Friday, 28 June 2013

Misery / SDS "Pain in suffering / Future stay in the darkness fog" split Lp 1991

Has the gigantic amount of punk music available on the web conditioned our ears? Has it paradoxically impaired our attention and led us to hear rather than listen to the songs? The number of releases is staggering and more than ever, your average punk-rocker is aware that there are noise-making comrades all over the world. And yet, I am sometimes under the impression that there is also a uniformisation of punk-rock. Let me take an example. If a modern band states that it is influenced by the noisepunk bands like Chaos UK, Disorder, Confuse and so on, you can be pretty sure that it will sound in a very specific way (a lot of distorsion, reverb on the vocals and meticulous drum rolls). Not that the bands claiming this legacy are bad (some of them are actually really good), but what bothers me is that you can be influenced by a band or a genre in many different ways. In that instance, rather than the three aforementioned aspects (or are they rules?), you could put forward as influences the sense of humour of the Bristolians with their silly songs or the insanity of late Confuse or the proper chaotic parts of Chaotic Dischord or the genuine sloppiness of the Mexican bands and so on. What I mean is that two persons can be listening to the exact same song and yet be interested by different things, each will remember the song in his or her own way and the listening experience will evolve through time. The first time I heard Amebix, I didn't even notice the synth while some people are instantly shocked by it (but don't trust their judgement, they suck by and large). To get back to the original question, has the internet changed our peculiar listening capacity? I don't really have any answer to that (but then, on a sunday, who has any answer?).

I started thinking seriously about that issue when I decided to write about the Misery/SDS split. If you are into crust at all, you already know this record, which is probably the best crust split lp ever and one that is highly sought after (and pricy...). If one wanted to think about this record schematically, it is basically the Antisect/Amebix split Lp that never happened (how great would it have been though...). If Amebixes' influence on Misery has always been great, SDS were HEAVILY into Antisect in the early 90's. The Antisect influence is absolutely deliberate on every level, be it the music, the lyrics or the artwork. SDS even went as far as refering to themselves (or was it to this record? Hard to tell) as "Ghost of Antisect"! Many other Japanese bands have walked that thin line between respectful tribute to their influences and goofy fanboyism. Fortunately for us and in spite of a lack of any subtlety on the part of SDS, their sonic tribute, their declaration of love to Antisect is fantastic and does not sink in the depth of stale and soulless mimicry.

So why all these questions at the beginning of this post you might ask? Well, as influenced by Antisect as SDS were, they were certainly not the only ones at that time: Extinction of Mankind (slightly anarchonistic as they formed in 1992) and Coitus have also been living proofs that Antisect were the best band ever (I am getting emotional now...). BUT, and that's where my opening meditation comes from, none of these three bands sound like each other. Although it is obvious to any trained ear that they share common influences, they didn't take the same elements from them, they didn't affect their sound in the same way. While EOM took the gloomy path with top crusty guitar leads, Coitus chose to go tread on the rocking and groovy, bass driven, "Celtic Frost quatting in Hackney" way, while SDS went for a thicker, colder, harder-hitting sound that would define Japanese crust for the years to come. Funnily enough, the three bands that SDS thanked in terms of influence were Antisect (really? hadn't seen that one coming), Amebix and Discharge. The exact three bands that were chosen for a cover Ep by the mighty Extinction of Mankind and Warcollapse. And yet, do these bands sound like each other? You see where I am getting at.

This Lp is SDS' second record after their Ep "Never arise - In raid there is no life" (an Amesect medley if there is one) and one can notice a significant progression between both. You can feel that the band knew exactly what they were doing in terms of song-writing and sound. The thing that made SDS stand out was the guitar sound. To offer an accurate description of the guitar here is quite a difficult task indeed. It has this obvious dry and distorted thickness. It doesn't aim primarily at heaviness but it is still remarkably powerful. It has a floating, flowing quality but is used with grand focus and control. When it goes full on metal, there is that typically ferocious SDS sound, bordering on insanity, that they would fully use in their later years. In terms of intent, I can imagine what the guitar player wanted to do if you compare his part and Lippy's on "Out from the void" (despite the sound of the Ep). The vocals are not of the growling kind, rather they are shouted with heart and passion, sometimes on the brink of breaking, which makes for a nice balance with the perfection of the guitar.

"Future stay in the darkness fog" is a real record in that it tells a story: there are longer, slower songs with plenty of breakdowns, changes in riffs and texture, guitar solos, spoken words, and also shorter, faster, harder ones. The SDS side adequately ends with the long epic track, "No dream story", and each of the six songs is memorable. "Out from the void"'s era Antisect is of course the primary influence here and you will recognize borrowed riffs and drum parts here and there, followed shortly by Amebix (especially the first song "Tomorrow"). Careful listeners should be able to spot Sacrilege and Axegrinder moments as well while the faster songs remind me of Nausea. However, name-dropping may not be very significant in defining SDS as, in spite of the obvious and proud intertextuality, they definitely manage to create their sound, atmosphere and texture. Absolutely classic stuff. The artwork looks more like Antisect than Antisect themselves. Never afraid of the possiblity of being ridiculous, SDS have used a very similar interlacing plant frieze bordering the central drawing of their cover. Of course, they couldn't help using the classic Antisect font either. The aesthetic heart of the cover is a dove-shaped drawing (Nausea anyone?) which looks like a mural almost. This drawing has a bleeding baby, a gasmask-wearing kid, animals dying from contamination (I suppose), mutant groping hands and the peaceful dove is even shedding a tear. The style is highly similar to the amazing poster you can find in the Antisect Lp, only with less talent and inspiration. Do I think it still looks great? Of course I do! The lyrics are not particularly elaborate and suffer from the "broken English syndrome" that seems to strike contagiously Japanese punk bands. They remain, however, understandable and the odd word associations could be said to hold a poetical innovative value. The underlying theme appears to be the discrepancy between dream and reality, a utopian future and a hopeless present, in the guise of time and nature metaphors that reflect this opposition. After this record, the band recorded an unreleased Lp in 1992 entitled "In to the void" (no kidding) and took part in several compilations before changing their style with the "Scum system kills" Ep in 1996 which marked the beginning of their "motocrust" phase, replete with madness-inducing metal riffs, fast as fuck tempo and vocals from another (evil) world.

