Monday 24 March 2014

Ρήγμα "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" Lp 1994

The division of punk into a myriad of different subgenres sometimes create funny situations or even small, but real, cultural misunderstandings. I was chatting with a good mate of mine once on a boozy night, basically drinking on the streets and talking shit, and for some reason the subject of Greek punk came up. I spontaneously said that I was a sucker for 90's synth-driven Greek crust and that I really couldn't get enough of the genre. He stared at me blankly and then laughed. The very notion of synth-driven Greek crust was ridiculous to him (but then he doesn't even enjoy Amebix, so what can you do?), absurd, surreaslitic even. But for the proper crust fanatic that I am, synth-driven Greek crust obviously means absolutely classic old-school crust, with an actual Amebix/Axegrinder feel. There IS such a thing as the Greek crust sound and it means real crust (or stenchcore, assuming that term might be more helpful), and judging from the prices some of these Greek records go for, I am definitely not the only believer. But what is classic stuff to me is not classic stuff to others, and it certainly was not to my aforementioned mate who may even have thought that I was taking the piss with such a preposterous phrase as "synth-driven Greek crust".

You are probably guessing where I am going with all that cheesy reminiscing. Today, we are going to talk about the Greek school of crust, a school that never disappoints and has steadily produced a handful of classic records in the past 25 years. There are some places where the crust genre has never really taken root (yes France, I am looking at your right now). On the contrary, the politicised Greek punks in the late 80's embraced the ideas, the aesthetics and the sound of British crust punk with an incredible ease. One would believe that it just made sense to them and they seamlessly adopted and further developped the crust philosophy. There are no similar instances in Europe that offer such a concentration of superb metallic punk bands combining gruffiness with a true sense of epics, rage with despair. "Why Greece?", one will ask. "I don't have a bloody clue," I will reply. "But let's try to figure it out". First, Greece already had had a solid tradition of quality punk-rock throughout the 80's, with bands like Stress, Ex-Humans, Genia Tou Xaos, Gulag or Adiexodo (and that's without mentioning the postpunk/new wave side of the spectrum) so the foundations were already there. Second, I would argue that, quite simply, Greek punks must have been into extreme metal music, early thrash and death metal, and therefore the dark, rough and gruffy metallic punk sound of Antisect, Deviated Instinct, Axegrinder or Hellbastard did not just appeal to them, it must have appeared like the next logical step. But contrary to a lot of bands worldwide that basically turned crossover overnight and tried to punkify Slayer and Metallica (with varying degrees of success), a significant number of Greek bands chose the "slow, dark and heavy metallic path that regularly wanders in pummeling d-beat territory" instead (although there must have been Slayer-wannabe bands there too). And some bands, not unlike Amebix and Axegrinder, really loved their synth (arguably a bit too much for their own good at times). Bands like Chaotic End, Panikos, Forgotten Prophecy, Naytia, Psychosi, Industrial Suicide, and later on in the 90's Nuclear Winter, Ashen Breath, Rising Terror, Hibernation. The Lp that is being posted today is, according to your favourite self-appointed expert, a relatively unsung classic of Greek crust: Rigma's sole album "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας".

From what my informer told me, after the demise of the band, members of Rigma and of Olethrio (another quality band with top female vocals) formed Olethrio Rigma, which originally followed a similar metal-punk way (the first album is highly recommendable) before falling in the "let's be a real metal band" trap. Apparently Oethrio Rigma enjoyed quite a bit of mainstream success in Greece which may have overshadowed prior works of both bands. And, in the case of Rigma, that is an unforgivable shame since "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" may very well be the best Greek crust album of the period (that is a bold statement considering the awesomeness of Chaotic End's Lp but it will at least make people really listen to it).

