Friday 26 December 2014

Potential Threat "Never again" Lp 1989

There are oddities in the punk galaxy that I find hard to explain. While some amazing bands seem to be doomed to obscurity, if not scorn, others, though sometimes quite average, are excessively praised. Punk-rock works in mysterious ways.

That Potential Threat doesn't have a spot in the anarchopunk canon is an enigma to me. They had everything, the music, the lyrics, the records on Mortarhate, the looks (it sadly does matter) and most of all a phenomenal female singer. And yet, there is not even a crappy cd discography, not even a lame bootleg with an embarrassingly pixelated cover (or is there?). You just had the odd reissue of the first Ep 6 years ago and that's fucking it. I know there are many other bands that also deserve to be properly reissued, but in the case  of Potential Threat, we are dealing with a band that existed from 1981 to 1988 (that's the same lifespan as Antisect actually), recording two Ep's, two Lp's and taking part in several worthy compilations in the process. So why the apparent indifference?

Reading the short bio of the band here, one realizes that the band never really had a stable line-up at the beginning of its existence, with Pauline and Fos being the sole remaining members, which means that they probably weren't able to tour extensively or even gig regularly in the early 80's at the peak of the anarchopunk odyssey. In fact, the band had to wait until their first Lp, "Demand an alternative" to finally know some semblance of stability member-wise. But by that time, the year was 1985: the original anarcho scene was declining and the hardcore/crust wave had not started yet so one may venture that gig turnouts were not that great. Interestingly though, Potential Threat had the opportunity to play both with Conflict and the Mortarhate roster in the first part of the 80's but also with the rising crusty scene during the second half of the decade as this handout for a gig at the Mermaid can attest:

Would I sell my soul to be able to witness a gig such as this one? Do you really need an answer?

Could poor band logistics and unlucky timing be reasons enough to explain the band's relative anonymity today? After all, they were by no means the only band in the situation of not being able to gig a lot or of being two years too late (or too early?). Their records may have suffered from poor distribution or maybe being from Blackburn didn't help either (I can't think of another Blackburn 80's punk band actually). Or could it be that their strong, almost orthodox anarcho message was seen as clichéd by the time they secured a proper line-up? Were they too serious or did they seem to be so at a time when English Dogs were having half-naked women riding dragons on the sleeves of their records? Did they look too punk at a time when metal and hardcore were all the rage? 

One thing is certain: Potential Threat sounded absolutely fantastic and they should be up there, right between your Amebix backpatch, your Discharge top and your Antisect hat. There were two different periods to Potential Threat. The first one included their two Ep's of fast and angry British-flavoured hardcore-punk that gave Anti-System, Varukers and Antisect a run for their money in terms of intensity. I personally rate "What's so great... Britain?" as high as "In defense of the realms" and that's saying a lot. The second period saw the band add a metal influence in their recipe to great effect. The more cynical among you will point out that it was the case of an awful lot of punk bands in the mid-80's which is, of course, true. But here is the thing though. Sacrilege and Antisect adopted a darker sound and look along with the metal turn, there was a change in aesthetics, but also in texture and mood. Concrete Sox or Anihilated looked lovingly toward the US thrash-metal wave and the result was an hybrid between hard-hitting anarchopunk and 80's metal. But in the case of Potential Threat, although the metal influence is undeniable, one has the feeling that there is no significant change in terms of mood and texture, as if the punk element had completely swallowed the metallic one, only to regurgitate it in the guitar riffs, miraculously turning metal into punk in the process. My blabbering may seem unclear to you now, but listen to this Lp a couple of times and you will se what I mean. And if you don't, never come back.

