Sunday 22 November 2015

Amen "Don't imitate / Show your hate" Ep, 1993

As planned, let's take a healthy dose of early 90's, dual vocals crustcore from Finland. Because that is what punks should do on a sunday to frighten neighbours and appall lovers of mainstream music. It is childish, futile and thoroughly enjoyable. Do it.

When one thinks of Finnish punk, crust is not the genre that usually springs to mind. In fact, even if you think hard about it, you'd probably be struggling to name 10 proper crust bands from Finland. And it is quite odd, since Finnish hardcore and bands like Kaaos, Rattus, Tervet Kadet or Riistetyt have been definite influences on many crustcore bands worldwide. So one would presume that Finns cannot possibly dislike crust, and I don't think they do, they'd just rather play fast hardcore, sometimes with a light crusty twist, but hardcore nevertheless. There were a few exceptions in the late 80's/early 90's though: Painajainen (whom you can read about here and who were originally part of the 80's hardcore scene) whose blend of hardcore and metal, probably by accident more than design, was really close to early UK crust circa 1986, and you have Amen, who formed in 1989, in Helsinki, and made an ENT-styled racket on purpose.

When discussions about early ENT-influenced crust punk occur, at a cocktail party for instance, one usually hears mentions of bands like Disrupt, Hiatus, Destroy!, Battle of Disarm, Embittered, MVD and a few others, but despite a solid discography that should secure them a comfy spot in the crust canon, Amen are often left out. OK, they picked a shitty name, but then, that fact never stopped anyone from listening to Battle of Disarm, Fleas And Lice or even Anti-Cimex...

"Don't imitate / Show your hate" was recorded in 1993 and can be seen as the band's most powerful crust offering and one of the records that is the most representative of early 90's eurocrust. Like most bands at the time (Hiatus being a notable exception), Amen looked like they struggled a bit with singers since no less than five people ended up growling for them throughout their existence, but the guitar/bass/drums backbone remained the same however. The first Ep, 1989's "Gospelcore", is possibly the best mix of Kaaos and early-ENT I have ever heard, teenage sloppiness and snottiness included. 1991's "Feikki" Ep and "Paranemia" Lp were already heavier, thrashier endeavours that saw the band giving Hiatus a go for their money while keeping that Finnish hardcore edge. The split Lp with Rytmihäriö, recorded the next year, included songs that had a more of filthy metallic crust feel at times and it is arguably their less "Finnish" recording. 1993's "Don't imitate / Show your hate" Ep summarized the best of what Amen had been doing since 1989: fast crustcore with over-the-top vocals and a raw, powerful sound. The songs are effective and dynamic and crustier than your socks after a three-day festival in Czech Republic. I find the voice of Sebastian particularly original as he sounds like a rabid duck. Yes, a duck, I am not sure he meant to sound like a duck but that's what I hear anyway! And it's not bad at all, it gives a sense of insanity to the songs and provides extra punkiness. Following that great Ep, Amen recorded a split Ep and a full Lp, "Memento Mori", in 1996 that were a bit cleaner musically and less of an aural savagery (it's still all-out eurocrust though, I am just nitpicking).

In terms of content, Amen wrote rather simple socio-political lyrics from the heart. On "Don't imitate" you can find a song about the condition of Native Americans (remember that 1992 was the 500th anniversary of the "discovery of the Americas") and one about believers that I feel is aimed more at pseudo satanists than anyone else ("Fuck believers"). On an archeological level, Amen was also a breeding ground for other Finnish bands. Amen singers Basse and Edu would later sing for the well-respected Selfish and the sadly under-appreciated Wind of Pain respectively. Kaide (bass) and Mika (drums) would later form the great, Tervet Kadet-inspired, Viimeinen Kolonna that have running for almost 15 years, while Marko (guitar) got to sing for hardcore revivalists Uutuus.

Visually, "Don't imitate / Show your hate" is an interesting piece. Whereas the cover looks like a regular 90's crust one, the backcover has a picture of a punk with an Amebix-themed leather jacket that is just horribly pixelated... It was the early days of digital imaging and it showed! Oh well, that's 90's glamour I presume. The fact that they put Amen in place of Amebix at the top of the jacket made me smile though! Now that I think about it, a lot of Amen's artwork referred to Amebix, though they don't sound anything like them... Were they part of an Amebix sect or something? I bloody hope so.

