Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 2): Alehammer "Barmageddon" Lp, 2013

Humour and punk. Not often a match made in Heaven (or Hell, if you're into pretending to be proper evil). There have always been punk bands with humorous lyrics or even comedy punk bands, and everyone knows a couple of punk jokes, which, as bad as they might be (they often are if you ask me), indicates that there may be such a thing as "a punk humour". And it is not even a matter of punk subgenre either, I have witnessed - and sometimes endured - joke-cracking grindcore bands, clownish ska-punk bands or parody US hardcore bands. The anarcho/crusty side of things is often said to be humourless (judging from Glasper's books, the consecrated idiom appears to be "humourless anarcho types"), probably because the bands usually have some political pretensions and/or use a serious and stark imagery. And arguably, because some of them are indeed humourless anarcho types. At the other side of the punk spectrum, you have bands for whom punk is a vehicle for writing funny, provocative or outrageous lyrics. After all, punk is a multifaceted beast with a plurality of possible meanings and about as many definitions as there are punks on the planet. It does not mean that I agree with all of them but it is still inescapable and, for better and for worse, it is also what makes it so interesting, albeit frustrating at times.

But to come back to the topic of "humour in punk", it has often proved to be slippery. Humour is very subjective. Time and place must be taken into consideration but so must the intent behind the humorousness. For one Wat Tyler or one Sore Throat (that I personally find genuinely funny), how many punk bands just fall flat when going for humour and end up spouting terrible jokes that sound corny, lurid or stupidly offensive? And coming from a country where "funny punk" is a bit of a national sport, I have had more than my fair share of embarrassing humour on stage, from the clown nose-wearing jovial band who thinks scatological jokes are still hilarious to the grindcore act who firmly believes that mainstream sex and porn are the stuff of side -splitting subversion, let's say politely that shaking my head in disbelief has not been unusual. But then, maybe I am the humourless anarcho type.

Despite usually dark and aggressive lyrics, crust music always had a fun elements to it. Whether it was expressed literally through tongue-in-cheek text (Axegrinder's "Special brew" or several Electro Hippies songs), or through pictures showing the members having fun on the insert, or through a goofy thank list, or a cartoonish caricature, or a parodic song title, it seems like crust has often retained that humorous side, probably intently so, in order to counterbalance the seriousness of anarchopunk and hardcore from which it largely stems (without mentioning that a significant numbers of thrash metal bands also had that fun vibe). There has never been a proper joke crust band however (not a memorable one anyway, Sore Throat being the exception here, assuming they could be categorized as "crust") and the D-beat subgenre, which is more compatible with self-derisiveness and self-reflectivity, has been more prone to try the funny path (with varying results...). But then, there is Alehammer.

Alehammer were never a joke band but they certainly were a humorous one and their focal point was booze (Captain Obvious strikes again). Alcohol consumption is, of course, very common in the punk scene, even more so among the crust crew, and there are numerous crust songs dealing with this fact of life. The subject is not so easy to tackle in lyrics actually, and the line between a cheesy "free beer for the punx" drinking apologia and an actual song about booze with some wit can be thin. I will not deny that the fact the band had members of Prophecy of Doom and Extinction of Mankind contributed to my biased liking for them since I am usually suspicious - on principle - about bands that have a pun in their moniker. At least, the pun does give you several clues about the band. Obviously, there will be some Hellhammer-influenced grooviness and booze is going to be topical, but it also points out to a certain sound, ales (along with stouts I guess) being largely drunk in England in order to get hammered. In other terms, and such is the awesome power of semiotics, we are being served a generous glass of bold, thick, hearty English CRUST.

As mentioned above, Alehammer were (or are, since the band is just technically inactive at the moment) made up of Shrew and Shrub from Prophecy of Doom on drums and bass respectively, Scoot from Extinction of Mankind and Hellkrusher on guitar and Karl from Impulse Manslaughter and Namland (he lent his impressive growling expertise on a Ep that was reviewed here a few years ago). They started playing in the mid-00's and although they did tour the States, I suppose that having a singer living in Chicago and the busy schedule of other members may have somewhat hampered their...eh...career and they mostly remained something of a side-project that could still rear its ugly head if the time is right and the beer plentiful. "Barmageddon" was Alehammer's first full Lp but prior to that fellow, the band already two very convincing records out. The first one, the brilliantly-named "Mine's a pint of crust", released on Agipunk (like every vinyl of the band) in 2007, was a bit of an oddity for a first record: a 10'' picture disc. Now, I am not such a sucker for picture discs in general but I am usually into the 10'' format for hard-hitting crust punk and Alehammer, not content to merely unleash their boozy mayhem, displayed some impeccable taste by including an Alehammer beer coaster proudly stating "Made with the finest blends of crust, punk & metal" and if ads always lie to us about their products, let me tell you that this coaster's claim is truthful indeed. Building on two main grounds, namely the warm, heavy, doomy metallic groove of Hellhammer, Venom and Celtic Frost on the one hand and the raw pummeling fury of gruff crust in the Doom/Hiatus tradition, Alehammer manages to create something that is undeniably wild and chaotic (to the point of sloppy at times), but also extremely effective and unapologetically CRUST. The "pint of crust" metaphor reads absolutely right here, the band blended and brewed a clear list of ingredients in order to achieve this. The recipe is not meant to be original but it certainly tastes authentic, the quantities are just right and the cooking is perfect. This is crust for old-school crust-loving crusties, this is pub crust in the noblest sense of the term, something you can drink and have a laugh to, socializing crust in a sense. In a tautological move, this is crust CRUST.

