Thursday, 23 March 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 4): Instinct of Survival "Lapsed into absurdity" s/sided flexi, 2013

Back on tracks after a short break due to a mean-spirited and acute maxillary sinusitis that has reduced me to a constant state of useless grumbling and migrainous self-commiseration. Despite what the doctor said, I was pretty sure I was going to die in excruciating pain, but when I woke up this morning I felt kinda alright, so I suppose I wrote down my last wills and testament in vain yesterday night. Bummer. My head still hurts enough to make me feel that I have been punched all night by an angry twat, but it is surprisingly manageable (the painkillers always help though). And besides, I have been looking forward to write about Instinct of Survival properly since I had the idea for this series. So piss off Sinusitis.

Let's put something straight first: I am a huge sucker for Instinct of Survival. This unrestrained passion takes its roots in the past decade and I can remember the exact time I figuratively fell arse over tit for them: the 2005 Yellow Dog Festival in Packebusch. We were staying in Berlin with some mates that summer and had thought of going to that open-air festival as it had a lot of hard-hitting bands and who doesn't enjoy being deafened by blast beats at 4pm while enjoying a warm lager? The headlining band was To What End? and Sweden had sent a rather large delegation to Packebusch with Uncurbed, Bombstrike, Massgrav, Reign of Bombs and Black Star Rising being also on the bill (reflecting upon the line-up makes me realize how much times have changed since then). Everyone was looking forward to TWE? and I remember them to be rather good live even though they took ages to instal and tune their three (yes, three) guitars together. Listening to their material more than ten years later, their highly polished sound feels quite dated, but then most bands who were going down the "melodic hardcore/crust" path at that time haven't exactly aged so well. Or maybe they just stand as bands of their time, and there is nothing wrong with that, as all bands do to an extent, and the nostalgia industry just hasn't hit the lounge crust (or lounge mangel in TWE?'s case) market yet. For all we know, there could be an epicrust revival in 2025, as ominous and sinister as it might read.

I don't remember much of the other Swedes. Bombstrike were very heavy, Uncurbed very fun and Massgrave very (VERY) fast. Of course, there were many German bands as well at this event, some that completely went over my head like Keitzer or Mörser (at that time I was completely unfamiliar with the genre, though I did buy a Keitzer tape that I have probably listened to twice since), others that were thoroughly enjoyable tight grindcore acts like Crude BE, Cyness or Infanticide (or Spain's Looking For An Answer) and one in particular, Room 101, that was a very pleasant surprise, dual-vocals metallic anarchocrust, whose 10'' I remember getting. But to me, the real highlight of the festival were Hamburg's Instinct of Survival and quite unexpectedly so. Before we embarked on our journey of tomfoolery East of the border, I had checked the Packebusch line-up and tried to find songs of all the bands that were planned to play there. I was able to find an IOS mp3 (possibly on the website of the Yellow Dog label), and well, they sounded like what I thought Yellow Dog bands mostly sounded like, fast and grindy. So when they took the stage at the festival, that is what I was expecting. It was not very late in the evening and I was already a bit tipsy (not unlike them actually, judging from their demeanour) but I can still distinctly remember the moment during their first song when I realized that, contrary to my expectations, they were playing proper old-school crust. It was too good to be true and I was frantic. To my knowledge, bands that were going for that specific sound, one that was steadily growing to become my favourite then, were few and far between. You had old-timers like Extinction of Mankind and Misery (Warcollapse had not yet started to play again), bands like Filth of Mankind, Χειμερία Νάρκη, Effigy and obviously Hellshock, but that was it. And here I was, witnessing an amazing performance of crunchy, groovy and tense CRUST from a band I virtually did not know, or rather from a band I did not know in that configuration. After they played I rushed to ask one of the members (the one that looked the least drunk I think) if they had something out with that new sound. "Not here and now, but soon," was the reply. From that moment on, upon returning home after a month of having Sternburg and dumpstered bread for breakfast, I checked the internet almost on a daily basis on the lookout for some news about IOS and consistently raved about them to everyone and anyone who would (or even wouldn't) listen. "They are the real deal, crustier than crust itself, and just wait until they released something and you'll see I'm right" became my motto.