Finally I included the Missing Link mailorder insert that was included with the Ep. It was a German distro and it gives a good idea of what DIY punk trends looked like in 1993. I found the Ep in a 2 euros box at a gig a few years ago. The bloke at the distro told that it was his copy (he had two of them) and that it had been sitting in that box for ages... We live in a strange world.

Saturday 21 November 2015

"Crust and Anguished Life" compilation cd, 1993

This compilation is quite possibly the crustiest compilation of the 90's and that's not even a bold statement (who said "for once"?). In fact I would argue that it is easily one of the best punk samplers of this decade as well, along with my personal favourite, the extraordinary "Whispers" double Lp and one Ep (!), and with the "Iron Columns" double Lp not being far behind. I'll grant you that "Crust and Anguished Life" lies proudly on the noisiest side of the punk spectrum so that, if you are not too keen on crust and grind, it could turn into a bit of a long listen (but then, I suppose the title would have already given you a hint).

This cd has everything it takes to be officially integrated into the punk canon. Not only does it have a great line-up, but it also very much stands for a specific time. Deeply rooted in the first half of the 90's, "Crust and Anguished Life" can be seen as a snapshot of a particular sound and songwriting style. It is the embodiment of a contextualized way of playing hard-hitting DIY crusty punk-rock. The fact that it is a cd, a format that many disregard today, also points to the early 90's context as cd's were still a novelty and quite uncommon at the time in the DIY punk scene (but maybe not so in Japan). Paradoxically, had it been released on vinyl (or even on tape), the compilation would probably be more sought-after today. The visual aesthetics of this compilation reek of the 90's crust spirit too, with the perfect blend of Crass-type collages and font, Discharge-inspired war images, and late 80's crusty, sloppy doom and gloom (and Doom and Gloom). This compilation was released in 1993 on Kyoto-based immortal punk label MCR Records (32 years running, no less), in collaboration with their English sublabel, MCR UK, which was based in the much less populated Bath (my faithful readers probably remember that they put tout the MSO/Corpus Vile split Lp).   

"Crust and Anguished" was produced and compiled by boss-label Yumike (who was also the singer of Fuck Geez) and Kenichi from the mighty SDS, which makes a lot of sense since they were, by far, the biggest Japanese crust band of the 90's. Now, while I said that this was the crustiest compilation of that decade, it doesn't mean that it is strictly a "crust only" work. Don't worry, there is far enough orthodox crust music on this geezer to satisfy any self-respecting crusty punk, but you will also find straight-up D-beat punk, fast as fuck hardcore or grindcore. But nothing too tuneful, have no fear. In addition to the barrage of noise that characterizes all the bands, I feel they also all share a kind of unpretentiousness, as if what mattered the most was playing DIY heavy, fast and aggressive punk music with a conscience. It is not about good production, or about aping the "good" bands, or having the perfectly distorted guitar sound just like "insert an obscure 80's band's name" on their first flexi. And what I really, really enjoy with this compilation is the fact that all the bands provided some artwork and lyrics for it, one page each, which creates a sweet-looking booklet that significantly exemplifies 90's crust aesthetics. But let's get to it, shall we?

The opening band on "Crust and Anguished Life" is Disrupt with the song "Give it back". Now, it is a fantastic way to start but it is also really difficult to top it. As we have already seen when I talked about the Disrupt/Destroy! split, the band knew two eras that I differentiated with the change of drummer in mid-1991. This song belongs to the second Disrupt era that saw them build on Extreme Noise Terror's "Phonophobia" and define the groove of 90's crustcore. The recording is a bit sloppier than on the "Unrest"Lp but actually it is for the best in my opinion. The vocals are completely over the top and really aggressive, the music is direct and crunchy, the way dual-vocal crustcore is meant to sound. Top-drawer Disrupt number about private ownership and materialism.

