Monday 23 June 2014

Skaven / Dystopia "S/t" split Lp 1996

About a year ago, I posted one true crust classic with the Misery/SDS split Lp, with one of my most epic review to this day. And because I am aware I am one of the leading voices of the internet (after all, it is no coincidence if the Queen of England herself, when asked what her favourite blogs were, replied: "Terminal Sound Nuisance, definitely. Top writing from a top geezer and quality punk-rock from a true connoisseur. Each time I read it, I want to abolish myself.") I think it is high time I deal with another true (or cvlt as some wankers would have it) 90's classic: the Skaven/Dystopia Lp.

As you know, I am one to follow the news and lately I got hold of the wonderful Skaven discography Lp that the mighty Skuld Releases just unleashed (it did take five years to come out though... Good thing I didn't hold my breath). If you have to buy just one record this month, that should be this one. The songs have been tastefully remastered, the artwork is sick, there are two posters included, honestly it couldn't have been done better. However relatively obscure Skaven are, they remain one of the most potent American crust bands ever and one could only wish they had sticked around a little longer, at least long enough to record a full Lp.

Skaven were from Oakland and formed in 1995. Apparently, they rose from the ashes of a punky black-metal band called Black Maggot, which I have sadly never heard (assuming they recorded anything at all), a significant fact since there is a distinct, almost foundational, black-metal feel, to Skaven's music and songwriting. Although I remain largely unconvinced by most current bands trying to blend black-metal and crust or hardcore (Order of the Vulture, Dazd and Summon the Crows being two good exceptions), Skaven managed to pull it in a terrific fashion, probably because they did it effortlessly, just because it made sense to them, as if the cross basically just happened. There is an occult atmosphere in Skaven's music that is enhanced by the mean, gnarly vocals. However, don't picture some wankers arsing around in a dark forest dressed like cheap actors from an 80's Italian barbarian movie. No, if anything, the band's sense of evil comes from a filthy sewer where crusty punks would wait recklessly for an apocalypse that never comes, getting really drunk and listening heavily to Deviated Instinct and Bathory in the process. Claustrophobic, uncontrollable and insane.

As I see it, Skaven are very much heirs of the late 80's/early 90's Californian crust scene, a wave that had disappeared by 1996 (with the worthy exception of... Dystopia). You can actually hear influences from bands belonging to the aforementioned scene like Glycine Max, A//Solution or Apocalypse in the music, as well as classic UK crust like Deviated Instinct or Mortal Terror, with early Misery coming to mind too, and black metal bands like Bathory, Possessed or Samael. Skaven's strong point however lies in their intent to create a proper soundscape, to literally build a sonic atmosphere of their own, and in that respect the fact that they were playing with two bass guitars certainly helped. Although undeniably heavy, the band didn't really rely on heaviness or speed in order to crush you. Rather, they used twisted song structures with multilayered bass and guitar parts that manage to take the listener by surprise while still making complete sense. The music is dark, really dark, but is not sorrowful. It reeks of madness, desperation but remains really organic, slimy, festering, swarming.

Skaven's art is almost as impressive and striking as their music and equally as dark. Drawings that reflect the fate of mankind and our pointless, destructive wandering upon the Earth. There is a specific obsession with death that also appears in the lyrics, both literally with the worm-infested, decaying flesh and figuratively with death being the sole outcome of our actions, whether it be through pollution, drug abuse or the death of one's will through the acceptance of one's enslavement. Not particularly cheery stuff, I'll give you that.

Dystopia, on the other side, are much better-known and remains one of the very best American bands of the 90's (that statement is not open to any discussion. Thank you for your cooperation). Dystopia fucking rule. Although they have almost achieved cult status today, the fact that the band emerged from previous bands is not widely known. In fact, Dystopia rose from the ashes of the late 80's/ early 90's Californian scene crust scene, with Matt playing in the early Mindrot line-up (back when they were a Prophecy of Doom/Bolt Thrower crusty kind of band), Todd making a whole lot of noise in the grinding crust outfit Confrontation and Dino drumming for Carcinogen (possibly the closest to Dystopia from the three aforementioned bands in terms of music) and although the term "crust" does not totally fit Dystopia (but then the band escaped any easy categorization), the lads definitely grew up in that context (apparently the drummer of Apocalypse even played with them at some point). By the time Dystopia started in 1992, the crust scene was already on its last gallon of special brew and it could be argued that the variety of influences that can be found in Dystopia's music might stem from a need to break free from formulaic music. And they certainly succeeded in doing so.

