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!     

Friday, 27 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 6): Disgust "Thrown Into Oblivion" cd, 1997

This entry might prove tricky to write since I am not much of a Disgust fan. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Throw Into Oblivion tremendously, but as a band in the specific context of the 90's, I cannot say Disgust, as an entity, are particularly inspiring. I cannot really imagine a poignant, tear-inducing biopic about them for instance. For what such a record is worth, they were the first to be advertised an "all-star" d-beat band in History, demonstrating that, even regarding a subgenre as pure and noble as the holy D, one must remain quite vigilant. I am not saying that they sullied the respectable and legitimate practice of being Discharge by proxy, but their career did not exactly contribute to its good name. 

Disgust's origin story started well though. Dave Ellesmere - he who played the drums on a record you may have heard about called Why - was so disappointed with his former band's latest offering, Massacre Divine, "we were horrified at what they were doing" he said, his voice heavy with sorrow, and who could blame him,  it is a horrifying record indeed, that he decided to form a band that would sound like Discharge should still have been sounding like, namely like their '81/'82 era, "pretty much a strict template that you don't want to mess with". In order to turn these noble aspirations into reality, Dave picked up his favourite guitar and proceeded to recruit Steve Beatty, then owner of Plastic Head Distribution and formerly the drummer for anarchopunk band Stone the Crowz in the mid 80's, on vocals, Lee Barrett (who worked with Steve at Plastic Head) on the bass and Andy Baker (ex Varukers/Warwound/Sacrilege) on the drums. Unfortunately, this lineup lasted only a couple of rehearsals and promotional leaflets proclaiming with grandiloquence the second coming of Discharge in the guise of Disgust, had to be reprinted with a new lineup, Steve switching to drums because Andy left and Barney from Napalm Death (yes, I know) taking on the singer position. Because metal bands always have, by law, at least two guitar players, Gary Sumner, whom Dave knew from their glory days together in The Insane and Blitzkrieg, joined as well. With such a long "ex members" list, it is little wonder that Earache, smelling blood and cash, signed Disgust before they even played live. But then, Barney left and Disgust, without having set foot on a live stage, experienced yet another lineup change, with the arrival of England's prime gargling growler, Dean from Extreme Noise Terror, behind the microphone. It was this lineup that recorded the Brutality of War Lp in 1993 for Earache Records.

The high five of the apocalypse

Your assessment of early Disgust will totally depend on how bilious you are feeling today and on your level of cynicism. Of course, you could see the whole operation as a quick and easy way for a bunch of no longer relevant ex punks (is someone yelling "sellouts" at the back?) to make a comeback in the hardcore and extreme metal scenes. As far as I am concerned, Disgust's backstory sounds like the corny genesis of a heavy metal band made up of lads who used to play in bands that were kinda famous at some point (but to honest, a lot of hardcore supergroup have been promoting themselves exactly in this fashion for years in the DIY scene). You could also debate the idea that they were an actual band at all, since, being all spread out across the country, they pretty much wrote the songs on the day in the recording studio and, by their own admission, did not rehearse much, if at all, and did not get along well with each other so they cannot have done many gigs. Not really the Network of Friends mentality if you ask me. So even though Brutality of War was released the same year as Dischange's Seeing Feeling Bleeding, Disclose's Once the War Started and Disfear's A Brutal Sight of War, it can hardly be said that they were comparable works, since the aforementioned trio of Dis were just young hardcore bands that were part of the DIY punk fabric and not a so-called superband supported by a big metal label. So even though the output can and should be compared, the bands as entities and the contexts of production cannot. As for the intention behind the music, I am not in a position to pass judgements or attribute punk points (I ran out of them a while ago). I would hazard the opinion that Disgust's stance looked more opportunistic than Disclose's romanticism, although I have no doubt that the members of the band all dearly loved Discharge. In the end, a fitting description could be that Disgust was the perfect introduction to d-beat's stern extravaganza for your average metalhead.    

This said, and as peevish as my vision of the band can be, I have absolutely no doubt that the lads truthfully understood and related deeply to vintage Discharge. As Dave confessed, Disgust was meant to be a Discharge tribute band and on that level there is no denying the sheer raw power of Brutality of War. It is a great d-beat album, germane to the proper codes inherent to the genre and it basically hits all the right buttons. Apart from a couple of odd-sounding arrangements with the guitars (the one reserve I would formulate about the Lp is the slightly sloppy coordination between the guitars at times, which is surprising given the resumes of the people involved), Brutality of War does not fall in the usual traps one would be bound to associate with the idea of a d-beat album released on Earache in 1993. First, it is not an overproduced metal disaster, which would have been the biggest and most predictable mistake (one the band would eventually make). Of course, the production is clear and well-balanced, and objectively much cleaner than, say, on the Dischange Lp's, but it sounds like a punk record and not like an extreme metal one: raw, energetic and aggressive and it manages to reproduce Discharge's relentless brutality well enough. You can tell that the guys were really focused on dischargian mimesis and they completely deserve their inclusion in the "just like" category. I mean, even Dean does not overdo his proverbial growls and tries his best to melt in the collective D; which is how it should be done since, if anything, d-beat is a mystical sonic experience that, when well executed, transmits an uplifting feeling of harmony and of togetherness with the impending self-destruction of humankind, a bit like with psychedelic rock but with speed and cider instead of lsd. Brutality of War sounds and looks like a classic d-beat album and Disgust is a brilliant dis-name, these facts of life have to be dealt with as much dignity as we can muster.

