Tuesday 26 April 2016

The Chronicles of Dis (part 8): Disclose "The sound of disaster" Ep, 2003

At first, I didn't really want to post a Disclose record as I originally intended to write about a lesser-known band making to love Discharge to wrap it up (that will be for next time). But then I thought that to celebrate Discharge-love without talking about Disclose would be a little irrelevant, if not unfair, and, after a few friends pointed it out to me, I almost felt bad. I mean, love'em or hate'em, but Disclose remain THE iconic D-Beat band. I had to do it somehow. So here it is: "The sound of disaster" Ep from 2003.

I have always had a weird relationship with Disclose and, to this day, I am not completely sure if I enjoy the music that much to be honest. For a long time, Disclose were that band on the other side of the split Ep that I bought and that I rarely listened to, if ever. Browsing through my collection, I realized that I had more Disclose records than I originally thought, mostly splits (with Hellkrusher, Homomilitia, Cruelty, Squandered...) and compilation tracks (Crust and Anguished, Meaningful Consolidation, Iron Columns, Chaos of Destruction...). It made me think that Disclose were a bit like that friendly acquaintance that you don't really know that well but that you always bump into at punk gigs. Not really a mate, more like a face that you have known for a long time, got drunk with a couple of times and wishing you would hang out more. And now it looks like the time has finally come.

The first time I heard Disclose (and I think it was this Ep), I thought, not unlike Gordon Ramsay tasting a ghastly-looking, sloppy dish, "Bloody hell, what a mess...". I really didn't get it at all, wasn't even sure of what was actually happening; only Atrocious Madness confused me (pun intended) as much at the time. I was already into bands like Disfear or Meanwhile and I just couldn't figure out why Disclose would go for that fuzzy, murky sound when the Swedes sounded much more powerful and direct at first. Besides, they looked too gimmicky, on the brink of goofiness at times. Basically, I did not get into them at all and never really bothered to actually LISTEN to them (instead of merely HEARING) for a long time (yes, you may boo me). I almost discarded Disclose (pun intended). While I always respected the band and acknowledged their tremendous, but peculiar influence, on punk music, they did not speak to me. I have actually often enjoyed reading Kawakami interviews and writings as he had this deep, unrestrained, articulate, endless passion for Discharge-influenced bands (his mentioning that Death Sentence and Diatribe's guitar sounds had been influential on his playing made me ponder for hours), and yet his music usually underwhelmed me. But the past few weeks have been eye-opening and after spending hours studying Disbands, their songwriting, their sound, looking at their interpretative intent, suddenly it struck me. While listening very closely to "The sound of disaster" (a sound advice given by Zeno), I had an epiphanic moment and realized that I had completely misunderstood Disclose (and I immediately felt like a fool): they were not really about noise, they were about true love.

Contrary to Disaster, Disclose never sounded "just like" Discharge, and I would argue Kawakami never truly aimed at sounding "just like" them, rather he focused on writing and creating art that had Discharge as an ultimate referent pregnant with meaning. I cannot claim to be a Disclose expert, I am not, and although I have spent the past couple of days listening to their entire body of works, I am aware that I have not grasped it all yet, not by a long shot. What I did understand however, is that Discharge were far more than a band or a sound to Kawakami, they were an all-encompassing worldview. His absolute faith in a Discharge-shaped cosmogony became awe-inspiring and I started to admire and relate to the loyalty, the unshakable passion, the unbound love in the face of everything else, quixotic perhaps but also profoundly romantic. And again, I felt like a fool for not seeing it before. If anything, Disclose proved that true love is not static, it was never a silly, barren or stale obsession, it was fluid, creative and generous. Through the impressive (although not so easily accessible) work on the guitar sound and texture that would come to define what we mean today with "raw punk", through the syncretic composition of dischargy riffs, through the clever and witty use of the whole range of D-Beat paces, through the celebration of Dis-referentiality and obviously through the constant re-affirmation of the relevance and validity of Discharge aesthetics, Disclose created a complex but enthralling galaxy of signifiers and signifying where Discharge shone like the Sun.

I have included the obituary that Stuart Schrader wrote after Kawakami's passing in 2007 (it was published in MRR at the time). It is a moving, well-written account of Kawakami's legacy and beliefs that are enlightening.

But let's finally take a look at "The sound of disaster". It was originally released as a tape by Game of The Arseholes (essentially a brilliant fanzine written by Stuart Schrader who also released a couple of records) and Distort Label Records in 2003, but this Ep is the vinyl version that saw the light of day in late 2003 on No Fashion Records, a Brazilian label that was also responsible for more Disclose records as well as works from Subcut, Scum Noise or Agathocles. "The sound of disaster" embodied the Disbones period of Disclose, which basically corresponded to the years 2003/2006. It is quite amazing, given the very narrow artistic requirements of the D-Beat genre, how Disclose still managed to evolve and innovate. Be it their all-out "Why?" period (the "Once the war started..." Ep), their raw Swedish hardcore phase ("Tragedy" Lp) or their late Disbones obsession, the real tour de force is that they always brought something new, notably with their minute work on sound textures, and syncretized an array of Discharge-loving bands while always keeping Discharge as the original building clay. The term "Disbones" might be a little misleading at first (it certainly confused me at the time) as one could be led to think that Disclose were trying to blend Discharge and Broken Bones, which was only (very) partially true. "Bones" didn't refer to Broken Bones so much as it did, quite literally, to Bones. "The sound of disaster" included Bones' style of riffing while he was in Broken Bones (if you listen closely, you will spot some obvious loving rip-offs) and integrates them in the Disclose recipe with added fuzz and distortion. And it works very well as it gives the songs extra headbanging crunch and catchy hooks that allow for some solid singalongs. I really enjoy the dynamics on this Ep which has a triumphant vibe that I feel is perhaps missing from earlier records.