Next are Sarcasm from Leicester, yet another band I have already ranted about here. Sarcasm can be seen as an early incarnation of the missing link between fuzzy, distorted noisepunk and UK crust, think ENT and Sore Throat meet Gai and Gauze or something. They are one of these bands that were absolutely brilliant but that many old-timers seem to have forgotten (depending on your tolerance for noisy punk, it could be on purpose) and that newer generations are not really interested in (despite the Wankys connection). The song on the cd, "Suppression", is one of my favourites as it is also the opening track of their first Ep, "Your funeral, my party" (which was actually a demo released as an Ep) from 1991. It is gruffy as fuck, super heavy with a slimy guitar sound and a driving dischargy beat. As always, there is that impression of insanity in Sarcasm's music, as if you were actually listening to the sounds coming from a possessed animals shelter. Cool dark and sloppy artwork to accompany the music and lyrics about the right to be angry.        

The third song is "Steadfast huge power" from Unwise, a Japanese band from Tokyo that were around in the 90's. I am not going to pretend I am the expert in Japanese punk, others do it far better than I, but Unwise apparently had a member of Extinct Government behind the drum kit. I am not so familiar with the rest of their discography but judging from this song, I probably should. Distorted, bass-driven crusty punk that is unmistakably Japanese with the influence of the 80's noisepunk heros, somewhere between mid-80's Chaos UK and Battle of Disarm perhaps.

Next are Amen from Finland, a band that went for a moniker that is both brilliant and a bit terrible, a statement that is often valid when one talks about crust band names. I won't dwell too much on Amen now since one of their records will be part of my crust odyssey and I wouldn't want to spoil the fun, would I? But here is a trailer. Hailing from Finland, Amen was your prototypical dual-vocal 90's crustcore band, and I mean that in the best possible way. While they are rarely mentioned in crust-related conversations, they perfectly embodied the eurocrust of the time and pioneered the genre in their home-country. A bit like Sweden, Finland has always produced tons of quality hardcore punk bands but relatively few proper crust ones, and vaguely crusty hard-hitting Finncore doesn't count. Unfortunately, their song on "Crust and Anguished" is not a good representation of their work as it is a very thin-sounding, demo-quality number that does not even come close to the crusty savagery they were capable of in 1993... A weird choice to pick that one but here you go... I do like the cheesy punk drawing though, it reminds of me of Sore Throat or Electro Hippies and that is always a good thing. The song, "Drink or not", is about the local straightedge movement and how some members of it liked to fight to prove their point.        

Next are Destroy! from Minneapolis whom I have already discussed two posts ago. Contrary the brutal crust they served on the split with Disrupt, their song here is decidedly death-metal sounding (Destroy! actually had a couple of blasting numbers in their repertoire), something they are almost apologizing for in a disclaimer (!) stating that if punks "can't hack a little variety (well can they really?) [they can] go listen to elevator music or glam rock". Now that is a bit odd to read in 2015 since so many bands have turned all out metal in the crust world in the past 15 years but apparently, it was still a bit frowned upon in 1993. Musically, this reminds me of early death-metal, a bit raw and punky, mixed with some Prophecy of Doom. And while I'm at it, crust and death-metal don't necessarily blend well together. In fact, I am of the opinion that they rarely do and very few bands can pull a decent result from that marriage, although both genres certainly share common roots and were born at the same time. There, I said it.

The following track is much less metal and is actually made up of two songs from the great CFDL from Japan, a band that everyone kind of knows but that actually love. Their moniker is a reference to Disorder and it stands for "Crazy fucked-up daily life" so it already gives you an idea of where they stand in the punk spectrum. CFDL claim to play "hardcore trash punk" and they are so proud about it that two of their Lp's are here to remind you of it, 1996's "Thrash punk 91" and the bizarrely named "Trashpunker thrash" that was released in 2009 but recorded in 1994. The band has a solid discography and seemed to love doing splits and tapes, which points to an old-school spirit that is thoroughly honourable. My personal favourite is their fantastic "Atrocity exhibition" 12'' from 1990, a recording that features the best production I have heard in terms of Japanese-flavoured noisy punk. They don't hide behind a wall of sound or a distortion orgy or an feedback overdose or any of the cheap tricks that the genre often fall for. To me, it is just perfect, low-fi but thick and groovy with a kind of organic quality. It is the ultimate blend of Disorder, Extreme Noise Terror, Warfear and Gauze. It is an absolute classic that probably doesn't get the recognition it deserves, especially when you compare it with the insane ravings other Japanese recordings sometimes get... Oh well. The two songs CFDL contributed to "Crust and Anguished" are certainly not as well recorded and are really punky (as was the band really). One Siege cover and a super short and fast two-lines number called "Use your brain". Fun-loving, simple, distorted, fast Japanese hardcore punk with crazy vocals. Top notch.          

