Saturday 25 January 2014

Hellkrusher "Dying for who" Ep 1992

I am often under the impression that Hellkrusher is the kind of band that everyone thinks they know, but that no one actually knows well. Bumping into the name for years may have created such a feeling of familiarity with the band, like an old acquaintance that you have never really got to know well but that you are always happy to have a drink with. Well, for those of you who fall in that category, I recommend you actually start hanging out more with this acquaintance. He could become your best mate.

Some Hellkrusher facts first. They originally formed in 1989 (yes, that early) and are from the Newcastle area. Scotty, formerly a bastard from hell, brought the "Hell" with him while Ali, not being that energetic after all, nicked the "Krusher". Honestly Energetic Bastard would have sounded like shit and I am really glad they went for Hellkrusher. The very early HK line-up also had a bloke from Senile Decay playing drums and a metalhead as a guitarist, which accounts for the rather metal-oriented first Lp of HK, "Wasteland". Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely love that album, it is definitely one of my favourite metal-punk Lp ever, up there with English Dogs, Concrete Sox and Broken Bones (I would argue that "Wasteland", being slightly more aggressive and crusty, appeals to me more). However, when you think of Hellkrusher, you don't expect guitar solos or Slayer shirts. You want vintage Discharge-influenced punk-rock with heart and bollocks. The band split up in 1991 and reformed a couple of months later with a line-up change that saw Curry from Debauchery being hired behind the kit and Scotty moving to the guitar (he was originally the bass player). They then recorded a demo in 1992 which marked the proper beginning of the HK sound. This demo not only got released as an Lp, "Buildings for the rich" (who doesn't like a Class War reference?) but two tracks from that recording session were also included on the B side of the Ep we are dealing with today: "Dying for who".

The two studio tracks, "Dying for who" and "Scared of change", have everything you want from a band like Hellkrusher: straight-up UK hardcore-punk influenced by the likes of Discharge, Varukers, Onslaught or Anti-System. It is heavy, raw, fast, political and even a little ahead of its time since the Dis-clones wave hadn't started yet (on some level, you could argue that Disaster and Hellkrusher probably, if unwillingly, started that trend). The three live tracks on the A side of the Ep, recorded in 1992 at Planet X in Liverpool, are brilliant too, the sound is really good, intense and aggressive. Listening to that record, I cannot help but feel that early HK was really the beginning of the 90's UK hardcore-punk sound and that they played a major role in shaping that sound. I would even say that the Varukers' recordings from the 90's were heavily influenced by HK in terms of sound and song-writing (give a listen to "Murder" with HK's early Ep's in mind and you will know what I mean).

Hellkrusher shouldn't be seen as a mere "Dis-band", although they unfairly often are. In fact, only one of the five songs on the Ep deal with war atrocities, "Dying for who". "Hellkrusher" is about bullshit rock star behaviours and keeping down-to-earth, honest DIY values, "Scared of change" is about the Tory re-election, "Smash the trash" is about the music business and its money while "Destined to die" is about vivisection. Not really your average warsongs, right?

This Ep was released in 1992 on the mighty Tribal War Records, the record label of Neil (from the first Nausea line-up, Jesus Chrust and Final Warning) that was responsible for some fantastic records throughout the years that had a strong and lasting influence on me (Sarcasm, Coitus, Contravene, Antiproduct, Axiom, Atrocious Madness, Behind Enemy Lines and so on). "Dying for who" may actually have been its second release, I am not too sure (the first one was the second Confrontation Ep: the man had great tastes!). Great label, great band. And for the unlucky ones not in the know, Hellkrusher are still playing, still recording (their 2012 split Ep with Bullet Ridden is great) and Antisociety has just released an Lp with all their recordings from 1993 to 1994, their classic period really, with the "Fields of blood" Ep and the split Ep with Disclose.

Now what are you waiting for?      