Basically, "Never again" is an album of politically-charged metallic anarchopunk, maybe not unlike late Anti-System, late 80's Concrete Sox or Civilised Society? The production is thick, powerful and warm like anger burning, the drums are pummeling and energetic, the guitar riffs are - almost - always relevant with a crunchy punk sound and the vocals... Well, Pauline had one of the most memorable voice of the anarchopunk scene in my opinion, warm and yet tense, raucous and yet tuneful. The words are shouted from the heart but are not yelled as you can actually understand what she is on about. I can't think of another female singer with a voice quite like hers, not that she was a particularly technical singer - it's still punk as fuck - but in the sense that there was no one singing like her at the time. If Potential Threat had had your average, but still lovable, snotty punk-rocker on vocals, they would have been really good. But with Pauline they become remarkable.  

OMG! Another Anti-System reference!

Now, I am not a great fan of the cover, I have to say, and you will notice that I didn't bother to include my own scan of it. Not that I disagree with the message, obviously, but I don't find it really pleasing to the eye (I mean, there is still a huge swastika on it). I much prefer the thick booklet with the lyrics translated into German (it was released on a German label) which was, I believe, not so common at the time. Potential Threat was very much a band of its time and place in terms of topics and it appears they were really into animal rights. The first song, "Solidarity" is strongly reminiscent of vintage anarchopunk with political talk-over passages about the situation in Northern Ireland, its sectarianism and paramilitary violence. It's the perfect introduction to a very intense album that tackles animal abuse, the need for direct action, the double-standards of the law, anti-fascism, class war, religious nutters, Thatcher being a heartless witch... My favourite song might be "This isn't punk", which is a criticism of the brainless punks bent on drugs and violence. And there is some Slayer-bashing in the song "Wishful thinking" which I find really amusing though I don't necessarily agree with the band about their view on free speech. On page 6, you will notice a drawing that should ring a bell as it is the same one that was used for Anti-System's "A look at life". How odd is that? 

This album was the band's last record and was released in 1989, after the band broke up if I understand correctly, although it was recorded in 1987. The label, Recordrom, went on to put out goodies from Dan and Internal Autonomy.


Monday 8 December 2014

Final Warning "Eyes of a child" Ep, 1994

Has it been two weeks already? Fuck me. Time really does fly and I wish it didn't. Especially since it's that time of the year again, when people are starting to get all excited about buying lame christmas gifts for people they don't really like. Pretty sickening really. Dante couldn't have seen it coming, but if there is a hell, it must be working at a toy store in december. On my way to work, there is a massive toy store that has all the colourful plastic crap a first-world kid can dream of, and the other day, although it was over thirty minutes before the opening hour, there were at least twenty people waiting before the door, looking both pissed and eager to spend money, while the employees were rushing inside, cleaning up the floor at full speed so that a herd of consumers could trample on it ruthlessly. Life: what a wonderful choice.

Anyway. If you have a kid who is into punk or if you wish to turn your young niece away from Justin Bieber, I suggest you get this wonderful Ep from Final Warning. It is a 90's record so you will be able to get if for cheap and it is a solid slice of charged hardcore-punk. In fact, I hadn't played this one for a while and I had forgotten how good it was. Not to be confused with the early hardcore band from Portland, this Final Warning were from New York and were active in the mid-90's. As I understand it, Final Warning was the follow-up of Warning although I think that Neil, the singer, was the only common member between both bands. Warning itself started after the demise of the cruelly underrated Jesus Chrust (see my post about them for more glorification) which had Neil on vocals along with Ralphy Boy, who also sang in Disassociate. And even before Jesus Chrust, Neil used to sing for Nausea, you know, that small band that everyone has patches of, before they turned crust. And of course, Neil was the brain behind Tribal War Records, a label that released music that had a tremendous influence on me and without which I probably wouldn't be half as awesome as I am today.

