Monday 26 May 2014

Slimy Venereal Diseases "S/t" Ep 1991

Please, don't let the name of the band scare you into checking another punk blog just yet.

Yes, it lies on the grindcore side of things (sort of).
No, it is not a moronic goregrind band.
Yes, it does have a silly goregrind name.
No, it is still not a band singing about anal vomit, bowel decomposition or such nonsense.
Why did they pick that name? I haven't got a clue...
Was it a bad idea? Indeed, it was.

Now, enough whining and hear me out. It's true that grindcore has gotten a pretty bad name lately: bands selling out to car companies, a scene overrun by metalheads in need of a rush of "extreme music" (believe me, I don't hold any grudge against metalheads but from what I have witnessed, the metal-grind crowd is not made up of the brightest of the lot. I remember that particular time when one of them wearing a bloody Disrupt - how ironic -  shirt was chasing me in order to beat me up because I had asked him to stop hurting people while dancing, which he was doing on purpose...) or wankers finding homophobic and sexist imagery funny. But originally, grindcore was a punk subgenre, admittedly influenced by extreme metal but not only. In fact, you could argue that fast hardcore punk was as much of an influence (if not more?) as metal. Anyway, I will leave the silly technical metal grindcore bands to the moronic horde and stick with old-school rough grindcore.

In spite of their name, Slimy Venereal Diseases is not even an over-the-top grindcore band. They do use some blast beats but they are much closer to fellow German bands such as MVD or Acid Rain Dance than to Napalm Death or Agathocles. I would argue that they chose the name as a joke in order to emphasize that they were serious, but not dead serious. I don't know much about SVD but they are definitely a band of its time sonically. Political crusty hardcore-thrash with a lot of energy and a proper DIY spirit to boot. The songs are mostly really fast with a crossover edge, not so far from Concrete Sox or Heresy actually, or even "Rock'n'roll conformity" era Deviated Instinct. The "slower" songs, like the opening song "Fear in her eyes", could have easily been lifted from an early Peaceville sampler with that distinct early crust feel (Mortal Terror really comes to mind here, especially with the dual vocal). Sore Throat is also an obvious reference here (they have a song entitled "Hello Sore Throat" after all) in terms of music (the two really short noisy blasting songs attest to that) but also for the fun aspect of the band. In other terms, if you are into late 80's crust and metallic fast thrashy hardcore, you will love SVD. If you are into goregrind however, you will be sorely disappointed. Despite the silly name, SVD was a political band into animal rights, fairly usual at that time I suppose, and with a liberating "be yourself" message.

This Ep was released in 1991 and was the very first record on Skuld Releases, a label that was to become a reference in quality anarchopunk and crust for the next twenty years (a single look at Skuld's discography is proof enough: Contropotere, Hellkrusher, Hibernation, Counterblast, Extinction of Mankind, Lost World, Bad Influence, Misery and even fucking Amebix). SVD would release afterwards a second Ep on Skuld in 1992 and a split Lp with Friends of Barney.      

Saturday 17 May 2014

Cancer Spreading "Suffering" Ep 2011

For once, I won't be speaking about an old record or an ancient recording today. No, today I shall delve into the field of stenchcore and study the relevancy of its mid-00's variety. Heavy stuff to come, let me assure you. And in order to illustrate this study, I have picked a record that is only three year old, and therefore should be still available, and from a band that is still active and is getting better and better: Cancer Spreading.

Stenchcore. I have always had mixed feelings about that term. In itself, the phrase was just a joke from the Deviated Instinct lads meant precisely to make fun of the trend to invent new genres through the mere addition of "-core" at the end of a word. Since in their own case, they smelled pretty bad, they made up the word "stenchcore". I suppose it was also a comment about their own music that was as dirty and filthy as you could get. But in the end, they could have called it "trampcore" (interestingly the name of a Chaotic End song) or "filthcore" or whatever (in fact, a very similar analysis could be made about the creation of the term "crust" by Hellbastard that was born from the same musical and cultural context). So, why the sudden resurgence of the stenchcore tag? Whereas "crust" has been kept and spread widely, "stenchcore" only rose again about 10 years ago, basically at the beginning of the old-school crust revival spawned by Hellshock. However, the bands that kept playing that genre in the 90's (Extinction of Mankind, Misery, Filth of Mankind, SDS, Coitus, Effigy, Hibernation, you know the drill) certainly didn't use the "stenchcore" tag. So why did it re-appear? Or more correctly, why did it get used at all, since in the mid/late 80's, it didn't seem to be used at all either?

