Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Anarchy in the U$A: Brother Inferior "Anthems for greater salvation" Lp, 1997



Even more so than Civil Disobedience's, this record almost did not make it to the already legendary Terminal Sound Nuisance US 90's anarcho series. Not that "Anthems for greater salvation" is a bad record, far from it, but, one may ask in an eyebrow-raising moment, is it really an anarchopunk one? In general, when discussing Brother Inferior, the term "political hardcore" is the one that is used and I find it perfectly adequate. It does not imply that the band was not punk or anarchist (I cannot speak for them but I would assume that they were, judging from their lyrics and enthusiasm), just that their music was firmly rooted in American hardcore and did not really fit with what is generally understood referentially as "anarchopunk". Now, I know that this might sound like a petty issue but if you see words as important carriers of meaning (like I do), it is not an irrelevant one. Many bands that are hailed as anarchopunk classics today did not see themselves as "anarchopunk bands" but through connections and context, they were still part of that scene and as imperfect as the category undeniably is (and many bands challenged this - and any - categorization), it is useful in terms of aesthetics and intent in a given context. I suppose the term "hardcore", being much broader, is more comfortable but, left alone by itself, I have always found it too vague when writing about records.

There is the catch though. After all, you can be an anarchopunk band and play hardcore punk. But can you be a hardcore band and play anarchopunk? On the face of it, such a question sounds absurd, anarchopunk being first and foremost a way of doing things and a set of shared ideals. However, if you take the word as the signifying for specific musical aesthetics, textures and vibes related to a previously set body of works, then it can make sense. Put bluntly, I played this Lp for the first time in ten years two weeks ago and my anarchopunk radar went mental. I thought: "Fuck me, I should really include it". Of course, "Anthems for greater salvation" is a hardcore record. But (or rather, BUT) it has this undeniable 90's anarcho feel that all the other Brother Inferior's records are lacking and all things considered, it strikes me as a far better anarchist punk records than a lot of self-proclaimed anarcho's. And I am not just saying that because they have a folk song on the Lp.



I am not going to pretend that I am particularly knowledgable about Oklahoma, and even less about Tulsa (I have only vaguely heard of NOTA if you want to know the truth). I strongly recommend you read Terminal Escape's posts about Oklahoma punk if you want accurate and fun details about the 90's punk scene in this state. Apparently, Tulsa was a definite DIY punk hotspot in the 90's and one crucial place to play for touring bands. Brother Inferior's singer, Chad Malone, was particularly active in the making of the scene, running a label, Sensual Underground Ministries, and holding shows at his house (houseshows do sound like complete, but fascinating, oddities from a European perspective). BI were around for five years, between 1994 and 1999, and from what I can gather they toured a lot, which makes sense since their music, even in the studio, quintessentially sounds like it is meant to be played before an audience. The band was certainly prolific though so they must have enjoyed recording too: 4 Ep's, 2 split Ep's (with NOTA and Whorehouse of Representatives) and a full Lp. Although I do enjoy some of their Ep's, for their raw and genuine energy, Brother Inferior was never a band I was heavily into, probably because they sounded too much like "US hardcore" to me. So when I got out all my US anarchopunk records, I almost did not pick it, thinking foolishly from what I remembered (definitely not that much obviously, but for my defense, there was a time in my life when, believe it or not, I was not the most perceptive or wisest fellow...) that it was "too US hardcore". Seldom have I been so happy to be wrong (I usually convincingly deny ever being wrong) because this record genuinely feels anarchopunk, in the textures, in a lot of the composition, in its flow. The basis are heavily anchored in the US hardcore world but "Anthems for greater salvation" works perfectly as one of the great US anarchopunk albums from the 90's.

I guess you could say that BI always had an anarcho touch, at least visually and lyrically. After all, the band had a circled A and E on their first Ep's cover and rigorous anticapitalism was one of their strong points. But to my ears, it is really with this Lp that they successfully blended the US hardcore sound with that of the third wave of US anarchopunk. The production of the album certainly played an important role in establishing this well-crafted balance. The songs are much more bass-driven and allow the catchy bass hooks to shine, the guitar-sound is just right, powerful and energetic but not too heavy or overshadowing anything, the drumming is really tight and focused, fast but not too fast as the songwriting is sufficiently dynamic and the race to mindless speed would have only hindered the energy at the core of the songs. But what really makes this Lp work is its anthemic quality and its catchiness. Although the songs fit perfectly together and have a similar feel, there are enough smart hooks and tempo changes to keep the listener interested from start to finish (the only low point is the cover of "We're not gonna take it" which does not really work). The vocals are the perfect balance between snotty anger, outrage and urgency, and the singalong chorus instantly get into your head. "Anthems for greater salvation" basically takes the catchiness and intensity of hardcore and anarchopunk and seamlessly blends them. It is a bit like the sweeping rage of Antischism (without the eerie weird bits) and early Sedition mixed with the hooks of Defiance through a 90's fast hardcore blender (especially in the breaks). As such it can appeal to fans of Resist as much as fastcore freaks or 90's streetpunk nostalgics. Such an enterprise might not have worked if it were not for the undeniable motivation and conviction of the band. You can tell that they boys were for real and that they meant every single word.



BI were a serious band and a lot of the songs deal with class struggle, the wage system, the oppression inherent in Work and the takeover of the economy by big corporations. Anti-capitalistic working-class hardcore punk at its best: . Religious indoctrination and alienation are also strong themes and there are a couple of feminist songs as well. I wish the lyrics sheet were a little more appealing to read (actually, the looks of the record is probably main issue with the Lp as it does not look like much contrary to most anarchopunk records of the time) but the words are worth the effort. Here is a mid-tempo number I particularly enjoy, "Poverty crime":

"There's a blanket of insecurity that keeps us locked in factories, as we're convinced that there's no alternative to this life of misery. We are shackled by our ignorance because they won't teach us a thing except the wealth that awaits a good working machine. (...) We give our occupations the best years of our lives, that they take with no remorse until the day that we all die, we sacrifice our dreams just for the money to survive as our will to live wither up and die". 

Great inspiring stuff. "Anthems for grater salvation" was released in 1997 on Chad Malone's own Sensual Underground Ministries.  Now, what's that circle pit thingy I keep hearing about?




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