Thrown Into Oblivion a live recording, first released on vinyl as an Ep in 1995 and on cd in 1997, both formats on the notorious Lost and Found Records from Germany. It was recorded during a Disgust's performance in Berlin at the Festivals of Hate tour that saw them share the stage with Cannibal Corpse, Samael and Morbid Angel, a lineup that shows how involved in and committed to the punk scene Disgust were as a band. In spite of an awkward moment when Dean invites, very loudly, the Cannibal Corpse bloke to grunt on stage during a song (I hold nothing against Cannibal Corpse but am completely indifferent to them), displaying once again that kind of corny metal festival mentality, Thrown Into Oblivion is, and it pains me a little to say that, a thunderous d-beat record. If Brutality of War felt a tad long and redundant in places (the Lp could have done without a few songs to be fair), Thrown Into Oblivion is a short sharp shock of Discharge-loving hardcore punk. The sound is bloody huge, and of course it would be, it is a metal festival, but the brutality of the set , made up of the best songs of the album, is awe-inspiring. That's what the end of the world should sound like. Eight songs of crushing "just like" d-beat that abides by the inexpugnable laws laid by the Stoke-on-Trent apostles who saved punk-rock in 1980. I guess it would not be erroneous to point out that Dean is a bit loud in the mix but his presence has never been subtle on stage so that was to be expected. The band is otherwise really tight, in spite of the scarcity of their rehearsals, and if you are looking for the sonic equivalent of being powerslammed by the Hulk wearing a studded jacket with Discharge painted on his back in order to make your friday livelier, you have just found the correct artifact.

All sizes for men, women and children,

The cd itself comes in a cardboard sleeve and sadly looks like a promotional giveaway rather than the best example of a live d-beat album recorded in the 90's, which Throw Into Oblivion objectively is. And I hate when ads for band merch find their way onto the insert. I have just bought the bloody cd already, let me breathe. Disgust would record the mediocre A World of No Beauty for Nuclear Blast (a metal label once again) in 1997, an album that chiefly made all the mistakes that Brutality of War wisely managed to circumvent. It is the perfect example of what a d-beat album should not sound like, so I guess you can thank the band for providing a counterexample: an overproduced, comlacent, uninspired metallic d-beat mess that is gruelling to listen to. As for 2002's The Horror of it all..., seldom has an album worn its title as aptly as this one. With only one original member from what was not really a proper band to begin with, this last Disgust album is to be avoided at all cost and I feel a bit sad for Crimes Against Humanity Records to have been entangled with what was essentially a crime against d-beat.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 5): Deadlock "Fear will Continue" Ep, 1994

By 1994, the d-beat wave was reaching its apex. The Swedes must have looked unbeatable then, not only could they rely on their glorious past of 80's Discharge-loving hardcore, but they were also very heavily armed in the present with units like Disfear, Dischange, Dispense, Driller Killer, Diskonto, Uncurbed and Warcollapse (mind you, Wolfpack and Skitsystem were not even around yet), each of them standing for a particular aspect of the D in all its lustrous glory (the "just like" school, the scandicore revival one, the crusty one, the metallic one, the rocking one and so on, it was a bit like the Spice Girls but with discharge-y music). I am pretty sure you could have reached as many as fifty shades of D at that time and I guess we can still feel the aftermath of that wave of Discharge porn that swept through punk-rock's barren wastelands at the time. It amazes me how in such a short period of time, so many bands started to go for rather similar and circumscribed forms of hardcore punk music. But then, that's how trends work I suppose: they contaminate even the most innocent punks. Tales of creative, challenging individuals (usually into Rorschach or Refused) turning into Discharge freaks after being unscrupulously and malevolently subjected to repeated listens of A Brutal Sight of War and Seeing Feeling Bleeding were whispered around campfires in order to warn children about the dangers of the D, and, if some were clearly gross exaggerations (a man was once rumoured to have changed its name from Michael to Dismichael, a hoax that was revealed by the local town hall), it is undeniable that many a fair-haired Christian child was lost to the insane beats of "Decontrol" during the decade of the 1990's.

But I am not here to talk about Sweden today but about a Japanese d-beat band you may not have heard of called Deadlock. Deadlock is an eloquent name for a punk band, one that conveys an uncertainty about the future, a feeling of hopelessness, conjuring up images of oppression and doom. From an early Gdansk punk-rock band, to a Greek hip-hop crew, an Australian power-metal act or a melodic death-metal fiasco from Germany, there have been many bands in the course of history who thought that Deadlock was a top moniker that was bound to make them look both profound and sullen. I have no idea whether the Japanese Deadlock we are dealing with, who originated from Kimitsu in the Chiba prefecture (on the other side of the Tokyo Bay), aspired to a profound and sullen look but there is no denying that the name is fully appropriate to the essence of d-beat and its aesthetics with its Cold War undertones. Information about Deadlock is scarce indeed and I readily confess that the band was completely unknown to me until quite recently. Deadlock were pointed out to me by a friendly old-timer who not only experienced the 90's d-wave (with much joy I'm sure) but also played in a band named after a Discharge song, so the source was, without the shadow of a doubt, very reliable. As difficult as it is to stomach, I suppose that I was not that familiar with the DIY Records catalogue after all. In my defense, Deadlock's Fear will Continue looks unoriginal, its cover being a particularly grisly war picture with what appeared to be corpses of children burnt to a crisp, and the (over)use of the Discharge font with the band's name written vertically on the bottom left corner. It is so generic that it can almost be said to be exceptional in its derivativeness. But after all, Sonatas in D Major is about the d-beat genre so that derivativeness, intertextuality and overt referentiality are part and parcel of it. The only way to combine proper d-beat orthodoxy and creativity - or even, dare I say it, originality - lies in the acuteness in the choice of references. In other words, d-beat originality implies that the object and/or the extent of your worship is tastefully unusual or somehow unique. And in Deadlock's case, creativity can be located in their open, comprehensive, inspirational Disaster influence.

Recent years have seen the growth of a massive interest in Disaster. While they were originally a humble d-beat band from the North of England active in the early 90's, one that was strictly known by official d-beat maniacs and people who were actually there at the time, one that was sometimes mocked for their assertive unoriginality, they are now something of a cult band and considered as the ultimate "just like" d-beat band, which is a fair assessment of Disaster's prowess. As we have already
explored in The Chronicles of Dis, Disaster wore their desire to sound "just like Discharge" on their studded jacket and while their contemporary soulmates, like Hellkrusher or Excrement of War, used the Discharge influence to do something a bit different, Disaster aimed at sounding "just like" Why, a romantic, if redundant, quest that meaningfully echoes with our current obsession with the recreation of a glorified past and could explain the renewed interest in the band (that and La Vida es un Mus' reissue obviously). And in came Deadlock in 1994, three years after the release of War Cry, with the bonhomous objective to sound just like Disaster. This incredible, hardly conceivable endeavour meant that Deadlock were trying to sound just like Disaster who were themselves trying to sound just like Discharge. Does it mean that Deadlock sound just like Discharge? Not really. The band sounded like Disaster first and foremost so I suppose it may have been the idea of sounding "just like Discharge" that motivated Deadlock more than the actual fact of sounding "just like Discharge". This a major controversial issue in d-beat philosophy and one that has been biliously discussed on numerous occasions. I can assure you that words have been exchanged.