I won't try to pigeonhole Dystopia because it would be time-consuming and pointless. To me, they have an old-school crust backbone with a lot of doom-metal and death-metal over it. But more importantly, they are just incredibly groovy, heavy and intense. When you know they were just a three-piece, this makes it even more remarkable. Dystopia belongs to this category of bands that sound like they are playing for their lives, as if they were all going to die the next day, as if each second of their songs were fighting Death itself. The term "Burning spirit hardcore" should have been created for them.

While Skaven have these occult and fleshy aesthetics, Dystopia's are more anchored in the daily struggle to survive in the social jungles we call urban centres. Hopelessness, mysanthropy, suicide, self-hatred, sickness, cruelty, there is a wide panel of social ills in Dystopia and their very music, the way they write music, somehow perfectly embodies them. This is the demented soundtrack of survival in our modern societies. To give you an example, the song "Anger brought by disease" is about a man dying from disease who wants to kill his enemy (his former teacher, a nazi or his boss, take your pick) before dying. This is social anger in the flesh indeed.

This split is probably one of the very best crust records of the 90's, not because both bands play unadulterated crust but because it stands for a particular time in history as it is basically the evolution of the South-Cali crust scene. Skaven were, to put it bluntly, the best American crust band of the mid-90's, along with Misery, and Dystopia were a uniquely intense band that went beyond genres and yet managed to satisfy everyone (right?). This record was co-released by Life Is Abuse, still run by Matt from Dystopia, and Misanthropic Records, a label also connected to the band that released the Skaven Ep and records from Phobia and Grief among others. DIY or die trying. After the end of Skaven and Dystopia, some members of both bands eventually ended up in the powerful crusty doom-metal band Asunder, but ex-members could also be found in Noothgrush, Demonsteed, Ghoul and more recently Kicker.




Monday 9 June 2014

The Next World "Resurgence" Lp 1989

If you have any memory at all, you remember that two years ago I already posted an Ep from The Next World. The least brave among you would remember it as that ghastly postpunk band with a drum machine, while the open-minded would be fond of saying that they were an original, unique even, anarchist punk band with a great sense of melody and top politics. And a fucking drum machine.

French punks have a long-lasting, if tumultuous, love relationship with drum machines. In fact, there have been countless bands using that device throughout the years so that, over here, it is pretty much a French subgenre. There could be two reasons for that: the usual shortage of drummers and our own crappy tastes in punk-rock. Both phenomena combined gave birth to more than a few atrocious bands trying really hard to be the Béruriers Noirs and scaring decent foreign bands out of touring here.

But have no fear, despite the drum machine, The Next World belongs to the "quality punk-rock" in my book. After all, Cress also uses one, right? As for the accurate introduction to the band, I refer to the aforementioned earlier review (right here). Bouncy, bass-driven mid-tempo anarcho-gothpunk with a singer reminsicent of Southern Death Cult and a music akin to Smartpils, late Revulsion, Terminus and even Amebix. The music has a dark and moody quality but remains energetic and potent as you can feel the singer firmly believes in what the band stands for. You have rather upbeat parts followed by melancholy dirges, as if reflecting the need to react and protest but still feeling powerless before the task. The guitar has a crispy, earthy sound but it is really the bass that should hold your attention here: heavy, driving, with some terrific leads. Despite the drum machine, or maybe because of it, the songs are well-structured and behind their apparent simplicity you can hear that the band really thought them through, even more so than on their previous Ep. Still, The Next World is very much a Marmite band. You will either love it or loathe it.

Politically, The Next World was certainly an articulate band and I really appreciate their down-to-earth approach to the issues at stake. Ironically, they have a song against fascism, "The rising tide of fascism", mentioning Le Pen (or rather "Le Penn"!) and his attempt at "trying to create a respectable disguise". That was in 1989. A rather remarkable insight about the evolution of the European far-rights in the decades that would follow. "Answers in bullets" is a class war anthem tackling the alienation and manipulation spawned by the ruling-class in order to create a fake sense of togetherness, in this case through foreign interventions and the arms race. "Soft cop" is about social control and how social workers and union leaders also play a policing role in maintaining the social peace and the status-quo. "New reality" is about media distorsion or how the mainstream media present the news through a particular and ideological scope, through omission or purposeful confusion, and are always on the side of the authorities.

