After a much-needed break mostly spent thinking about life (who would have thought that my journey into Discharge mania would prove to be so exhausting?), the time has come to start a new series for the mighty Terminal Sound Nuisance dedicated to double Lp compilations. Yes, double Lp compilations, these gigantic, colossal beasts that can be quite unpalatable when not to one's taste or very poorly compiled, but can also prove to be utterly glorious when done properly. Of course, I selected compilations that are not only solid and meaningful musically, but also relevant representations of a particular time and scene, works that tell us something on a contextual level.
Compilations can be tricky to review because there will always be songs that retrospectively sound like fillers or haven't aged particularly well, from bands that may have sunk fast into obscurity, and the stakes are even higher with a double Lp compilation of punk music since you usually end up with at least 40 songs from as many bands. On the other hand, such massive compilations can display connections between bands and labels (often based on political affinity, friendship or a belief in the importance of supporting DIY punk whatever subgenres you are into) that you may not have thought of, unless you were around then and there. Ever since that fateful day when I got into punk-rock, I have loved compilations. They were not merely a cheap and adequate means to discover new bands, they also gave the idea of a punk scene where bands worked with each other. They stood for the collective force of punk-rock to me, a romantic ideal of togetherness and unity ("Disorder quote"... check) and although I don't regard them as sentimentally as I used to, I am still a sucker for great, meaning-driven compilations. The double Lp compilation I am going to rave about today is the epitome of the spirit of European DIY anarchopunk from the 90's.
It is perfectly clear that compilations have largely fallen out of fashion nowadays. Few are being released and when they are, they usually don't garner much enthusiasm (there are exceptions of course). In fact, I sometimes have the impression that, to most, the idea of a "classic compilation" died with the 80's, as if any comp released after 1989 was doomed to mediocrity. I have already written about our collective obsessional fantasy of the 80's and how it is connected with the much broader mainstream "retro" fad. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the 80's myself. I learnt how to walk, speak and write and I got to wear atrocious clothes with impunity during that decade. Good days. Do we believe so much in the absolute prevalence of priority embodied in the 80's that we discard its immediate legacy, the 90's, as being unauthentic and irrelevant? Sometimes, we do, as we live in cultures that value and glorify originators often at the expense of contextualization. I am personally as excited with "Whispers" as with "A vile peace" or BCT and Mortarhate compilations and I would even argue that, in terms of quality music, "Whispers" is probably one of the best punk compilations ever.
"Whispers" was released in 1996 by Skuld Releases and Profane Existence at the apex of the collaboration between these two iconic labels. It took five years to Kleister from Skuld to complete this dantean project, which accounts for some recordings being quite a bit older than the release date. In fact, no less than 24 bands included on "Whispers" were no longer active when it hit the distros, so while I am guessing that the original intent was to provide an overview of great current punk bands, "Whispers" ended up looking a little like an obituary. On the other hand, I can only imagine how much work and energy it required and I definitely understand when he writes "I never gonna do something like this again!!!!!!!"
I already mentioned before that Skuld Releases, more than any other labels, embodied quality to me when I started to get heavily into crust and anarcho music. Although I didn't necessarily relate to, or even really understand, everything Skuld released in terms of music, I loved the international nature of the label's roster and I felt that all the bands were relevant, good at what they did, had something to offer, and the records themselves always looked ace. The label's collaboration with Profane Existence gave birth to genuine classics like "Balance of pain" and "Who's the fool", records that are among my all-time favourites, but it was perhaps "Whispers" that impressed me the most at the time. Two Lp's AND one Ep with two massive booklets and 38 bands, most of whom I had only heard of but was dying to listen to. "Whispers" definitely widened my musical perspectives, its variety of smart and heavy punk music opened a world of possibilities. Besides, contrary to 80's compilations, some of the bands were still active on "Whispers" so, in a sense, they belonged to my generation just as much. It was an enthralling feeling.
"Whispers" is not a compilation that is often discussed and when it is, lazy descriptions such as "eurocrust" abound. Don't get me wrong, there are indeed 90's eurocrust bands included on the compilation, but "Whispers", while heavily rooted in the DIY political hardcore side of the punk spectrum, is a diverse work that epitomizes this particular conception of punk that characterizes the 90's: more than music, not only in a political sense, but also as the idea that subgenres are not what matter the most. Of course, like at any other time in history, the 90's produced a large number of generic bands and there were dynamics that shaped the 90's punk sound. However, despite its incredible scope, "Whispers" never sounds tedious or redundant, as its undeniable 90's feel is precisely located as much in the musical elements that defined the decade as in the idea, common to all the bands, of playing honest, genuine punk music that doesn't need to be derivative or too referential (and one can notice that there are no D-Beat bands on "Whispers"). If anything, "Whispers" is a celebration of everything that was good about 90's crust/anarchopunk/hardcore/whatever. Not all the songs are great but together they form a cohesive whole, they make sense and echo with each other, despite the different tones and languages. They literally sound better and more meaningful next to each other, a cheesy statement perhaps but one that never leaves whenever I listen to the compilation.
