Battle of Disarm (whom I will refer to as BoD from now on, although I realize it does not look so great) was the first crust band from Japan that I listened to. And honestly, it was not illogical at the time: their patches were (and still are) everywhere. No wonder the name caught my then innocent glare. You just could not avoid seeing BoD patches on the jackets worn by that part of the punk population inclined to sew cheap pieces of cloth on an otherwise good-looking garment (and yes, sometimes with bloody dental floss, ironically an item that was prohibited until 1993 in France). The omnipresence of the band was not illogical, nor was it unwarranted. After all, the "Crust, Love and Peace" 10'' could still be found on distro tables at that time (not still for long though, to be fair). The band had toured in Europe only a few years back (in 1997) and the record, released in 1999 on Malarie Records (the label also organized the tour), was a live recording of a gig in Slovenia. I guess the label had made a shitload of patches and shirts for that special occasion and they literally flooded the crusty market at that time. Even now, BoD paraphernalia is easy to find on distros almost 20 years after the tour. And fair enough really, as the band used great visuals and crispy veganarcho-crust imagery. Doves, (A)//(E)//(V) signs, peace symbols, more doves, antiwar slogans, animal rights ones and yet more doves. The whole package. A genuinely great fashionable addition to any self-respecting crusty punk looking to boast some right on politics. Did we really listen to BoD though? Not really. I will be honest here, I did not even buy that 10'' at the time as I was not a fan of live records. I still wore the patch though, not only for the sake of obvious aesthetics, but also because I loved (and still definitely do) the name "Battle of Disarm" for its oxymoronic value.
My first Battle of Disarm tape...
A friend of mine had the "Crust, Love and Peace" 10'' so I did know what BoD sounded like but it was with the "Take Action" tape that I truly became acquainted with them. The tape was unofficial and compiled all the band's Ep's and I seem to remember getting it from Catchphraze Records in 2003. And I enjoyed it very much, undeniably, but that was not quite enough, to my ears, to really get me hooked on the band, and besides, there were too many fantastic new Japanese crust records at that time for me to really bother with and dig deeper into BoD. I eventually did though, years later, when I listened for the first time to the split Lp with Brainstorm and all of a sudden, BoD was no longer "that-band-we-all-like-but-don't-really-care-to-know-much-about". To say that I felt like a fool - yet again - for not paying careful attention to a crucial crust record, for reasons that were flimsy at best, would be an understatement.
BoD's side is entitled "反戦-反動物実験" (meaning "Anti-War Anti-Animal Experimentation", clearly the two main themes in the band's lyrics) and was recorded in February, 1993. This Lp was actually the first vinyl output of BoD, as the band had only recorded a demo tape before, "Not Lie", in 1992, which included studio and live tracks. Discogs tells me they were included on a cd compilation in 1991 entitled "War Compilation" and released on Tribal War Asia (it also had GJPB, Crocodile Sking and The Deepcore Fighter among other international bands). I have never heard that comp but I am sure that it cannot have been released as early as 1991 because of the presence of Warcollapse on the record (the Swedes formed in December 1991 but didn't record anything until 1993, so I am assuming the compilation must be from 1993 or 1994... so fuck you Discogs). There could be earlier BoD recordings since they formed in 1989 and it seems unlikely that they waited more than two years to release anything, but then that is only a usual wild guess of mine. They certainly made up for the lack of recording activity of their early days: between 1993 and 1996, no less than 13 BoD releases saw the light of day, mostly splits on vinyl or tapes. This Tokyo bunch were a staunchly DIY band and appeared to have been very active live in the mid-90's, which accounted for the important number of live recordings and also probably for the relatively small numbers of songs they have penned throughout their career. Not unlike Disclose perhaps, they firmly believed in the internationalist dimension of punk and have shared records or tapes with bands from Portugal, Brazil, Holland, Indonesia, Czech Republic or Finland throughout the years, be they famous like Doom or... huh... far less so like Satellite. This belief in DIY punk as an international network of friends was also reflected in the label of Ryuji, the aptly named DIY Records, that specialized in political hard-hitting punk music from all over and basically did things the way the name suggested.