Fear will Continue is therefore an open tribute to Disaster and a testimony to the validity of the "just like" school of d-beat. The aggressive, distorted, hypnotic sound of the guitar is close, the songwriting has the same relentless simplicity (especially the riffs), the structures and arrangements (the pauses, the drum rolls, the solos, the singalong chorus...) are remarkably similar and the singer really tries his best to replicate the Disaster singer's mannerisms (in the flow, the prosody, the intonation, the unmelodiousness and even in the occasional bad timing) though it is impossible to sound as ferocious, but one can always try, that's the essence of d-beat. The Ep cannot be said to be a monster of heaviness (like Disfear for instance) but it has an anguished repetitiveness reinforced by the circularity of the riffs and the very rhythmic tuneless shouts of the singer. If you are into Disaster or British Discharge-loving hardcore, Deadlock's Fear will Continue will occasion much joy and euphoria for a couple of days. The Ep is very thorough in its Discharge-via-Disaster-love but can also prove to be easier to listen to for people who are not crazy about the genre since the vocals are not too rough or harsh (in case you're wondering about the record's social potential and standing) and the production is well balanced, it sounds aggressive and mean but does not bury you tersely under a wall of noise, rather its mostly medium-paced beat wears you down until you feel the unbearable sense of impending doom andreach a trance-like state. It is definitely my kind of D although the lyrics are prime examples of broken English poetry. When the Ep came out, the d-beat modus operandi had already set foot in Japan and the always prolific Disclose had several Ep's under their belt (they recorded Tragedy one month after Fear will Continue). Of course, Disclose now have a legendary status but at the time, it must have been rather fascinating to see two bands, both of whom were equally obsessed with Discharge and Discharge-referentiality, develop very differently in terms of sound and textures while still paying tribute to the same endless well of inspiration. Just imagine what a split between those two would have been. 

Fear will Continue was released on DIY Records (the label of Ryuji from Battle of Disarm) in 1994 and it was the label's fourth Ep (after the Disclose/Selfish split Ep and before the Meaningful Consolidation 2xEp). They would appear on another Ep for DIY Records the following year, this time as a split with Noise Reduction from Belgium, and on the mammoth 3xLp compilation Chaos of Destruction from 1997 compiled by Kawakami that also includes ace bands like Anti Authorize, LIFE, Reality Crisis and of course Disclose. I am clueless as to the musical activities of Deadlock's members after the demise of the band and will welcome relevant information on the subject.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 4): Dispense "Nothing but the Truth" Ep, 1993

"When will it stop? When will it stop?" yells the irate punk as the chorus of the eponymous song "When will it stop" opening Dispense's Nothing but the Truth 1993 Ep. This ferocious-sounding bit is quite possibly the record's most remarkable moment and whenever a gentle soul reminds me of Dispense - which unsurprisingly does not happen very often to tell you the truth - I can hear with clarity the phrase "When ill it stop? When will it stop?", always repeated twice, just like in the song, resounding in my head. The doc tells me it is one of the many symptoms of a medical condition commonly found in persons who have been exposed to high levels of D for an extended period of time. It is a bit like being exposed to radioactivity, but with d-beat instead. It is by and large not lethal - only two casualties have ever been reported - but after effects can include irritability, antisocial behaviours, questionable clothing choices and an aggravated tendency to play a discharge-y beat with your fingers on any surface that is plane enough. So you can basically live a long, if unfulfilling, life with it. Long exposures to d-beat at a very young age have also been rumoured to prolong virginity but studies have been inconclusive so it remains mere surmise. Still, I am grateful I got into Crass before Discharge.

What I also really enjoy about that "When will it stop? When will it stop?" chorus is that you can read it retroactively. Of course, the song is about Discharge wars, brutal fictional conflicts where innocent men, women and children (in that order, always) scream in agony on the battlefields of the atrocities of waarrgh. Unfortunately they are not that fictional and war is, of course, still horrendous. When you were a 90's Dis-band, it was dictated by law that at least 50% of all your songs had to be about waarrgh. In the rare cases of non-compliance that have been documented, bands were immediately deprived of the Dis prefix and shamed in fanzines, usually with accusations of selling out (which was pretty much the worse possible insult to spit out at a punk band). Those were of course the good old days when bands still had some integrity to show for themselves... But that's not really the point, the reason why I find the chorus particularly congenial is that, beside the condemnation of armed conflicts that slaughter and maim, you could also read it a comment on the Dis phenomenon. Of course, Dispense did not mean it that way but I cannot help thinking about the different d-beat trends that have spouted since the early 90's and, in this light, the only reasonable, sound answer to "When will it stop? When will it stop?" (always twice) is "Well, it ain't gonna". Whether you are into Dis bands or not is completely beside the point: there will always be Discharge imitators on a scale that is growing more and more global. And, as it causes me to contemplate on the D, that's exactly why I find the chorus so stimulating. Tragically, this answer is also relevant when applied to wars which is much less amusing.

As for Dispense, they were from Nyköping, Sweden, and must have formed around 1991 since their first demo - which I have lamentably never heard - was recorded in May, 1992. As far as I understand, Dispense was the members' first band and you could say that their rather short-lived career was not unlike Disfear's. The two bands were from the same town, had their first Ep on the same local label (No Records), shared a Dis prefix and were progressively tending toward a more heightened likeness to Discharge (especially for Disfear). I cannot be sure, but I bet that the 1992 Dispense demo is closer to traditional 80's Swedish hardcore than to total Discharge worship. The fact that the lyrics were originally written in Swedish points in that direction and, like Disfear, the shift to the English language also signified more sonic closeness to Discharge and one could even advance that the prevalence of English in 90's Discharge-loving punk bands was not just a characteristic feature of the first d-beat wave but a central component in the birth of the genre (Spanish d-beat would actually challenge this linguistic hegemony to great success). 