I have already written about a lot of the bands included on "Whispers" so I will try to be concise and brief, especially since there are 42 songs here.
Hellkrusher: what's not to like about HK? They are as reliable as a childhood's mate, you may not see him every week but when you do, you always have a cracking time. Intense and raw Discharge-loving metallic hardcore punk from Northern England, here with clear vocals.
Naftia: one of the absolute highlights of "Whispers" from this classic Greek band that didn't sound like anyone else and yet exemplified the best of the 90's anarchocrust wave. Heavy, epic, majestic, metallic, progressive at times, crusty anarchopunk with male/female vocals that managed to be angry, intense and passionate. A "one of a kind" band that will be dealt with at length at some point on Terminal Sound Nuisance.
Luzifers Mob: a band from Karlsruhe I am not very familiar with. Three short songs. Manic, fast and aggressive hardcore with a modern feel.
Angst: even with your eyes closed you can tell instantly that Angst were from Norway. I am not a Norwegian hardcore nerd but sometimes it works so well: intense, inventive, energetic and tuneful Scandinavian hardcore punk with cracking guitar leads and vocals that sound both desperate and beautiful. Fantastic song.
Anarcrust: what a great name this Dutch band had. I have always loved the lyrics and the aesthetics of Anarcrust although I must admit that I can't really listen to their Lp's. Fast crusty crossover hardcore with a lot of tempo breaks and epileptic guitar riffs verging on the experimental.
One By One: one the smartest anarchopunk bands of the 90's to be sure that penned some clever, radical, catchy punk songs. I love One By One but they are not so easy to describe. They started as a melodic hardcore-punk band borrowing from both the UK anarchopunk sound and the US hardcore one but progressively played heavier music while keeping a strong sense of solid songwriting. This is one of their late song, a heavy, crusty metallic number that reminds me of a 90's flavoured, slightly dissonant Life Cycle or Civilised Society? Brilliant stuff.
Fleas And Lice: they don't really need much introduction, do they? Crusty squat punk music from Groningen with snotty male/female vocals. "Parasites" is an early song, quite punky and sloppy, but utterly lovable.
Hiatus: eurocrust heroes. Best band ever.
Sedition: though usually remembered for "Earthbeat" (and for good reasons, this Lp is a jewel), Sedition used to be this over-the-top European hardcore band that sounded almost too intense: "TV sickness" is as furious as Italian hardcore, as relentless as Finnish hardcore and as snotty as UK punk.
Brawl: melodic mid-tempo hardcore from Belfast with almost spoken vocals and a great singalong chorus. This is their anthem.
Graue Zellen: modern metallic and melodic hardcore from Germany with some cool guitar tunes. Not really my cuppa though.
Disaffect: one of the bands that got me seriously into faster punk music. I bought their discography because some cool older punk I knew had their name painted at the back of his jacket (he could be trusted as he was the one who made me tape copies of Antisect thus introducing me to them). Fast and energetic anarchopunk with male/female vocals that would become almost a blueprint later on. What made Disaffect stand out was the intensity of the playing, the cracking guitar leads and the raucous and yet tuneful voice of Lynne who actually sang as much as she shouted. Top band.
Misery: the band that has kept the old-school crust sound alive and well. The bass sound always makes me shiver, it sounds almost like a moving, living thing. Two songs, "Total destruction" and "Blindead", one of their very best. There are very few bands like Misery who can actually claim to have made crust a legitimate, relevant punk genre.
Health Hazard: fast and furious hardcore punk from Newcastle with punishing female vocals that we all love. Short and to the point.
Hellbastard: probably the most surprising band on "Whispers" and the only song that was recorded in the 80's (1988). Genre-defining music from a band that epitomizes the idea of groovy crust to me. "They brought death", a 7-minute crust epics, is possibly one of their best songs as well with a super crunchy production and that brilliant amebixy interlude in the middle. Classic among classics.
ABC Diabolo: more modern intense German hardcore with harsh vocals and manic tempo changes. Not necessarily what I would usually listen to but this is very well done actually.
Corpus Vile: heavy and raw old-school crust with gruff male/female vocals from Bristol. This is typically my kind of bands. Groovy riffs with a thundering bass and an apocalyptic mood. To be stored between Mortal Terror and Genital Deformities. CRUST
World Chaos: old-school fast punk from Germany. No thrills, 80's flavoured hardcore-punk that does the job perfectly. They have a second song on the additional Ep.
Zygote: a brilliant band that is often overlooked with members from Amebix and Smartpils. Heavy, grungy, dark psychedelic punk music that escapes easy categorization. "Man in the crowd" was actually a reworking of Amebix' "Ride to right" with weirder undertones that conferred a demented vibe to the song. Unique band that should return soon to Terminal Sound Nuisance.