By the end of 2005, the so-called "stenchcore revival" was officially in full bloom with the release of Stormcrow, Sanctum and After the Bombs' first records and I suppose that many took the IOS/Guided Cradle split Ep, that saw the light of day in mid-2006, as just an additional petal to this new modern crust flower. But was it really? Listening to the early IOS period, their eponymous 2000 Ep and especially some songs from the 2004 split with Wojczech, you could already spot that brand of groovy metal riffs that would become the band's trademark in the late 00's. From the start, the new IOS felt like punks who had grown up listening to 90's eurocrust and were keen on taking on its more metallic anterior entity. I am not going to delve too much on this glorious late 00's period. Suffice it to say that they were the best European crust band of that decade, taking the crunch of British bands like Deviated Instinct, Hellbastard, Napalm Death and Concrete Sox, the apocalyptic versatility of Misery, the gloominess of late Nausea and early Extinction of Makind and infusing it with the old-school death-metal of Autopsy, IOS didn't use this set of old-school influences to merely play the crust bingo, but to write actually GOOD songs. The influences served their songwriting, rather than the other way around, and that is why their releases are so strong. Their technical proficiency notwithstanding, there is a genuine drive to write riffs and songs that are heavy and catchy, diverse but cohesive tempo breaks that enhances the whole without sectioning it, vocal arrangements that are complementary and memorable rather than monotonous (the dual vocals in IOS are particularly interesting on that level, with Kalle's going for the gruff-yet-discernible crust texture while Padde's sound more evil and almost death-metal)... Basically songs that you can hum to (or whistle to, if you're good at it, I'm really not), that provides the listener with an immediate appreciation as top-shelf crust music but that you can also appreciate through time for what they are intrinsically: great songs.

Fast-forward to late 2013. On a cold Autumn night I learnt, out of the blue, that IOS had a new record out. I cannot remember what I was doing, probably arsing around on the internet, but that was news I no longer expected since the band had been silent record-wise since the 2010 "Screams of suffering" Ep. As is often the case with bands I love unreasonably, I started to fidget like a demented squirrel, sweat profusely, blame the whole world for not telling me and look through the internet for a copy that I eventually impulse-bought without even thinking of giving the songs a listen beforehand. It was IOS and nothing could go wrong. This record was the single-sided flexi "Lapsed into absurdity" released on Doom To Extinction, a very worthy label also responsible for records from Asocial Terror Fabrication, Nakot, Contagium and more recently, Dead Cult and Ulcer. Now, I must make a confession. I am really not that into single-sided records, meaning that I actually always feel a little ripped off by the missing side (more so with single-sided Lp's than Ep's), and I am not huge on flexis either as they can be capricious little rascals that sometimes just won't be played, and to my greatest embarrassment, the music files included in the download link are from the band's bandcamp as my turntable just refused to play my copy of the flexi despite numerous and strenuous attempts on my part to make it work (it was not a pretty sight as I spent almost an hour thinking about clever devices to read the fucker but ended up defeated, or rather, old, lonely, embittered...). So thanks a lot flexis of the world (but the scans are homemade of course).

My first reaction upon holding the record in my trembling hands was, first, one of satisfaction with the darkly evocative cover  - gone are the cheesy crust drawings - depicting a row of disintegrating stone faces with gaping mouths acting as pathways to nowhere. The second reaction, upon opening the foldout and gazing at the inner drawing, was one of bewilderment. Had they gone Japanese? This was Crashercrust Aesthetics 101 and I certainly didn't expect that, though I didn't dislike it either, far from it. Then looking at the label on the actual flexi, I noticed the ambivalent drawing of a hand emerging from a seemingly angry sea (executed in a Japanese style again). Even before playing the record (back when it was still an option...) you could sense that IOS had somewhat changed and that a sense of gloomy melancholy was pervading the wrapper.