Dispense are often considered as an average Swedish band, which is unfair but also makes sense since there were a lot of bands going for a similar style (d-beat, crust, scandicore) at the time in Sweden and I guess we are all inclined to remember the cream of the crop, the top shelf stuff (Disfear, Meanwhile or Warcollapse) and discard (pun) the rest as "run-of-the-mill" or "middle-of-the-road", which does sound harsh, but then you have to admit that, even in retrospect, it looks like a d-beat epidemic was sweeping across the country, overrun by punx in dire need to play Discharge riffs. What a cracking time it must have been. Seriously. I suppose that the name "Dispense" did not exactly help either. It is not terrible or even embarrassing, I mean, twenty years after the fact, you can still look your betrothed in the eye and confess that you used to play in band called "Dispense" without too much fuss, and you could even say that it is objectively a better name than Dischange or Disfear and certainly nowhere near as bad as Dissober or Disfornicate (just try to admit this one out to your betrothed). It still is a pretty pedestrian 90's Dis moniker but, truth be told, recent years have shown (as if proofs were needed of modern punk rock's deliquescing creativity) that you can far worse than that. No names will be given. 

Classic D-words

Despite the Dis, Dispense did not exactly play d-beat like their neighbours Disfear on Brutal Sight of War or Dischange/Meanwhile on any given day. On Nothing but the Truth, they can be described as a punishing and heavy Swedish hardcore band, with a strong Discharge influence, inherent in the genre anyway (it feels almost redundant to point it out), but one that is not completely behind the steering wheel. I am reminded of a more robust version of Asocial, No Security or even Totalitär (in the raspy vocals especially). Like many Swedish hardcore/crust bands at the time, Dispense were produced by a bloke who specialized in recording extreme metal band so that the outcome sounds relentlessly punishing (are the drums almost too loud?). I think the songs are catchy enough in their conception for the genre, the musicianship is there, the sound is excellent, the riffs effective, the solos tasteful and there is no denying the raw, brusque power of the Ep. It sounds of course quite predictable but the distinct 90's textures and the delightfully dischargesque "When will it stop" remains an absolute hit in my book with prime singalong galore one the chorus. Clearly not a bad record in spite of a rather gruesome cover typical of the fashion of the day. My version of the Ep was released on No Records in 1993 (it was to be the third and last production of the label) but it was cojointly reissued in 1998 by Rødel and Finn Records just like the first Disfear Ep. Following Nothing but the Truth, Dispense did a mini cd for Really Fast Records entitled In the Cold Night, another fine record that saw the band at its d-beat-est with a more pronounced Discharge love. Dispense also had two songs included on the Really Fast Vol. 8 compilation Lp from 1993 (same session as Nothing but the Truth with one of them also on the Ep) alongside Randy and Refused (for real) and they also contributed three songs to the legendary Distortion to Hell '94 cd compilation, released on Distortion Records, where they rubbed shoulders with delicate acts such as Warcollapse, Asocial, Sauna, The Perukers, Driller Killer, 3-Way Cum or Bombraid. Those last three songs were the last recordings of Dispense. 

Is it the end of the story? Not really. Both Dispense's bass and guitar player would go on to form Victims (the former on vocals and the latter on the six stringed instrument) while the drummer would join Skitsystem. Not bad, right?   

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 3): Realities of War "S/t" Ep, 2013

It's monday morning and although I am not exactly straight and alert, I still have time on my hands before listening to Cock Sparrer on my way to work (because that's what real workers do, right?). I suppose normies would use that precious extra time to do some ironing and catch up on a tedious Netflix series so that they will have something to talk about with their colleagues and feel like their superficial critiques of mainstream American programs is actually akin to engaging in voicing a dissenting opinion. When you hear people claiming that they'd rather spend their night watching Netflix rather than go to a gig and support da scene, that's when you know there is something very wrong indeed with people and with the scene (let's be honest). Are Netflix and Instagram killing punk-rock? You've got four hours. As for me, I shall not be corrupted by this unrelenting propaganda machine and will rather spend my monday morning on something more intellectually rewarding and healthy, like write about an extraordinarily raw recoding of Japanese noizy d-beat from the early 90's. That will be my symbolic act of resistance to the kkkapitalist system and maybe I will also vacuum the flat if I'm done early.

Today's Sonatas in D Major will be Realities of War's self-titled Ep, first released in 2013 but actually recorded 21 years before that, in 1992. As the band bio, written by the guitar player tells us, RoW was never an actual band and this recording was only done for fun by two bored but devoted teenagers who had access to a studio at their school but did not really bother to share the result. I know it already sounds very much like the beginning of a punk fairytale but then when the guitarist adds, for the sake of realism, that "one day of 1992 after listening to DISASTER and SORE THROAT, we decided to go to the studio to try something like that", the story almost falls into unabated teary-eyed romanticism and the most idealistic among us are praying for this magic story to go on. In a perfect alternative world, some other punk (with DISCHARGE and DOOM patches!) that the drummer vaguely knew from his hometown would give the recording a listen, think it's amazing and offer to play the bass (because as you have guessed it, it was just a drum and guitar hardcore project). This three-piece would practice a lot and record a proper demo tape in 1993 and their revolutionary d-beat noize will make them noticed and they'll get to play at the infamous Final Noise Attack gigs in Osaka and share the stage with bands like Gloom and Crusade. At that time they will start to form a strong friendship with another Japanese band, from Kochi city, who was also trying to invent a distorted version of Discharge and further systematize a formula and an artistic view: Disclose. RoW and Disclose would often share the stage and this partnership would materialize through an incredible split Lp entitled Devastation Inferno recorded in 1994 and released on MCR, the distribution of which would make both bands known throughout the world and revered to this very day. That would have been the perfect version of the story. In reality, RoW never played outside of the studio and this project remained a one-off thing, stuck at the stage of the first practice forever. Sob sob.

Would we have heard of RoW if the guitar player in question was not Jacky from Framtid and Crust War? Probably not. After all, the recording was never released, not even as a demo, and therefore very few people would have even been aware of RoW at the time (especially since Jacky was also then involved in a real band, Asphyxia, whose demo would too be reissued in the 00's). Except that Jacky found the recording by chance years after that and sent it to Kawakami (from Disclose you dimwit) "just for fun". It made sense that he liked the recording, since after all it was made up of raw, distorted and primitive d-beat punk songs, not dissimilar to what Kawakami was trying to do exactly at the same time, great minds thinking alike and all that. Then the recording was sent to John from No Fucker, who thought of releasing it but eventually did not, and it finally saw the light of day on a proper Ep in 2013 thanks to Not Very Nice Records, a US label responsible for other noizy stuff from the likes of Chaos Destroy, Scum or Rotozaza. 

