Wednesday 26 February 2014

Sleeping At The Popes "Self-titled" Ep 2005

First, just a word to say that all downloads are technically working again now. I re-uploaded them all on mediabollocks so I guess it can only be a temporary solution anyway but hopefully I will have sorted something out before they kick me out - again.

If you can read - for the sake of the argument let's assume you can - you will have noticed that this blog revolves mostly around my obsessive love for some particular brands of punk-rock (some would say "narrow" actually). However, nothing gives me more faith in punk than a loveable band coming from a scene I know nothing about. Not only is this intellectually stimulatin, but demonstrates punk's formidable ability to creep into unexpected places. Well, at least when I bought this Ep in 2006, I had no idea that there was, or had been, a punk-rock scene in South Africa. Mind you, this was very much a pre-internet age for me and no one had ever bothered to tell me that, indeed, there were and had been cracking bands over there. Now, 8 years later, thanks to some amazing blogs and truly dedicated old-timers, I know that South Africa produced some terrific punk bands in the 80's like Powerage, Screaming Foetus, Wild Youth, Chaos SA or (early) Voice of Destruction, and I am aware of a couple of more recent bands worthy of everyone's attention like Brafcharge, Touched by Nausea, Outrage, Anti-All or TDKM. If you want to know more about the scene there, I strongly recommend this blog South African Punk Downloads. If anything, and whatever your shitty tastes can be, it proves that punk-rock's driving force lies in its fundamental internationalism and if you are curious-minded, you will be able to find that there is quality punk-rock in Syria and noisy grinding hardcore in Pakistan (not for the faint-hearted this one!). But back to the actual music.

Sleeping At The Popes. What the hell lads? Really? Picking such a cryptic name for a band often means that few people will even make the effort of listening to you. Sad but true (recently I witnessed an amazing Italian band called Intothebaobab, really top stuff in the spirit of Nerorgasmo and Pioggia Nera, and I can't help thinking that a name with a baobab reference is an hindrance... oh well). But having grown up in the French scene, where choosing ridiculous names for bands is not only a common practice but almost a golden rule, I wasn't even scared when I ordered their Ep. SATP formed in Cape Town in 2004, recorded two demo cdr's, released that one Ep and split up in 2006. I would argue that SATP was part of a generation of punks which brought another set of influences to the South-African punk table. I hear a lot of 90's-early 00's US anarchopunk in their music, which is almost ironical since that type of sound was certainly on its last leg by 2005. But petty and futile considerations about trends notwithstanding, the Ep is really good in its own right. Fast and passionate hardcore-punk with two pissed vocalists (and, I understand, the additional voice of a screaming drummer), one doing the high-pitched yells in a rather fast hardcore fashion (all the rage in the early 00's, right?) while the other takes care of the more traditional Conflict-type vocals. The sound is not particularly heavy as SATP relies more on heart-felt, spontaneous anger than crushing power. This is only a guess, but this is the kind of bands that rule live: political punk music that is angry and to the point. As previously mentioned, this brings to mind bands like Civil Disobedience, Resist, Brother Inferior, or even the brilliant Counter-Attack, with a dash of 00's hardcore-thrash revival.

Lyrically, the band tackled issues embedded in the South-African context, with songs about the democratic illusions, the racist crimes and the sexual violence of the police, the corruption of the new "democratic" leaders... All told from a youthful anarchist perspective. In true anarchopunk spirit, this Ep just reeks of indignation and anger. Because of their moniker, I am pretty sure you'll be able to get it from the infamous "2 euro record bin" and honestly, you really should.  


Thursday 13 February 2014

More troubles coming everytime...

Apparently Opendrive has decided to close my account so all the files uploaded on that server will be deleted in a couple of days. I have no idea which is the guilty file as they didn't even notice me, I just couldn't log in into my account today and had to ask them why. So much for "premium" users service...

Basically, a lot of files will disappear shortly and I will have to sort things out again. If anyone has any suggestions...

Extinction of Mankind "Scars of mankind still weep" Ep 1998

The fourth and possibly last seat at the "bands-you-shall-not-take-for-granted" table, just next to Misery, Hellkrusher and Warcollapse, had to be given to them, the second longest-running old-school crust band: Extinction of Mankind. To say that I hold EOM close to my heart would be an understatement. I am not sure anyone really cares (and if you don't, why don't you go download some indie-rock on another fancy blog) but EOM was the first proper English crust band I got into. I bought their "Weakness" Ep at a Severed Head Of State gig in Paris in 2002 (that same night I also got Hellksrusher's "Doomsday hour"). I actually hesitated befor buying it on that German distro (SHOS played with Protest Stagnation that night hence a huge distro full of Skuld Releases records) because the Ep looked quite different from I was used to. I was heavily getting into anarchopunk at the time, bands like Disaffect, Substandard, Coitus or classics like Icons of Filth or the almighty Antisect. I felt visually that there was a connection but still it looked darker, gloomier but not cheesy in the way that actual metal bands looked to me. Seeing they were from Manchester (that data reassuring me about the potential quality of the band for some reason), I took the plunge...