As you can expect, the record is a celebration of Dis-intertextuality with the cover being a blend of the Discharge and Broken Bones' skull logos and the war-themed lyrics displaying an assortment of references.    

As a last word, I am still not quite sure whether I love Disclose music or not. However, I now know that I love Disclose and what they stand for. I have always been a late bloomer...


Friday 22 April 2016

The Chronicles of Dis (part 7): Decontrol "In trenches" Lp, 2000

For the past 10 years, punk has become more and more self-referential and self-centered so that now, it is almost uncommon to see a new band that does not nod (the degree of its tastefulness being key to the quality of the gesture) to some band deemed as classic by our modern context. Of course, the fact that even the most obscure hardcore bands can now be found easily online allowed for the worldwide 80's punk-worship that seems to be the norm today. Only twelve years ago, an Italian hardcore-worshipping band or a Spanish raw punk tribute band would have been something of an oddity. Today, it has just become a relatively normal thing. And to be fair, I see this evolution as being part of a much larger cultural phenomenon that goes well beyond the comfortable confines of punk-rock.

This particular evolution is more problematic and ironically complex when applied to the so-called D-beat genre. As I mentioned in the previous post, I like to think that there have been several D-Beat waves, distinct but interconnected in their unashamed self-referentiality. But then, how can a subgenre that, from its inception, had excessive referentiality as an integral part of its DNA become more referential with time? Can you outdischarge Discharge? And should you? Or is this noble quixotic enterprise reserved to Disclose only? Arguably, the mid-90's D-Beat bands opened the gates for this kind of mimicking practice in certain sections of the punk scene (it probably was a shift that also happened in other parts of the hardcore scene that I am less familiar with) and most of its successors had to add something to the recipe (the genre was purposefully generic enough as it were) while keeping the same artistic framework, namely trying to replicate with love and care the formula of a band. This inevitably brings up a crucial question: do Discharge and the most orthodox 90's D-Beat bands have to be the sole guides for a D-Beat band? Of course, Kawakami had a lot more influence than just Discharge (he cites bands like Death Sentence or Diatribe as being inspirational) but the Disclose songwriting never strayed far from the Stoke-on-Trent's map.

In the late 90's and early 00's, a sensible shift started to emerge amongst the hordes of Dis. A project like Besthöven epitomized that change when Fofao applied the obsessiveness of 90's D-Beat to a larger set of Discharge-influenced influences (not my most elegant phrasing I'll give you that) that included Swedish bands like Shitlickers and Anti-Cimex or Italian bands like Wretched or Eu's Arse. Although not "D-Beat" in the original sense of "Discharge-only music", the attitude and high degree of referentiality definitely made Besthöven fall in the same creative patterns and I would think that Fofao was well ahead of his time 20 years ago and the material written between 1995 and 2004 was a game-changer. In Spain, Mobcharge also widened the mania to the Stockholm hardcore bands in the mid-90's and, a little later, Destruccion took everyone by storm with their adaptation of Discharge through the prism of old Discharge-fueled Spanish hardcore. In the US, Deathcharge (an often overlooked band that had a fantastic ear for Discharge love) wittily wrote a D-Beat Ep in 2001 without playing an actual D-Beat rhythm. Were these bands and records actually D-Beat? On the one hand, one could point out that the tag becomes inadequate as soon as Discharge is not the ultimate blueprint. On the other hand, well, it is just a tag and its meaningfulness only prevails if the band is willing to embrace it. I personally prefer to reason in terms of intent, form and aesthetics when deciding whether or not I find the D-Beat tag relevant to a given band. It is a matter of assumed referentiality, an exercise in style and a way to write music. Of course, Discharge have to remain the basis but I also find it interesting to hear bands trying to replicate and work on the sound of Dischare-inspired 80's bands, and in the 00's the two main other bands that were brought to the D-Beat operation table were Anti-Cimex and Shitlickers.

