Friday, 11 October 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 7): Disprove / Avgrund split Ep, 1997

Sonatas in D Major has been dealing with 90's Dis music and will continue to do so until we safely reach the mid-00's, the infamous turning point that saw social media tear into the delicate fabric that made up the DIY hardcore punk scene, unleashing new dynamics and new ways of writing, producing and listening to punk music that have seriously shaken things up FOREVER (see how panicked I am). That the rise of virtual platforms promoting mundane constant blabbering coincided with the slow disappearance of punk fanzines and, rather ironically, of content-driven blogs (which some younger punks qualify as being "old-school", which rather mystifies me) was certainly not accidental. Am I here to complain self-righteously about all these twenty-something ruining dad's punk and about the unfairness of receding hairlines in a world that discards the bald? No, of course not. Being an eternally buoyant and optimistic chap, I shall focus on converting the unwashed masses to the Terminal Sound Nuisance Scriptures and hope that a serendipitous encounter with the blog (and with the very word "serendipitous", see how meta I can be) can open their eyes and make them like me.

But yeah, seeing that Sonatas in D Major is mostly about old-fashioned d-beat, it may seem rather odd, if not somewhat baffling for the astute reader, that no split Ep has been given the treatment yet, since the format is an iconic 90's talisman. Well, there you have it, a typical mid-90's split Ep that will entitle you to feel nostalgic, even, or more likely especially, if you were not around at the time, because not only is it a very solid and consistent record but it also serves as a meaningful artifact of past times when the phrase "collaboration not competition" was not just office management talk aimed at increasing productivity. What we have here is a lovely Ep with Disprove, who hailed from Tokyo, on the one side, and Avgrund on the other, who wished they were Swedish, and tried hard to make the unsuspecting listener think so, but were actually from Bratislava, Slovakia. Cheeky indeed.      

Let's start with the obvious Discharge culprit which also happens to be the original reason why this split landed among these sonatas in such good company: Disprove. Not the most unfortunate Dis name around, but not the most eloquent either. It is a very average moniker, even according to the limited templates, which is only meant to indicate to the blockish punks (you know the ones) that the band is not insensitive to beating the bloody D. And since one is never too cautious, Disprove also used the Discharge font. With the people involved being pretty busy with other hardcore bands like the prolific and thrashy Beyond Description and Vivisection, I guess Disprove were more akin to a contextual side-project rather than an actual band but I could be wrong. I imagine a group of friends in a small Tokyo bar in 1994 having a drink, chatting about the current trends of playing just like Discharge, and maybe about that new upcoming band Disclose from Kochi, and thinking that they should have a go as well and that it could be a fun experience. Interestingly, two members from the group were already doing a Dis band called Discript at the time, but then, and in spite of the name, it was not a maximum d-beat project so something may have been missing in their life (we are dealing in delicate shades of Dis here). This fictional sake-induced gathering resulted in the creation of Disprove and in the recording of six songs that would appear on a self-titled Ep for Forest Record (a label that guitar player Hideyuki from Beyond Description conveniently ran). There are several ways to express the purity of your love for Discharge, they can differ but do not necessarily conflict with one another, and Disprove chose the noble "just like Discharge" option with one variation: dual vocals. If the music on both Ep's toes the "just like" line with very little room for the addition of alien, non-Discharge elements - the band clearly seal in the waters of Disfear, Dischange and Disaster - the presence of typically crusty dual vocals appears quite bizarre. I mean, I love "just like" d-beat and I love dual vocals crust but I don't necessarily expect or even want them to coexist in the same song. I would not go as far as saying that the vocals spoil the Dis worship since both singers do a really serious job at following the typical and crucial prosodic elements of Discharge (tone, accentuation, flow and so on) but at times they still go crust as fuck, which bothered me a little at first but once you get the inner logics of the band, it is just awesome.

Disprove particularly shone with their bouncy mid-paced dischargian songs and the opening number of their side of the split is one of those, a wicked "Protest and survive"-meets-"State control" number with crustier than thou singers. While the '94 Ep's production was pretty raw and direct, the sound is more powerful and sharper on this 1997 recording, perhaps because the lineup changed a little, Hideyuki switching from the bass to guitar and vocals, Yusuke from the vocals to the bass and Manabu from Senseless Apocalypse replacing Yasunari on vocals. Although the growls did not originate from the same throats as on the first offering, they still sounded as savage, if not more so, and followed the same artistic rule as on the first Ep (they do take more liberty with the classic Discharge tone though) and in terms of songwriting, the intent to play "just like" d-beat remained unchanged three years later. The two other Disprove songs on the side exemplify top shelf, heavy, raw and pummeling Discharge-loving hardcore music, with simple but authoritative, commanding riffs that have a genuinely aggressive vibe. The three songs are tied together with feedback so I left them on one single track, the way it is meant to be listened to. Punishing and highly enjoyable d-beat music.

Avgrund occupy the other side of the split and as I mentioned before, this lot were from Bratislava. Now I don't suppose you know much about the Slovakian 90's hardcore punk scene but I would strongly advise you to dig deeper into it as you are in for a treat. I mean, at that time, apart from Frigöra in Japan, outside of Sweden, can you name many bands playing scandicore with lyrics in Swedish? Exactly, you cannot. Well, there you had one and, unexpectedly, I suppose, because the Grand Punk Narrative often tends to ignore hardcore punk from Central Europe - Poland being a necessary exception because of its insane productivity - they were from Slovakia. Thanks to my global network of informers and sleeper agents, I have been able to get some information about the Bratislava scene of the 90's and you will NEVER believe what I found! Click on the link below to hear the rest of the story!