Twelve years later, I am still listening to EOM and still wondering why people in my corner of the punk world are not as much into them as I am (you can substitute EOM with any of the bands invited to my aforementioned table)... After all, they are the real legacy of Antisect. They don't try to emulate them as much as SDS though, rather, in the 90's, EOM merged both periods of Antisect to create their own sonic landscape. However, I don't think that, had Antisect gone on playing, they would have actually sounded like EOM. In fact, I am pretty sure that, given the clues we have with Kulturo, they wouldn't have landed too far from Coitus, with a more rocking sound. It's a pretty pointless argument I suppose but I'd be lying to say that it doesn't cross my mind from time to time.

There are two distinct periods to EOM that can be circumscribed to two different line-ups and a change of drummer and guitarist that occured just after the release of the Ep we are going to talk about, a record that therefore can be seen as the apex of EOM's first life, with Foz and Mass still in the band, before Tony and Scoot joined in. I really enjoy both periods of the band but the changes in terms of sound are undeniable. On "Scars of mankind", the drumming is still ripe with drum rolls and tempo changes that, to me, defined the early EOM, while afterwards it became more metal in the traditional sense of the word, harder-hitting probably, more accurate certainly, but further from the original crust bands. The evolution in the guitar is the second great change, with Mass having a dark and dirty, gloomy, slimy, at times quite intricate style and Scoot with a more powerful, crunchier, thicker sound.

Undeniably, "Scars of mankind' is EOM's best 90's record. The songwriting is solid, the sound is better than on the first Lp but remains organic and damp (a bit like an Alien egg), the guitar is haunting and threatening, the distorted bass buzzes, the drumming is also more focused and powerful than previously and well, the vocals are as great as ever, with a singer that doesn't try to growl but on the contrary uses his actual - deep and powerful to say the least - voice, something that is often missing in that genre and that's a bloody shame, because that particular singing style is one of the things that makes EOM instantly recognizable and, well, unique. The perfect blend of Antisect and Nausea with a dash of Chaotic End? I'll drink to that.

The artwork is stunning although I am afraid my shitty scans don't do justice to the drawings here. They are actually dark, by which I mean that they convey a sense of doom, of anguish, of fear and alienation and the Alien motif is just the perfect metaphor of the threatening unknown that is both inside and outside the human body and mind. And it shows that you don't need to use fucking orcs and nuclear explosions all the time. The lyrics are on a par with the great songwriting too: "No dignity" depicting the pitiful, lifeless existence that we are offered by the bleak wasteland that we call society; "Puppets of power" is about power and how we are sedated, conditioned to accept our lot from the cradle to the grave (this is one of the best EOM song ever, a crushing, nightmarish mid-tempo number with an additional singer, a real classic); finally "Scars of mankind" is about human destruction and disrespect of the environment and the natural world.

This Ep was a joint release between Profane Existence and Skuld Releases and it is a record that I have seen floating in distros even recently. So you'd better get it before the 90's become officially trendy. The next EOM record would be the split Lp with Misery which is, for me, a tragic missed opportunity. A collaboration between the two bands that epitomised crust music (and I mean CRUST music) the best should have been the ultimate record, some sort of new classic. Sadly, because of a terrible production, the EOM side sounds weak and even sloppy. So, I think, and I am pretty sure that it is the best idea I have had for a long time, that both bands, especially now that they are both at the top of their game again, should do another split record together, with a proper sound for both this time. How great would that be?


Tuesday 4 February 2014

Warcollapse "Crap, scrap and unforgivable slaughter" Ep 2003

After Hellkrusher and, a couple of months ago, Misery, here is the third inclusion in the "bands we shouldn't take for granted series": Warcollapse. I am sure you can see a pattern here: bands that are 20 year old (or more!), still great and honest, still playing their own brand of genuine punk-rock, bands you can always rely on, that have survived all the petty trends. In a word: still bollocks but still here. And that's what matters in the end, right? The other pattern in the series is that I bloody love these bands in that, not only are they top notch, but they have had a big influence on me. Pretty obvious I guess.  

Warcollapse hardly needs an introduction if you are even vaguely into crust music. I suppose they can be considered as the best Swedish crustcore band ever. In fact, I personally think they are. While a lot of bands falling into the "Swedish crust" umbrella basically play classic Swedish hardcore with a heavier and harsher sound, very few bands from that scene actually got the classic UK crust sound as well as Warcollapse. Of course, Doom and ENT were heavily influenced by classic Swedish hardcore (after all, Doom wanted to sound like Discard in the beginning!) so it only makes sense that a band intending to emulate that sound will be influenced by Anti-Cimex, Protes Bengt, Asocial, Crude SS and so on. However, the early Warcollapse's sound, to my ears, is more driven by bands that are themselves influenced by the Swedish wave (Doom, Hiatus, Extreme Noise Terror, Disrupt, you know the drill) than by the 80's Swedes. Not unlike English bands that were influenced by Confuse who were themselves influenced by English bands. I really enjoy this interplay of musical influences among punk bands and I think their traveling patterns are fascinating.