Decontrol (from Canada) was a band that existed in the late 90's and early 00's and as such, you could say that they arrived late to the 90's D-Beat party but were still too early for the 00's one, but as you know, I am usually a sucker for bands with a sloppy sense of timing. Another thing that I love about Decontrol is that they emerged from a rather unfashionable spot, right in the middle of Canada: Saskatoon. From what I have read, the town is quite isolated and the climate there is not exactly kind (-50°C in winter anyone?), which paradoxically makes it a brilliant place to write solid, tense, heart-felt punk-rock. Originally, Decontrol were definitely influenced, in terms of creative intent, by the 90's wave and the fact that they released a 12'' Ep on Distortion Records in 1998 is a proof enough (it was DISTLP45, 44 being the Wolfpack/Skitsystem split Ep and 46 the Amen retrospective cd). On the surface, the name "Decontrol" should indicate the rather rigid love for Discharge that pure D-Beat requires but this self-titled record was something else in content though it remained D-Beat in its conception: total Shitlickers-worship. A genuinely raw, urgent, fast, simple and very aggressive slice of shitlicking 12 songs in 15 minutes that interestingly pointed to a broadening of influences that would become the norm later on (and often renamed "raw punk", a term that sounds almost as bad as "scandicore"). The same year the band did a split Ep with Portland's Final Massakre (a very interesting early example of a PDX venture into punk referentiality which reminds me of Disfear with an Italian hardcore vibe) that was in the same rough veins. But the real goldmine would be released two years later, in 2000: the "In trenches" Lp.

"In trenches" is probably one of my favourite D-Beat Lp's. There is an incredible tension and a relentless intensity that are just not faked in these songs. The band didn't try hard to go for sound like Disclose (which is never easy to do well anyway) but rather concentrated on impact, urgency and intensity which was the right call. From the brute, crude in places, simple and effective songwriting, the thick, distorted, groovy bass sound (the variations in the bass-lines on this Lp should be set as an example for proper Dislove), the sharp, textured guitar sound that never feels heavy and yet is as urgent as air raid sirens, the desperate vocals that sound like Decontrol is playing for their lives while World War Three is about to start... "In trenches" just sounds right and reaches a perfect balance between self-conscious Dis-worship and genuinely angry music. On the Lp, Shitlickers is still a huge point of reference but Decontrol wisely chose to refer heavily to "Why?" (in terms of music, organization and production) and to "Raped ass", which gave the music the crunch that it missed on the previous Ep's and allowed them to use a variety of D-Beat paces. This is exactly what I expect from a top-shelf 2000's D-Beat record as it used the 90's songwriting method but expanded the formula to a few other bands that resonate deeply with Discharge. And it is not so easy to pull it off, Besthöven nailed it on a few of the early 00's Ep's (although with a more pronounced Anti-Cimex vibe) and I feel that on this Lp, Decontrol showed precisely but unpretentiously how it should be done. The follow-up Lp, "The final war" that was released in 2004 on Hardcore Holocaust, was a bit of a disappointment however for its lack of intensity and focus, especially when compared with "In trenches".

And if you like Discheesiness, Decontrol claimed to play "Raw D-Beat Fallout Punk".

Tuesday 19 April 2016

The Chronicles of Dis (part6): Cracked Cop Skulls "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?" Ep,1998?

Trends. What make punk-rock go round. And round. In circles. Now that I am old enough to see things with (some) insight, I tend to see the endless waves of trends not only as inevitable but also as something structural. While I am never the last one to rant about the (in)validity of a given trend (and with the omnipotence of the internet, trends are coming and going faster than ever), especially after a few pints, they also fascinate me.

The various D-Beat trends perhaps epitomize best the characteristics of the punk trend. For the sake of demonstration, let's settle that there have been three D-Beat trends in the past twenty years, each of them corresponding to a decade (although a band like Disclose sat comfortably at the top of the game during two of them). D-Beat is a very peculiar subgenre since it inherently focuses on one band, Discharge, and on the various recreations, reworkings or adaptations of Discharge. It is therefore a very compact genre. However, even though the roots of all D-Bands are similar, the latest D-Beat trend is also influenced by the one just before. So while 90's Dischange were influenced solely by Discharge (and probably an assortment of 80's Swedish bands as well), 00's Warcry were influenced by Discharge AND 90's D-Beat, and a10's D-Beat band (it is far too early to find the real winners now) by 90's AND 00's D-Beat. That is all pretty obvious I suppose. The real fascinating thing is that, from a generation to the other, the bands don't necessarily hear the same things or even the whole thing, although the basic material is the same. How many bands blindly focus on the beat alone and completely forget the intonation or the bass work? I am not here to be judgmental or give away good and bad points, but when bands feel that the job is done as long as the drummer can vaguely play the Discharge beat and they pick a Disname, it is little surprising that I usually am underwhelmed by the vast majority of self-proclaimed D-Beat bands (whatever decade they belong to) who miss two absolutely crucial things in Discharge love: groove and anger. And ironically, a band like MG15, the archetypal proto-D-Beat band that many quote as an influence today, didn't even actually use a "D-Beat" on some of their songs, because at the time, the sole drum beat had not been crowned as the quintessence of Discharge. Fascinating, I told you.

The 90's D-Beat wave was not really emulated in Britain and quite logically so. Not only had Disaster already set the standards very high in terms of Discharge-impersonation but when the trend reached its peak (around 1994), bands like Doom, Excrement of War or Hellkrusher had already been playing Discharge-loving punk-rock for a few years. So it seemed maybe a little pointless to have a go at the orthodox Disgame at that time (though interestingly, the Varukers reformed precisely at that time when D-Beat was all the rage and I always wondered if that was coincidental). But as usual, there was an exception: Cracked Cop Skulls.