Listening to the Avgrund side for the first time, I have to admit that I had no doubt that they were from Sweden. And it is not just because of the words in Swedish, in fact compared to the stylistic Swedishness of the music, the linguistic identity of the lyrics is almost peripheral. Avgrund was undeniably a "just like" band but one that did not go for Discharge and had a different target in mind, namely the very raw, crude and aggressive sound of mid-80's Swedish hardcore epitomized by Svart Parad. They sounded "just like" Svart Parad if you wish. The idea that in the mid-90's a bunch of Bratislava punks wanted to play Svart Parad-like raw hardcore so much that they would even have lyrics in Swedish is deeply romantic for so many reasons. First, it is, in itself, an extremely nerdy project that obviously appeals to me and that I gladly give my support to. Second, material conditions in Slovakia at the time cannot have been easy and to put on gigs and play in bands and record must have required a lot of efforts and commitments. And third, at that time, in a pre-internet age when people did not claim to know a band because they had vaguely listened to a youtube link while browsing their Instagram feed, Svart Parad must have been a pretty obscure reference, as they had only done tapes in the 80's, and even if a discography had been released in 1995 by Finn Records (that one must have been overplayed in Bratislava), they were still the stuff of tape traders, people that were already into more established, vinyl-proven Swedish hardcore. All those things combined make the very existence of Avgrund very unlikely and yet, there they are, the very embodiment of passion, and that's for this kind of things that I love punk-rock so much.

At the time, Bratislava punks were heavily into Swedish crust and hardcore and the Avgrund guitar player, the very active Kono, was in touch with a lot of Swedish punks and managed to bring home a lot of Dis records from there (needless to say that there was no shortage of them at the time), records that would get taped and shared liberally so that they circulated quickly in the whole scene. This devotion to scandicore inspired many crusty/d-beat bands to form and tape compilations like Punk Není Mrkev Aneb Nežerte Krocany Vol 1 (often referred to as Bratislava Crusties comp) and Shitärna, driven by Kono at the core, are testimonies of this unrelenting passion for mangel hardcore and Discharge-associated noize with bands baptized Soul Scars, Hell On Earth, Agregat, Likvidation Friends or Slavery to Convention. If you have any interest in genuinely raw and angry Dis-punk music, do yourself a favor and check these out. It will also allow to shine in the most exclusive social circles. The Terminal Sound Nuisance spy that was hired to act as a double agent in Central Europe revealed to me that in the 90's, the Bratislava scene was close-knit and that many people played in several bands at the same time, a phenomenon that researchers have called "the Portland Syndrome" since. Busy bee and guitarist Kono was also playing in Hell On Earth, System of Greed, Anti-Capital and Nihil Obstat, singer Jozo was also yelling in Hell On Earth, the bass player was also in System of Greed and the drummer in Svablast. Finding time to rehearse with Avgrund must have been a nightmarish task (assuming they practiced much that is) but then it was a studio project only (though there is an unconfirmed rumour that they did play live once) possibly meant to sate and unbind their mania for Swedish raw hardcore. And I do mean RAW. What makes Avgrund so credible is not just the punk cheapness of the "production" but also the genuine crudeness of their unpolished sound and the concerted simplicity of the songwriting. It really sounds like a bunch of teenagers with rather limited musical abilities, cheap instruments and even cheaper amps, trying to play loud and angry hardcore on a rainy sunday afternoon in Göteborg circa 1984. Taken individually, the elements do sound a bit sloppy or off pitch, but everything put, the dirty tone, the simple compositions, the rough production, together Avgrund sound like a Swedish hardcore band you have never heard of. And these vocals... With that instantly recognizable gruff punk tone inherent in scandicore, they could fit with the greatest ease on a Svart Parad or a Bombanfall recording. I don't think I have ever heard that impressive a vocal impersonation of classic Swedish hardcore. And I'm being honest. Avgrund were like the ultimate d-beat band in terms of acuteness and reproduction but one that replaced Discharge with Svart Parad.

In our decade that celebrates the goofiest worship of 80's punk music, Avgrund should be considered as untouchable models but instead remain shrouded in obscurity, a name only whispered at night by the nerdiest of us when the moon is full and the wolves are howling (or something). Along with the three songs that Hell On Earth contributed to the Chaos of Destruction 2 compilation Lp's (Kono was in touch with Kawakami, hence their inclusion) that you can read about on this very blog, this split Ep, recorded in late '96, is the only vinyl evidence of the Bratislava 90's crusty hardcore scene (sob sob) but as I mentioned earlier, the two tape compilations are definitely worth your while.

I don't really understand the concept of the very black metal looking record cover and, to be fair, it is a bit of a visual miss. Not much to say about the lyrics either. This geezer was released on Forest Records, label of Disprove's guitar hero Hideyuki, in 1997 and it is a brilliant piece of 90's punk history. The D knows no frontiers.

PS: Massive thanks go to Tomas from Beton for all the help on the Slovakian crusty scene. Cheers mate!     

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