The record starts off with a synth sound, just to let you know where you are heading toward. I wish I had the time to carefully describe each song but that would require an amount of leisurely time that I unfortunately don't have and beside, I am a lazy sod. The most striking thing about this Lp is the quality of the songwriting. Many think that crust music is generic and derivative, if not tedious. Well, this kind of work can undoubtedly prove them wrong. All the songs are memorable and, although the backbone is indeed metallic crust, inventive (not a term I use often on that blog). You will find all the elements that make Greek crust so great, the heaviness, the dark anger, the epic songwriting, the gruff yet not forceful vocals, the crushing mid-tempo numbers, the dirgy intros, so that you won't feel lost in a maze of musicianship pointlessly craving for originality (and we all know that trying too hard to be original never works). Rigma manages to enrich the crust formula with catchy guitar leads, witty tempo changes, but also with the addition of tasteful death-metal parts or "traditional" anarcho moments. Bands who try to mix too many elements from too many different genres often fail at doing properly, precisely because they consciously try. In Rigma's case, the disparate influences just seem to merge with ease and eventually end up making whole, coherent, cohesive songs. It sounds naturally heavy although the production is relatively raw; the riffs and the song-structures are not complex but they are always meaningful; the guitar sound is dirty, slimy and aggressive just as it should be; the drummer never overuses the double-bass and rather chooses to diversify his range of paces and his use of toms and cymbals, without ever getting technical (but then, I'm not sure he could!); the singer has a hoarse shouty voice but never overdoes it (aka, he doesn't want to be Bolt Thrower's frontman); the bass paves the way without being too up front and is used to great effect on some tempo changes and intros. The last song starts and ends up with the ominous sound of the wind blowing. The whole record reeks of spontaneity, like the original crust bands did, and it never tries to be crust. It just is. Rigma's "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" is a triple threat match between mid-90's Panikos, early Hiatus and late Deviated Instinct.

The Lp looks great too, an antisectish gatefold with hand-written words and drawings to illustrate the band's message. All the lyrics are in Greek, which definitely adds to the uniqueness of Greek crust as the language fits perfectly with the apocalyptic gloom conveyed by such bands. Fortunately for the non-Greek speakers, you also have - broken - English translations which will show you that Rigma were indeed pretty serious. Songs about social alienation and control, about the sombre feelings and emotions, about the insanity born from our survival in a ruthless world, about the difficulty to express anger and despair. Dark words for dark times.      

For those interested, a demo also entitled "Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας" was recorded by the band in 1993 and includes even crustier, rougher versions of the songs on the Lp. A glorious listen if you are in an epic neanderthal mood. Prior to this recording, Rigma also released a demo tape in 1992, called "Στα Μυαλά Των Ανθρώπων" but I have sadly never heard it... Sob, sob. Rigma's Lp was released on Wipe Out Records, a prolific Greek label responsible for records from bands like Chaotic End, Panx Romana, Stress, Anti or the brilliant Chaotic Dimension.

So now, do yourself a favour and get some Greek crust in your life.        


Monday 17 March 2014

Skullkrusher / Article Nine "The machinegunlife sessions / The rebel girl" split Ep 2002

It often happens that I buy records I completely forget about. When I flip through my collection, I feel a bit sorry for these forgotten records because I hardly ever listen to them (but then, a lot of them are rather forgettable). This is one of the fallen soldiers and for once, this is going to be a short post because I don't have much to say about the bands, but honestly you are unlikely to meet someone who does (unless he or she was a member or a mate of the bands of course). As anecdotal as these bands might have been, it doesn't mean that they are worthless or even that they deserve this anonymity. We all know hundreds of bands who will always remain shrouded in a desperately indifferent obscurity. It is sometimes hard to explain, sometimes not so much. In the case of Skullkrusher and Article Nine, the reason is quite easy to find as both bands were quite generic and played a genre that was probably a little overdone in the late 90's/early 00's.