CCS formed in 1994 as a trio and released two Ep's, "No fucking tears for the pieces of shit" in 1995 and "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?" in 1998. I am not sure if they were an active band or just a side-project but they were the only genuine D-Beat band from England during the 90's trend and, in my opinion, one of the very best too. The band was made up of old-timers from the UK hardcore/crust scene with Nick (first Sore Throat drummer and later in Ironside) on drums, Rat (from the one-man anarchovegan project Statement) and Jim (from Ripcord and Filthkick among many others), and I feel it is alway interesting to see what people involved in hardcore for years can come up with when working on such a meticulous subgenre as D-Beat. And "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?" is a genuine success for two reasons: it perfectly fits the D-Beat blueprint and yet it doesn't really sound like any other bands at the time.

While Disclose focused on sound texture and Disfear intended to intensify the Discharge recipe, CCS went for vibe and mood. The songs have an effective simplicity, the riffs sound obvious but they are all relevant in this frame. They kept a bouncy Discharge pace, much like Disaster, but didn't go for the sped-up D-Beat version like the Swedes. Actually the drummer used double-bass drums, which usually NEVER works (it is one of my unshakable deal-breaker with the subgenre) but still does in this case, as it doesn't pervert the general Discharge atmosphere or make the all-important beat unreadable. Very few bands can play a good Discharge beat with a double-bass and honestly I wouldn't recommend it. So what made the Ep so good? First, the songs are short, direct, to the point and they don't rely on sheer brutality (something Disgust obviously failed to understand) but on a feeling of urgency and actual anger that is very reminiscent of Discharge. Second, it is definitely bass-driven, with a thick groovy bottom, and some bass variations add this crucial "Why?" vibe that the songs need; the guitar's sound is heavy and powerful but doesn't feel overdone, it sounds urgent, direct and cohesive with the songwriting. Finally, the vocals are perfect, pissed but audible, shouted rather than yelled and the rhythm, tone and intonation are absolutely perfect as it does sound like an angry punk barking spontaneously, which has always been a Discharge prerequisite; besides, the idea to record two slightly out of speed layers of vocals is brilliant and gives the songs a crunchy 80's feel.

Another element that differentiated CCS from the other D-Beat bands was the lyrics. Instead of rehashing war and destruction haikus, the band tackled other subjects like class inequality, anger and frustration, repression (there is a mention of the infamous Criminal Justice Bill) and propaganda and I feel like the urgency in the music reflected a genuine need to write angry lyrics which also explains the wholeness of the songwriting. The Ep was recorded on 6th, August, 1995 ("fifty years to the day after the first atomic bomb was unleashed on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The threat has not faded with the onset of time. Safe new world?" you don't get much more symbolical than this!) but was only released in 1998 on SOA Records, from Italy (they were originally meant to be released on a Japanese compilation apparently).

Perhaps this CCS Ep is best summed up by Paolo SOA in the booklet of the triple-cd reissue of the label's Ep's: "The tracks were absolutely brilliant, if you like the D-Beat stuff without being a clone". That was the magic of CCS. While on the one hand, they were undeniably a D-Beat project (there are many Discharge nods in the songs and the name "Cracked Cop Skulls" is a reference to Shitlickers and this kind of intertextuality is so typical of the subgenre), they didn't sound like other D-Beat bands. They certainly worked on Discharge love but took it from another perspective and focused on writing simple songs that contained the essence of angry Discharge and if anything, it shows that there are different meaningful ways to D-Beat heaven.

After CCS stopped, Jim played for Dumbstruck and Nick and Rat formed Unborn. Around 1997 (I think), Jim and Rat teamed with Stick from Doom to continue the work CCS had started under the name of Squandered and the 1998 split Ep with Disclose as well as the compilation tracks on "Chaos of destruction" are highly recommendable, although not quite as brilliant as "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?".

Wednesday 13 April 2016

The Chronicles of Dis (part 5): Disaster "War cry" cd, 2006

I could probably just write "Disaster are the best Discharge-impersonators ever" and be done with it, enjoy my new dole-scrounging life by taking a walk outside or even having coffee in some fancy bar while pretending to read the French existentialists to look smart. However, precisely because I believe deeply that Disaster ARE the best Discharge-impersonators, I just cannot leave it at that. Besides, I have a Disaster story to share.