But back to Warcollapse. Like I said not many bands got that original crusty feel just right, which I suppose is quite ironic since Sweden has produced dozens of bands in that genre. You had Jesusexercise (a member of whom joined Warcollapse) who recorded an unsung classic of "rudimentary-penized" old-school crust music. You also had 3-Way Cum (the Warcollapse's drummer actually joined them) with a couple of records showing a crushingly brilliant ENT/Disrupt-style crustcore, with a devastatingly animalistic two-vocals attack that puts them at the very top of the 90's eurocrust shelf (a highly coveted spot indeed). For instance, Tolshock, as excellent as they were, lied already more on the Scandicore side of things. I am not saying that I dislike the Swedish brand of crust, far from it, I am a listener of Skitsystem, Uncurbed, Scumbrigade or ENS, and I think they are good bands. However, when you actually think about it, few bands there really had that grizzli crust sound, as they were either drowning in the d-beat wave, too death-metal oriented or heavier rendering of "Stockholm hardcore 1983-1986".

The first incarnation of Warcollapse was actually called Earcollapse and saw the light of day in late 1991. Apparently, they were a Sore Throat-type band at the time and I would be very curious to hear any of it. A change of name and direction occured in 1992, a year that also saw them record their first demos. By 1993, they recorded songs for their first vinyl outputs, the split Ep with Extinction of Mankind and the "Indoctri-Nation" Ep, both released on ElderBerry records. And then, we need to pause. Although, the Ep we are dealing with today was released in 2003, its three songs were recorded exactly 10 years before, basically during the early Warcollapse years. In fact, "In darkness..." was recorded in february 1993, possibly during the same session that gave birth to the tracks from the EOM split. "Beginning of the end" was recorded in november of the same year (the "Indoctrin-nation" recording session?), "The blood runs red" in february 1994.

In case anyone has missed it (shame on you), the three songs included on that Ep are all covers. Amebix, Antisect and Discharge. What else? The three songs have that classic, powerful Warcollapse sound with guttural and aggressive vocals, pumelling drums and this heavy, flowing guitar sound. The sound is raw just as it should be and epitomized the 90's eurocrust production (or lack thereof some would say). Let's start with the Discharge cover. Now, though everyone and their moms cover Discharge, you have good Discharge covers and bad Discharge covers. This is a good one as it relevantly crustified the Discharge formula without going metal. Beside the band picked a song that is rarely covered by the Dis-legions, "The blood runs red". Amebix then. The years 2000's have seen a noticeable increase of Amebix covers, with no less than two tribute Lp's. But in the early 90's, I am under the impression that it was not so common (actually, Misery did one, "Nobody's driving", as well as EOM with "Sunshine ward" and Charger/Depressor did "Largactyl") and Warcollapse didn't even pick an obvious Amebix song either, nothing from "Arise!" or "Monolyth" as they chose "Beginning of the end" from the 1983 "Winter" 12''. A fantastic song, no doubt about it, but also a rather difficult song to cover in a grizzli crust fashion, as it is dirgy, creepy, dark, moody and threatening and you have to keep those vital elements to the song without falling into the cheesy metal trap. And Warcollapse just nailed it, they kept the atmosphere of the song intact but made it heavier, turned it into a 90's crust anthem. In fact, I would argue that this Amebix cover heralds the "Crust as fuck existence" mini Lp that saw Warcollapse venture in Amebix/Axegrinder territory with great results. Finally, the Antisect cover. One of the great mysteries of our time is the scarcity of Antisect covers. Seriously. In spite of their undeniable influence on crust and anarchopunk, Antisect are seldom covered. Obviously, SDS and Extinction of Mankind (the closest Antisect incarnations of the 90's) did cover them. But apart from them, I can only think of Armagedom, Raw Noise, Doom (a sloppy cover but still, that counts) and... Total Chaos (sigh). There may be more but they don't pop up right now. Anyway, Warcollapse chose the magnificent "In darkness" and it works well, the song becomes more direct and aggressive but I still feel it loses some of its power, its relentlessness. Beside they didn't cover the entire song, which is a shame since I always saw Antisect's songs as being organic entities that cannot be severed, especially on the Lp. But I am being picky, it is still one of the very best Antisect cover around and I am more than happy that it exists.

This Ep was the tribute to the English greats from Warcollapse. A second volume was released a few yars ago with covers from classic Swedish hardcore bands, once again mowed through the Warcollapse crusty grinder. Of course, this Ep is my favourite of the two and it is to be noted that Extinction of Mankind also did a tribute Ep called "Ale to England" with them covering... Amebix, Antisect and Discharge!!! How great is that! It would be interesting to do a comparative study of Warcollapse and EOM's tributes to the same bands in order to analyze what aspects of the music each band has decided to stress. Or maybe it wouldn't. I'll still do it one day.