From the inception of this series in my tiny mind, I instantly knew that this Ep had to be part of it but that it would represent a challenge. The main argument for selecting it could be summarized in one powerful word: CARNAGE. Given the templates of Noize not Music is a Fine Art and my endless obsessiveness with old-school crust music (one that Japanese punx have also been sharing for almost three decades, thanks fuck for that), picking a highly referential metallic crust band of a high standard, one that was not too obvious, appeared like a contractual obligation. If you really think about it (go on then, do it) Carnage were therefore the best solution, with only three songs recorded, a solid historical relevance and a cracking sound. It was to be a cruise on an ocean of excited blabbering over crust authenticity, yet another heroic and victorious march into dark uncharted stenchcore territories, one that would ensure yours truly a comfy spot on the Mount Olympcrust. Or so I thought...
I had originally bought Mie City Hard Core just for that one Carnage song and had not paid much attention to the other three bands on the compilation (I am not sure if it makes me a cooler punk or more of a poser...). Listening to the whole Ep again made me realize that, not only did I know nothing about these bands (and I do mean nothing), but that they played a genre I never felt completely at ease with: burning spirit hardcore. Now, I certainly do not mean to provoke the ire of honest, hard-working nerds with a crush for obi-wearing records by saying this and I hope I did not offend anyone. Please do not flog me with one-sided flexis as a punishment. Not being an expert in traditional (to be understood here as a genre signifier) Japanese hardcore, I cannot even really claim that Self, Zig-Zag and Blood Feast completely fall in the burning spirit category since they are not quite as over-the-top and epic as the 90's bands I tend to associate with the term (like Death Side, Slang, Warhead, Bastard or Tetsu Arrey), but I will leave the responsibility of clarifying such an issue for good to the ones in the know. However I feel like they each hold enough significant similarities with burning spirit to be widely described as such, if only for the sake of classification and clarity and because of the context of the time (there seems to have been many bands going for the style during the 90's in Japan). If you mention the phrase "90's Japanese hardcore" to me, I always hear flashy and epic guitar solos, ferocious speed metal leanings, a massive love for Discharge and Motörhead, some mosh parts, a direct and rough vocal flow, dynamic enormous gang chorus everywhere, weird lyrics about self-empowerment (you could easily make a few quids selling a book with burning spirit quotes these days) and even weirder band names. But perhaps the best definition I have heard for this style is that it makes you feel invincible and triumphant and for all the subjectivity of such a statement, I can see why someone would say that.
But let's get to the record. Mie City Hard Core was released in May, 1994, on MCR Records and was part of a series of compilation Ep's focusing on the hardcore scenes of specific Japanese cities or areas. Before Mie, MCR had put out compilations highlighting bands from Kyoto, Nagoya, Sapporo, Yokosuka, Shizuoka, Niigata, Utsunomiya and Kochi-City (yes, Disclose). I personally love the concepts of local comps as they can meaningfully capture the essence of a particular era in a particular area. Of course, they are not all breath-taking and some bands never released anything else after but they are relevant cultural shots of a given context. Mie is not actually a city but a prefecture so this Ep includes bands from the same region but not necessarily the same town.
The first candidate on the Ep are Self. Yes, Self. Now if that's not a name for a self-empowered, spiritually liberated hardcore kid, I don't know what is. Discogs tells me that the song "Clay guilty" (a song against war) is the sole appearance of the band on record and that is a shame. Self checked several important burning spirit boxes and played with a lot of raw energy (but then, that's a bit redundant to point it out given the genre) and that distinct Japanese hardcore fury. The Bastard-like riffs are excellent, very uplifting, the vocals are hoarse, the pummeling drums are super dynamic, there is a short but catchy solo, the singalong gang chorus are epic and contagious and you are even treated with Mad Max samples for good measure. Self were from Ise and I haven not been able to find any detail about them other than the fact the bloke who engineered the song also worked with bands like SOB, Warhead or Rise From the Dead and that the singer, Sakkon, produced an Ep for Dislike (you know, that late 90's noisepunk band, back when no one did the genre?). On an unrelated note, I am really into the band logo displaying a peacefully praying spiky punk inside a Star of David, also featuring two yin yang symbols, circled with an antiwar message written in the Crass font. Ace.
Next up are Zig-Zag with the song "Act out!". From what I understand looking at the band's artwork, the name refers to the French brand of rolling papers since Zig-Zag (the band) used the same famous drawing of a zouave than Zig Zag (the brand). I am not sure what to think about it. They could have been heavy smokers or something got seriously lost in translation... Despite the rather raw sound, Zig-Zag pretty much epitomize burning spirit hardcore to my ears. The riffs are triumphant and catchy, the drumming is all over the place, the chorus are anthemic and will induce some intense sessions of fist-raising in your bedroom and I challenge you not to be taken by the sheer energy of the song. In terms of writing, you can tell that they really thought things through with a two-parts chorus that allows for the pressure to build up before exploding. I really like the snotty vocals on this one as they remind me of UK hardcore or vintage peacepunk at times and they add a genuine punky feel. Zig-Zag's drummer also played in Assfort (the first Japanese hardcore band I have ever heard) so it will give you a good picture of the waters in which the band liked to swim. Two years after Mie City Hard Core, they contributed four songs to a compilation cd entitled 2nd Round of the Game of Death (that could work as a title for a teenage horror movie as well). Much better recorded and even more aligned with the burning spirit school of crazy guitar solos and homeric hardcore songwriting, these songs will literally make you feel like a super saiyan.