My favourite ones are "The British idea" and "Resurgence" (actually, you could see "Resurgence" as the last part of one song, the first two parts of which would be "Liberty" and "Powerless"). "The British idea" is a rather despressive number, both musically and lyrically. It is very much about despair, how we swallow preconceived lies while being half-aware of it, just because we are too scared to act and be left behind. "Sleepwalking through the reasons for our dependence. / Misplacinganger, falling short of the causes." Powerful stuff and some references to Thatcher's austerity policies (that still rings a bell, doesn't it?). "Resurgence" is a threatening and yet positive song about revolt, class inustice and the possiblity of another world. The next world? Probably not. But still, it is a good song to sing along to in this new dark age.

This Lp is the sole vinyl album from the band in the 80's although they had released two tape albums prior to that in 1986 and 1987. Apparently, the band changed its name to VR later on and released another Lp on Flat Earth records in 1995.

Monday 2 June 2014

Maggot Slayer Overdrive / Corpus Vile "Soggy" split Lp 1993

Almost two years ago (doesn't time fucking fly?) the magnificent "Armed with anger" by Ian Glasper was published and I took this opportunity to write a couple of record reviews from the oft overlooked 90's UK punk scene. Well, close to two years later, I can't say that my fantastic pieces of writin aimed at stressing how good a lot of bands in that scene were really worked out. So in my neverending quest to promote quality punk-rock through relentless, if completely subjective, rants, let's have a bit of 90's UK punk today, shall we?

It still amazes me how unfashionable the 90's are nowadays. Whereas any old band from the 80's gets a spot in the digital sun (meaning "some geek with a dodgy sense of hygiene is going to glorify its one and only demo on an obscure punk blog"), the bands and individuals in the 90's who helped shape the DIY punk scene as we experience it today, remain largely ignored. Could it be because they are still too close to us in time? Not old enough to really be vintage? Do we really need to act like bloody hipsters?

Anyway, as my faithful dark legions of readers already know (and how could they not? I basically always repeat the same old bollocks anyway), I hold 90's UK punk in high regard. Bands like Substandard, Coitus, Hellkrusher, Disaffect, Extinction of Mankind, SST, Policebastard and many more were at least as good as most of their 80's counterparts. The record we are dealing with today significantly exemplifies this statement. Judging from how much it goes for on discogs (also domestically known as "the doom of the record collector"), neither Maggot Slayer Overdive nor Corpus Vile seem to be of much interest to "da punx of today". And how wrong can this lot be...

I must admit that a name like "Maggot Slayer Overdrive" may dissuade the least brave and curious people to actually check the band out. I must also agree that the cover of this split Lp is just atrocious. But let's not judge a book by its cover (and after all Forward never really seemed to suffer from their horrendous artwork). MSO was, quite simply, one of the very finest English punk band of its generation. They were original, unique-sounding, funny, powerful and punk as fuck. Even today, I can't really think of a band that sounds even close to them. MSO were from Bristol and formed in 1989 with former members of early 80's bands Lunatic Fringe and Rancid (yes, funnily enough there was a British Rancid before the Californians). I have to be honest here, in spite of my often blind love for UK punk, I have never rated neither Lunatic Fringe nor Rancid very highly music-wise, and for some strange reason that probably have to do with the prospect of free cider, both bands have recently reformed... It is indeed difficult to imagine how great MSO is if you think of the former bands...

Judging from their chapter in "Armed with anger", MSO was made up of fun-loving punks with a love for parties and an absurd sense of humour bordering on the deranged. Song subjects range from the anger felt when having flies in one's home-made brew, visiting deserted warehouses, being a giant cephalopod, hating traveling jugglers or, and I quote from the book, "sustaining oneself with homely thoughts of Yate llamas in times of adversity". Now, that's not something you hear everyday, right? This sense of the surrealist and the absurd is also reflected in the theatricality of the music itself and of the band performances which apparently sometimes included home-made fireworks. The music is completely glorious, uplifting and epic but always with that humorous tone. This is exactly what you want to sing along to when trying to make a snowman blind drunk in your underpants or when dressed up as a camel at a cider convention. This sort of things.