Their second record, a split Lp with Sweden's Tyrant in 2009, can be seen as a second round of crust brew. Maybe slightly better-produced than the 10'', which confers the songs a Swedish crust vibe at times (in the Uncurbed/Skitsystem sense of the term), it is probably my favourite Alehammer record and the perfect balance between Frostian worship and cavemen crust punk, far above the legions of bands who claim to be playing rocking crust when it is really neither, and no amount of pseudo Mad Max artwork, fake satanic pose or uninspired Motörhead riffs is going to change that fact. What makes Alehammer so effective and genuine is the feel and vibe they are able to create with such ease. It feels like they went into the studio, got pissed, looked at each other, drank some more, said: "let's do the crust then" and did it naturally, just like that, and then fucked off to the pub to celebrate and drink some more.

The third round of crust, the "Barmageddon" Lp, took some time to be released, in June, 2013. The instrumental section was recorded in late 2010 and the vocals only in early 2012 (due to the long distance between members, instruments and vocals were always recorded at different times and places). Needless to say that I was utterly thrilled to see a new Alehammer record and I was not disappointed. "Barmageddon" is possibly more rocking and dirtier than its predecessors, it almost feels sweaty and, well, inebriated. The riffs are heavy, played with conviction, with a filthy, slimy sound perfectly fitting the atmosphere the band aims for. The guitar texture never feels overdone or needlessly technical, it is metallic and groovy in a very organic sense and you can sense that it is meant to be played live. The bass is distorted (more so than on previous recordings) and thick, which gives extra sturdiness to the whole and the drumming has a primitive feel that, again, is coherent with what the band is going for, and the vocals are adequately hoarse and gruff. "Barmageddon" is not a tight album or a spectacular display of musicianship but then, if it were, it would probably not work (some metal websites completely missed that point in their review of the Lp, which made me giggle). As a pub crust work, it needs to convey the warm, messy roughness and good-natured chaos of a night on the boozer with your mates, as the lengthy and rather unpleasant feedback noise at the end of "Fermented death" can attest (does it symbolize the dreaded "bog moment" of the night?). Alehammer is to crust what real ale is to beer: the real thing. It might be a bit hard to swallow at first but after a couple of listens, you just cannot fail to join in the loud, raucous drunken fun. Musically, the recipe has not changed much, Hellhammer-infused Hiatus crust with an early Hellbastard feel, genuinely heavy and groovy, with even more head-banging moments than before, and some Black Sabbath-type riffing on "Floormonger". This album reminds me of the lovely nights I spent at the 1in12 when I enjoyed the terrific jukebox, the warm atmosphere and beers that I was unfamiliar with but were possibly a bit too strong for my skinny self. Oh well...

As mentioned, the lyrics of Alehammer mostly deal with booze but from different angles. "Last orders" is about the Alehammer boys basically missing the last bell because they are already too pissed and feeling dismayed because of it; "Floormonger" (an epic rocking punky metal one) is rather dark, the asocial thought-process of someone waking up from a drunken stupor; "Fermented death" is a funny ode to drinking hard but tastefully ("a half a pint of shandy" is apparently a crime and probably akin to the despised "false crust"); "ABV 666" is about, well, real ale and how it sucks to drink lager and pils; the poetically-named "Cunts to a man" can be seen as a rewriting of Doom's "Relief" as it does not so much glorify alcohol overconsumption but relates it to a remedy to cope with the daily rubbish; finally, "Nemesis" is about self-destructive drinking and the insanity it induces.

If you are looking for neat, sensitive and sophisticated, then Alehammer will probably escape you completely. However, if you fancy tasteful, hard-hitting, rocking, metallic crust with a humorous "fuck you" attitude and the unshakable belief in the validity of CRUST, then this Lp is for you and, lucky you, it is still available ("yay", as kids say these days). And to wrap it up, if none of my blabbering has made any sense, let's just say that the spirit, the worldview of Alehammer is reflected in the cover of "Barmageddon": even if the whole world is crumbling, they will be at the pub doing the crust.  


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