Saturday 18 January 2014

Uro "Requiem" Lp 2003

I turned 30 last month and despite what everyone has been saying about how important this stage of my life should feel and I did not really give a toss. I am still listening to Antisect, Amebix and Deviated Instinct, I am still as good-looking as ever and, if anything, my general tastes in music are getting better and better. I will give you that my back has seen merrier days because of hard work but that's work and not age-related. However, it still feels strange that I bought this record 10 years ago when it came out. At the time I was getting pretty much all the records from this young Danish label, Plague Bearer, since they never disappointed. Judge for yourself: the first Martyrdöd Lp, the Skitkids demo and Besthöven "Just another warsong" Ep. Pretty neat, right? But nothing moved me quite as much as the Uro Lp. Their first Ep, "Revolutions romantik" from 2002, was fine but, no offense, still sounded a little like a poor man's Paragraf 119 or Vaning 5 and I am pretty sure no one saw the "Requiem" Lp coming, apart from the people lucky enough to witness them live in Copenhagen. The bastards.

This album, and for once I am not even ranting exaggeratedly here, is definitely one of the best anarchopunk record of the 2000's. It has absolutely everything you want from a grand anarcho record: anger, passion, frustration, sadness, the whole range of emotions really. But more importantly, it has something that few bands can claim to ever achieve: it sounds unique. Of course, the addition of a cello does play a crucial role in creating this uniqueness yet it is still not a guarantee that you will create something this brilliant. After all Remains of the Day, Garmonbozia and Öroku, decent bands for sure, don't immediately pop into mind when one thinks of top notch unique bands despite their common use of a cello. But Uro? They used it perfectly to draw a dark, beautiful sonic background that emphasizes the overall hopelessness of the songs. Although I don't see Uro as the prototypical pessimistic crusty band at all, judging from the detailed explanations in English (I am pretty awesome but not really fluent in Danish) their lyrics must be pretty fucking grim and depressing. There is pain, there is frustration but it is also very beautiful and for all the alienation felt, for all the feelings of powerlessness and futlity, you can still hear the beating heart of an angry fighting spirit buried amongst the graveyard of political illusions (I am in an epic mood tonight, so expect some cheesy metaphors and sloppy references to English romanticism). And as past events have shown, the punks of Ungdomshuset have more than a little figthing spirit to show in the face of state oppression, so my guess is that Uro wrote songs they wanted to hear when they felt down (and they probably listened to a lot of Paragraf 119 when the time for action came!).

But enough cheesy bollocks already. Rarely have I seen such a cohesion between the music, the message and the artwork in a record. It just makes so much sense. Uro's music is actually quite difficult to describe. I would argue that they are not as much original as they are unique. Songs are mostly mid-tempo, though you do find faster parts, as "Requiem" is not about crushing power but about setting a dark mood, about painting a peculiar atmosphere. Whereas some bands choose to hammer their anger and frustration through sheer aggression, "Requiem" is a dirge. The riffs are always perfect and the use of the cello is stellar, witty and fits seamlessly in the music as it never sounds forceful. There is a definite sense of epics in Uro's music but, at a time when it often meant aping Tragedy, the band managed to create something of their own, something almost organic but still sounding completely spontaneous and unpretentious, as if things just fell into place on their own. "Requiem" is remarkable and yet trying to describe it in terms of discrete musical elements seems to diminish its wholeness. There is something pagan in the drumming and the riffs that might bring Sedition or Scatha to mind but in a much simpler and less intricate fashion. The vocals certainly carry the music too as the band used the anarcho-certified male/female vocals and reflect anger, sadness and that threatening element. As difficult an album it is to review, I'd say that if you took Scatha, Disaffect, Smartpils, The Mad Are Sane and Paragraf 119 and made them listen to the Cocteau Twins for a month, you would have something quite close. Or not.

The artwork is appropriately dark but doesn't look cheesy or gratuitous. Although the lyrics don't deal with subjects that are particularly original in themselves, much effort seems to have been put into them. Powerless witnesses and participants in the destruction of the environment, the alienation inherent in city life, the punk scene as being a mirror of straight society, the repression getting tighter around our necks, the inescapability of social control... All these niceties are significantly conveyed through Uro's music and art. From what I have heard, Uro certainly made a mark in the Copenhagen punk scene of the early 00's and some people were even crying at their last gig... Of course, the story didn't end there for the members of the band as some of them joined bands like Nuclear Death Terror or Bombregn soon after the demise of Uro (which means something like "unrest" or "turmoil" in Danish if I am not mistaken).

