Could there be a better choice than a Visions of War record to close the Kids of the 90's series with splendour? I think not. I am pretty sure everyone reading this will already be familiar with the mighty VOW. They have been going through thick and thin for twenty years, have toured extensively and released records at a steady pace, so unless you have been hiding under a crust-proof rock for years, you must have heard about them (which is not synonymous with actually hearing them, I'll give you that). Although it is true that the majority of their materials was released from the early 00's on, I personally see VOW as a quintessentially 90's band and not just because of the age of the participants. They stand for a specific genre - in terms of vibe and sound but also of casually genuine DIY attitude - let's call it eurocrust for the sake of clarity, that reached its peak during the mid-90's and almost completely vanished during the last decade (there have been a couple of sporadic instances to be sure but while everyone's talking about a so-called 90's revival, I am still not seeing much of a difference in my punk niche). But, not unlike bands such as Hellkrusher or Extinction of Mankind, they are still standing, undisturbed and unperturbed by the endless flow of newish punk trends and if that's not true dedication and crust heroism (albeit a quixotic one perhaps), then I don't know what is and I should probably open an organic, gluten-free, gender-neutral, streetfood stand selling kale cupcakes and lattes instead of raving like a cyber lunatic.
You can notice that the release date of this split Ep is actually 2000 (hence not the 90's, thanks for pointing it out Captain Obvious) but since the VOW songs were recorded in December, 1998, and mixed in January, 1999 (and since this blog is a domain I rule with an iron fist), I decided to select it as a logical conclusion. Let's start with Okotta, on side A. I must admit that I wasn't really familiar with this lot and therefore had to ask some knowledgable old-timer (merci Lolo!) for details about them. They were a short-lived band from the Antwerp area in Belgium, active in the late 90's (they had split up when the Ep came out). Okotta was made up of Tim and Kurt who had previously played together in Noise Reduction (who did a split Ep with Disaster-fanatics Deadlock from Japan), in Karma and in Orchestrange. Tim was also running Filth-Ear Distributions, a noisy label responsible for some solid records from the likes of Active Minds, Social Chaos and even Jobbykrust (the first Filth-Ear release in fact). With such a pedigree, I guess you can already imagine what Okotta may sound like, right? Noisy hardcore indeed.
The six songs on Okotta's side are raw and to the point, gruff and angry bursts of fast hardcore thrash with hoarse vocals and tightness as an option. If a bunch of grizzly bears tried to cover Hellnation, they would come close to this. There is an undeniable sense of fury and urgency conveyed by the rough sound of the recording and I would venture that the simplicity of the songwriting is also intentional and is meant to reinforce that vibe. But simple is difficult and although I think the songs work as part of the split Ep, I am not sure I could go through a full album. The lyrics are pretty dark, direct and aggressive which of course works well with the genre. There is no recording date but I suppose the songs were done in 1999. Another Okotta release does exist as Filth-Ear put out a cdr album entitled 恐った, same as their side of the Ep, in 1999 (apparently it means something like "I was scared" but I am pretty clueless when it comes to Japanese).
On side B are the always valiant VOW, also from Hellgium, with their second vinyl appearance. The first one was on the Ups The Record compilation Ep from 1998 (which also included Sin Dios, PCP, Boycot, Dekadent, Shears and Point of Few) but the least you could say about VOW's contribution is that it was a bit of a miss since the song "D-Cay" was at the wrong speed and sounded much slower than it was supposed to (I also love the 90's for stories like these). This track was actually part of the band's first demo, recorded in April, 1998 (VOW formed during the autumn of '96), an ultimate collection of eight songs epitomizing rough and ready dual-vocals cavemen crust that makes Accion Mutante and Warcollapse sound almost soft in comparison. The three songs included on this split Ep were taken from the second demo recorded in January, '99 (the full demo can be found on the cd version of the split with Mass Genocide Process from Czech).
Because the 2002 split Lp with Olho De Gato was released on Maloka Records, it was very easy to find copies of it in Paris in the early 00's and a mate of mine taped the Lp for me at a time when I was slowly but surely getting heavily into crust. But in these days of intense crust exploration, I suppose it kinda got lost in the midst of so many other bands, so I did not pay that much attention to it at first (though I did mentally classify VOW in the ENT/Disrupt drawer). Then in early 2004, at an afterparty in Leeds, someone (I cannot remember who exactly but I do recall that, among the guests, he was reputed to play only "super gruff crust and grind" which, reflecting on it now, I am not sure was exactly a compliment) played VOW's side and, amidst the cider fumes, I was struck by how bloody great it sounded. Fast-forward to spring and to the 2004 K-Town festival, back when it was still an anarcho/crust event relatively hipster-free, where some good mates of mine went (I could not for some stupid reason I forgot) and saw VOW play. According to several trustworthy reports (with the usual hyperbolic storytelling of course), the band pretty much outcrusted everyone on stage: they were savagely intense and the equivalent of time-traveling to see ENT in 1988. At that time, to be convicted of outcrusting at K-Town was not something many could claim to have achieved so I was, once again, really quite impressed and thus the aforementioned record (which I had bought in the meantime) got played even more often at home.
These are all silly stories of course, but, being sentimental, I suppose the band means a lot to me. VOW is a bit like that old friend you can always rely on. Sure some years were better than others in your relationship, but he's one of the proverbial boys. I am not sure whether or not the band still played the songs from this second demo when they hit the K-Town stage, but it can still give you a significant idea about where the allegation of outcrusting comes from.
Prior to VOW, vocalist Stiv (who is gossiped to have started as the "high-pitched" screamer in the band) had been singing in Insane Youth, a crusty and noisy hardcore punk band who did a split Ep with Boycot, second vocalist Steffen was part of Deconsume and guitar-hero Stef played in Corpus Christi, a Mob-47-meets-Zyklome-A-at-a-crust-conference kind of band who did a split Ep with Força Macabra, and in the late Insane Youth Lineup. As for the very original moniker, the rumour has it that it was the result of a dare with the guys from Hellkrusher who challenged Stef to form a crust band with a clichéd Discharge-inspired name. I doubt anyone involved expected said band to last twenty years but here it is.
And the three songs on this particular Filth-Ear split Ep I hear you ask? Well, they are top-shelf pummeling gruff crust with dual vocals and a crunchy, powerful and heavy raw sound, up there with the finest of the 90's. Vintage Hiatus, Amen, Warcollapse, Amnesty, MVD, all the best come to mind and the VOW side can be seen as a "90's crust for dummies" guideline, or, perhaps more accurately, as the perfect eurocrust synthesis of the decade. Absolutely ace stuff done with taste and knowhow. In 2000, Lolo from Primitiv Bunko and Arnaud from Detritus joined the band and contributed to the making of the furious split Lp with Olho de Gato. More records followed but that's a story for another time.
Get some fucking 90's crust in your life, yeah?