I was going to write that I first became aware of Disaster in 2004, in Leeds, but that would be a half-truth. At that time I already owned the "Discharged" album and therefore had heard Disaster's cover of "Mania for conquest". But since there is absolutely no information (or booklet for that matter), I had no idea who Disaster were in the first place. For all I knew, they could have been Japanese or Swedish or some kind of one-off side-project band. And the number of bands choosing "Disaster" as a moniker certainly did not help either. So, I situate my first real Disaster experience during a night of March, 2004, at the home of Steve from Attitude Problem. It was after a Seein Red gig and a few punks were gathered at his place, enjoying cans of cider and beer and listening to good music while having a laugh (perfectly normal things to do after a friday night gig). I remember the second Kontrovers Lp was played (it had just come out) and then Steve decided to pick a record. I asked him what he intended to play (he had/has a massive record collection and very similar tastes to mine so I was definitely interested) and he replied (this is from memory):
"The Disaster Lp"
"I don't think I have heard of them..."
"They are great, they sound like Discharge".
"Sweet! A D-Beat band then?"
"Yeah... well not exactly," and then he added half-jokingly, but still very serious. "I mean they really sound JUST like Discharge".

And that was that. I was flabbergasted. He played "War cry" and people gently took the piss because Disaster really sounded JUST like Discharge, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable moment and I instinctively knew that the band were - ironically perhaps - something special (I had never heard a band that sounded as much like Discharge as them, they DID sound JUST like Discharge) and I instantly made a mental note about them. For the record, the next morning I listened to Civilised Society? (an older mental note) for the first time while eating a great vegan breakfast. A lovely, exciting weekend indeed.

That was the Leeds gig!

But let's stop the cheesy reminiscing already (my future grandiose autobiography will cover all these facts in details). The cd reissue of "War cry" was released in 2006 on In Crust We Thrash Records, a short-lived Japanese label that had reissued Anihilated's "Path to destruction" prior to Disaster. Of course, "War cry" was also reissued on vinyl a few years ago by La Vida Es Un Mus (the booklet is great, with interviews and plenty of old flyers) and since we all prefer vinyls to cd's (which most have grown to loath), I suppose that, on the surface, this cd is unlikely to arouse much interest. However, there is something on this cd that the vinyl doesn't have (and I am not even referring to the 1991 live recording): witty liner notes from Kawakami. That makes it worthwhile, believe me (well, it didn't keep me from buying the vinyl version too to be perfectly honest). But more on that later.

Disaster formed in Halifax in 1989 with a very special purpose. In the introductory text of the cd, Russ (the singer) gives some crucial context to Disaster: "In the UK Doom were doing something similar, but whereas Doom were basing their sound on the Scandinavian Discharge copies we were gonna sound just like Discharge". Just like Discharge: the intent that made Disaster so great. In 2016, this may not sound like that big a deal, but at the time, I am pretty sure that they were one of the first punk bands (if not the first) to claim that they were going to sound "just like" another band. Even Discard, who openly copied Discharge's aesthetics, were not actual Discharge copyists but rather designed the blueprint for the Swedish worship of Discharge, they were the Swedish hardcore take on Discharge, while Disaster literarily aimed at being Discharge and that is a big difference. It may sound a bit childish or immature for those of you who value originality above everything else, but I just love the utter lack of pretension, the self-awareness and the deep Discharge-love such a stance displays. That is a real romantic move if you ask me. And besides, it must have been great fun to do.

Of course, Disaster were not the only Discharge-loving band in their area. The band belonged to that amazing Northern punk scene from the late 80's/early 90's that had so many top bands like Hellkrusher, One By One, Embittered, Anemia, Armed Relapse, Senile Decay, Warfear (apparently Rich Militia actually taught the Disaster's drummer "how to play the D-Beat properly but he could be writing his own legend here) or Excrement of War. A band like Hellkrusher wrote very good Discharge-inspired songs but they were never "just like". That is what set Disaster apart from the other bands: they were an amazing tribute band and it is little surprise that, in a world which glorifies accurate copies and open referentiality, they get so much recognition today. What most seem to forget however is how original Disaster paradoxically were at the time, not musically of course, but conceptually. They took Discharge-love to its natural conclusion and thus can be said to be the genuine originators of D-Beat (the term was coined later on but you get the gist).

But what made Disaster so good at copying Discharge? I have already pointed out that Discharge sound deceptively simple, not because their music is necessarily complex, but because simplicity is difficult. Just try to draw a perfect circle and you'll know what I mean. What did Disaster have over Dischange (arguably the only possible contenders at the time although I would think that they were certainly inspired by Disaster's artistic stance)?

In order to understand, one has to think about what are the defining factors that make Discharge so great in the first place. The sound on "War cry" is absolutely fantastic and Bri Doom found the perfect balance between the instruments. It is not only that it has the same raw power as "Why?" but that it feels as spontaneously furious. "War cry" sounds like the band just came in the studio and basically unleashed a discharge (pun intended) of punk anger. It is undeniably powerful and heavy but not contrived, and amazingly it never feels forceful, despite the obvious restraints of the project. It sounds round, whole, cohesive, bass-driven but still with an emphasis on the guitar's impact, and not angular like Dischange often do. And you have the shouted raucous vocals, slightly out of synch like Cal's, which are not easy to replicate at all (the rather flawed singing on "Salvation" proves it). They sound pissed but are never yelled or gruff (something that later D-Beat bands often did), and this distinct British accent certainly helped as well. Basically, Disaster sounded like they were not even trying to sound just like Discharge, but just did. And that is exactly why they are so good in my opinion. Contrary to later bands who worked on the Discharge formula, Disaster felt they working directly on Discharge, not trying to improve on what they did but to recreate the magics.