And the music... Close to perfection I must say and yet rather difficult to describe in a coherent fashion. MSO might be defined as a metallic punk band but that would be far too restrictive a comment and wouldn't even give you an actual idea of the band's sound. Try to imagine a snotty and glorious cross between "Porkey men" era English Dogs and "Forward into battle" era English Dogs, or even a decidedly punkier GISM. It certainly has a lot of mid/late 80's metal-punk elements borrowing from aforementioned English Dogs, Onslaught, Broken Bones or Metal Duck (thinking about it now, they may also have borrowed some of their sense of humour). But MSO are fundamentally a punk-rock band with a pure, old-school punk-rock energy (think the Underdogs, the Threats or 90's era Chaos UK). The guitars manage to bridge the gap between vintage UK82 punk and old-school metal through a warm, heavy, thick sound and super catchy solos; the bass does a fine job leading the music with cracking lines while the singer's raucous voice always keeps its tuneful quality (the bloke actually sings if you listen closely). This is CATCHY as fuck.

Before their demise, due to their rather chaotic lifestyles and extensive touring, MSO released an Ep entitled "The angry buzzing of a million flies" in 1995 that was a bit harder and that I personally enjoy slighly less than this Lp (this is still bloody awesome though). Pig, one of the guitar player, would subsequently join the fantastic Gurkha later on (a band I already reviewed on that blog).

The other side of the Lp hits harder. Corpus Vile were also from Bristol (with members coming from nearby Bath if I get it correctly, a town that also had the brilliant Muckspreader at the time) and offered top-of-the-shelf 90's UK crust although, for some unfathomable reason, they don't seem to be remembered much today (a bit like Embittered really). The band probably formed in 1990 or 1991 since there is a rough and ready demo from 1991 called "I am glad I'm not in Danzig and I bloody mean that" (a demo that won the much coveted "most ridiculously funny demo title" award at the local Bristol fair that year). By 1993 however, Corpus Vile had considerably improved as their seven tracks attest. This is powerful, metal-tinged crusty punk with dual male/female vocals. The male singer uses the type of really gruffy, hoarse vocal that I love while the female one has a raspy, raucous voice and, on the whole, the combination works very well and suitably over-the-top. The guitar sound is thick and heavy, with an almost organic texture, quite reminiscent of Disaffect's. Contrary to most of bands calling themselves "crust" these days, the drummers doesn't beat a boring D, if anything, it's closer to -order than -charge, and he uses a variety of drum rolls and of fitting mid-tempo introductions or breaks. Corpus Vile could be compared to a blend of Disaffect and Embittered, Excrement of War and Extinction of Mankind. This is good shit. The definite highlight of their side is the song "Mourn the shadow", a synth-driven epic mid-tempo number that brings Amebix, Axegrinder, Misery and Antisect to mind and that every self-respecting crust fanatic should know.

Lyrics are more typical than on the MSO side with songs against religious morality, the continuous absurdity of war or mankind's self-destructive behaviour. And then there is the song "Absolute crust" that is quite astonishing to say the least. It is about "travellers" who are constantly on drugs and spend their time either begging for money with their dogs or getting into fights because they are too high. Although I can imagine the kind of people the song is about, I am pretty sure it is linked with the particular context of the early 90's in that part of the country, with the collapse of the political traveling scene (I'm thinking Stonehenge festivals and the likes) and the rise of the dumb, mindless rave scene with its lot of violence and hard drugs. Chaos UK and Policebastard (among others surely) also had songs about this specific moment. But what strikes me, is last line of the song that says "Crusties... overdose and die!". Now, that's pretty harsh but that's not even what I'm concerned about. It's the term "crusties". Because when looking at the picture of Corpus Vile in the insert you realize they look like... crusties! Or in any case, they look like what has been commonly called "crusties" for 10/15 years. However, the band in the early 90's didn't identify at all with the term "crusty", to them, a "crusty" was a traveling dickhead that is maybe remotely punk (sort of)  and only thinks about drugs. Ironically enough, some in "da scene" still equate "crusty" with that sort of people today. What surprises me is that people obviously really into Amebix used the term in that meaning in the 90's. Who said word didn't matter?

Anyway, Corpus Vile released another demo in 1996 entitled "Dark comes the dawn", after some serious line-up changes I suppose. This recording impressively mixed crust with doom-metal, a cross that was then far ahead of its time (only Greek bands like Nuclear Winter toyed with that at the time) and would have deserved a proper record. You can find it on the wonderful crust-demos blog (here) where you will also learn that Corpus Vile's singer actually did a song with Extinction of Mankind that appeared on the "Scars of mankind" Ep that was posted here a few months ago. Small world.    

The "Soggy" split Lp was released on MCR UK, the Bath subdivision of the long-standing Japanese label, that released some top stuff in the 90's like Zygote, Disorder or... Amebix!