The next song is from the rather well-known Rytmihäriö from Helsinki. Although they have been pretty much a straight metal band (judging from their website anyway) since they reformed in 1998, their musical agenda was to play "surmacore" which is a mix of, and I am quoting here, "death/thrash/crossover/grindcore and hardcore punk". Not exactly something you would play to a distant cousin's wedding. I am not familiar at all with what the band does nowadays but their early recordings are actually really good. Very raw, super aggressive and fast metallic hardcore punk, somewhere between Possessed, Kaaos, Heresy and Lobotomia. The band used a lot of distortion in their early days, had a really rough sound with high-pitched, raspy, mean-sounding vocals , but remained very energetic and intense, in a classic Finnish hardcore sense. It was clearly "Finnish metallic hardcore". For some reason the song on the compilation is not representative of their previous records, in fact the usual singer doesn't even do the vocals on "Right-wing youth" (this or he sings very differently on this one...). Rather than the usual Rytmihäiriö sound, we have a pretty typical Swedish hardcore number verging on D-beat, not bad, but I yearned for the "in your face" approach of the band. 

I have already written about SDS and their majestic split Lp with Misery a few years ago but, just in case you are not a devout follower of Terminal Sound Nuisance, here are a few things to know about this storm of a band. They were from the Gifu area and must have formed around 1987 since you can find two rough SDS songs on a 1988 tape comp with an unfortunate title... Anyway, they were thus part of the original crust wave and were its best possible Japanese incarnation. Some might think they went a little far with the Antisect-worship but I, for one, have no problem with that if it is done tastefully (more about this here). The song "Butcher" is typical early 90's SDS, metallic crust with that distinctive Japanese sound (and way of singing) and solid technical skills. Apart from the classic mid-tempo groovy stench opening, "Butcher" is a fast and intense song not unlike Anti-System, albeit given the SDS treatment. As usual at the time, the band couldn't help knocking an Antisect love declaration in their artwork through the use of three skulls that are not dissimilar (read "almost exactly the same") to those found on the original drawing done for "Out from the void". Punk is not hippies, but SDS certainly is crust. 

Hiatus then come into the game with yet another perfectly-executed early crustcore scorcher with gruff vocals, great riffing and a couple of terrific transitions which will make everyone realize that Hiatus were actually better songwriters than most. This song was recorded during the same session as the split Ep with Embittered in late 1991.

Deformed Conscience belong to that category of bands that one is usually familiar with but doesn't really know or care for that much. When I got into crust, they were just another US band from the 90's and at the time they didn't strike as anything special. Even when I bought the split with Excrement of War, I didn't listen to the Deformed Conscience side that often to be honest, not that I feel it is bad - it is not - but the band was a bit like an old schoolfriend that I appreciate but not enough to give him a call on a saturday night. I have only really got into the band in the past two years and I must that I have been foolish not to give Deformed Conscience a proper chance before. Coming from Connecticut, DC existed during the whole first half of the 90's and were possibly the most hardcore-influenced band of the early US crust scene, and in that sense they could be seen as precursors of sort of what was to come locally. They played intense, heavy and brutal fast crusty hardcore that could appeal to ENT lovers, as much as people into Dropdead, Raw Power or Heresy. Aggressive forceful vocals that sound like someone having a seizure while arguing with you and feel almost too "new-school hardcore" at times (but that could be me). By 1993, Deformed Conscience were at the top of their game and the song on the comp, an anti-drug rant called "End the pain", clearly shows it. After they split, members of Deformed Conscience went on to play in bands like State of Fear, React, Dissension, Inhaste or Shitlist, so you know the lads believed in their sound and ideas.          