If Warning was a tad generic music-wise, Final Warning was a much more focused effort that deserves to be re-discovered. Metal-tinged hardcore punk in the British tradition (after all, the singer is originally from England), this Ep could have been recorded in Nottingham and released on Inflammable Materials. It doesn't really incorporate the musical element that prevailed among the mid-90's US anarcho/crusty which they were a part of. Locally, Distraught would be the closest thing sounding like Final Warning (I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they shared members actually) although the latter has more crunch and had less of a Final Conflict influence. As I said, FW sounded more at home with the mighty Hellkrusher (they even covered "Dying for who" on their live Lp) or 90's era Varukers, but with an added metal influence that came directly from the early UK crust scene or, perhaps ironically, from late Nausea. The first song, "Faith", an anti-religious haiku, is a perfect dischargey, antisecty, nauseous number with a powerful sound and perfect bass lines; "Rise" is a crusty anthem with terrific yet simple crunchy metal riffs that could have been lifted off "Guttural breath"; finally, "Eyes of a child" is a cross between both, with thrashy metal riffs, a d-beat rhythm section, vintage reverb on vocals (not unlike Cracked Cop Skulls really, even in the vocal tone) and a spoken part that screams "you're in anarchopunk territory". What makes the three tracks really stand out could be the bass work: it has a clear sound, the lines are really catchy, memorable at times even.

Only three tracks on this Ep that leave me craving for more. As mentioned, there is a Final Warning live Lp that was recorded in 1996 and that included quite few Nausea covers along with the Hellkrusher one. In 2000, a few years after the end of the band, a split Ep with Mankind? was also released on Tribal War, but that's it. A proper studio Lp would have been nice. Oh well.

As you will see, the lyrics that were initially printed inside the sleeve are almost unreadable since they are written in white with black and white pictures in the background. This mistake (don't be mean, shit happens when you do DIY punk records, I have seen much worse) accounts for the addition of a small sheet of paper with the lyrics printed on it. Finally, I found a really interesting, inspiring even, interview of Neil Robinson that you can read here in which you will find plenty of information about the 80's New York squat scene, ABC No Rio, Nausea, but also locally-sourced food.      

Tuesday 25 November 2014

"The boredom and the bullshit" compilation Ep, 1996

Although it is probably less true nowadays than it used to be, compilations are the most meaningful way to get to discover a scene. Of course, I am not talking here about benefit compilations that gather bands from all over for a specific cause, or label compilations that are meant to introduce innocent listeners to the tastes and circles of friends of a particular person. No, here we are dealing with local bands being released on a local label discussing the issues facing a local scene. Yes, "local" is the trope of the day.

Such compilations can be quite risky too as one is often tempted to include bands that, however local, friendly and active, can be quite terrible too. But then, I guess that's also what makes this sort of compilation memorable. After all, any given local scene at any given time has its own average band that you can't help liking because they're mates and a compilation without them would be less relevant, though maybe more bearable for those outside your locality. But awesome musicianship was never the primary aim of local compilations anyway since, as I mentioned, the point is to bring outsiders inside your own punk scene. From a diachronic perspective, it also offers a significant picture of what people were into at the time and how an area can shape a sound or, perhaps even truer, how a sound can shape an area.

Because I am an obsessional bastard, this compilation revolves around mid-90's bands mostly from the North of England. There well be familiar faces as well, as this Ep included the Nerves from Nottingham (I reviewed their glorious split with Substandard a couple of years ago), State of Filth (remember their split with Anarchy Spanky? No? Well, you should. Now, get out of here.) and some bands that also appeared on the 1in12 Club compilation "Decade of dissidence" like Stalingrad, Voorhees, Manfat and Headache.

First, and it has to be said with the utmost seriousness, this record looks fucking great. It comes in a brown paper cover, that has aged surprisingly well in the case of my copy, and includes a 16-page booklet with a word from the bloke behind it all and some artwork and lyrics from all the bands. Not only does it look brilliant but it is also an interesting, ultimately positive read. "The boredom and the bullshit". Now that may be the best name for a punk record ever. Has there ever been a punk kid that didn't feel bored to death and surrounded by bullshit? Of course not. Aren't boredom and bullshit the two main motivations behind forming up a band, or starting a zine, or just trying to meet up with like-minded people? What would punk-rock be without all the boredom and the bullshit? Well, I for one know where it would be: in an unmarked grave. Bored kids trying to resist the bullshit is what saves punk-rock (or hardcore or whatever) from oblivion. The opening text in the booklet "The boredom and the bullshit: two things that saturate our lives" is about fighting both and trying to liberate oneself from the social alienation that we have to live through and reclaim our lives (or parts of them, even small ones). It will be a losing fight but at least let's give it a good try and maybe some quality punk music will come out of it. Yes, it is a hopeful, positive message and I totally relate to it (even on tuesdays).