Dystopia: with a Rudimentary Peni cover. If a raw death-metal band were locked in a mental asylum for a year, they would probably play like this. I love it.
Accion Mutante: awesome eurocrust from Germany with the vintage crust dual vocal attack and a crunchy metal feel. 90's crust as fuck.
Just Kidding: that's a strange one. Very heavy, doomy, dark, slow and dissonant metallic hardcore with harsh female vocals from Germany. They really should have called themselves "Not kidding". I am not familiar with the band or with the genre although I understand there were quite a few bands having a go at this depressive, heavy sound at the time. I enjoy it actually, especially the eerier parts. Very well done.
Viktors Hofnarren: all-out fast and crusty anarchopunk with dual male/female vocals (in German and French) from Biel. I can definitely picture this lot playing in anarcho squats at the time.
Bad Influence: it is pretty clear that I love Bad Influence, one of the most interesting anarcho bands ever. This is a live version of "We lose to win" and the sound is very crispy and intense. Tight band. If you have never heard Bad Influence, try to picture psychedelic, progressive heavy anarchopunk music played with anger, outrage and beauty.
Unhinged: another great band that no one seems to listen to anymore. Unhinged were a post-Hiatus band that pretty much built on the last Hiatus Lp. The pummeling crust element is still present but there is also a discordant screamo feel to the music that is emphasized by the high-pitched, desperate vocals of Manu. The perfect example of emotional yet angry political punk music.
Neuthrone: also from Belgium, Neuthrone played dissonant and Frostian sludge music. Heavy, very heavy.
Jobbykrust: I have already raved about JK at length so you know what to expect. Crusty anarchopunk with demented vocals and a progressive element. Genuinely intense and angry punk music from Belfast.
Doom: with Tom Croft on vocals, recorded during their Totalitär-worship period. Do I need to say more?
Slimy Venereal Diseases: another band that visited TSN a few years ago, crunchy and grinding crust with dual vocals and a crossover bottom from Germany. This song is definitely one of their best. Good shit.
Bleeding Rectum: ignore the terrible name, BR were a great political hardcore band from Belfast that usually wrote fast, angry, snotty punk songs. However "Sectarian life" is a moody mid-paced number reminiscent of emotional melodic hardcore with rather melancholy leads. Uncommon from this bunch but still quality.
Acid Rain Dance: yet another band that was tackled here, Acid Rain Dance were a great crusty crossover hardcore band from Germany with fantastic thrash riffs. This is music to headbang to.
Dread Messiah: a superb band from the London squatters scene, close to Coitus and Suicidal Supermarket Trolleys. This is exactly how I love my crust: unpretentious, with intense crunchy metal riffs and the raw energy of snotty punk. I so wish DM had recorded more...
DIRT: possibly one of the first UK anarchopunk bands to have reformed, although in a very different context. I always thought that DIRT's 90's outputs were really good as they never tried to replicate what they used to do but instead chose to update their music by building on their great "Just an error" Lp. This is certainly more tuneful, especially in the guitar leads, and it does feel like a 90's band, not like a reformed 80's band. Anthemic female-fronted UK punk-rock at its very best.
Extinction of Mankind: again one of my all-time favourites that was bound to be included on "Whispers". "Slow death" is actually a very old EOM song that originally appeared on their "Without remorse" demo that the band re-recorded for the compilation. This was EOM in their early days when they blended "In darkness"-era with "Out from the void"-era Antisect. Superb song with great guitar work though the drums would have probably needed a bit more punch.
Guts Pie Earshot: the weirdest song of the compilation. Experimental postpunk music with female vocals in German and a violin that challenges the conventions of your average punk music. I never could handle a full Lp of GPE but this song is actually really solid with an incantatory gloomy quality. Time to give it another chance.
Masskontroll: Punk as fuck Crude SS-worship from Portland with a brilliant guitar sound. What's not to love?
Warcollapse: like Misery and Extinction of Mankind, I always saw Warcollapse as reliable purveyors of genuinely good and tasteful crust music. These bands are a bit like family if you will. "It's time to..." is one of Warcollapse's mid-paced old-school crust songs that also appeared on "Crust as fuck existence". And what a great song it is: simple heavy but effective riffs, crunchy and groovy songwriting with an apocalyptic vibe, gruff vocals... It is a deceptively simple song that work so well and achieves everything proper crust music requires. Atmosphere-creating music. (And sorry for the few scratches, I may have overplayed that song...)
Counterblast: and finally, the amazing Counterblast with one of their absolute hits "The European empire of capitalism". This version is different to the one found on "Balance of pain". It is more synth-driven, thinner perhaps, not quite as heavy and refined but maybe even gloomier and anguished. What a monumental song to end the compilation with...
As I mentioned, there are two thick booklets along with the compilation and each band provided some artwork with the lyrics. A lot of care was given to "Whispers" and it is a adequate testimony to a certain time and place.