But back to today's record. If the "Not Lie" demo from the previous year was a rather rough, if delightful, gruff scandi-infused hardcore affair (maybe not so far from Private Jesus Detector if you know what I mean), the eight songs of "反戦-反動物実験" are perfectly recorded, not in the sense that the production is spectacular per se, but because it fits the band's songwriting to a tee. I don't think songs like "Battle of disarm" or "Anti vivisection" ever sounded better than on this Lp. The guitar riffs are thick and thrashy, even slightly convoluted at times, and bring to mind Crude SS or Lobotomia more than Doom. They still sound straight-forward, almost deceptively so, but only because they are smart and seamless, not unlike what Hiatus managed to do with theirs. The drumming is really upfront, truly pummeling and gives the songs a vintage hardcore energy; the bass is omnipresent and does groove the songs but acts more as a support, a basis, than as an engine; finally, the vocals are growled in the purest cavemen crust tradition, never sounding forceful or constipated, just hoarse, filthy shouts brilliantly synced with the instruments to the point of becoming one of them. It will probably sound a little strange but BoD do not really sound like a Japanese crust band on this Lp. Not that Japanese crust must rigorously and necessarily include strict predefined parameters to fit the category, but still, we are much closer to early/mid-90's eurocrust here than to the national production of the time. Of course, there is a mastery, a tightness and an intensity that points to Japanese punk, but I do feel BoD made more sense sitting side by side with Hiatus, Warcollapse or Subcaos, than Gloom, SDS or Life. For the point of the argument, let's compare BoD to a contemporary Japanese band that can be said to fall in the same section in terms of subgenre, Abraham Cross. The two sound nothing like each other. Beyond the obvious fact that they both went, to an extent, for a neanderthal Doom sound, the textures, the vision, the purpose, the intent (and indeed the intentionality) were all dissimilar. I love both bands, but while Abraham Cross were clearly artistically contextualized in the buoyant Japanese crust sound, BoD were more akin to the global 90's crust wave, despite both band sharing, when bared to essentials, a rather similar songwriting.
Fascinating stuff, right? Well, all this to say that "反戦-反動物実験" (and indeed the 1994 Ep, "In the War", though it is not as cavemen-like) is a brilliant work, certainly the band's crustiest, and is up there with vintage Hiatus. Relentless gruff cavecrust with a groovy metal touch and a Scandi feel (I am pretty sure Masskontroll were heavily into that record). As mentioned above, the lyrics revolve around animal liberation, human destruction and anti-war protests and my only real issue with this record is that the insert looks pretty ugly.
On the other side of the Lp, entitled "Join no Army, Police and Politician", is Brainstorm. And I LOVE Brainstorm. I really do. Their 1989 demo and the 1990 Ep are clearly unsung early crust classics and are probably the closest incarnation of what a Peaceville-sponsored jam between Concrete Sox and Hiatus would have sounded like and, sad but true, had they been from Birmingham, Stockholm or New York, instead of Belgrade, they would probably be revered, their late 80's output (because it is always way cooler to rate the demo higher than what followed) hailed as classic, if not totally "cvlt". In fact, there will be a post about vintage Brainstorm at some point in the future so I am not going to tell too much about them now. Especially since I do not like their side of the Lp. I could get past the thin production but the US jumpy hardcore-crossover turn they took is too much for me to stomach, especially when compared to the tornado of relentless gruffness that characterized their earlier works. So I'd rather rave about them when dealing with one of their top recording.
A few words about the context though. The nine Brainstorm songs from that split were recorded in May, 1993, at a time when the war was certainly not over in Yugoslavia. The main interest of the Brainstorm side undeniably lies in the lyrical content, which, despite unfortunate losses in translation, still reflected the anger, the outrage and the urgency of that time and place. Written from an anti-state perspective, the songs read like cries against patriotism, conformity, blind faith, media and political manipulation, the brutality of war... No longer a mere punk trope used to denounce an imaginary endless war, calls for peace and disgust at the sheep mentality designated a very real situation. I cannot claim to be an expert, or even remotely knowledgeable, about the political situation in Yugoslavia at the time so I am pretty sure that I am missing a lot of references in the lyrics. Still, if only for the inherently punk nature of standing against oppression and violence literally knocking on your door (or tearing it apart really), I feel that the songs can be read as an important, urgent and crucial testimony of what it implied to be a political punk in that time and place.
This split Lp was released on No Time To Be Wasted Records, a Belgrade-based label run by the singer of Brainstorm (he also sang for a thoroughly enjoyable 80's hardcore band called Necrophilia) that was active throughout the 90's.