Depressing mandatory cello-driven punk-rock that sounds as good and - bizarrely - fresh to day as it did 10 years ago.


Tuesday 7 January 2014

Mindrot "Endeavor" Ep 1991

Since I am a nice bloke, I wish all of you a happy new year full of booze, life and misery (there's a quote here!). I hope I will be able to keep the blog flowing with even more terrific records, although to be faire, you will probably have to settle for terrible some times. To put everyone in a great mood for 2014, I shall start the year with a joyful, light-hearted and definitely optimistic record from the mighty (up to 1992) Mindrot.

Today, Mindrot is mostly known as a rather decent 90's doom-metal act, remembered for their "Dawning" Lp released on Nuclear Blast in 1995. But back in 1990, when the band formed, Mindrot was part of the amazing California anarcho/crust scene. I already talked a bit about it in the Resist and Exist post, but strictly in terms of early crust (meaning filthy, metallic and gnarly), California had to offer such a concentration of smashing bands over a short period of time (from the mid 80's on to the early 90's as bands like Iconoclast, Diatribe and obviously Crucifix seemed to belong to a slightly earlier generation). See for yourself: A//Solution, Glycine Max, Apocalypse, Confrontation and of course Mindrot. To this crusty bunch you could also add anarchopunk-sounding Media Children, Atrocity or A State of Mind, hardcore-punk heroes Final Conflict, Armistice, Another Destructive System or Holocaust and even, a little later on, old-school grindcore like Phobia. This scene deserves its own "The day the country died" and I truly hope that a couple of bored and motivated old-timers from that era will sort something out one day (now, that could be a grand New Year's resolution for 2014!).

This Ep should be considered as Mindrot's first real record. However, their 1990 demo is so good, so powerful and so unique in its own way (there are some seriously crushing, amazing songs on that tape that more than deserve a comfy spot in the stenchcore pantheon) that, more than a mere demo, I see it as a proper album at least as good as the first Prophecy of Doom Lp. I sense that this is becoming my gimmick but honestly, someone should reissue this demo on record for fuck's sake (yeah, yeah, I know, do it yourself, right?). There are two songs on the Ep called "Endeavor" (I am currently fighting the urge to write it properly, meaning "endeavour"!), with an intro AND an outro. Now, that might sound like a bit much for just an Ep but I think it gives the record a sense of completion and of storytelling. I like it. In terms of music, Mindrot played at that time some seriously heavy, dark and anguished music with guttural vocals. Even then, you could hear that they were really into early doom-metal and death-metal and that, overall, the musicianship at play was superior to their fellow crusty bands of the era, or maybe they just aimed a bit higher with a better sound, more time spent on song structures. Or, more likely, they just learnt to play their instruments. I often think of Mindrot as the American Prophecy of Doom, although they were not quite as strange and more polished. But they still embody that shift from all-out crusty bollocks (aka dirty punks adding poor musical skills and a healthy dose of snottiness to extreme metal) to proper metal music. They are still punk enough for me and from an orthodox point of view they play real CRUST, the way the genre was meant to be played, but with added extreme doom-metal.

As I mentioned, Mindrot belonged to the tightly knit anarcho-crusty scene and the time of the 1990 demo, the "Endeavor" Ep and the split Ep with Apocalypse (certainly the best old-school metallic crust, us kids say stenchcore now though, ever), they shared a member with Confrontation and some Matt Parillo, who would form the almight Dystopia a few years later by way of Carcinogen, was playing the guitar. When Mindrot became a real doom-metal band, a former member of Apocalypse joined them as well. But enough mundane facts. There is a rather relevant parallel between the cover depicting what looks like a dead and tortuous tree half-hidden behind the very coarse grain of the picture and lyrics about the very physical effects of alineation, the inner emotional confusion inherent to modern life and the ever-present pain, depression and despair. No song about cider-drinking on this one. This should be the soundtrack to your next winter holidays. But then with a band called Mindrot, and what a great name that truly is when you think about it, you can't really expect anything else.