Next on "Crust and Anguished Life", coming from Japan, is... Disclose! It feels a little ridiculous introducing them because most people seriously into punk-rock would have at least heard of them (hopefully...). I have never been a Disclose maniacs and while I can listen to an Ep, the full Lp experience has often proved too much to bear. I don't dislike them though and I found their obsession with Discharge both gloriously admirable and frighteningly pointless. It is totally accurate to see Disclose as the epitome of D-Beat, a purposefully restrictive style that aims at emulating the early Discharge formula (and it was indeed formulaic). But it never was only about the specific drum beat (and those who think that Discharge were only remarkable because of the drum beat have to learn to listen to, rather than merely hear, music), there is also the peculiar riffing, the shouted vocals that don't follow the rhythm of the songs, the groovy bass lines, the breaks, the solos, the very sharp endings and openings, the artwork, the topics of course... There is a whole Discharge world to imitate and absorb and just playing "bupp-u-dupp- u - du" on the drums won't cut it. It is unclear who started the D-Beat trend. There have always been Discharge-influenced but they generally didn't sound exactly like them or at least, it wasn't their primary intent (I have a doubt about Subversion from Belgium though...). Even Discard, who were the first, to my knowledge, to stick very, very close to Discharge on so many levels, played faster. Disaster might be the first but I personally don't feel it would be all that relevant to award them that trophy because they were a such short-lived band, and even though they are the greatest Discharge impersonators I have ever heard, I think it should go to a band that, in a meaningful attempt to merge the content with the form, not only tried hard and successfully to sound like Discharge but also lasted a good few years doing so. Disclose would then definitely fit the bill although I am not sure when the band exactly formed (their first demo was from 1992). Anyway... This was Disclose at the beginning of their very prolific D-Beat career with the song "Nightmare". It is a rough, distorted listen but that was the band's own take on Discharge: make it rawer and fuzzier. 

Next are the awesome Misery, real crust-heroes if there ever were any whom I have already written about in ecstatic terms when dealing with the SDS/Misery post. I fucking love Misery and I hope I will be able to see them one day. They are the world's longest-running crust band and have delivered high quality proper old-school crust since 1987. Granted, the mid 00's were a bit hard on them and the splits with Toxic Narcotic (2004) and Path of Destruction (2007) were not as inspired as earlier works (but then when you have been around for that long, you are bound to run out of steam at some point). But since then, they have released two magnificent Lp's that demonstrated that they truly were back. I always get a little emotional with this band... Sorry for that. Their song on the compilation is a Sacrilege cover, "Life line", the opening song from 1985's "Behind the realms of madness". I am a sucker for that Sacrilege album but even I know (and I am hardly a talented or knowledgeable musician...) that it is a hell of a task to cover, if only for that slimy, groovy, powerful guitar sound. So did Misery pull it? Of course they did, but not by trying to sound like Sacrilege but by turning "Life line", in terms of sound and texture, into a Misery song. So while you can't miss that it is the Sacrilege song, you also can't fail to realize that it is being bulldozed by Misery. A great cover of a great song that was recorded in late 1991.       

Next are Hell Spawn, a band that shared more than a few things with Misery. Both bands were from Minneapolis and if you are under the impression that Hell Spawn's guitar sound reminds you of something, have no fear, you are going insane, it was actually Jon Misery who played the six-strings for them with Gary switching from Misery's drum stool to bass. The singer was none other than the gracefully-named Pignose who later fronted the deliciously obnoxious Assrash and you had Huck on bass who would join Distraught. Hell Spawn was a relatively short-lived band who released a good split Ep with Misery (who else?) in 1992 and with Sasquatch the following year. Musically, it is quite punkier than Misery though, fast, crusty and snotty hardcore-punk punk reminiscent of Jesus Chrust. Very enjoyable indeed and I wish they had recorded more. Both Misery and Hell Spawn's songs were recorded in the same studio on the same day.

If you didn't quite get my confused D-Beat rant about Disclose, feel free to read it again now, because here is another D-Beat pioneer on "Crust and Anguished", the bizarrely-named Dischange (well, for a band precisely doesn't want to change a punk formula, I guess it is pretty ironic). Like another D-Beat originator, Disfear, Dischange came from Sweden and featured two members of No Security (I am guessing they formed the former after the latter split up). While No Security can be described as a rather traditional take on vintage Swedish hardcore full of Totalitär riffing and nods to Disarm, Dischange were an early full-on dischargy band. They later changed their name to Meanwhile (yet another Discharge reference) and went on recording D-Beat records until 2008. Their present song "Visions of horror" is about... war!    

