Monday, 4 January 2016

War//Plague / Vastation "United in darkness" split Ep, 2015

A few months ago, I had the pleasure to receive a request from Organize and Arise and Flux of Disorder legend, Andy (but let's get real, there was more Disorder than Flux in that band). Now, I doubt he remembers it, but we actually met in 2006 (or 2005?) during Provoked's European tour as I was the skinny geezer who helped organize their second Parisian date in a squat. I even cooked for you! But enough cheesy reminiscing and back to the original story. Favourably impressed by the high quality of the work done at Terminal Sound Nuisance (and who wouldn't be? We are so successful that I am thinking of hiring some new staff), he asked if I would up for reviewing the new War//Plague material, to which I quickly agreed.

To me, War//Plague falls in the "reliable, trustworthy punk bands" category. You can think it is a silly, if not cheesy, category all you like, but it is still something that drives TSN, the unshakable belief that there are genuine anarcho crusty punk bands that deliver the goods with honesty, have been doing so for years and will keep going somehow. By doing what they do, W//P perpetuate the love story between Minneapolis and punk. In any case, it's not like they are going to start playing indie-rock, right?

I must admit that, while I am very familiar with W//P's early years, I didn't really have the chance to give a good listen to what they had been doing since 2012's "On a darker dawn" Lp. What I really enjoyed in their first records, and the brilliant split Lp with Policebastard significantly illustrated it, is that W//P bridged the gap between the specific US crust sound that prevailed during the second half of the 90's and the mid/late 00's metallic crust wave, not unlike a healthy blend of Deformed Conscience and "Warlord"-era Hellshock. Now, I hear you say "It's still crust with some crust" but let's look at it differently. While crust in the 2000's was marked by a high level of referentiality, late 90's crust punk was not as self-conscious and was keener to blend influences in order to make their own sound. Of course, you could argue that a lot of it was pretty generic, but there was still a desire to "sound like themselves" that many later bands tended to discard in favour of conscious, accurate adaptations of the sound of classic 80's bands. What I mean is, if W//P's influences are pretty obvious to the crust-trained ear, they remain influences and not templates.

So I was curious to see what the boys had been writing since the Lp and the two songs from this split Ep were the perfect opportunity to so. My first impression was that they have definitely polished and refined that angry, dark edge. It is not "Hooded-Horsemen-of-the-Apocalyptic-Armaggedon-Death" dark, but has more of a Dantean vibe, like an unpleasantly vivid walk in inferno's seven territories. I am guessing they aim at conveying the madness and weaknesses inherent to mankind, but rather than being merely contemplative about it, they're seriously angry (but then, it's still punk-rock, so it makes sense). The songwriting is therefore a bit more ambitious and there is some seriously good guitar work on "Centrifuge". Overall, it is more metal-oriented but the production is still clearly rooted in punk, meaning that it doesn't rely so much on literally crushing heaviness as it does on bass-driven angry energy. The vocals sound suitably pissed off and the flow is closer to a furious 90's anarcho rant than to your usual domesday growls, but it works very well. My only complaint would be that the double-bass drum is perhaps too present and it feels distracting at times. The second W//P song is a rocking Totalitär cover, which is a pleasant surprise and only validates the band's resolutely punk spirit.

On the flip-side is one song from Vastation, a Portland band that I had heard of but never actually listened to until then. If I got it right, they emerged from a previous band called Night Nurse, which always reminded be of an Armistice-gone-metal with a Tervet Kadet-worship moniker. Granted, it is always difficult to pick a good name for a punk band. More often than not, they are already taken and you end up with a super long name that people never fail to mispronounce or confuse with another equally long name. It's tough being a punk sometimes. The name "Vastation" is slightly perplexing at first (is it the opposite of "Devastation"? Therefore "Construction"?) but I actually like it a lot now.

Vastation play modern metal crust and they do it very well, there is a distinct improvement from the Night Nurse songs I know. The sound is heavy and powerful, there is some effective, but not overdone, Bolt Thrower riffing and it definitely reminds of the mid/late 00's stenchcore revival led by bands like Stormcrow, Sanctum or Limb From Limb. The vocals are deep and quite rough but don't sound too forceful, which is a common flaw for the subgenre, and are not too far from Against Empire's. Vastation also have an equally solid split Ep with Spain's Mutilated Veterans (former Dishammer people if you are wondering) and I am definitely looking forward to a full length. Promising stuff.

The "United in darkness" split Ep was released on the new-look Profane Existence and I strongly recommend you get your grubby punk hands on it as War//Plague and Vastation are two bands worth your time and support.