"Lasped into absurdity" is made up of two songs and one outro that the band recorded themselves in May, 2013. The production is quite raw and foggy, far from the brutal sound of their precedent records, which was a little unsettling at first but that can be accounted for by the fact that they recorded it on their own. Taking into consideration the change of mood, I think it works very well here as it confers the songs a claustrophobic, eerie yet organic atmosphere, one of confinement and inner madness emphasized by the deceptive warmth of the sound. The mood of IOS' music has indeed shifted and you can hear it from the second part of the very first riff, which would have been written differently just a few years prior. The filthy, all-out crust crunch has given way to more darkly mournful tunes. The heaviness is still present but is expressed through texture and evocation rather than aggression. The guitars have that same vibrating, pulsating quality but the feeling is different, more woeful, sullen and introspective, the drumming is less metallic and more tribal and goes well into postpunk territory as times, while the vocals are more sung, keeping the gruff quality but actually going for some tunefulness. Strictly speaking, and as corny the term might sound, this is postcrust. The übercrust vibe of IOS did not disappear but was now balanced with heavy goth guitar leads and beats, not unlike what Zygote crucially did in the late 80's. Structurally the riffs and the songwriting haven't changed dramatically, one gets the feeling that they express a different aspect of a similar thing or a different version of a same story. Like everyone I suppose, this flexi confused me at first but, when I focused properly on the songwriting, I was still hearing that IOS vibe I loved so much and recognized their propensity to write good songs. Musically I was reminded of early Extinction of Mankind (especially "Baptized in shit" that has some guitar riffs not so dissimilar to "Lasped into absurdity"'s) meeting Smartpils and their heavy style of Killing Joke tribal anarchopunk, or even of Coitus, who penned some genuinely dark and moody numbers in their days. And anyway, there is some synth on "The blue distance" (the outro) and everyone should know the equation by now: crust + synth = top-shelf.

When this came out, and even more when the "Call of the blue distance" Lp did the following year, I read numerous comments about IOS and how they were "jumping on the postpunk bandwagon" and "not real crust anymore". Being blamed for following a trend is, in "the scene", one of the gravest accusations, only second place to being a poser (this one being assessed according to the number of studs, tats, ingested drugs and showers of a given punk). I cannot say I am that surprised with such reactions although I do not condone them as they denote more intellectual laziness and absence of self-reflexivity than an actual thought process. Yes, postpunk (or dark punk or whatever it's called this week) has been fashionable in the first half of the 10's and yes, IOS did use clearer guitar sounds, goth-tinged leads and drum beats and they even - may the Stenchcore Gods forgive them - sing sometimes. But, in terms of vibe and songwriting, they are still a crust band playing crust music. The mood and sound are more melancholy and they borrowed from another punk subgenres but then, isn't it what crust has always done? And isn't crust originally precisely the result of such an ontological move, punk borrowing from metal in order to create something new? And after all, from a diegetic point of view, the incorporation of Zygote/Smartpils elements is relevant with the crust mythology. It feels silly to state the obvious, but punk (and yes, crust too if you understand it as a vibe, a creative tension rather than just a template) needs to be multidimensional in order to be interesting and stimulating, and there have been - and hopefully will be - potent examples of bands unafraid of injecting crust with some outside elements to great results (apart from Iowaska, who would have thought psychedelic crust could work?). But then, if "crusties" are just content with listening to the same old Bolt Thrower rip-offs, what can you do? As IOS put it in the song "Lasped into absurdity": "In the soil of your complacency / Germinates the seed of our bitterness".

"Lapsed into absurdity" can be seen as a transitional record, one that ties "North of nowhere" with "Call of the blue distance," like a connective hyphen. Taken strictly by itself, although the two songs are really solid, the flexi still does feel a little incomplete - and I had second thoughts about including the flexi in this series - but from the perspective of IOS' story, it makes a lot of sense. It has a primal, incantatory quality that makes you crave for more and I wish "Call of the blue distance" had kept a little of that earthy sound in the production (that is my sole concern with the album). Lyrically, the content fits with the form. "Lapsed into absurdity" is about self-delusion, self-proclaimed superiority and bitterness, while "What will you do?" deals with bitterness, disillusion and meaninglessness.

And on a side-note, do yourself a favor and give a proper listen to Kalle and Padde's side-project, Psychotic Mind Battle. Their "Cleansing" demo from 2013 is a brilliantly brutal, over-the-top, gruff cavemen crust effort and definitely one of the best I have heard this decade in the "Extreme Noise Terror" category.


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