There is already a pretty good review of this Ep on the Aversion website (here) if you are interested in another opinion than mine (although I don't really see why you would to be honest). Let's start with Skullkrusher. They certainly picked a cool name but they certainly weren't the only ones either. There was a Brazilian metal band with that name and I think there's a band from Malaysia also playing the crusty d-beat thing working under that name. For the unwashed among you, Skullkrusher is obviously a reference to the mighty Onslaught song "Skullcrusher" and, I would argue, Hellkrusher. Fortunately to those allergic to lengthy guitar solos and lyrics about Satan, Skullkrusher are much closer to Hellkrusher than to Onslaught. What we have here are three songs shamelessly flying the d-beat flag and despite the utter unoriginality of this subgenre, I feel that it works very well here as the band didn't fall in some of the obvious Dis-traps. First, the sound is not too heavy and is metal-free. This is d-beat for the punx and that's how it should be. Second, the production is raw and spontaneous. I don't want too clean a sound when the D is beaten but I also personally tend to avoid overly blown-out, overdistorted rendering of the genre, not because I dislike it, but because few bands can actually pull it properly. Skullkrusher do it naturally, in an unpretentious fashion with the 90's feel that I enjoy. Early Disfer, Dischange, Hellkrusher, Decontrol, Besthöven, Holokaust are relevant points of comparison here. The presence of two types of vocals adds a bit of variety and aggression, the bass is adequately buzzing and upfront, the guitar riffs are simple and to the point (I even hear some Anti-Cimeish overtone here and there) and the drums, well, you already know what they do and they do it properly. Skullkrusher were from Chicago and released quite a few tapes between 1996 and 1999, so I am guessing they must have been pretty active at this time. These three songs were originally part of a tape called "The machinegun sessions" but I am not sure when it was actually recorded.

On the other side, we have Article Nine from Sweden and with them we enter the 90's Swedish crust realms. Two songs of fast, pummelling and heavy scandicrust with a couple of death-metal guitar leads, you know what to expect. This reminds me of Skitsystem though the vocals are nowhere near as harsh. Interestingly, the lyrics are not about war or destruction but clearly lean on the anarcho-syndicalist side of things with references to the red and black flag, antifascism and to the IWW. In fact, the song "The rebel girl" was written by Joe Hill, a Swedish-American itinerant worker, an anarchist labour activist and a member of the IWW who was framed and executed in 1915 for the murder of a local politician. The geezer wrote a lot of political songs and was a cartoonist for the IWW (the cover on the Article Nine's side is a reproduction of an ad for Joe Hill's song). From what wikipedia says, "The rebel girl" was written for a comrade of the IWW, Elizabeth Flynn, who was a strong feminist and advocat of women's rights. Clearly quite a refreshing cover for a crust band. This Ep was not Article Nine's only mischief, as they also did a split with Human Bastard and a full Ep during the first half of the 00's. A member of the band also played in Vaning 5 and went on to play in Massmörd.

So come on, give them a chance!

The Rebel Girl      

Thursday 6 March 2014

"Slave to convention: A tribute to Doom" compilation cd 2007

Bands like Doom are to punk-rock what beer is to drinking.

Some people merely enjoy having a cold beer on warm days, others drink vast quantity of beer but are not bothered with the quality, and then you have the beer experts who can actually describe the tastes of many different ales and lagers, finally you have people who don't like beer but at least respect it as a worthy beveradge. The same could be said about Doom: the first category hardly listen to Doom but can enjoy a couple of songs at a gig or when really drunk at a mate's; the second category listen to a lot of Doom-type bands but can't really be arsed about the actual quality or even the identity of the bands; the third category include people who know all the records, the recording dates, the line-up changes, they are able to look at Doom and their works critically and are undeniably elite Doom-lovers with a PhD in crust-punk; people in the last category don't give a damn about Doom but at least recognize that it is a quality band, respectable and honourable, just not to their liking. If you don't fall in any of these categories, there are two possibilities: you either have never heard about Doom and I am about to change your life or you clearly are reading the wrong blog and I encourage you to get a life. Seriously, get ouf of my blog.

I generally have mixed feelings about tribute records for several reasons. Bands are often content with merely covering the song without bringing anything new to the table thus making the record a bit tedious to listen to and basically a poorer version of the original songs. In addition, I have seen tribute records with absolutely no information about the bands included or even with hardly any mention about the band that is being paid tribute to (I am thinking about the "Discharged" cd here). But do not despair as there are also really good tribute records, like the two recent (well, relatively) Amebix tributes (the Japanese one and the Balkan one) or the Conflict tribute "Barricades and broken dreams" which exemplify how it should be done. Granted, all the songs were not that great but they aptly reflected the passion that the covered band inspired to the participants and you had some comments from actual members of Amebix and Conflict which made the record more relevant and interesting. Fortunately for you, "Slave to convention" falls in the "good punk tribute" category.

