Sunday 25 August 2013

Enola Gay / Vomit Yourself - "Exempted authority" / "Nihilism..." split Lp 1995

France is not exactly renowned for its crust bands. Crust is almost like marmite or cheesecake to us: we just don't seem to really like it. And it is not just crust actually, anything Discharge-influenced is pretty much absent from the French punk scenes until the 90's (with a smashingly great exception but that's a story for another day). Of course, there have been bands doing the crusty style throughout the years but, in my opinion, as sincere and genuine the people involved may have been, nothing really spectacular came out of them (and I include bands I have played in of course). With one remarkable exception: the Enola Gay/Vomit Yourself split Lp, which is probably the best French crust record ever.Both bands were from Auch, a small town in the South of France with 20.000 inhabitants, not far from Toulouse, but still far enough to be considered as sitting in the middle of nowhere. And yet, despite its geographical location (or maybe thanks to it, who knows), Auch was the French crust capital in the 90's and is still producing new crusty bands today (Violent Grannies). What do they put in the water in Auch? I don't have a clue, but it must be pretty strong.

Enola Gay was the first band - to my knowledge - of a long series to do the crust. They have actually been quite prolific over the years with two split Lp's (this one and another one released the same year with great anarcho-hardcoreros Coche Bomba), one Ep, one split Ep with Vivisection from Japan and a split tape with fellow countrymen Spasm. Enola Gay started off with a drum machine (their first record, the Ep, was done with a drum machine) around 1992 I would guess and they kept going until 1996 when some members of Enola Gay formed Disbeer while the remaining members along with people from Vomit Yourself, started Sickness (small scene, right?). Despite their - very - sloppy start, Enola Gay is my favourite Auch band. If someone ever asks you to define what 90's European crust music sounded like, just play their side of this split Lp and you won't have to say anything. They have just the perfect sound for the genre, heavy, beefy, effortlessly powerful and aggressive. The drums are pummeling and punchy, quite like Hiatus' drumming really, the vocals are gruffy but never feel contrived, the guitar is thick in an Extreme Noise Terror way and the bass leads the way it should. It is really top-of-the-shelf crustcore, up there with the aforementioned Hiatus (undeniably the kings of the genre), early Doom, Subcaos, Toxic Bonkers, early Disrupt and MVD.

On the other side you will have to survive to Vomit Yourself. French punks love vomit (see Vomit for Breakfast or Ultra Vomit for instance), especially the punks of the grindcore-loving variety. Contrary to crust, France has never been short of grindcore bands and although Vomit Yourself is not a pure grind band, they use enough blast beats to be approached in this light. In fact, if that friend of yours, the one who asked about eurocrust, ever wants to know what grind/crust could sound like, don't bother with a lengthy explanation and play the other side of this record. Vomit Yourself retains some similar 90's crust elements to Enola Gay but with a large dose of old-school grindcore (think early Napalm Death, Agathocles or Rot). There is also a Sore Throat vibe for the sense of humour (and a few nods) and at times Electro Hippies are not too far off the picture either. It is fast, really fast, on the whole but the bands also have slower, heavier moments that are not dissimilar to early Dystopia or Eyehategod. Like on the Enola Gay side, the sound is punchy and will make your dreadlocks grow instantly.

There is a great-looking punk as fuck booklet included with the record with all the lyrics and translations, cheesy crust art and pictures. You can see that this is a DIY production done with heart and guts, with a lot of effort put in the visual aspect, something that is often cruelly missing today. The lyrics are fairly direct and political (anti-multinationals, anti-pigs, anti-rich, anti-vivisection and so on) but there are also a few drinking and partying anthems as well (Enole Gay covers "Banned from the pubs" if that's any indication of their love for booze). This Lp was released on Panx Records, a label from Toulouse that was very active in the late 80's and throughout the 90's and was responsible for excellent Ep compilations that promoted local and worldwide DIY punk-rock with bands as varied as Antidogmatikss, Ghradanskaya Oborona, Beyond Description or Valse Triste, and celebrated musical diversity by releasing grindcore, crust (Primitiv Bunko, Disbeer) as well as melodic hardcore (Greedy Guts) or old-school punk-rock (Légitime Défonce).

A great, unpretentious record for lovers of good crust and good grindcore, but above all, for lovers of music with a PUNK attitude. No technical bollocks, just hard-hitting fast punk music. And the best thing is that 90's crust is so unpopular currently that you will able to find this one for less than a fiver.

Auch crust city in the 90's!

PS: special thanks to Manu for recommending that brilliant record.  

