Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The PDX-Files: Axiom "Establishing a culture of resistance" Ep, 1997

Fun fact: there are no less than 32 entries for "Axiom" on Discogs. Well, it may not be side-splitting but "Axiom" is a good name for a band, especially for one that has something to say, which, judging from the corny Discogs avatars of some Axioms is definitely not the case for every one of them (yes, indie-rock Axiom number 27 and wanker hip-hop Axiom number 20, I am talking about you). But anyway, our Axiom is number 13 and that is pretty cool indeed and much less embarrassing than number 18 (a Canadian thrash-metal band from the 90's apparently).

Axiom was a band I was heavily into in the early 00's. Those were frenetic years of startling discoveries as the yet uncharted world of crust was progressively unraveling before me, revealing bands that would prove to be eye-openers and genuine inspirations. Extinction of Mankind and Misery taught me to love the darkness of (good) metallic punk, Hiatus and Warcollapse enlightened me in the ways of caveman crust, Homomilitia and Apatia No showed me that anarchopunk was a worldwide thing... and Axiom demonstrated that such a thing as "grinding anarchocrust" could work, that brutal music could also make you think, that an aural assault could actually be a legitimate vector for promoting a radical social change. Such was the strength of the band that they even made me check the definition of "axiom" in a dictionary.

To be honest, I had not listened to an Axiom record for a good few years before I got the idea to do a PDX special, which is strange since I have always seen them as a genuinely good band. The fact that I tended to overplay "Apathy and privilege" at home when I first bought it (and I did not skip Mike Antipathy's long spoken word either, I was that dedicated to the band) may be an explanation. Or it could also be that the band is rarely - if ever - mentioned today, but then I don't think Axiom have ever been really famous, even back then, and thus have not been rewarded with the "cvlt band" status. Oh well, they really should have printed more shirts I suppose or, at least, should have penned some vaguely occult songs about armageddon using the whole lexical field of destruction instead of being so serious all the time...

And yet, if you really think about it, Axiom was a highly significant band, possibly the last great US crust band of the 90's AND one the last great anarchopunk bands of that decade as well (you can add A//Political and the revived version of Aus-Rotten to the list). And that is something I particularly like about Axiom. While on the one hand, they undeniably focus on composing hard-hitting, intense, relentless crust music, on the other, they also craved to use the sweeping brutality of the music to emphasize and fit with their political message. The form works hand in hand with the content, both of them reinforcing each other in Axiom's music and they never sacrifice one for the other. I feel that, throughout the 00's, bands have been slowly discarding either form or content (the latter usually) to the extent that, today, I sometimes have the impression that the lyrics and the paratext are completely disposable. And it has nothing to do with the content being political or not, you can write good, interesting, thought-provoking words and use clever artworks that are not about politics. I suppose it is all about quality and a cohesiveness between the intent and the result in the end.

"Establishing a culture of resistance" was Axiom's first Ep, released conjointly by Gasmask Records and Catchphraze Records (a label run by Contravene people in Phoenix) in 1997, and although their Lp is probably their crowning glory, this Ep is arguably their second best endeavour inside a studio. At that time, Axiom was a six-piece with two full-time vocalists, Kevin and Mike (the latter "sang" on this Ep only and was replaced by Brian who never appeared on any recording to my knowledge) and two guitar players, Ben and Alex, while Joel also drummed for Atrocious Madness. In the language of crust, it means that you are in for one hell of a racket. The structure of the Ep itself is rather original, with a "crust side" and a "blast side" where the grindcore influence is quite evident. Musically, Axiom are best known for playing this brand of intense, metallic, polyphonic crustcore as best exemplified on "Apathy and privilege", but on "Establishing a culture of resistance" the band's sound was not quite as metal yet. In fact, the song "Dear capitalist" even starts like a straight-up PDX anarchopunk number that could have been lifted from a Resist Lp, although truth be told it is the only mid-paced moment of the Ep. On the "Crust side" Axiom syncretizes the crustier side of the Scandinavian thrash with the classic ENT/Disrupt crust mayhem. The Swedish influence is fairly obvious in Axiom's music and I am reminded as much of late Asocial (which they covered on the "Impaled by chaos" Ep), G-Anx or No Security as of Disrupt, Destroy! or State of Fear (especially in the vocals). Interestingly, a band like State of Fear was also very much influenced by scandicore and a lot of their riffs were abrasive adaptations of Mob 47, but while SOF always retained that impactive, rocking, groovy feel, Axiom's sound is mostly characterized by harshness and brutality, not unlike on some Destroy!s recordings perhaps but with a colder bottom. And the real strength of the band lies precisely in this songwriting position, right in the interstices between late 80's/early 90's scandicore and 90's crustcore.

The production on this first Ep is probably a bit thin in places but it works thanks to the intensity and the focus of the delivery. The second Ep, 1999's "Impaled by chaos", saw Axiom add more metal to their formula (possibly a little too much but I could also have this impression because of the very clean production) and was a sign of things to come for the PDX punk scene in the 00's: Hellshock. As I have said, the 2000 Lp on Tribal War remains the band's apex and probably one of the best dual vocals crust Lp's of the period with just the right amount of metallic crunch. Besides there is a neat poster coming with the Lp so you can't really go wrong here.

Aesthetically, Axiom borrowed equally from the anarchopunk tradition (circled A and crossed $, peace symbol visible in the band's font...) and the crust beauty canons (hairy and slimy font, chaos cross...). Since it was 1997, some elements of the cover and booklet are rather pixelated which is unfortunate but pretty typical of a time when digital imaging was still new (but no one realized that it would look old much quicker than the cut'n'paste technique... oh well, what do they say about hindsight again?). The lyrics are obviously of a highly political nature as the band promoted "Freedom through: community, education, direct action". The subjects tackled on the Ep are the corrupt nature of capitalism and its upholders, drug use as a sad way to cope with life, war (you didn't see that one coming, did you?) and the prison system and how it is part of the social fabric. In addition to the lyrics, there is a massive booklet with essays, statistics, articles, pictures, drawings etc in order to illustrate the band's message and provide more information about the topics that the songs deal with. Some parts of the booklet haven't aged that well - which makes sense since the articles were accurately contextualized and were written 20 years ago - but it is still a very good illustration of the state of the anarchopunk scene in the late 90's and of the bitterness and frustration felt by the band about the passivity and hypocrisy of the political punk scene at the time. I especially recommend the essay that opens the booklet, which is about punk and apathy. Idealistic maybe but at least it is heartfelt and a lot of the criticism still rings true.

After Axiom split up, Joel drummed for short-lived bands like Ausgebombt and Midnight and accessorily started singing for a band called Hellshock (you may have heard of them, they're kinda famous), while Alex and Kevin formed War Machine with Kelly and Hopper from Detestation. As for Ben, he joined Resistant Culture in the early 00's. Apparently, Axiom reformed recently, though I am clueless about the current line-up (I know Ben is part of it), and they recorded a new album that can be listened to on the internet and sounds pretty good, judging from the few songs I have heard.


  1. You got me. I do like this band. Nice bit of writing, as always. I really do appreciate thoughtfulness. It's interesting how that is so polarizing in the punk world. You're either a pretentious twit or given divinity. -ZM

    1. I agree with you. For some reason, thinking about the music you are supposed to love is frowned upon in some quarters. I guess it also depends on the tone you use, the narrative voice so to speak. I come from a very literary background and used to study narrativity, and what I took from this is that the storytelling matters as much as the diegesis, if not more actually.

  2. I see what you did there. -ZM