In the liner notes, Kawakami situates Disaster's greatness in the "balance of noisy guitar and heavy D-Beat (not so speedy like early Discharge) drum". And he has got a point (he also calls it "slow speed drumming"!) as you could say that "War cry" is a significant balance between "Why?"'s raw and noisy aggression and "Hear nothing"'s relentless pace. Needless to say that Kawakami was a great fan of Disaster and that, along with Discard, they were a huge influence on Disclose at the beginning, even prompting them to pick a Dis-name. So let's all trust the geezer, right?

Kawakami's Disdom

The cd contains the "War cry" 12'', the compilation tracks, an unreleased Discharge cover from the "War cry" session and a good live set, recorded on August, 14th, 1991 in Newcastle.

That gig it was

Monday 11 April 2016

The Chronicles of Dis (part 4): Discard "Sound of war - Discography" cd, 2007

Discard: the band that Doom wanted to be when they first started, as Stick candidly admits in the booklet of the "Slave to convention" Doom-tribute cd. As a matter of fact, I bought the aforementioned cd and "Sound of war" on the same day, in a record store in Tucson, Arizona (I am pretty sure I bought a Shitlickers bootleg that day as well), and the connection makes perfect sense. After all, even Hammy called them Discard on the thank list at the back of the "Hiatus" compilation Lp. Almost 30 years later, listening to the Doom and Discard demos back to back, you would think that they don't really sound alike (which is objectively true) but I suppose that, at the time, it made sense to see Doom as a Discard-worship band. And that is quite poetical if you take into account that Doom has become one of the most important and influential British punk bands ever, while Discard were not even a band to start with and played only one gig in their existence.

"Sound of war" is quite obviously a bootleg and to be honest, it doesn't stand out as a particularly good one either as it is greatly flawed in terms of sound quality (I can sense dodgy mp3's put to cd from a mile away) and, perhaps even worse, as far as recording details go. I cannot be sure but the boot might come from Peru (that's a discogs guess for what it is worth). Before I got it, I only had a tape with Discard songs called "Stockholm hardcore 1983-1986", which is basically a (bootleg) tape version of the 2000 reissue of "Stockholms Mangel". The original version of this compilation, from 1986, did not even have Discard on it as it "only" included Mob 47, Agoni and Crudity, but the reissue included Discard, as well as Protes Bengt and Röjers. Needless to say that I overplayed it. For some reason, the Discard titles were always the ones that stuck with me the most. Even though I learnt later that they were merely a Mob 47-side project like Protes Bengt, I still regularly came back to Discard and even now, I see them as the perfect blend of Swedish hardcore and unrestrained Discharge-fanaticism. And lets face it, they have the best Dis-name.

Discard was started by Åke and Chrille (from Mob 47), Per (from Agoni) and Rickard in late 1984. If you listen closely to the drums and guitar, it is pretty easy to spot the Mob 47 connection as they sound the same in both bands, there is the same incredible feel of fluidity, of flowing power that made Mob 47 so great (actually give a listen to the Discharge covers that Mob 47 did in 1986 and the similarity will literally slap you in the face). I did quite a bit of research for this post and asked a few old-timers about Discard because information about them is very scarce and often contradictory. One thing is certain though: the tracklist on "Sound of war" is wrong. But this is what I have been able to deduce. WARNING: it is a tedious paragraph.

In the 80's, the band only recorded twice and never really rehearsed so I guess Åke brought the riffs and they recorded all the songs on the spot. Discard recorded their "Sound of war" demo in August, 1985 (which was possibly released in 1986). It had 11 songs, 6 of which would later appear on the "Death from above" Ep in 1990, two on the 1986 "Really fast Vol 3" compilation Lp and the whole lot of them on the 2000's "Stockholms Mangel" reissue. These "Sound of war" demo tracks correspond to the tracks 15 to 25 on this "Sound of war" cd. However, the dude who compiled it got it wrong and wrote that the songs 26 to 37 were part of the "Sound of war" demo, which is a mistake. These are the same songs but they are from another, inferior recording session (and the mp3 versions included here are awful). On the Nyx Negativ/Discard split Lp from 2007, it is said that there was another demo entitled "Condemned to oppression", from 1986, that had 5 songs. I don't think this was an actual "demo" in the sense that it was never released, so let's call it a recording session. I am pretty sure that the tracks 26 to 37 on our cd are actually this full recording session. Honestly, it is nowhere as good as the "Sound of war" demo and the sound of the drums is a horrendously horrendous horrendousness. So how come our bootlegger made the mistake? Well apparently, it was not even his own original mistake to begin with. On the Crudity/Discard split Lp (yet another bootleg, this time from Holland), the demo marked as "Sound of war" is actually the exact same as the tracks 26 to 37 of our cd, although it is not, indeed, the actual "Sound of war" demo (but the extended version of the so-called "Condemned to oppression" one). So I suppose you could call it an inherited mistake from bootleggers. Now that this is pretty much sorted, let's get back to the music. And if I am the one mistaken, please let me know (or don't actually, I have spent far too much time trying to sort this mess out as it is).

