Friday 27 March 2015

Dažd "S/t" Lp, 2009

After two rather glorious walks along vintage 80's punk lane, I realized it was high time I ranted a bit about a recent band. Punky goodness can be found in any time or place and if I do have my own strong obsessions, I am also a curious geezer who likes to be taken by surprise. And let me tell you that Dažd (which translates as "rain") totally took me by storm the first time I heard that wonderful album.

The last decade or so had its fair share of classic crust albums. And although it is sometimes difficult to assess the real worth of an Lp when it comes out, now that a few years have passed since Hellshock made the so-called stenchcore subgenre glamorous again, it is obvious that there were some rather average, if lovable (to me anyway), crust bands and some genuinely great works as well. Dažd fell in the second category for one major reason: they were effortlessly original. Although they clearly aimed at incorporating a lot of different influences into their music, it is neither original for the sake of originality, as each addition actually brings something to the music, nor does it have that annoying patchwork feel that bands claiming to blend genres tend to have. Dažd's music feels like a whole, it is fluid yet multifaceted.

The band apparently defined their own music as"Balkan black (anarcho) occult crust post punk". Now I must admit that this sort of annoucements usually scares me. But in this case, this definition is actually relevant. For obvious reasons, Dažd's sound is difficult to pinpoint. It is an organic, thick, substance made of old-school black metal, sludge, doom metal, old crust and metal punk. But despite the extreme metal influences, the music is not as much brutal as it is always heavy. Rather than goat sacrifices and face paints, the music is more like a potion, one that you would be made to drink during a pagan ceremony so that you fall into a trance. If you had a dinner party with an occult metal theme and your guests were filthy crusties, well, that Dažd Lp would be the main course. The music has a ritual, incantation feel to it and range from fast pummeling parts owing as much to Anti-Cimex as to Bathory, to crusty mid-tempo beats reminiscent of Deviated Instinct and Skaven, to slow and heavy sludgy, doomy moments, to dark feral rhythms lifted from Amebixes' Spiderleg era. The vocals may take some time adjusting to if you are not familiar with the band. They have been compared to GISM's which makes some sense since the singer sounds like he is on the verge of insanity, but I would argue that this is a different kind of insanity, one that has to do with the occult, with wilderness, if not with wizardry (close to Skaven's singer doing doom metal maybe?). If the music is quite dark, it is certainly not cold. There is a magical bonfire at the centre of this Lp warming the hearts and the studded jackets of the audience.

The aesthetics of the album are a perfect complement to the music, the visual side of the Dažd experience. The artwork was done by one dude called Jason Barnett and it is just stunning: creepy, slightly disturbing drawings that give a sense of the occult and of magics without falling in the cheesy gore trap (and thanks fuck for that). The lyrics in Serbian use esoteric references and deal with the end of the world, suffering, war, pain, human misery and cute kittens. And for those like me who are wary of pagan metal bands because of possible connections with right-wing politics, you are in safe waters with Dažd as they support anarcho-paganism (I am not too sure what it entails but if it involves listening to Scatha and Iowaska, you can count me in, but only if I can keep my clothes on) and take a stand against fascists. As it says on the inner sleeve "Anarchy/Peace/Chaos/Magic".       

This Lp was released in 2009 (but recorded in 2007) and followed two split Ep's released in 2008, one with fellow Serbians Nakot (on the great Doomed to Extinction Records that later released records by Instinct of Survival and Contagium) and one with Order of the Vulture, a band not so dissimilar to Dažd, although they are more generic. Three labels were responsible for this beauty: Fuck Yoga records from Macedonia, pretty much a grindcore label though it also released some Depressor as well as old-school Colombian hardcore bands like Ataque de Sonido and Herpes; Gasmask Records from Czech Republic that was also involved with the records of the amazing Fatum from Russia; and Kill the Man Who Questions. I am not exactly an expert in the Balkan punk scene, but as far as I can tell, I would situate Dažd in the same wave as bands like Nakot (whose singer was the person behind Doomsday Graphics), Dishumanity, Anaeroba from nearby Slovenia or even Nulla Osta (even though they have been playing since 2002) that were around in the late 00's and succeeded to the mid/late 90's ex-Yugoslavian anarcho crusty wave that gave birth to bands like the brilliant Intoxicate, Brigade OD, Demant, Radikalna Promjena, Krvavi Mandat, Debeli Samuraj or Verbalni Delikt among others.    

The Dažd Lp can still be found pretty easily (because of the infamous "had they been from Portland" paradigm) so I strongly recommend that you pick this unique 00's crusty metal punk album. I have always been more than a little dubious about so-called "blackened crust" because if often sounds like D-beat driven black metal and not like real crust and it's usually just not enough to catch my attention. However this lot are different and managed to create a largely unsung classic album without meaning to. And sometimes, this is the key.