Monday 19 August 2013

Hellbastard "The good go first" Lp 2000

To say that I am a sucker for UK crust would be an understatement. Like any person with good tastes, I literally adore the old classic bands and am always looking for little-known recordings or interviews from that era. I discovered those bands about 10 years ago, at a time when the internet was still very much an abstraction for me and downloading music akin to witchcraft. I had read the name "Hellbastard" somewhere in a review and it immediately stuck with me because, when you really think about it, Hellbastard is a bloody great name for a band! Anyway, after hours of fruitless research on the web, I came upon the website of Acid Stings records and realized that they had a Hellbastard cd called "In grind we crust". The website was not updated and they didn't have many records to sell but I still sent them an email. Weeks later, I got a reply asking to send something like 10 quids through the post (I was living in England back then) and that's how I got my first Hellbastard experience. I didn't know it at the time, but all the so-called stenchcore bands were about to be re-discovered by a new generation of punks and bands inspired by that specific sound were soon to start playing, following the path that Hellshock had uncovered. A few years later, most of those old British bands would reform and a lot of their works would be reissued, but as I received Hellbastard's "In grind we crust" cd, I was pretty sure that it was a piece of obscure punk history I was unearthing and it is really one of the best thing to feel.

But enough cheesy memories for now and let's talk about Hellbastard. I don't think they need much of an introduction but for those of you who suck enough not to be into them, they were a metal/punk band from Newcastle who formed in 1984, took a great part in the original crust adventure, ended up as a mediocre thrash-metal band and disbanded in 1992. Along with Deviated Instinct (and, retrospectively, Axegrinder, although I don't think they were as influential back then), they were the band that really epitomized the crust genre, the shapes of which had already been moulded by Antisect and Amebix. From what can be gathered in "Trapped in a scene", they toured a lot and lived passionately for their band which is how it should be. They are also the band that coined the term "crust" in reference to the shitty sound of the guitar's pedal, hence naming their first demo "Rippercrust".

"The good go first" is a little-known record that was released in 2000 by a Japanese label called Dirty Thrash Records. If the record itself is somewhat obscure, the recording is better-known as it is nothing less than the "Hate militia" demo, originally recorded by Hellbastard in 1987, as well as one Nero Circus song, one of HB's guitar player Scruff's later bands. I think Agipunk is meant to reissue "Hate miltia" on vinyl with all the original artwork at some point but I don't know if this is actually going to see the light of day. This second demo is not as "famous" as "Rippercrust" although it had one of its songs appear on a Peaceville sampler ("Civilised?" on "A vile peace" which you can find on this blog). The sound is more bass-driven than on "Rippercrust" (which was all about chunky and filthy guitar) and on the whole it may not be quite as heavy. Saying this, don't expect a Buzzcocks cover band: it is still ripping, greasy, angry metallic punk with attitude (orthodox metalheads would say "shitty metal" but whatever...). The band had obviously progressed in terms of musicianship but the production isn't exactly flawless as the band had apparently fucked off to the nearest pub during the last stage of the production. While the drumming is just perfect on the numerous mid-tempo parts with a crude, organic yet energetic sound, on the faster moments it gets lost in the maelstrom of noise. Otherwise it is classic early Hellbastard: take the harder anarchopunk bands, Amebixes' sense of epics, the early thrash bands, Hellhammer's insanity, gruffy vocals and add some punk snot and dirt. A unique cocktail indeed. Some of the songs have spoken parts done by a female singer (like on the first Lp) that sound just brilliant and I just wish the band had done that more often. Lyrically, there are some serious political themes like opposing racism, the fate of Native Americans or the nazi death camps, as well as songs that reflect the alienation of everyday life in the Northern post-industrial wastelands. I wasn't expecting much from the Nero Circus song, recorded in 1996, but I was wrong and probably prejudiced as it is quite good. It reminds me of a grungier late Amebix, a little like Muckspreader maybe? Definitely worth checking out.

Depending on your artistic taste, you may find the aesthetics of the "The good go first" dreadful or brilliant. I am still unsure on which side I am. The cover could have been used for a heavy-metal band if it were not for the green, red and yellow colours at the bottom that are more reminiscent of the reggae world. The inside of the gatefold is much more interesting with a lot of old pictures of Hellbastard, all the lyrics, words from the members, a HB history, a testimony of the band's relevance written by a fellow called Mark and massive thank lists. It is a work of love and it does show. I am a bit more sceptical about the cover though!  