So what made Discard so great? Well, they were, conceptually, the first genuine D-Beat band, although it would be anachronistic to call them this. And yet, they didn't sound just like Discharge. Discard were faster, simpler, a stripped down, furious Swedish hardcore version of Discharge if you will. However, they were the first band ever to take love for Discharge to a whole new level. They picked a Dis-name with the same font, used very similar visuals for their artwork, and musically Per wrote lyrics that followed Cal's closely, even trying to mimic his intonation at times. To be sure, Discharge were better songwriters, their music was much more bass-driven, more intense, groovier, without mentioning that they were infinitely more serious about the band, but Discard still took the essence of Discharge's music, simplified it and made it even rawer, faster. They sound like Discharge's hyperactive kid in a way. Of course, there had been dozens upon dozens of bands openly influenced by Discharge before Discard, they were by no means the first to rip them off but they certainly pioneered unashamed Discharge-worship and were an early sign of overt referentiality in hardcore. Because, even though bands like MG15, Subversion (who arguably sounded as much like Discharge in 1983 as Discard did two years later) or Varukers were heavily Discharge-influenced, they never intended to look and sound "just like them" and intentionality is of the essence when dealing with the discrepancy between "Discharge-influenced" and "Discharge-worshipping". In that sense, Discard were incredibly ahead of their time as most D-Beat bands from 1993 on precisely picked this "stripped down Discharge" path that focuses on rawness and aggression while using all the visual and lyrical codes of Stoke-on-Trent's wonder kids.

Around 1992, Discard "reformed" and recorded a full Lp, "Four minutes past midnight" that was released in 1994. Only Per remained on vocals from the original line-up and despite my efforts, I have been unable to find out who the rest of the line-up actually were. It was rumoured at some point that this late Discard line-up was actually made up of Per and three British blokes but I have been unable to confirm (it is a fascinating story though). The songs from this Lp are the first 14 songs of the "Sound of war" cd and to be completely honest, I was not even aware that Discard had had a run (even a brief one) in the 90's when I bought it. Of course, one cannot look at Discard's 80's materials in the same light as their 1994 Lp. By the time it had come out, the D-Beat mania had already started and bands like Disclose, Dischange or Disfear (and Disaster before them) were proudly carrying the banner of Discharge-worship, the patterns of which had been drawn by Discard in 1985. It may be a little irrelevant to compare 1992's Discard with what the Trinity of Dis were doing at the same time. Discard was not even a real band, no more in the 90's as they were in the 80's, while Disclose, Dischange and Disfear were real, active, ferocious bands. Discard were nothing more than a studio project and one would be quick to infer that they merely tried to surf on the nascent D-Beat trend but the fact that the Lp was recorded in August, 1992 tends to dismiss this theory. After all, at that time, only Dischange had released anything and Disaster's "War cry" was the sole instance of a full album of unadulterated Discharge-love.

I like "Four minutes past midnight" but I don't feel it is a great album. It doesn't have the amazing textural work of Disclose, the doomsday power of Disfear or the punishing brutality of Dischange. It is not a bad D-Beat album but it may be a little out of place in its context of production. While the Dis trinity relied on the aggressive side of early Discharge and on unstoppability, Discard also took influences from later Discharge materials (as the over-the-top heavy-metal solos and the cheesy vocal intonations ala "Price of silence" can attest) which was just not done, or should I say "okay", at that time. The Lp probably lacks that brute force that makes Discharge and good D-Beat bands so relentless, but if you can get past the overwhelming guitar wank and the rather distasteful mid-paced songs, it is clearly not as bad as you remember it to be. There are still a few great songs on this one, like "Resist and exist", "Nuclear war" and "Why should they die?" and I think that Per was a great vocalist with a gruff, expressive voice that I personally favour when picking my Dis-bands (when he did not try to be Cal circa 1985). There is a distinct Varukers influence on this Lp that works well and two songs titles were nicked from Antisect ("Resist and exist" and "Four minutes pas midnight") so that gives them added Terminal Sound Nuisance points.

For all its flaws (let's not mention the absence of some lyrics amongst the many inaccuracies), the "Sound of war" cd at least offers one nugget. The very last track has two Discard songs from a rehearsal (well, more probably an attempted recording session) that sound brilliant, possibly the band at their 1985 best. So if you feel like you need new versions of "Sound of war" and "Death from above" (and why shouldn't you?), give it a go.

And thank you to the people who helped me for this post and engaged in a Discard storytelling session: Luc, Lolo, Chris and Stuart.

Thursday 7 April 2016

The chronicles of Dis (part 3): "Discharged: from home front to war front" compilation Ep ,1991

As promised this is the second Discharge tribute: the "Discharged: from home front to war front" Ep, released on Allied Recordings in 1991. Since it was compiled and released about the same time as the "Discharged" album, I am not going to spend too much time about context here.

