes.
I suppose you could say that GTX substituted the intricate postpunk guitar leads with dark metal riffs, but they didn't make them the highlights of the show. Rather, I would argue that the metal addition was meant to complement the songwriting and to help create a heavier atmosphere. That "Requiem" must have been quite an influence on the emerging crust scene is obvious and if you are into Greek crust, you will be able to connect the dots easily, for instance with the use of a synth and the particular mood inherent to the genre. Although this Lp could be seen as metal-punk, it doesn't rely on speed or brutality to convey its dark, melancholy quality. Not unlike late works of bands like Amebix or Antisect, "Requiem" is much more about mood and songwriting and even it strayed away from "postpunk", if you listen to it closely, the driving intent is not essentially different from the first Lp, it is a continuation but not a departure.
Both of these Lp's were reissued on one cd in 1996, entitled "Γενιά Του Χάους / Ρέκβιεμ" and released on Wipeout Records, the most prominent Greek punk labels at the time. I bought my copy recently and it was still sealed so it didn't sell that well apparently... For some reason, new artworks were provided for this reissue and the original ones don't appear in the booklet. There are however, three unreleased tracks on the cd, among which a spectacular folk version of "Στίγμα" from 1983 that epitomizes the beautiful sadness and melancholy of GTX. This cd is worth getting just for this track.
The lyrics are provided but sadly not translated. From what I could gather, GTX wrote about social injustices and politics from an emotional perspective, describing the feelings at stake rather the ills themselves, often using poetry or metaphors to make their point. And talking about the lack of translation, a book about Greek punk-rock has just been published and someone must do it. Either that or I could just learn Greek I suppose.