When you see such a cover, what is your first impression? 1: A lame d-beat band from Sweden? 2: Harsh crustcore from Slovakia? 3: Embarassing metal-punk? 1: Wrong (thanks fuck). 2: Wrong (but nothing wrong with Slovakian crust punk though). 3: Wrong (we don't do cvlt mvsic here). I don't know who picked the cover for this record but it was not a wise choice, especially since there is much more appropriate, relevant artwork in the thick booklet. Neither crust, metal nor d-beat, Dirge was a noisy hardcore punk band from Leicester.
The band started in 1983 and split up at the beginning of 1986 (though the band reached its apex in 1984). Dirge was made up of members from Vile Bodies and Rotting corpse, two obscure local bands that I really wish I knew (but not having recorded anything if I understand correctly, it is very unlikely to happen, isn't it?). What is quite formidable with Dirge is that they perfectly bridge the gap between fairly typical, animal rights-oriented, Conflicty anarchopunk and the tumultuously noist noise of Chaos UK and Disorder. Not unlike early Anti-System, early Legion of Parasites or even Wretched, but sloppier, more basic and more distorted. To be even more accurate, play the first side of Antisect's "Peace is better than a place in history" and, simultaneously, play Disorder's "Under the scalpel blade". Dirge feels like they were a serious band as they embraced the notion of punk as a vehicle for protest, but they were still, unashamedly, also very PUNK (and actually, they looked really punk too!).
Dirge's music was solidly influenced by the Bristol school (you won't be too surprised to learn that Dirge has shared the stage with Disorder, Chaos UK, Anti-System or Wretched) but, contrary to many current bands trying too hard to emulate that sound, there was no calculation on their part. They were genuinely shitty musicians with shitty instruments recording with shitty gears and a shitty 4-tracks, and that's why their songs, 30 years later, are so bloody great. Sloppy, shambolic and yet extremely catchy too. The song "The right to refuse" is an unsung anthem (which was actually included on a Mortarhate compilation) replete with anger, outrage and the unshakable desire to make a stand. The furious two-vocals attack works terrifically and sounds suitably snotty and aggressive. I would give it an A on the Antisect-live-in-Coventry-1982 scale, a highly-coveted grade I seldom give. The guitar is both VERY distorted and untuned so that only the most careful listeners will be able to spot an actual chord. The bass is muddy, all over the place and drives the whole chaotic mess, as the genre requires. The lyrics attest that the band was really into animal rights, vegetarianism and hunt-sabbing but you will also find other regular among the menu: war, nuclear war and shit propaganda in the media.
I really like the aesthetics of the band and the think booklet has everything you have ever dreamt to know about the band (you may want to read the chapter dedicated to Dirge in "Trapped in a scene" for good measure). You have a band's history, interviews, a retrospective view of the band, pictures, flyers, lyrics (with Japanese translations). That's how reissues should be done. The Lp includes the "Right to refuse"'s 1984 demo and a live set of the same year which saw the band covering... a Skum Dribblurzzz' song ("Walk tall")!!! No shit! They don't even earn punk points with that one, they can have the whole pack of points! Former members of Dirge currently play in the Wankys and Threat of War, and the bass player, Debbie, even played in the 96 reformation of Dirt (beside doing a stint with Suicidal Supermarket Trolleys and, if I'm not mistaken, Zero Tolerance). Old punks still into it: what's not to love? "Scarred forever" was released on famous Japanese label Crust War, which was quite a surprise for me, as the label only deals with Japanese bands (Warfear, another 80's noisy English band being the other exception). As I have said, this is a great-looking record that would have deserved a different cover. But since I am not one to judge a book by its cover, I finally got over it (sort of...).