I will not beat around the bush: in order to appreciate this Ep, you already have to be really into raw d-beat. If a friend wants to get to know d-beat music better, asks you for help and you end up playing RoW, then you can be sure that he or she will never get into it. If that was your initial intention, well done mate, that person will probably never ask you for musical recommendations ever, but if you wanted to make a convert, then you are just a bad punk. Let's face it, this is a very rough recording, even if in a good way. Some badgers' arses are softer than that. But then, it was basically a recording of a first rehearsal done by two teenage punks, with no bass guitar, so all in all, the result is really not that bad. The sound quality aside, it is pretty fascinating to hear the obsession for Discharge and Discharge-loving hardcore that made the basis for RoW and in that light, they were right on time for the real start of the 90's d-beat explosion and their referring to Disaster as an influence is significant as it points to a second degree Discharge-loving influence and not just Discharge which means that they thrived for a "just like Discharge" sound while emulating prior talented copyists in the process, meaning that RoW was as much about the love for Dis(charge) than about Discharge in flesh and boooones (do you copy?). Because of obvious technical limitations, it is difficult to say if the rawness of the end product was intentional and how much would they have polished the sound if given the chance. Similarly, I wonder if the primitiveness of the songwriting and the directness of the riffs (for instance) were totally conditioned by the time limit or if they denoted a will to play stripped down, pure, quintessential Discharge music. I suppose the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  

I personally do not mind the raw rehearsal sound (after all I have raved about Gutrot and even Eat Shit on Terminal Sound Nuisance) and in addition to early Discharge and Disaster, I am reminded of genuinely raw early discharge-y bands like Subversion, Violent Uprising or even Diatribe, of demo era Doom instead of Sore Throat (the opening of "Doombastards" leaves little room for doubt), and of Disclose of course, especially in the vocal tone, but the similarity is unintentional, if not anachronistic. As I said, the guitar riffs are very simple, direct and aggressive and the d-beat is very pure and, dare I say it, innocent. I just love how the singer introduces the band at the start and then at the end says "Thank you, good night" as if it were a proper gig. It just sounds adorable especially when you put in perspective with the barrage of raw noise that just hit you. RoW sound almost refreshing for their genuine and youthful version of the raw and distorted d-beat, they sound like the lost paradise, essentially prelapsarian, unspoilt by the massive coming trend, symbolical of a time when the name "Realities of War" referred also to Discharge and not just to the whole d-beat phenomenon. It does sound a bit corny to our jaded ears nowadays but that's because we have become cynical bastards.

This is for the true lovers of the D. Seven songs, five of which are untitled. This noize kills posers and can therefore be used as a repellent. 


Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 2): The Perukers "GBG 1992" Ep, 1993

First, let's talk a bit about etiquette. 

In a genre that relies so much on references and on dischargian knowledge to be really effective - if not enjoyable at all - it makes sense that the practice of covering either Discharge or a band influenced by Discharge is a critical one. And of course, doing it right is a complex task that has to be taken seriously. Picking too obvious a song to cover (like "Hear nothing see nothing say nothing" or "Why" or "Warmachine" or "Police bastard" for instance) does not come recommended. Older bands have already done it and better. The only situation where I can see it working would be if you are not a d-beat band and the choice of covering a Discharge song is a little unexpected. In this case, it does not really matter what song you chose. So unless you are under these specific circumstances, I would not advise picking a dis anthem that is too famous. Indeed, choosing a song that is deemed a minor classic by the-cool-kids-who-know-their-shit (you know the ones, they are usually standing at the back, arms crossed, taking mental notes about the band and examining if it plays the right kind of punk music, and they are usually not actual kids) will make you and your band look well-read and aware of the protocol and you should be able to charge a bit more for your demo (if it is on tape, a cdr will be heavily frowned upon). However, do not select too obscure a song. Covering a song that no one knows makes people feel uncomfortable and insecure about their self worth and punk knowledge and will make you look pretentious, but this time not in a good way (and it will probably indicate that you first heard it on youtube, which is unacceptable). Basically, go for Disarm instead of Total Armsvett. Another, more subtle and clever way, to pay tribute to the good d-stuff is to re-use riffs or arrangements or lyrics or visuals from classic discharge-y hardcore bands in order to notify the cool kids that you are one of them without having to literally cover a song. Again, be careful, if the nods are too easily perceived, it can work against you and make you look like you are trying too hard to look cool (which is the exact opposite of good taste). Unless the plainness is ironic and self-conscious which makes the calculated heavy nods primarily about the process of referentiality and highlight your awareness of the intertextual game. It's an endlessly tough business.

Of course, you can also choose to play it like The Perukers, not give a single fuck and record three obvious covers of Discharge, Shitlickers and The Varukers in three hours. It is probably much funnier as well.

Were The Perukers an actual band? Well, it really depends on your definition of what a punk is or should be. Since they only played one live gig ever and recorded only twice in eight years, I think we can safely say that The Perukers were more akin to an entertaining, enjoyable side project for all the members involved (who were all part of more serious and committed bands), basically something to do when they had time to kill in the studio and were craving to play simple and brutal hardcore punk. I am not completely sure as to who did what exactly in the band but it was made up of Chris, Rigo and Robert from Driller Killer - the latter playing in Anti-Cimex at the time as well - and John from Black Uniforms (apparently Cliff was also involved but his role is a bit unclear as far as this Ep is concerned). With such a lineage, one is entitled to expect beefy, hard-hitting and heavy hardcore music from experienced Swedes and of course one is not disappointed.