Friday 13 March 2015

The Smartpils "No good no evil" Lp, 1987

Those of you who actually read the mad man's ravings that can be found on this world-renowned blog must have noticed that I love good, authentic crust music. I am therefore very much into Instinct of Survival and needless to say that I was, at first, quite surprised with their change of direction illustrated by their last Lp. From what I could gather, the IOS crowd has had miexed feelings about that record. I know a few people who dislike that Lp pretty much because it doesn't stick to the "stenchcore agenda" (whatever this might mean... and if it has to involve nicking Bolt Thrower riffs every other song, thanks fuck that it does not!) and that it doesn't sound "crust enough". To these people, who must be nearing utter deafness, I should only indicate that all long-running crust bands, in order to survive as bands, did change their sound at some point (a quick look at the discographies of Misery, Panikos or SDS attest to that).

There are also those who claim that IOS are surfing on the postpunk trend and that the incorporation of music elements that could be considered as "postpunk" in the new Lp is merely a means to be fashionable (usually, claims that the band is selling out are never too far behind). Even assuming that the IOS blokes give a damn about fashion (and I am pretty sure that they don't), their change in musical direction is not inconsistent with the history of crust music and the connections that bands from that wave formed. After all, their new sound is not quite unlike a heavier Zygote's. Or, indeed, a metal Smartpils' (now you didn't see such a glorious transition coming, did you?).

The Amebix revival from a few years back did not, for some reason, cause a renewed interest in Zygote which could have, in turn, brought The Smartpils to the unsuspecting public's attention (that's a lot of "if's", I know). The Smartpils were contemporaries of and close to Amebix (in fact the Pils' bass player, George, played the synth on "Arise!") and two of their members ended up later in Zygote (often seen as the sole "post-Amebix band") with Stig. Both bands even lived in the same city at some point, in the "quieter-than-nearby-Bristol" city of Bath. There was another thing that Amebix and Smartpils had in common, one that can be seen especially in Amebixes' early recordings: their love for Killing Joke. In fact, you could argue that The Smartpils were the sonic bastard child of Killing Joke and The Lost Cherrees conceived during an acid-fueled night at some Stonehenge Festival while a Siouxsie cover band was playing. You have these almost industrial, pounding tribal rhythms, a bass work that would not have been out of place in "No Sanctuary", haunting female vocals and a gloomy but distinct psychedelic vibe. Post-industrial anarcho psychedelic punk-rock. Or something.

1987's "No good, no evil" Lp is The Smartpils' only proper record, released on Bluurg Records, though they also contributed two songs to "Open mind surgery", a compilation Lp also released on Bluurg in 1985 that also included Civilised Society? and The Instigators. Prior to their Lp, the band had recorded two great demos for Bluurg Tapes: "Excerpts from the toxic state" in 1985 and "Zen punk" in 1987. As good as these two recordings are, I feel that "No good, no evil" sees the band at the top of its game. The six songs are solid, catchy and memorable and the clear sound production works perfectly, especially on the first side as it was recorded over two sessions. For the record, only the second side has the two female vocalists, Nikki and Claire (who would join The Hippy Slags later on) although the sound is not quite as heavy as on the first side (again, two different sessions). It is not a record that you can grasp in its entirety on the first listen as the different layers of vocals and the rather subtle guitar leads require several listens and a rather careful listener (but don't worry though, you can definitely play that record at a party too, it still works just fine). "No good, no evil" is a unique record that will please fans of Mortarhate/Bluurg old-school anarchopunk, of Siouxise-tinged goth-punk and Killing Joke-styled heavy rock.  

Like most Bluurg-related bands, The Smartpils have not yet enjoyed the discography treatment. In fact looking at all the productions of Bluurg Tapes, one can see an amazing number of great demos that deserve to be unearthed: Freak Electric, Phantoms of the Underground, End Result, The Pagans, Insurrection... I can definitely picture a neat cd with the Pils' demos and the Lp. Aesthetically, The Smartpils were quite striking. Dark, pagan-inspired artwork with a lot of symbolism celebrating freedom, not as macabre as Amebix but along the same lines I suppose. The lyrics are quite cryptic I suppose but also poetic: Gothic tales and imagery, evocations of ideas and emotions, mythic creatures, metaphysical stuff about the duality of human nature (as expressed on the backcover "Showing his gorgeous disguise") with some songs reading like (drug-induced?) journeys.

Throughout their hectic life, The Smartpils shared the stage with a lot of good bands: Subhumans, Flux, Disorder, Rubella Ballet, Decadence Within and of course Amebix, with whom they seemed to have played quite a few times. After the demise of the band, George and Tim formed Zygote, Richard joined Hawkwind in psychedelic unity and Claire the Hippy Slags.

So now, who wants to run around in the nude a bonfire on a winter full moon? And more importantly, who's still unconvinced about the new Instinct of Survival Lp???