Monday 29 September 2014

Pro Patria Mori "Where shadows lie" demo 1986 (updated version)

A few days ago, while I was roaming through older posts thinking about something smart to add, I bumped into the first one I ever wrote here for the second Pro Patria Mori demo. Here is the original text:

"Pro Patria Mori, meaning "to die for your country", formed in Wokingham, Southeast of England in 1984. Though they never released any proper records, they still recorded two demos of which "Where shadows lie" is the second and this is just unbelievably good. In fact, and I am not even exaggerating here, I had two reactions the first time I heard this tape: I couldn't believe how good it was and I was angry that no one had told me about this band before and how good it was.

Being a huge sucker for the British anarcho punk sound, I can say without hesitation that this demo is a jewel and would have deserved the record treatment. While the political lyrics (from what I can understand) and the overall atmosphere of the songs are distinctively rooted in the anarcho tradition (you'll find haunting spoken words and dual vocals), the atmosphere of the songs is much darker and gloomier than the first wave of anarcho bands, an impression reinforced by the cover depicting a part-wizzard, part-judge dodgy-looking geezer staring at skulls and screaming heads. This imagery is also paralled by a great, dirty metal influence typical of mid-late 80's UK bands. But if metal was indeed influential here, the anger and rage are firmly ensconsed in pissed-off punk tradition (you probably won't be disappointed to hear that Odin, the hammer of Thor or black magics aren't on the Pro Patria Mori programm). The guitar sound is aggressive and mean, the dual vocals reminds me of an angrier, harsher version of Anti-System or Antisect's. The pace is fast with heavy mid-tempo parts. Awesome stuff to be sure, strongly reminiscent of the mighty Antisect, Anti-System, AOA or mid-late 80's Oi Polloi, with a bit of Concrete Sox and Anihilated for the riffage. Yes, it really is that good.

It is a shame that these brilliant songs haven't made it to vinyl (yet? If one is to believe their interview in the excellent book "Trapped in a scene", in which Pro Patria Mori has a section, the demo might hopefully be reissued at some point)."

I got this recording through soulseek in 2009 from a user who, in retrospect, must have been an ex-member. To be honest when I downloaded the file, I initially thought that it was some old Italian hardcore demo (although quite close to intellectual perfection, I can't read Latin). So when I actually heard the demo, I almost fainted when I realized that, not only was it a mid-80's British anarchopunk band, my favourite field of studies, but also that it was really close to being one of the best bands of the period (and for once, I am saying this without hyperbolic pretense). At the time, there was very little information about Pro Patria Mori (not that the internet is overwhelmed with it now though) and for a few years, I thought of starting a blog, if only to post that demo and be done with it. Of course, when I finally took matters in my own hands and posted the demo, I realized that, hardly ten days before this crucial act, someone had just posted it, namely The Immortal Old Punk, who, being a bit older and everything, had not only seen Pro Patria Mori live in his youth (a fantastic experience apparently and I trust his judgement) but managed to get top-notch versions of the songs (I actually strongly suggest that you take a look at his post). So in less than two weeks, a demo that had been absent from the world wide web for years got posted twice. What were the odds?

As I already mentioned, this demo is stellar. Recorded in early 1986, the same year as Hellbastard's "Ripper crust" and Deviated Instinct's "Terminal filth stenchcore", it would not be reasonable to rate "Where shadows lie" at least as high as both. The recording is very powerful and accurate, astonishingly so even. Far superior in terms of sound quality to most other early crust demos of its time, it is drenched in rage and anger, absolutely furious. If Antisect had been bitten by a rabid Slayer fan, you would get something close. But what also makes it so bloody brilliant lies in the use of dark talk-over passages and ambient guitar sounds, which, along with the fast metallic parts, make Pro Patria Mori the embodiment of the shift from more punk-sounding anarcho bands to all-out crusty metal madness. Listening to that demo, one can get the sense that the band, through this musical syncretism, symbolized this junction of influences better than anyone in 1986.

There was a first demo, recorded in 1985, that I have never heard. And that makes me really sad indeed. From what I can gather, while "Where shadows lie" is a fast bastard on the whole, apart from the eerie intros and spoken parts, the first demo was very much an exercise in Amebix-worshiping. In fact, when Dig from Earache reviewed it for MRR, he called it "Brit plod", a term that the band would use as a label when they released their two subsequent demos. If Pro Patria Mori had got the attention they deserved, one may imagine that "Brit plod" could have been the term used to describe the metal/punk hybrid that we call "crust" or "stenchcore" today. To be honest, I think "Brit plod" sounds terrible and I am pretty happy everyone stuck with "crust" but it's still fun to think about alternate versions of history (in the same spirit, imagine a world where Antisect did not lose the tapes of their second Lp in a London cab?).

This is the only picture of the first demo that I have seen...