The name kinda sucks I suppose. Captain Obvious informed me that it is a massive nod toward The Varukers so let's stick with that. I guess you could say that the name "varukers" kinda sucks too. After all, it is a spelling alteration of "verrucas" and while I am sure it looked like a very appealing idea to their teenage selves, at the end of the day it still refers to plantar warts, we just don't think about it because The Varukers are a classic band. So The Perukers means, in Swedish, "the wigs". Pretty silly I guess, but then it might have been an inside joke between them because judging from band pictures of Driller Killer or Black Uniforms they all had really great hair at the time (in a cheesy metal way) so perhaps people wondered if they were wearing wigs or something. I know I am wondering and it was 30 years ago. But anyway, as mentioned there are three covers on GBG 1992 from The Varukers ("Protest and survive", which was the original spelling of the song on the self-titled 1981 Ep), Discharge ("Protest & survive") and Shitlickers ("Spräckta snuttskallar"). There are many enormous D-Easter eggs on the Ep, from the title referring to Shitlickers' GBG 1982, to the "thanks to no fucker!" on the backcover (if you don't know where that comes from, you must leave your Card Membership on my desk tomorrow by 9:00 am, sorry not sorry), the cover itself depicting two punx wearing studded jackets looking at a nuclear explosion that is the same as that of Mob 47's "Nuclear attack" design, the use of the Varukers font or the picture of a Shitlickers shirt on the label of the side B. The thing is ripe with references, some are grotesquely clear, others a little more subtle, but in the end you can see that the band had a lot of fun doing that and it also shows in the music. Of course it sounds a lot like early Driller Killer being drunk in the studio and still effortlessly nailing four songs before heading back to the pub. The production is quite clear for the genre (it was recorded at the metal-oriented Fredman Studio), the guitar sounds great and thrashes its way through these classic hardcore anthems, everything is highly energetic and even the sloppier parts in the vocals do not diminish the mean, aggressive intensity that The Perukers managed to unleash (the chorus on "Spräckta snuttskallar" is insanely powerful). Being a big fan of early Driller Killer's scandi hardcore style and considering the first two albums Brutalize and Total Fucking Hate as classic 90's hardcore records, of course I have fun listening to GBG 1992, and that's probably what The Perukers intended to produce, a nasty, punk as fuck tribute to some early greats with a metal punk touch. Even their own composition, "Burn out", sounds like a cover of an 80's hardcore band. 

The fact that this Ep was released on Distortion Records (it was the label's second piece of wax and the sleeve design was done by none other than the label's owner) also motivated its inclusion in the Sonatas in D Major series as the label played a major role in the 90's in the development of Discharge-loving Swedish hardcore and crust. I am too young to have known the glory years of Distortion but I was told about its significance many times by a couple of old-timers and even the briefest look at the discography (Anti-Cimex, Disfear, Wolfpack, Driller Killer, Skitsystem, the reissues of Shitlickers, Mob 47 and Moderat Likvidation, Disfornicate... ok maybe not them) can show how important it has been for a whole generation and a series about d-beat without a record from the Distortion catalogue would have been utterly preposterous (I received death threats for much less). The legend has it that Mats, founder of Distortion records, glued Why to his turntable when it came out because he loved the record so much. I have no idea if this is a true story but it is definitely a very romantic one (though it's kinda impractical) and in the end D-beat is a very romantic subgenre. The Perukers released a second Ep on Distortion in 2001 entitled Disploited with covers from GBH, Doom and The Exploited. Not quite as much fun to get into to be fair but you know what they say about sequels.  

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 1): Disfear "S/t" Ep, 1998

More than three years ago, in the spring of 2016, I fiercely battled, on this very arena, a genre I had not yet dared to really approach: d-beat. Armed with my wits and a lot of time on my hands (I was fully unemployed then and writing at length about being Discharge by proxy sounded like the best idea I ever had), I fought long and hard in order to understand and identify this inspiring passion, this fearless and devouring Discharge love that have led countless bands to proudly pay tribute to the Stoke-on-Trent instrumentalists. And, as we saw then, there are different ways to express praises to the Discharge sound, ranging from attempts at sounding just like Discharge, to embracing the whole Discharge-inspired universe as valid and self-sufficient materials (a bit like Marvel or DC), the singular Discharge cover tradition that punks still celebrate today, working on sound textures,  effects, intertextuality, referentiality and, metatextually, on reflecting on the Dis phenomenon itself. The Chronicles of Dis - that was the series' name - were about all that. The selection illustrated different aspects of Discharge love and I tried to highlight its historical roots and put forward significant practices of the mighty D that were relevant. Following this formidably demanding enterprise, I became unable to stop my fingers from playing a galloping d-beat on any wooden surface that happened to be in their vicinity. It proved to be quite awkward, especially at funerals.

Despite almost overdosing on Discharge then, I grew to feel that the work was somehow incomplete and I caught myself thinking about records that could or even should have been included. In the end, I had to face the facts: I had some unfinished business with d-beat. The time has now come for the second round with a brand new series, entitled Sonatas in D Major, which will be about Discharge love and Dis-inspired records - yet again - with twelve meaningful records that I will tackle chronologically according to the dates of recording (not necessarily the same as the release dates). I am aware that sequels usually suck but then there are always movies like Batman Returns or Gremlins 2 to give me hope. Even Jaws 2 is not that bad, right?

And let's start with an absolute classic d-beat band: Disfear. Now, I guess everyone knows about Disfear and if you ask a passerby to name only one d-beat band, he or she is likely to reply either Disclose or Disfear, choices which could be argued to stand for the two major trends in d-beat, the distortion-loving raw Dis or the heavy, beefy, rocking Dis. I guess you could see them as two different d-beat schools essentially expressing a similar fascination for Discharge, though probably not for the same facets of the band. But after all, our likings are heavily conditioned by circumstances and by what we used to like, what we are used to like and what we have grown to expect to like, so that listening to Why for the first time is not the same experience to an Entombed, an Exploited or a Motörhead fan. Since their two albums on Relapse, Disfear have become quite well-known and celebrated in the punk/metal world, but of course the original old-fashioned hardcore die-hards will always favour "their early stuff" or even, if you are an elite-level hardcore expert, "their demo recordings". But let's take a listen to Disfear's first steps since it is actually the topic of the day.