Blood Feast, from Tsu, are the next in line and contrary to Self, Zig-Zag and Carnage, they seem to have had a decent discography of their own (three Ep's) and can even pride themselves to have recorded some classic 90's Japanese hardcore. The band also appeared on a tape compilation (probably form the mid-90's as well), Outlast, along with bands like COSA, Slang or Guillotine Terror, but I am not too sure which was their first recording session. Judging solely on the quality of the sound production, I'd say that the split with Poison Cola contained their earliest stuff but I could be wrong. Anyway, from the three "Japanese hardcore" acts on Mie City Hard Core, BF are easily my favourites because they are the punkiest-sounding of the bunch. Super aggressive and direct thrashy hardcore punk with a punishing, hammering 1-2-1-2 beat and snarly desperate vocals. Mind you, I even enjoy the mid-tempo mosh parts with the crazy soloing. I can definitely hear that typical Chaos UK influence that pervaded a lot of Japanese punk although the arrangements and the riffing are undeniably local (Kuro and Death Side come to mind). The (moderate) distortion on the guitar - which they would subsequently pursue - is also an asset as it confers an additional edge to the song and they sang in both Japanese and English which I really enjoy since the flow of the language goes well with the steep relentlessness of the genre. Their '95 Ep on Discrete Records (that label responsible for some classic DSB records a few years later), War in a Babylon, was even better, with a distorted raw punk edge, a genuine antiwar message and one of the best Crucifix covers ever (in fact, BF even openly borrowed the Crucifix logo on this Ep!). Really solid band that is well worth (re)discovering and rates pretty high in terms of quality 90's Japanese hardcore.
And finally, my precious, my beloved, my treasured Carnage. As you can imagine, a large amount of bands throughout the years decided to make a stand and call themselves Carnage, mostly of the metal variety, but by no means exclusively, and that is without even considering variations such as Total Carnage, Supreme Carnage, Mörbid Carnage or the classically misspelt Karnage. Still Carnage from the Mie Prefecture are, by far, my favourite Carnage, in spite of their very short discography. There must have been demos at the time but I have never heard them (or even heard of any) so that one song from Mice City Hard Core and the two others from the oddly named What is Crust? What is Melo-core? Be Different Hardcore? '98 compilation cd (that also has Disclose, Frigöra and Argue Damnation) will sadly have to do.
As I mentioned, Carnage were pretty much the main reason why I picked that particular record for treatment. And let's face it, it was an obvious choice. Carnage excelled in crust referentiality and exemplified the notion that "noize not music is a fine art" and the aesthetic intent and artistic carefulness underlying such a statement. The point is not just to pay homage by playing with visual and sonic elements originally created by crucially influential bands, but to build on them. The motivation is twofold, as referentiality is a means to consolidate and validate one band's creation into a pre-existing tradition, but also to turn a band's sound into a legitimate style of its own, with its rules and codes as well as its songwriting potentiality. In Carnage's case, you could argue that they turned the sound and referential creativity of SDS into an actual subgenre, they conceptualized it. Very much like Anti Authorize at the same time (and closer to us, Disturd), they referred to SDS' sense of Antisect referentiality (as their piece of artwork and their hairy antisectish font can attest). Of course, the influence of SDS on the Japanese crust scene was prevalent by 1994 but Carnage was one of the first bands to openly work on the template of Antisect and UK sound as generated by SDS.
The result is brilliant. The song "Desperate future", recorded in January, 1994, is basically a raw but powerful blend of Out From the Void and In To the Void with some groovy but filthy metallic riffing strongly reminiscent of SDS of course but also heralding bands like AGE and Disturd. In itself, the song is rather simple and effective, the vocals are gruff, almost Neurosis-like, the bass sound is thick, the riff is crusty and catchy and thus you've got the perfect mid-paced crust song. The short spoken words at the opening nod toward Flux of Pink Indians' "Neu smell" and Crass' "Mother Earth" and act as reminder of the anarcho roots of the genre. The two other Carnage songs on the cd, "Total destruction of nuclear weapons" and "Change", are faster and heavier and were recorded six months after, though they were released in 1998. These mere three songs showed that, at a pivotal time for Japanese crust punk, when bands like Abraham Cross, Disclose and Gloom were really coming to the fore with their own concepts, Carnage (along with Anti Authorize) paved the way for a different crusty path, carefully and specifically crafted with the SDS approach, that would be taken by more bands afterwards.
Of course, it would be strange not to talk about the "crustier than Concrete Sox' socks" artwork, which can actually be rather misleading if you consider the lineup. It was done by Carnage's drummer Sucker and is yet another example of referential crust art with the adequate amount of broken instruments, crust pants and dreads. I personally have a soft spot for the drawing on the backcover because the geezer is drinking from a beer bottle sporting the infamous crossed out music note logo and because he sort of looks like me, I'm afraid to say. Noize not Music can also be a fine drink.
As a follow-up to this one, MCR released Mie City Hardcore 2 in 2002 with a much crustier lineup made up of Contrast Attitude, Deceiving Society and Alive.