Music-wise, I am not going to lie, not all the bands are my cup of tea, which does not mean that they are bad at what they do. Kitchener, from Manchester play fast hardcore in the US fashion, not quite unlike Los Crudos but with slower parts that bring to mind Born Against or something. Pigpile also play US-inspired hardcore but are not as fast as they have more of an 80's feel. Marker manage to pull two songs in 50 seconds of intense and raw fast hardcore while hardcore heroes, the Voorhees, head-butt their way through with a 30 second scorcher of burning Negative Approach worship.

Now about the bands I enjoy the most. Let's start with One By One, one of the most crucial 90's English band. I am not going to rant over people's apparent lack of interest in 90's punk again (and yes, that's a preterition for you) but I find quite amazing that there is still no One By One reissue to this day. I understand that the former members may want to focus on new projects rather than old ones, but I really hope there will be a One By One discography at some point. With two former Generic members, there is undeniably a hardcore backbone to One By One's music. But where Generic favoured aggression, One By One used tunefulness and smart song-writing in order to be intense. It is a hard to find points of comparison because they were really a unique band, and Karin's vocals really took the band to a next level, but I guess a cross between energetic yet tuneful US hardcore and Potential Threat with a Chumbawamba feel for the articulate and passionate politics and some musical arrangements. Their song on the comp, a fast number called "Alternative to what?", is a slightly bitter take on the DIY punk scene and its monotony. Still crucial though.

On "The boredom and the bullshit" you will find Manfat, a band from Leeds I know little about, though I also own their Ep. Although I don't always need that kind of sound, sometimes it works perfectly. Heavy and dark music, a bit grungy with heavy riffs the sort of which create an oppressive atmosphere. It is not heaviness for heaviness' sake either as the production is rather thin, just down-tuned slow hardcore like it was done in the mid-90's. Headache is the weirdest band on the Ep and actually they may have also been the weirdest band around at the time along with Witchknot. Crazy hardcore punk with demented vocals and a lot of breaks, it sounds like Civil Disobedience on mushrooms or something. Fantastic artwork on their part as usual and a genuinely unique band with a lot of personality and probably a lot of personality disorder as well.

Stalingrad may very well take the cake on this Ep with one amazing song "Human byproduct". In 1995, the band was still in its infancy and played metallic hardcore not unlike Rorschach or 13. This is mean, angry, desperate music with teeth and an aesthetics that set them apart. I often see Stalingrad as a band that bridged the gap between US-style hardcore and the UK crust sound since, if you listen closely (and you will), you will sense a late Deviated Instinct feel and even some Hellbastard riffing to their early recordings although their vision was set to the other side of the pond.

State of Filth's number on this Ep will probably surprise those of you who enjoyed their split with Anarchy Spanky. This is a different line-up that didn't include Wayne yet and it is not the grinding crustcore tornado that it would become. It is, however, still very much worth your while: fast, raw, shambolic, political hardcore punk strongly reminiscent of Electro Hippies. What else does one really need? Finally the Nerves from Notts fly the "studs ans spikes" flag high and proud on this one with their usual fast, anthemic punk-rock that is really an updated version of the UK82 sound keeping the snottiness but hitting harder. There were a lot of bands at the time trying to do it but few pulled it as well as the Nerves.