The band actually started in Nyköping, Sverige, as Anti-Bofors in 1989. If you're wondering the word Bofors refers to a Swedish owned arms manufacturer and is now widely associated with the 40 mm anti-aircraft gun used during WWII - on both sides of the conflict. Bofors were also involved in a major corruption scandal with the government of India in the 80's which probably led a bunch of scruffy teenage Swedish punks to go for the name Anti-Bofors. The band, then as a three-piece with bass player Henke also handling the vocals, recorded one eponymous Ep in 1991 for No Records. This Ep has never been reissued on vinyl and is now highly sought-after but I suppose it is only a matter of time. After seeing the Svart Parad double lp reissue, everything is possible. Anti-Bofors, although clearly Discharge-influenced like all the Swedish hardcore bands of the time, cannot be said to be a d-beat band. Instead they were certainly trying to emulate the raw and gruff Scando hardcore sound of bands like Bombanfall, Disarm or indeed Svart Parad with amazingly hoarse vocals. A genuinely classic Ep that very much sounded like an 80's hardcore record, contrary to the first offering under the name of Disfear that marked the band's entry into the 90's sound-wise.

But first let's ask ourselves a very existential question: why did they change their name to Disfear? A reasonable hypothesis would be that the prefix "Dis" indicated more evidently the band's shift toward a more Discharge-inspired sound and songwriting and I suppose that it does make sense. I am much more perplexed about the choice of the substantive "fear". Obviously "disfear" is not a word so what does it mean? I suppose it could be the contraction of "this fear" but I personally think that it refers to the aestheticization of a particular fear (of the war, of state oppression, all the usual theme of the Discharge literature) in the form of the classic Discharge formula, as if it were the actual sound of that fear. Or maybe they looked at Dischange and thought that they too could get away with a silly Dis-name. I suppose it is somewhere in the middle.

The band had a new vocalist, Jeppe, on their self-titled Ep that originally appeared in 1992, on No Records once again (the label released a third Ep, Dispense's Nothing but the Truth before folding up) but the instrumental team is similar. Musically, only one year after the Anti-Bofors Ep, the band is much tighter and more powerful. The improvement in terms of sound was massive but then the Ep was recorded at Sunlight Studio by Tomas Skogsberg who worked on production with all the Swedish death-metal bands of the period (Entombed, Dismember, Carnage, Grave... just name any one of them, Tomas was in on it), a collaboration that also accounted for the darker, meaner vibe running though the songs. The primitive hardcore gruffness was all but gone as the band progressed and their anger became more focused and sharper, though they retained a raw hardcore vibe and were not yet quite the relentless d-beat machine they would eventually become. I really enjoy this first Disfear offering because it perfectly epitomized the transition between brutal, hard-hitting Swedish hardcore and 90's d-beat orthodoxy. You can hear that the band navigated between hardcore bands like Totalitär or No Security and full on Discharge-worship. Perhaps this middle ground was best embodied by the flow of the vocals in Swedish, sometimes close to the fast-paced, raspy, Totalitär-like school, sometimes almost similar to Cal's peculiar intonation (although the tone of Jeppe's voice on this one is higher-pitched and closer to the classic Swedish hardcore way). The five songs sound very potent, aggressive and energetic with a an urgent and tense raw sound, the vocals sound fucking pissed, the riffs are great in a sort of classic and tasteful way. In their early years, Disfear's music really sounded like an unstoppable and cruel warmachine approaching and I think it is probably best served on repeat mode in order to enjoy the repetition of repetitiveness. Know what I mean? The visuals on this Ep are stark, severe and appropriately macabre and the lyrics are in Swedish and deal with religion and war (interestingly, the shift to English lyrics on subsequent records also corresponded with the growing Discharge influence on the songwriting and singing style). This eponymous Ep paved the way for the crucial d-beat masterpieces, the mammoth Discharge-loving Ep A Brutal Sight of War, from 1993 (my favourite Disfear record and easily one of the best d-beat records ever recorded), and the absolutely relentless Soul Scars album from 1995, two records that pretty much defined what has come to be associated with Swedish d-beat, with a heavy production, crushing riffs and a vocal work that saw Jeppe really find his hoarse but distinctive style.

My copy of the Disfear is not the original from 1992 but a 1998 repress co-released by German label Rødel Records based in Berlin and responsible for a lot of grindcore/crust/fastcore records (Rot, Yacopsae, MVD or Autoritär to name a few) and Finn Records, a Swedish label specialized in quality Discore music that put out many Totalitär records, but also stuff from G-Anx, Uncurbed or the Excrement of War/Dischange split Ep (small world). And if you are into early Disfear - and do keep in mind that you should be in order to be for real - their eponymous 1992 Ep and A Brutal Sight of War 1993 Ep were finally reissued on vinyl last year by La Familia Records, Havoc Records and Disfear Records (it had been previously reissued by Feral Ward in 2004 so you know it is definitely classic stuff). You know what to do.        

Austere indeed


Friday, 9 August 2019

Records I Forgot I Owned (part 10): Surrender "S/t" Ep, 2007

This is the last part of my pointless but rather fun series about those records I completely forgot I owned and I hope you enjoyed it. Of course, by nature, it was a very dispersed endeavour as my memory works in mysterious ways and I cannot really see a common artistic thread between all these Ep's. I guess my forgetting had more to with how or when I came to acquire them rather than with their merit and relevance or what they sounded like. Let me tell you that I own much worse records that I will neither be able to forget nor get rid of. How unfortunate. It is strange that I could not recall owning this Surrender Ep because I love the band. I distinctly remembered getting a subsequent one, There is no War from 2009, definitely enjoying the tunes but still thinking that it was a bit of a short - 6 minutes and 20 seconds to be accurate - and expensive one - I think I bought it for a fiver and there is no insert. I was not really disappointed or upset but I noticed the discrepancy and still remember I did. Now, ten years later, it is deemed perfectly normal to pay 6€ for 6 minutes worth of hardcore punk music, but then it hurt a little. I suppose we were still in the early stages of the technological and cultural transitional stage and although it was not that long ago, it does feel like a completely different era. But my hairline has not receded that much and in the end that's all that matters. 