Next is a band whose name I haven't ever pronounced properly as I can't help saying "State of Fear" instead of "Taste of Fear". My life is such a bore, I know... I am not that familiar with Taste of Fear and if they hadn't had a split Ep with Disrupt, I would probably be even less so. They were from New York and were notorious for having blokes who played in Citizens Arrest and Born Against in it. Be warned that TOF doesn't sound at like these aforementioned cult hardcore bands as we are in deep death-metal infused crusty grindcore territory here. I know it can sound a little scary but it is actually pretty good shit indeed (let's take Destroy!'s advice from earlier on) and it reminds a little of what Genital Deformities used to do at the time, heavy and groovy grinding metal with gruff vocals and blast beats. They don't fall in the "let's get super technical" trap which is definitely a plus as well. 

We are back to Japan for the following track with the mighty Gloom from Osaka. A top name for a top band that was possibly the best noisepunk combo of the 90's and provided a brilliant fusion of Japan's noise-loving heritage and savage crust. They formed in 1989 and released a couple of influential tapes and Ep's throughout the decade, most notably the "Speed noise hardcore rags" Ep in 1994 the "Noise for moblish" tape and "Recomendation of Perdition" Ep in 1997. I would argue that they played an important role in keeping that punk subgenre alive and must have been very influential on bands like Atrocious Madness or Lebenden Toten (both musically and visually), although they never seemed to be that famous among the noisepunk trendies of the 2010's. Go figure... Gloom played distorted crusty noisepunk (or noisy crust punk depending on the time of the month) and were a good synthesis of Confuse, Chaos UK and Extreme Noise Terror. The bass sound is massive and super distorted, the beat is fast, you've got your traditional drum rolls as well, the guitar sound is crunchy but not overblown with distortion (yet, that will come a bit later in time). The band released their records on MCR Company and on a young local label called Crust War that would become a reference for crusty and noisy Japanese punk-rock and whose owner Jacky will end up playing in Gloom as well. After the band's split, Habi, Taki and Jhonio carried on in Defector while Jacky formed the amazingly intense Framtid.          

Next is one song from Dropdead, who don't really need an introduction I suppose. Dropdead belongs to that rare breed of bands that everyone seem to at least like. I have never met someone who hates Dropdead's music. Their hardcore base is strong enough to please the old-school US hardcore fans, they are fast enough for the grindcore freaks, groovy enough to appeal to crusties, political enough to interest the anarchos and you can tell that they have been influenced by so much international hardcore that everyone finds him or herself at home with Dropdead, and that is not so common. The song "The circle complete" (about changing one's self) was recorded in late 1992 so it is still pretty much early Dropdead on "Crust and Anguished Life", they became tighter and more ferocious afterwards (though I almost regret the sloppiness of their childhood, but that's me, I'm a romantic). And if you have never heard Dropdead, just imagine a sped-up Royal Rumble including Siege, Raw Power, Totalitär and Ripcord.    

The last song on the compilation is by Concrete Sox, a band that has become a regular customer at Terminal Sound Nuisance. I feel it makes a lot of sense to end this fantastic record with a band that belonged to the first generation of UK crust. Granted, CS can be seen as more of an hybrid of thrash-metal and hardcore punk, especially in their first years, but then, they were still snotty, groovy and punky enough (in the particular British sense of the word) to meet crust specifications in terms of attitude and music. This is the early 90's line-up of the Sox with a returning Sean on vocals and a new guitarist, Mark, who would later play in Poundaflesh. Their song "Speak Japanese or die!" is a re-recording of an old song, "Speak Siberian or die!" which appeared on their 1987 split Lp with Heresy. This song was a piss-take out of Billy Milano who apparently couldn't stand hardcore bands that didn't sing in English (how greatly this sad man has missed throughout the past 35 years... what a shame). It is also a reference to the Japanese tour that Concrete Sox had undertaken one year prior to the release of the compilation and, it is not even their first appearance on an MCR record since the label had released their split with Nightmare. Musically,  it is solid Sox through and through with a heavy and crunchy sound, great riffing, snotty and yet guttural vocals and a hardcore energy, just the way I love my metal-punk. 