"The boredom and the bullshit" is a sincere record with a top-notch message that reeks of DIY punk ethos and a relevant document of what the hardcore scene in Northern England looked like. It was released on Refusenik records, a sadly short-lived label that also did the Ep's of Underclass, Kitchener and Ebola. As usual you should be able to get a copy in a 1£ record bin. To be listened to while reading "Armed with anger".

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Rabid "The bloody road to glory" Ep 1982

Back when we lived in an internet-free world, another epoch when the very notion of taking pictures of your lunch would have seemed utterly preposterous, I used to muse upon those bands I only knew the name of. I would make romantic assumptions about what they sounded like and, more often than not, I would imagine terrific songs that were sadly out of grasp (now that I can listen to anything I want, I have prematurely become a sad bastard, so there you go technology). For some reason, Rabid was one of those bands. In fact, in the record store I used to hang out at in my teenage years, there was an original copy of that Rabid Ep, along with Mayhem's "Gentle murder". I would touch the cover, sighing, my hands shaking with frustrated excitement because I couldn't afford it. Buying recent, decently priced records was still quite an adventure then and I would spend whole afternoons at the store listening to dozens of records before I could decide which one (since more than one of them was unreasonable) I would pick. Buying an album was a long and painful process as I could just buy the one and I didn't want to mess up. But there were these two vintage Ep's that I would always return to, thinking that one day, although immensely expensive (it was like 8 euros each or something, almost the price of new Ep's on some distros nowadays...) I would get the fuckers. And when I got my first paycheck, I bloody did. Call me a sentimental fool, but this record, as average as it might sound to many, is something of an amulet to me, protecting me - and there fore you as well - against shit music.

If I wanted to write a short review, I would say "this is your average UK82 band: they were British, it was recorded in 1982, they had charged hair, they sang about war and the police. Ain't life great?". But then, you know I won't.

This Rabid Ep is perfect in the sense that it is everything you are entitled to expect from a Leicester punk band from the early 80's. It won't surprise you, it won't change your world but that's not the point. Matters of originality and uniqueness are out of the picture here. If anything, Rabid is comforting, heart-warming because their record is predictable and does the job well. If you are looking for some lesser-known but still decent, snot-fueled, angry second-wave British punk-rock on a bleak tuesday night, then look no further. They were not the most talented nor the fastest, the noisiest band and the boys' musicianship is not of a flamboyant nature either, but they did pen some solid tunes as this first Ep attests. Basically they did their bit and I challenge you not to sing along to the chorus of "Police victim" (it is a brilliantly easy one that goes "You're... only a police... victim" and the punk magic makes it so bloody catchy).

Rabid was definitely a band of its time. "Police victim" is a catchy mid-tempo number reminiscent of early Chaos UK; "Jubilee" (a song about the chief parasite of the British realms) could have been lifted from a Destructors' Lp; while "Glory of war" and "Crisis 82" were sloppy and highly lovable attempt at doing the dischargy thing while still trying to keep some tunes (I'll leave it to your judgement if you think they succeeded). The lyrics are not included but song titles will give you a rather accurate idea of the topics and "Crisis 82" would make a great name for a band doing UK82 covers (who's into it? I can vaguely play the bass guitar and I know some Abrasive Wheels and Instant Agony). I like the fact that you can pretty much understand what they are on about as the vocals are quite clear, half-way between The Enemy and Patrol or something. The production is genuinely raw and utterly appropriate for the genre: yes, there is some distortion but the songs remain rather tuneful. I understand the songs were originally part of a demo from which the band selected the four best ones in order to release the Ep themselves, which they actually did in true DIY fashion. This version however is the Fallout Records reissue from the same year. Apparently, the band was not too happy with the label (some money issues probably) but I am sure that looking back they must be pretty proud to have a release on a label that also did Broken Bones, Action Pact and The Enemy. Besides, Fallout Records is a brilliant name for a punk label and I'd seriously consider it for a dog's name as well.