But back to Surrender. Since I saw them play in Paris in May, 2009, I suppose I must have bought their first S/t Ep on that occasion. I don't think I had heard them before and the gig itself was not particularly packed. They were billed as an anarchopunk band from Berkeley but it did not necessarily imply that they were going to go for a strong 80's anarcho vibe, but just that they had radical political lyrics and were evolving in the anarchopunk spheres. For all I knew, they could have been a crust punk or a folk punk band and the anarchopunk tag on the handout would have still made sense. At the time there were very few bands openly going for the old-school Crass-ish anarcho sound anyway so chances that Surrender were going to sound like something out of the Mortarhate or Bluurg back catalogue were thin indeed. Basically, I was very unsuspecting and, in retrospect, gladly so, since Surrender surprised me with their brilliantly written, passionate peacepunk music (that is to say the Californian take on the original UK anarchopunk sound). They sounded like no other current band at the time and I loved the agitprop theatrics of the performance with the singer being literally blindfolded, the bass player wearing a mask over his mouth, the ace-looking peacepunk backdrop and all the spoken parts in the songs. It felt both fresh and referential at the time.     

Although there was certainly a renewed interest in the British anarchopunk scene from the 80's thanks to Overground's "anti compilations", to Ian Glasper's tremendous work The Day the Country Died, published in 2006, and to Lance Hahn's fascinating interviews of classic anarcho bands in MRR (at the same period), few historical anarchopunk bands had reformed yet and there was virtually no contemporary punk band doing the classic anarcho thing. I am not sure why that is. Perhaps punx were not as obsessed with nostalgia and prone to unabated 80's referentiality in the 00's (Discharge worship, or D-beat, having been already turned into an actual legitimate genre in the 90's was the obvious exception along with the Japanese punk scene, because, well, you know, Japan) or perhaps youtube had not yet opened the gates to even the most obscure hardcore bands. A band like Germ Attak, with its overt and erudite UK82 worship, was still very much a conceptual exception. This is not to say that vintage Crass-like acts were not listened to or had no influence on contemporary bands, but more often than not, political bands at the time were more likely to play neocrust - though by 2009 the trend was on its last feet - or progressive hardcore than Zounds-inspired poppy anarchopunk. To be fair, Contravene did have songs with Chumba-like moments, which is what made them quite original, but it was one influence among others and you did have some English bands with a strong Conflict vibe (like Active Slaughter for instance, or the Anthrax-ish Bug Central) but it was fairly circumscribed. Surrender, on the other hand, were all-out Chumbawamba converts and invited the little-known and rather confidential glorious Californian 80's peacepunk sound to the table.

Surrender formed in 2005 and were from Berkeley, which, when you listen to their music, feels almost pleonastic. The band had Paul Curran, formerly from Crimpshrine, on the bass which probably accounted for the decent turnout at the Paris gig. I never could get into Crimpshrine so I don't know much about them but I know a lot of people love them and the "ex-Crimpshrine" tag was helpful for Surrender I suppose. By now you have already guessed what Surrender were all about musically but let me be more accurate. I think the biggest inspirations would be Chumba and A State of Mind, at the time when the two bands shared a split Ep (reviewed on Terminal Sound Nuisance, small world) in 1986 and sounded quite alike. The songs are melodic, poppy even and deceptively upbeat, as if the tunes could barely conceal the political anger and outrage. The presence of several singers, male and female, certainly confers the same polyphonic quality that you can find in Chumba or, indeed, Crass. Rhythmically the band is versatile but always keeping this martial, tribal vibe reminiscent of mid-paced UK anarchopunk, while the bass is upfront, offering additional catchiness in the guise of brilliant lines with sometimes subtle hooks, and the guitar does not hesitate to change tones and techniques when the song needs to be enhanced. On the whole the songwriting is quite innovative and goes beyond the classic binary structure, like Chumba or Crass did, keeping a meaningful narrative quality with unexpected changes of moods and paces. The tunes are strong, sounding both sad and uplifiting, and never predictable. As for the lyrics, they are carefully written political diatribe about personal and collective resistance, conflicting feelings about the relevance of politics (and punk as a vessel for change I would assume), the need to do something about it all and the sense that it might all be a big con and we may be tricked into doing what we do, like predictably harmless rebels. This is quality anarcho music that brings to mind the classic Californian peacepunk bands such as A State of Mind, Trial (though not as postpunk), Sleeping Dogs (though not as avantgarde) or Resist and Exist, as well as the British originators like Chumba (obviously), Crass, Omega Tribe or Alternative.

After this self-released Ep, Surrender recorded the 2008 split Ep with Acts of Sedition, then the ugly-looking There is no War Ep for La Vida Es un Mus in 2009 - back when the label was much smaller - which is also excellent, a full Lp entitled Paper Thrones the same year for Thrillhouse Records and, finally, a split Ep with Finland's 1981 in 2011 for Stonehenge Records. I know some people dislike the album and I have to admit that I did not get into it as easily as I did for the Ep's, but I feel it is a very strong, more diverse work which makes sense given the demanding songwriting that the genre requires for a longer format (let's face it, even though not everyone is able to pull out a Pictures of Starving Children, you do have to pull out some serious and inspired songwriting skills if you want to make a decent chumba-esque Lp). I guess Surrender must have stopped shortly after the split with 1981. Dan on the guitar went on to play in No Sir I Won't (which kept to the same proper peacepunk path as Surrender) and later on in Brain Killer, drummer Heather joined Composite and Paul did Onion Flavored Rings. It is difficult to assess Surrender's legacy but to some extent, they prefigured the growing influence of old-school anarchopunk on the 2010's hardcore punk scene, which mainly materialized in the so-called postpunk revival. Many American postpunk bands especially (like Moral Hex or Funeral Parade for example) openly referred to the UK anarchopunk of yore, which was really nice at first, but then, as is often the case with trends, far too many bands started to play the exact same thing while also claiming the anarcho heritage. At some point, whenever you read that a band was influenced by old-school anarchopunk, it basically meant that it was some kind of dark postpunk band wearing The Mob or Peni shirts. But anyway, I digress. Bands like the mysterious Ok? quickly followed Surrender and the aforementioned 1981 have made a reputation for themselves and although they are a bit too close to happy-sounding indie rock at times, I still cannot think of a better Chumba-inspired band in today's punk scene. There were and are others now obviously, but I would argue that back when Surrender started, they were pretty much the only referential old-school peacepunk band around. Yet they never sounded gimmicky or like a parody of who they were influenced by (it sometimes happens) as you can tell by the relevance of their lyrics and the unpretentiousness of their records and of their live presence. A really solid punk band that I wish was still around.