I would argue that there has been a shift in the early/mid 00's, a change connected with the increasing presence of the internet. Since the world wide web allowed everyone and anyone to have access to any obscure records or bands (that great cultural equalizer as they say), the word "crust" came to define pretty much any band that played fast, aggressive music with throaty vocals and lyrics about war or the apocalypse. Disclose? Crust. Wolfpack? Crust. Tragedy? Crust. Aus-Rotten? Crust. How disconcerting. In the end, the term became empty of any stable meaning and that's when the "stenchcore" came handy as it refered to a specific sound contrary to "crust" that increasingly refered to nothing coherent musically, but rather, became synonym with wearing patches, dreads and studs.

The Hellshock boys probably sensed that discrepancy and opted for the term "PDX stenchcore" in order to stress that they were playing old-school, UK (and California) influenced crust. Much more than most of their 90's counterparts (SDS being the obvious exception), Hellshock was a referential band to begin with, probably because the members had already played in quite a few bands before and definitely because they know punk music and punk records very well (Portland, right?). Reading a very early interview of the band in an old Warning issue lately, I don't think the band took itself very seriously at the beginning. They were just doing a tribute to all the great British metal-punk and I really doubt they could have imagined doing three albums, touring extensively and becoming the new reference of the genre. Like many short-lived PDX projects, I think Hellshock wasn't necessarily meant to last long (a bit like Bomb Heaven). But then, they have had a tremendous impact for several reasons: they brought back the old-school metal sound into crust at a time when bands like EOM and Misery were no longer at their best, they revivified the aesthetics and resurrected the relevance of the old UK bands for a new generation, and, of course, they released absolutely crushing records. After years of boring Discharge clones, wasn't it great to finally hear some Sacrilege-type riffs?

Like with their longevity, Hellshock certainly didn't expect to start a new trend, a proper crust revival, or rather, the "stenchcore" revival. A lot of North-American bands started playing referential crust music, some were not exactly newcomers (like Stormcrow or After the Bombs) but others were actual young, spotty bands (like Sanctum, Stagnation or a bit later, Contagium). Very few of those bands are still active (contrary to Hellshock). Japan, being Japan, already had its fair share of old-school crust bands (Effigy, Zoe, Acrostix...) so I am not sure this new stenchcore wave had much of an impact over there, but I could be wrong. Europe got caught up some years later with, among others, Last Legion Alive from Belgium, Instinct of Survival from Germany (though their case is a bit different since they were already around, but playing another genre), Hellisheaven from Poland, Grind the Enemy from London, the mighty Fatum from Russia and Cancer Spreading from Italy.

As my faithful readers already know, I love bands sticking to their guns and Cancer Spreading is one of the kind. They formed in 2006 and have been really prolific: four split Ep's, one Ep, one cd album and two split Lp's. Usually, their records are the product of collaborations between many small DIY punk labels and that too is something I appreciate since it epitomizes, to me, the spirit of togetherness that punk should promote. But above all, the thing I like most about Cancer Spreading is that they are a proper punk band. Contrary to many stenchcore bands that already had a heavy, powerful sound even on their very first recording, CS started out as a shitty, yet loveable, band paying tribute to Deviated Instinct's "Terminal filth stenchcore" (an equally shitty and loveable piece of music that I hold close to my heart). The split with Children of Technology is an amazingly sloppy and yet undeniably great stenchcore record and it is quite possibly the only songs I know of that are genuinely influenced by Deviated Instinct (but after all "Cancer spreading" is a DI song). And then the band evolved, grew, improved, got tighter and tighter so that now, they are probably one of the five best CRUST bands today.

Cancer Spreading is a band I have been following since they started. To be fair, with a name like theirs, I was bound to fall in love with them. The Ep we are dealing with was released in 2011 and exemplifies what the band sounds like today. While it would be easy to dismiss as yet another metal crust act, Cancer Spreading have this genuinely dirty sound: they don't crush you with a clean metal production, rather they bury you under a pile of filth and then proceed to stomp on it while screaming like boars. They don't fall in the "we-want-to-sound-like-Bolt-Thrower-so-hard" trap like most, no, they adapt the impending, unstoppable sense of doom that bands like Bolt Trower, Prophecy of Doom or Mindrot inspire to a dual vocal crust attack owing to Extreme Noise Terror, A//Solution or Mortal Terror. The vocals are completely over the top, which I bloody love, they are gruffy, throaty and mean as if a drunk rabid zombie were preaching the apocalypse. There is that feeling of uncontrolled insanity pervading the music. If cavemen tried to cover Hellshock songs, that's what it would sound like. You really don't get much crustier than that nowadays and their new split with Fatum might even be better (a synth-driven, Greek-influenced, mid tempo scorcher with bear-like vocals? Fuckin A!).