To wrap it up, I must say that the message behind "Crust and Anguished" remains shrouded in mystery to me... Why "Are you really hungry!?"... Did they mean "angry"? It might make sense since the slogan of the comp seems to be "Anger no more". Or is it a pro-vegetarian statement? Sounds like a reasonable explanation. But then, why a zombie-looking bloke with his head seemingly cut-off? Or is it about consumerism? The fact that we always want more, buy more, eat more? This last interpretation could be the right one as the next page states "Every mankind have a lot of worldely desiers. Can you cut off your fukkin worldly desiers?" I know, I know, no need to take the piss, it is broken English but the meaning is not lost (we are only at level 5 on the Shikabane scale of "lost-in-translationness"). However, the last sentence is slightly... confusing! It goes "Punk is spilitual musik!!" Well... I doubt the experience of a full album of distortion, gruff vocals and pummeling beats would feel too spiritual to most people! Does it mean that punk is something more than buying, downloading, collecting and looking the look? I believe it does and I can't agree more. It sounds like a cheesy message but is it really, in 2015?


Wednesday 4 November 2015

Embittered / Hiatus "From the outside looking in / Blind justice for all" split Ep, 1992

People often claim that crust is a genre you tend to get bored with rather quickly. "It's always the same" as the saying goes. It is undeniable that crust is a music style proverbially described as monolithic and bands are seen as being similarly generic. To be honest, I'd rather listen to a solid crust band that never pretended to have reinvented the wheel, than a band screaming their supposed originality to the world. Innovation for the sake of it usually bores me, it comes naturally or not at all. This said, the statement that crust is boring and redundant is actually untrue and unfair, and the two bands that appeared on today's split Ep are proofs to that.

Let's start with Embittered. First, what an absolutely terrific name for a band. Really. Not only does it sound great, but it encapsulates the shift from the relative optimism of the first waves of anarchopunk to the darker, more pessimistic mood conveyed in late 80's crust punk. Superb metatextual stuff here... But anyway, Embittered formed in late 1989 in Middlesbrough, in the English Northeast. Now, I have never been there but I remember a joke about this particular place. In the early 00's, there was a Cameroonian football player, called Joseph Désiré Job, who played for the Middlesbrough FC. Apparently, the running joke back then was that he was "the only job in Boro". Now, it is a pretty grim joke, but if it is even remotely true, it sounds like a fertile ground for punk-rock indeed.

Like too many bands, Embittered suffered badly from the Oi Polloi curse so a not inconsiderable number of people played in the band. But originally, it was the brainchild of Bri (who played in a band called Catharsis!) and Ash (from One 2 One). A first demo that, according to Ian Glasper's appealing description, had "the finesse of a charging rhinoceros," was recorded in late 1990. But it was with the arrival of Anth as second vocalist - Bri being the first - that Embittered really found their style and, paradoxically so early in their career, recorded their best work in the shape of their "And you ask why? when you've got only yourself to blame" demo from July 1991. This recording incorporated all the elements that made up the essence of British hardcore and crust in the late 80's, blending them seamlessly into something impressive and both familiar and original. It had slow metal parts, fast as fuck grinding moments, typical crustcore with dual vocals, some vintage hardcore, some distinctively anarcho references... It makes one think of early Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, Electro Hippies, Disrupt, Anti-System, Disorder, Deviated Instinct but at the same time, it never feels like a copy of these bands, but more like a regurgitation of several meals. Granted, the sound is a bit thin and cheap, but it is nonetheless, without a doubt, one of the great recordings of British crust. Apparently, the band had coined their own style "anarcho grind" and I can't really think of a more appropriate description: anarchopunk meets old-school grindcore.

Following yet another line-up change, the band recorded two new songs just five months after "And you ask why?" that appeared on this split Ep with the almighty Hiatus. In the grand tradition of punk bands who have been plagued by production issues in the studio, as good as these songs are, I can't help but think that they would have sounded so much better with a beefier production. While they don't totally reflect the songwriting diversity of the aforementioned demo, they are still solid fast crust numbers with a vicious dual vocal attack in the consecrated "low growl replies to high shout" tradition. The two songs have enough tempo breaks to keep things interesting and fresh (well, fetid really) and are good examples of early 90's crust punk, a bit like a low-fi Decrepit.