After that Ep and also in 1982 (an inspiring year if there ever were any), Rabid recorded a 12" for Fallout Records, again. Although it is a bit tighter with proper feedback on the vocals and a crunchy guitar sound, it sort of lacks the energy of this Ep. Apparently, Rabid reformed last year and have released a new album that I have not dared listen to yet. I am not the bravest of men when it comes to such matters.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Monuments To Ruins "Under the rise of progress... The rise of deceit" 12", 2005

As we saw with Slimy Venereal Diseases, picking a moniker that doesn't quite inspire the narrow-minded and always grumpy punk (and yes, I am talking about myself here) may very well mean that you will hopelessly sink into the dreaded but always pregnant realms of the "fuck-me-I-had-completely-forgotten-about-that-band". On the other hand, such ill-inspired bands may also end up on Terminal Sound Nuisance and that, since it became THE blog to follow among the coolest no-lifers, is no small achievement.

What's wrong with the name "Monuments To Ruins" I hear you ask? Well, in the second half of the 2000's, dark years also known as "the neocrust era", such a name had you pigeonholed straight away in the tragically named epicrust box. It was bad enough that dozens of bands all started to ape Tragedy, Ekkaia or From Ashes Rise (none of which actually claimed to play crust but myspace then begged to differ) and quite detrimental when bands with a different, more meaningful agenda also tapped into the horrendous melodic crust lexicon.

Basically, what I mean to express is that they should have picked a better name. I know, straight-forwardness is not a virtue I master.

I first heard of MTR through their interview in an issue of Attitude Problem from Leeds, possibly my favourite British zine of the 2000's. It was a time when the remnants of the lively 90's American anarchopunk scene could still be felt, though one may argue that this type of sound was by then on its last leg, only to be replaced with a new generation of more referential bands (there is good in both, though I certainly miss the punk spirit of earlier bands and tend to be annoyed with the self-consciousness of the latter, but then whining is the path I have chosen). Hailing from Tampa, Florida, MTR can be seen to have recorded a highly transitional work with this 2005 record (it was actually recorded in 2003). While their first Ep from 2000 was strongly rooted in the 90's in terms of sound and aesthetics, this geezer reflects, despite itself probably, the new sound that would prevail in years to come. The 2000 Ep, arguably their best work, is top-notch old-school crust with male/female vocals, armed with the earthy, greasy production you would expect (somewhere between Misery, Nausea and Naftia). Released on the glorious Tribal War Records, it had a proper anarcho fold-out poster sleeve and a massive booklet with lyrics, artwork and literature (I'll grant you that some drawings were so pixelated that you can tell the exact year of production just by looking at them). Basically it was your typical, 90's Tribal War/Profane Existence/Skuld Releases ecocrusty political punk records, and I say this with the highest regards for a genre I hold dear to my heart and that takes a significant amount of room in my flat.

It apparently took longer than planned for the 12'' to happen, but it was released on Arizona-based Catchphrase Records, a label also responsible for goodies such as Contravene and Axiom, two of the very best US bands of that period. The sound is more polished than on the Ep and you can hear a modern influence creeping in at times, especially in the guitar leads and in some slower, instrumental, moody parts. But it is still really solid, intense and passionate metallic crust punk that brings to mind aforementioned Misery, Nausea, but also Detestation (in the faster, hardcore-sounding moments), late Antiproduct and even Civilised Society? (I had to mention a British band at some point, didn't I?).

Or Morne (completely anachronistic but there you go, you'll hear it too). Why, you ask again, interrupting me for the second time already, completely ignoring the "three stroked and you're out mate" golden rule? Because MTR played synth-driven music. And nothing gets me quite as excited as synth-driven crust music. I personally would have added more of it, but each time the synth is used, be it for a good ole Amebix/Axegrinder atmosphere or just wind or rain effects, the songs really take off. Besides, it fits perfectly with the mood MTR managed to create here, something dark and desperate but still ready to bite.

Only four songs here, but they are well written and well worth your time. In a sea of often similar-sounding bands, MTR definitely had something more and in the end, that's how bands and records stand the test of time.