Birdy from many different angles. Now who will be kind enough to get me a decent-sized scanner for Christmas?

When you reach this level of crust quality on one side of a record, you just have to make sure that the other side is solidly being taken care of as well. And in 1991, who could do the job better than Misery? No one. The English bands had all split up (even Doom had taken a break at that time), Nausea were on their last legs and Hiatus, Disrupt or Coitus hadn't reached their full potential yet. The only bands that might have been able to give SDS a run for their money were the Southern California ones like Mindrot, Apocalypse, A//Solution or Glycine Max, although, apart from Apocalypse, they were still in their infancy themselves and these crusty bands have never been very prolific (well, Mindrot eventually went full-on doom-metal and released some albums). Minneapolis' Misery, on the other hand, already had three Ep's and one Lp under their bullet belts. Not only were their previous records already excellent but they were undeniably getting better and better (they arguably reached their 90's apex with their next record, "Who's the fool?"). I have always felt that Misery never really got the credit they deserve: they are the only 25 years old crust band in the world that never stopped (even Doom took a few breaks), they have kept the same line-up (the original singer did leave the band to join Nausea but that was before Misery even released a record) and have retained their identity all the way throughout the years so that, even with the musical progression, you can always recognize their brand of heavy and groovy old-school crust in a heartbeat. Along with Extinction of Mankind, Misery embody the true crust punk spirit, one that has survived trends and fads.

Simply put, Misery is the best US crust band ever, not only because of their longevity, but because they took the Amebix sound and turned it into their very own, built on it, made it grow. "Pain in suffering" exemplifies what Misery were all about at that time. The bass guitar has a huge sound, like a distorted mechanical snake swirling around your ears. Their use of two guitars works in a complementary fashion, each with a distinct sound and direction so that, where too many bands use two guitars just to make one same riff heavier, Misery create a particularly gloomy but powerful atmosphere that feels heavy. When first confronted with their music, the listener might feel a bit confused, or even lost, amongst the different layers for the Misery sound is deceptively chaotic at first and it can take some time to really "get it". In a word, we are miles away from crude and direct crustcore as Misery is a world-creating band. Misery crustify with ease everything they touch. Their snotty sense of a good epics gives birth to heavy mid-tempo Amebix/Axegrinder type songs with monstrous riffs, but they also keep a punk-rock flair as well, keeping in mind the greatness of bands like GBH, English Dogs or late 80's Chaos UK, and, when you least expect it, they can nail you with an old-school death-metal number. The two singers don't function with the classic crusty trade-off pattern. Like the guitars, each voice has its fields of expertise: threateningly snotty on the brink of madness (also known as the Baron meets Colin from GBH at a cider-drinking contest) or gutturally back from the dead spokesman of the apocalypse. Misery's song-writing is intelligent because it doesn't restrict itself, it is not narrow, but at the same time it is always distinctively themselves. Misery are like a chef with his special spice. He can cook many different dishes and they will taste different but you will always know his cooking because of his special spice. They should have renamed themselves the Spice Boys or something.

The topics that Misery tackle in their lyrics are not circumscribed to the coming apocalypse or some imaginary, Bolt Thrower-inspired final war. Of course, and as their name suggests, it is not particularly happy stuff but there are a lot of different angles in the songs from the political to the personal. "Filth of mankind" (yes, that is where the great Polish band got their name from) is a song about waste and ecology and how the land is being polluted, sometimes irreparably, and how we remain apathetic, blinded by the lies of those who make sure that the capitalistic economy runs smoothly (for themselves obviously). "Reality leads to insanity" is a sad and hopeless look at our society, like an aimless walk in our streets, with dying homeless persons, kids who join gangs and die in their attempt to rise to the top, children suffering from parental abuse... Happy shit. "World of fear" is a song about alienation, confusion and how our mind is affected by the fear we are taught to feel. "Two worlds collide" tackles consumerism, the Western way of life in which one doesn't care about its social or ecological consequences until one gets cancer because of the shit we are led to swallow: "their profits become your death". "Screw you too" is more of a personal song about a lying arrogant bastard who is neither forgotten nor forgiven. Finally, "Total destruction" is about...well, I am pretty sure you already know! Punk words coming from punk hearts. Aesthetically, their side looks great, as usual should I add, since Misery have always had great artwork done for them. In that case, the drawing aptly illustrates the title of this record: "Pain in suffering".

A bloody brilliant record with two top notch bands in flawless flac format, originally released on Kyoto's MCR Company, it was the label's fiftieth record (49th was the Concrete Sox/Nightmare split Ep).



  1. Hey crust buddy. I wanted to let you know that their is an unofficial lp of the sds side of this lp and on the other side is the into the void unreleased lp from the past and future cd I highly recommend getting it.