The lyrics were definitely one of Embittered's strong points as well. Far from ranting about the "horrifying atrocity of endless bloody wars on innocent children", the band's message was quite articulate. The first song, "In case of opposition", is about the capitalistic exploitation of women's bodies through advertising and the mass media that reinforce sexist prejudices and gender assignations. "This utopian dream" is a positive (!) song about believing in the possibility of a better world and having a clear vision of it. In order to give more weight to the political aspirations reflected in their lyrics (and to their stage performance), Embittered added visual elements when they played live. While political placards and backdrops can be seen as a continuation of the early anarchopunk bands' care for the visual aspects of a gig, fire-breathing must have been something new back then (unless Poison Idea were already doing it?). Stories of setting clothes on fire or setting off fire alarms are bound to remind one that, while the idea can be good, doing it drunk in a small pub packed with punks can be a little dangerous. Chumbawamba meets Spinal Tap or something?

Following the split with Hiatus (which took no less than 18 months to be released!), Embittered recorded a split Lp with the brilliant Dystopia (which also took some time to be out...), that should have been Embittered's crowning glory but ended up being a collection of demo-quality songs that paled in comparison with the band's previous recordings... A real shame, since some of the actual songs are good... The band also toured Europe in 1993 with Hiatus, Svart Snö and Ανθρώπινος Λήθαργος (Human Lethargy) from Greece, a super gruffy metallic crust combo with members of Industrial Suicide. Afterwards, because of too many line-up changes, Embittered was put on the back burner and Bri and Ash formed Manfat, an industrial/hardcore outfit that released several Ep's and tapes.

Embittered came to life again in 1995 with Ash as the sole original members left, aided in his task by Michael from the infamous Voorhees and two members of local death-metal heroes, Malediction. This time, Embittered had three (!) different singers and probably their best drummer, although the band had little to do with what it once was. This last line-up recorded the really good "Choked" Ep in 1996 for Ecocentric Records, a collection of seven songs, as fast and crusty as usual and with great anarcho lyrics, with a decent production for once. In terms of sound and texture, this last Ep really showed Embittered as a "proper" mid-90's UK punk band, not so far from Policebastard or Genital Deformities, albeit still on a healthy Extreme Noise Terror diet. After the demise of Embittered, Bri ended up in John Holmes and Ash played in Sawn Off, Boxed In and War All the Time.

Almost 20 years after their split, there is still no Embittered discography, a crying shame that will hopefully be sorted once the 90's become the new trend everyone has to follow (according to my calculations, it should start in 2 or 3 years).

On the other side of the split, three glorious Hiatus songs await. I already dealt with this fantastic band about a year ago when I posted the live split Ep with Fleas And Lice (here) so you should know what to expect. The three crust anthems included here were recorded in late 1991 and perfectly illustrate what the band sounded like between 1991 and 1993, up until their first Lp. 

Gone was the lovable sloppiness of the first Ep, from the "Way of doom" Ep on, Hiatus became an incredible powerhouse, taking the energy of Extreme Noise Terror to the first Doom Lp's. The sound is so crunchy and groovy that it is almost humanly impossible not to headbang to those songs. In fact, the only people I know who could actually resist the awesome power of Hiatus are Dream Theater fans, but they don't really count as music lovers anyway.

The vocals are gruffy and from beyond the grave but do not sound too forceful. They are more akin to a zombified mama bear than a constipated brutal death-metal singer if you know what I mean. The music is pretty simple but extremely effective and punchy. Just listen to the beginning of "Believer consciousness" and filthy dreads will start growing from your skull.  

And Hiatus were far from being a one-trick pony either, if their early years epitomized European crustcore in all its sheer savage beefiness, later works like 1995's "El sueño" or 1996's "The brain" showed that they could write effective songs using more intricate guitar works and rhythms. Without mentioning that they considerably improved in their lyrics skills throughout the years (to be fair, Hiatus' early productions are a bit on the "War is bad" side of things).

I would argue that Hiatus was one of the most influential crust band in the 90's in Europe. They toured a lot, recorded a lot and were amazing live. Although they have certainly become rarer with time, quite a few bands did Hiatus covers, like Demant, Starvation and SMC from Croatia alone (was there some kind of Hiatus cult over there at the time?), Disgusting Lies from Poland or Totalickers from Spain. 

This wonderful split Ep, so typical of all that was good about 90's crust was released on Louisville-base label, Desperate Attempt, that also put out records from Concrete Sox, Deviated Instinct, Disorder or Disrupt.