A third demo was recorded in 1987, "Lament of the damned", a track of which you can find in the Old Punk's post. A powerful song, decidedly on the English Dogs/Anihilated side of things, but somewhat hindered by a sound production that fails to reach the same level as "Where shadows lie"'s (it'd still be great if I could give it a listen). For all I know, there could also be some live tapes since the band seems to have played quite a few gigs in the UK and, like Antisect and Amebix, even toured in Italy.

Pro Patria Mori is the prime example of a terrific band that, in spite of all their qualities, because they never released anything on vinyl, sank into obscurity, only to be remembered by those who were lucky enough to see them in the first place. And that's unfair. Pro Patria Mori should be that brilliant band everybody whispers about at the end of a drunken night, that mysterious anarcho crusty band whose demo reissues the world is desperately waiting for... For those of you who enjoy punk trivia, Russ, the first singer later played in Stalingrad and bass-player Paul now drums for the Revolutionary Dub Warriors.

So now, who's got the first and third demos so I can listen to them?

Friday 26 September 2014

Gutrot "Filthy muck" 10'', 2008

I love it when, out of the blue, a record of an old British band that I have never heard of comes out. I usually get all excited and restless and generally a real pain in the arse. Things tend to go back to normal after I eventually get the record, listen to it and ponder over it in order to place it in the grand narrative of punk-rock. In 2008, when Wicked Witch released that geezer, I was taken by surprise when I first read the short description that you find on online distros: a new band was about to come, uninvited, into my life.

"What's it called? Gutrot? It sounds a bit grindy, doesn't it?... Old recordings from 1987... A good year this, Antisect were at the top of their crusty game, Deviated Instinct were recording the song "Stormcrow", Amebix released "Monolyth"... Live and rehearsal tapes. Must be rough. Wait! What? With members of AOA and Axegrinder!!! It cannot be! And no one thought of telling me before? For fuck's sake! I NEED to hear that." Well, you know the drill...

A careless listener might think a Gutrot reissue should not have been a top priority, and musically speaking I guess I can understand the argument. However, in the light of this record and of the chapter from the holy "Trapped in a scene", one can grasp the significance of a band such as Gutrot, not necessarily in terms of music but in terms of their involvement in a specific time and place, namely the North London squat scene of the mid-80's. Like Eat Shit and Sons of Bad Breath, their brothers in unrestrained noise-making with a dodgy hygiene, Gutrot played a central role in establishing and promoting a vibrant punk scene in their area and so were an important part of punk history, that is if you see punk as more than just the accumulation of records. Basically, this 10'' is as much a historical document as it is an unhealthy slice of noisy bollocks.

The story of Gutrot began in 1986 under a different - and ridiculous - name: Terry Wogan and the Hellbashers. Then, the band was far less serious and include Skinny from Coitus on bass guitar. The band then changed its name to Gutrot and recuited another bass player called Tim who formerly played in Obliteration (could this be the obscure thrash/death metal band?), alongside Steve who used to sing in AOA and had moved to North London from Scotland in order to be part of the thriving squat scene there, Dalby who now lays in Argy Bargy (an unlikely connection indeed!) and Darryn who would join Axegrinder after the demise of Gutrot. This bunch of merry and active drunken punks played a major role in setting up squatted venues in Hackney such as the Kardboard Box or the Ballet School. From what I can gather from "Trapped in a scene", not unlike the infamous Hackney Hell Crew, their way of life seems to have been fairly chaotic, extreme even, but I bet a Gutrot gig must have been a night to remember if you like Mad Max reconstitutions or the idea of hordes of filthy punks dancing to a Disorder cover band (I know I do). Bands like Gutrot certainly pioneered the crust punk lifestyle, if not the music. And, they had a beef with Conflict, but then, as I understand it, who didn't by 1986?

What? The music? What do you expect really? This is rough, shouted, angry, political, raw, distorted and filthy hardcore punk for the hardcore punks. This is probably much faster than you expect too. Chop one pound of Chaos UK and Disorder, add a glass of Plasmid or early Heresy and mix it with a Legion of Parasites-shaped spoon until you get a thick paste. Bake it for two hours in furious Italian hardcore à la Wretched/Impact/early Negazione and let it marinate for two weeks in the bogs of a punk squat. The first side is taken from a rehearsal while the second one, my favourite, is a live recording that manages to sound better. You can hear the vocals better on the live tracks, a good thing because you can really tell that the singer also did time in AOA (the early line-up) and he's got a cracking voice. Looking at the gig handouts you will realize that Gutrot shared the stage with some fantastic bands during their short existence, like Extreme Noise Terror, Atavistic, Deviated Instinct, Karma Sutra or Axegrinder.

As previously mentioned this was released on the ever reliable and tasteful Dutch label Wicked Witch that also did Lebenden Toten, Aftermath, Atrocious Madness, Effigy or Substandard. I am not a sucker for 10" but this one makes sense since you only have about 10 minutes of noise on each side. The artwork was done by Mid from Deviated Instinct and since no one seems to really give a damn aboyt Gutrot, I am pretty sure you will be able to find a copy for cheap on some distros.