Don't expect too much originality in terms of music on this record. Although there have undeniably been several different periods in the life of Doom with variations in song-writing, sound, musicianship or production, the power of Doom relies on a formula. I would argue that the repetitiveness of Doom - especially early Doom - is one of its strong points. It is a force hammering you again and again with unabated sincerity. Doom took the relentless power of Discharge, Discard (certainly the strongest influence of the band in its infancy), Totalitär or Asocial, added the crusty gruffness (probably more a matter of context than of intent) and the anarchopunk anger and aesthetics. As I mentioned, the Doom sound evolved throughout the years but still, and as the latest brilliant Lp shows, they nevertheless always sticked to the Doom formula, so that for all the different records, and if I may use a witty tautology, Doom will alway be Doom. And thanks fuck for that. Really.

There are 29 bands included on the compilation and I suppose that it would be a boring read if I were to describe each of the songs individually. The bands that took part in this project all belong to the crust/d-beat/scandicore subgenres so don't expect ska versions of "Police bastard". Unsurprisingly, mosy of the covered songs are from Doom's Peaceville days, although some bands also picked songs from "The greatest invention" (my favourite Doom records because of its tension), or from the splits with Hiatus, Selfish and Extinction of Mankind, so it's not 29 covers of "Police bastard" or "Exploitation" either. The strong point of this compilation lies in its international spectrum as you will find bands from the U$A, the UK, Germany, Peru, Japan, Sweden, Poland, Spain, Chile, Canada, Cyprus (yes, Cyprus!), Mexico, Brazil and Italy. In addition to being an ode to world-wide punk-rock, "Slave to convention" includes bands rather "famous" bands like Phobia, Besthöven or Cluster Bomb Unit, but also obscure ones whose contribution to the compilation is actually their sole appearance on a proper record like Aposynthesis, Hollow Scorn or The Indecents. Apart from the Desobediencia Civil song that was recorded in 1998, all the bands recorded their cover especially for this compilation sometime between 2006 and 2007. Not only this but all the bands provided some artwork specifically for "Slave to convention" as well with band and recording information. Funnily enough, three bands did a spoof of the Doom logo, well let's call it an aesthetical tribute, with their own moniker: Ruin, Filth of Mankind and Warvictims. Now that's a labour of love, isn't it?

My personnal highlights include the old-school crust rendering of the mighty Alehammer and the criminally underrated Filth of Mankind, the dual-vocals crustcore attack of the great Accion Mutante, the vintage d-beat punk of Cluster Bomb Unit (with Julia on vocals), Besthöven and Ruin (who have never sounded more like Cracked Cop Skulls than on this recording) and the angry crusty anarcho sound of Autonomia and Desobediencia Civil, a band I specially deal with sometime in the future. Despite unequal production between the songs (some of them must have been taken from rehearsal or live recordings which accounts for some sloppiness), it is on the whole a very pleasant listen and a great way to get familiar with previously unknown bands. In my case, I was really quite impressed with Aposynthesis from Cyprus and wish they had done something else (they get extra Doom points for their Doom/Aposynthesis studded jacket done especially for their piece of artwork).

The booklet is good too and provides an exhaustive Doom biography as well as some words from Stick. It also shows a lot of original Doom artwork, some old flyers as well as some pictures but I hope you have a good eyesight because it's all printed extra small. "Slave to convention" was released on Helvetet Records, a Peruvian label responsible for records from Los Rezios (I am pretty sure the bloke doing the label also plays in Los Rezios), a Warcollapse discography and re-issues of old 80's hardcore bands from Peru like the fantastic Autopsia or Kaos. Basically a label worthy of your interest.

Are you ready for almost one hour of Doom worship? You'd better be.

Slave to doomvention