As with most CS records, the artwork is absolutely amazing and a lot of efforts have been put into it, a right orgy of axes, orcs and deformed skulls. Cancer Spreading is part of this new generation of top notch Italian bands that produce quality punk-rock whatever the style they are playing: Terror Firmer, Campus Sterminii, Into The Baobab, Infamia, Dystopian Society, Warpath, NIS and so on.

Cancer Spreading play solid, sincere, proper crust music and I wish more bands were still carrying the banner today. For that I will rely on Instinct of Survival, old-timers like Extinction of Mankind, Misery or Hibernation and newer bands like Fatum, Swordwielder or Ruinas.

Keep stenching.   


Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Mad Are Sane "Reality" Lp 2007

If you have never heard The Mad Are Sane, today is your lucky day. In fact, assuming you are into old British anarchopunk, and you'd better be, you might very well be the luckiest punk alive. When I got this geezer, put it for the first time on the turntable and listened to the first song, I was literally flabbergasted, gobsmacked, floored.

The first minute of "World in action" is of an epiphanic nature. The martial guitar sound with just the one chord, the heaviest tribal drumming you have heard and then comes the voice. The singer must have swallowed a box of nails just before the recording session. It feels like he is talking directly to you, full of spite, anger and outrage. Rarely have I heard such aggressive, threatening vocals in the anarcho scene. With their pounding rhythms, the songs sound like the world is on the verge of terminal insanity (anyone using that expression for a new blog will be sued. Thank you for your cooperation). Or maybe they sound like The Mad Are sane are about to jump at your throat, crucify you at the entrance of their squat and then proceed to dance all night around you, utterly oblivious to your moans.

Yes, this record is that bloody good. "Reality" was initially a demo, recorded in 1983, that was released on vinyl in 2007. To be honest, I ordered that one for two reasons: first, I buy pretty much any reissue, be it a good or a mediocre one, from any old anarcho band, be it a good or an average one (I would type "mediocre" but I subjectively can't); second, I vaguely remembered The Mad Are Sane from a Mortarhate compilation, 1984's "Who? What? Why? When? Where?". But I certainly did not expect it to be that fucking brilliant. That's what I love about punk-rock, when you think you know it all and feel jaded, there's always one band you've never heard of that you will remind you that it is a never-ending spring of greatness. Long live dead punk bands!

If I were to describe The Mad Are Sane, I would say that it really reminds me of Exit-Stance (one of the most underrated bands of the anarcho scene) in the bass-driven heaviness, the pounding relentlessness of the tribal drumming, the simple efficiency of the riffs and the feeling of outrage pervading all the songs. But The Mad Are Sane may even be better. To add some catchiness to the rather martial nature of their sonic intensity, you will notice some tuneful guitar tunes here and there, just to show you that, indeed, the band actually spent some time and thoughts writing these wondrous songs. I already mentioned the nail-eating male singer, but in addition there was also a female one, with a very pissed off, shouting voice, not so far vocally from early Sacrilege or Solvent Abuse. Basically you have two top notch vocals. This demo would have been the ultimate anarcho grail if the singers had been working in the trade-off style rather than the "you do one song and I'll do the next one" style. So basically, you have four songs with the bloke and three with the girl. It still is amazing, but punk-rock is sometimes like tag-team wrestling: a good spectacular move involving the two wrestlers of the team can be more effective.

Like Exit-Stance, and like most of the Mortarhate roster really, The Mad Are Sane seemed to have been heavily into animal rights, as two songs, "Animal crimes" and "Waiting for the day", deal directly with that topic. "World in action" is about the destruction of the environment, "Tract" is about violence that pervades society, "Dying church" is an anti-religious piece and "Neither seen nor heard" is about the business of backstreet abortion. In fact, that song is a little disturbing as it could also be read as an anti-abortion song, but since that seems highly unlikely given the context of the band, I am assuming it is not. I do hope I am not wrong here. I mean, pro-life anarchopunk does sound unlikely. I almost decided not to post this record because of that last song. Could this come from this fringe of the  animal rights movement that is against abortion because they feel it is wrong to harm a life? This theory seems far-fetched, given the members were spiky-haired 16 year old anarchopunks...

From what I understood, this early line-up of The Mad Are Sane didn't exist for very long and the band only played but a handful of gigs. There was a second demo recorded in 1985 with a very different line-up including members of Self-Abuse (both bands were from Bournemouth) and Confession of Sin. That second demo is by no means a bad effort but certainly pales in comparison with the scorcher that is "Reality". The Lp can still be found quite easily and it was released on Abused Records, a label that only released records from Self-Abuse apart from this one (I'm assuming it is also run by a Self-Abuse member).