Friday 12 September 2014

Diatribe "Aftermath" Ep, 1991

Bloody hell... Has it really been more than three weeks since the last post?

In my defense, I have had to let go two of my staff in the past month. Whereas they had, until then, been quite faultless in their devotion to Terminal Sound Nuisance, I caught them in the naked act of listening to shoegaze. This really broke my heart but then, I should have seen it coming since one of them was starting to grow a beard while the other one, I discovered later, had set up a facebook page about thick-framed glasses. And that, my dedicated follower is utterly contrary to the TSN ethos. These are dark times indeed.

But whatever, my spirit has not been broken and I shall overcome, though it did take a whole week of uninterrupted Discharge listens for me to get back on tracks. Speaking of the devil, the record I'm going to rant about today is probably the most potent instance of US Discharge worshipping from the early 80's. I am aware that Diatribe have been talked about on other sites and blogs (I strongly recommend you read the the Shit Fi review of the demo by the way) but it is a brilliant record I have been meaning to bother you with for a long time now.

Diatribe's story is not unusual for an 80's punk band. They formed in 1984, released a demo in 1985, had the one odd track from that recording included on some compilation Lp, toured in their home country and split up in 1986. Not too spectacular, innit? That is, until you hear the demo. Because Diatribe's 1985 demo is nothing short of sheer brilliance.

Don't be misled by the title of the post, the 1991 Ep is actually a reissue of the 1985 demo (with one added track but I'll come to that in due time). An old friend of mine who was there "back in the day" (and had thus a spare copy) actually gave this record to me maybe 6 or 7 years ago. I had never really heard Diatribe before, although I did seem to remember that a band of the same name had a song on some Mortarhate sampler. But that was about it and I was completely unprepared when I put the record on my turntable. Not even a ridiculous amount of "OMG" could begin to describe what I felt then when I heard the chorus to the song "Aftermath" for the first time. Almost instantly, as if it had been my favourite song forever, I was tunelessly shouting "When the war is over" while tapping my feet to their awesome D-beat. That's epiphany for ya.

Diatribe were from San Diego and were part of the so-called peacepunk wave. As discussed in The Iconoclast post, the term "peacepunk" basically referred to those Californian bands (I would personally leave the New York anarcho bands out of the "peacepunk" tag) who were greatly influenced by the UK anarchopunk scene and re-adapted the sound, the attitude and the politics to their own context. It is therefore no coincidence if there are sonic similarities between Diatribe and bands like The Iconoclast and Body Count with whom they shared stage. The Crucifix influence is also pretty obvious, especially in the vocals at times and the overall intensity. However, where Crucifix guitar sound was thick and crunchy, Diatribes relies a bit more on distortion and fuzz. This demo also brings to mind Swedish bands like Anti-Cimex or Crude SS, and, of course, Discharge, early Antisect and even Death Sentence, albeit in a "thou shall beat the D" mood. What is most striking with this recording is how far ahead of their time Diatribe were. Listening to these songs in 2014, you can tell in a heartbeat that they are an 80's band who overplayed Crucifix at home, and yet there have been so many "D-beat raw punk" bands for the past 10 years who have been playing pretty much like Diatribe did (and most of them probably without even being aware of their existence): a pure, clear D-beat with the occasional breakdowns and some Chaos UK drum rolls, a distorted guitar, a buzzing bass sound, a snotty vocal delivery. I read that Diatribe had been a significant influence on Kawakami from Disclose and if you listen closely to the guitar sound and the songwriting, it makes a lot of sense. That the Diatribe logo is not painted on half the leather jacket of people supposedly into "raw punk" never fails to sadden me, but then I must be oversensitive.

Lyrically, Diatribe's songs don't necessarily stand out from the crowd of Discharge impersonators (anti-war, anti-army, anti-religion) but judging from old interviews, the band was clearly much more political and articulate than their words suggested. This would explain their connection with Conflict and why they appeared on a Mortarhate compilation and how they opened for the Londoners when they toured in the States. This Ep is some sort of bootleg, I believe, that was released on Revoltation record, an English label that basically only reissued classic 80's hardcore recordings without really asking for permission (though I could be wrong). It includes the 6 tracks from the "Aftermath" demo as well as another studio track, with a very "iconoclasty" sound, entitled "The day I was born"). Anyway, the geezer behind Revoltation also released some pretty sweet things in the early 90's like Confuse, Heresy or Mob 47. In 2007, the "Aftermath" demo was officially reissued by Get Revenge records and I am pretty sure you can still find it if you put some effort into it.

In 2006, Diatribe got back together with a different line-up and even released a split Ep with Death Crisis in 2011 that is worth your attention. I know that a full Lp was in progress at some point but I have no idea if it will eventually come out. I strongly recommend that you take a look at their website too where you will find old pictures, flyers and interviews (Diatribe's page).