Saturday 10 August 2013

Another Destructive System "Break the silence" cd 2006

There has undeniably been a renewed interest in 80's British anarchopunk in the past few years, particularly from some corners of the American scene. Bands like OK?, Surrender or Permaculture clearly cherish Crass, Chumbawamba and Alternative, while Vivid Sekt, Moral Hex or Autonomy are obsessed with the darker side of British postpunk (Lack of Knowledge, Internal Autonomy, Part-1, Vex...). Closer to home, 1981 from Finland brilliantly blend Chumba-style punk with US folk-punk. One might think that this revival, so to speak, would also affect 90's anarchopunk or, if the 80's are still a prerequisite, early US anarchopunk, but one would be wrong (and one often is, to be honest). Apart from Crucifix and, to a lesser extent, Iconoclast (but then, they mostly get interest as "rawpunk bands" rather than anarcho bands), early US anarcho bands are not only largely ignored, but also widely undocumented. And indeed, you will find little information about A State of Mind, Trial, Media Children, Atrocity or Bodycount and about this tremendous scene from California. For social and cultural reasons, UK-influenced political punk-rock spread like fire on the West coast and it was no coincidence that the first Discharge and Crass-type bands or the first crust bands emerged from that context. Another Destructive System was one of those bands.

From Los Angeles, ADS did two demos in the mid-80's (1986 and 1987 respectively) which, despite a rather rough sound, showed the great potential of the band and illustrated the different musical influences at work in that scene. With two singers, early ADS was as much about early Antisect, Conflict or Icons of Filth than about more metal-oriented punk bands, not unlike Oi Polloi on the Toxik Ephex split or Pro Patria Mori actually, some sort of proto-crust sound, still very much anchored in the anarchopunk tradition but using filthy thrash riffs. The ADS demos epitomized that crucial moment between great hardcore-punk and old crust, the missing link between Crucifix, Final Conflict and Apocalypse.

Apparently, the band reformed several times during the 90's, one time to support Dirt when they toured the US along with Hellkrusher, but "Break the silence" was recorded during their latest (and probably last) reformation, that took place in the late 00's. The cd contains both old songs and new songs and was released on Mortarhate, Colin Jerwood's label. Re-recording old songs - and reforming a band - is a very tricky enterprise in the punk world. It is usually disappointing as the youthfulness of early recordings is often absent from the new versions recorded in a totally different context. Extreme Noise Terror's "Retro-bution" is a perfect example of the discrepancy between the compelling fury and chaos of early ENT songs and the too polished and overproduced new versions that appeared on that cd, not that it is a bad record in itself, but you can hear instantly that something is missing (and the band was aware of that as it is revealed in "Trapped in a scene"). Amebix' attempt at re-recording was, by and large, a failure too, as the songs lost their thick and organic texture in the process although one has to praise the band for not trying to do the exact same versions of their old song, which would have been ridiculous. Antisect's last 10" is more successful in modernizing their sound and although the songs lack intensity, they have the crunch of 90's UK hardcore-punk and are quite promising if the band intends to record something new (as I hope they will!). Varukers' "Still bollocks but still there" may be the best re-recorded versions of old songs that I can think of right now. The 90's records of the Varukers were excellent anyway and that cd brilliantly and effortlessly turned their 80's songs into what UK hardcore-punk sounded like at the time. Now, let's take a look at the new versions of Another Destructive System's songs.

Of the nine songs included on "Break the silence", you will find five new songs ("Another destructive system", "Apartheid system", "Days of war", "Aren't you getting the message" and "This is our world") and five old ones ("Get active", "Break the silence", "Don't get locked", "What is your nightmare" and "Animals inadequate"). Needless to say that the sound is much more polished and cleaner than on the 80's demo. Though I don't feel that it is overproduced, it is perhaps too clean and the songs lacks the raw ferocity that they used to have. On the other hand, you can actually hear perfectly what is going on. Only one of the original singers is still behind the mike (the one with the deep, almost amebixesque voice), while the other one has been replaced with a female singer who has a very energetic, angry voice. The male/female vocal combination in addition to the cleaner production, give "Break the Silence" a 90's US anarchopunk feel, a bit like a cross between Final Warning and Antiproduct, or between Jesus Chrust and Mankind?. Resist and Exist also comes to mind, which makes sense since they are the only surviving band of this 80's US anarcho wave (when the members were in Autonomy). The songs are quite diverse in terms of tempo and mood: you have tribal drumming parts, spoken parts, full-on fast antisectish moments, great crunchy metal parts. On the whole, I think it is a good album. Despite the age of some of the songs, the themes haven't become out of date (wars, animal abuse, punk as a political movement, racism, standing out against the bastards...). Some of the songs, especially some of the newer ones, might have benefited from better song-writing, but then the old ones are so good that it is difficult for them not to pale a little in comparison. More importantly, "Break the silence" feels like a record from a recent bands of its time. It fits well in the 2000's Californian political punk scene and I can perfectly imagine a gig with Another Destructive System, Resist and Exist, Scarred For Life, Against//Empire and Holokaust. A good, honest band that made a good, honest record. Punk, innit?