Still, a few things should be pointed out. If the "Discharged" 1992 album emerged from a British context (even though the line-up was international), this one is specifically rooted in the US one, hence four out of five bands are American and I am guessing John Yates compiled it himself. Discharge had a very different impact on the US punk scene as it did at home and in Europe. I am unfortunately not enough of an American hardcore connoisseur to tell if Discharge had any influence on Boston, DC or LA hardcore, but I cannot hear it. There was however one US scene that was heavily influenced by Stoke-on-Trent's most successful export: the SoCal anarchopunk scene. I have already written extensively about it in the past, but bands like Crucifix, Iconoclast, Diatribe, Final Conflict and so on were quite obviously heavily into them musically, lyrically and aesthetically.

On that level, the presence of Final Conflict on this Ep makes perfect sense and it remains one of my favourite Discharge covers ever. First, the band picked a great song, "A look at tomorrow", an early mid-tempo, anger-driven number. The choice is relevant because Final Conflict's sound always relied on groovy bass-lines and heavy riffing and this Discharge song allowed them to perfectly exploit these abilities. What I like in this instance is that it doesn't sound at all like Discharge, it is undeniably Final Conflict turning a Discharge song into a Final Conflict one. Not all bands can pull it off but the gnarly, threatening voice of Ron Martinez and the sharp, metallic punk sound of Jeff Harp's guitar make this song the winner of "Discharged" in my opinion. This sounds really pissed.

The Ep opens with two songs (well technically, it is one intro and then two songs) from Nausea. The Squat or Rot scene was another hotspot of American Discharge love and the idea of Nausea covering Discharge to great effect is almost a pleonasm. Their take on "Hear nothing" was already included on the "Discharged" album that I last reviewed, but on this Ep, you will also find an amazing cover of "Ain't no feeble bastard" which shows how much the band had fun doing it. It has a great Motörhead rocking feel with super slick bass lines, crunchy double-bass drums and this thick guitar sound that I love so much. It is definitely a winner although I am usually extremely suspicious whenever I hear the term "rocking D-Beat" or about a band supposedly blending Motörhead and Discharge. I can think of just one other band able to cover "Ain't feeble bastard" as well as Nausea, with the same intent but a much more English feel: Extinction of Mankind. You've gotta be crust enough to do it I guess.

The other highlight of "Discharged" is Neurosis having a go at "Hear nothing see nothing say nothing". I like Neurosis, I am not all over them but they always appealed to me. This was recorded with the same line-up as "The word as law" and I am guessing that the connection between Allied Recordings and Lookout Records played a role in them being included. And I must say it is a very successful cover. The incredible musicianship of Neurosis allowed them to create a wall of guitars that sounds almost unreal, because it feels both heavy and yet ethereal. A bit like a riff waterfall or something. They turned Discharge into some otherworldly, powerful thing and although I certainly miss the very raw force and anger of the song, I still feel Neurosis did a great job at adapting "Hear nothing" to their own worldview. And the bass is to die for on this one.

I have no idea who 411 are to be honest and their cover of "State violence state control" doesn't really do it for me. It is neither a good adaptation nor a good recreation. It is not terrible but it doesn't work on either level, so I am going to pass on this one.

The final song is Extreme Noise Terror (again) noisily destroying "You take part in creating this system". I already discussed ENT's Discharge covers in the previous post but it is exactly what you can expect, insane dual vocals crustcore. I wish the sound were a little more powerful and aggressive but the excessive vocals manage to win me over.

Just like for the "Discharged" album, there is no sadly no booklet and no information about Discharge or the bands covering them... There are only two mentions of Discharge. A visual one (the famous picture of the dead dove) and, in lieu of a serious description, an inadequate referential gesture: "Discharge were noise not music". This, I really don't get at all. I love the cheesy use of such slogans in general, but only when they complement other sources of information. And were Discharge really "noise not music"? To some extent they were, but then why not write a text the appeal of such a concept then? I must admit that I like the cover, it is a sound nod to Discharge's meaningful aesthetics, but why the laziness in terms of content?

Just a final word in relation to the comments that were left on the previous posts and that made me think (which is great actually, that is what the blog is all about). So this is the result of my D-Beat insomnia (I AM an obsessive geezer). I guess you could say that the shift was the following. Up until 1993 (roughly) you had bands that were influenced musically by Discharge and although they sounded similar to an extent, there was no intent to sound "just like them" (there were two exceptions to this: Discard and Disaster). So, when covering Discharge, it made sense that these Discharge-influenced bands tried to play Discharge songs from their own Discharge-influenced perspective, the result couldn't be and was not meant to be an accurate Discharge copy. From 1993 on, the intent to sound "just like" Discharge and improve on their very specific formula arose. Of course, none of the D-Beat bands actually sounded "just like" Discharge (and Disclose, ironically the most famous of them all, never actually sounded like them) but they worked on the exact same song structures. The crucial difference therefore is the following: D-Beat bands worked on sound and not so much on songwriting (which had already been done by Discharge), they aimed at improving and working on the texture of the formula, but not its structure. This is the reason why the 90's D-Beat wave didn't do that many Discharge covers: it would have been completely pointless and uninteresting both for them and the listener. And this is why I am much more interested and stimulated in Concrete Sox or CFUDL's Discharge covers than on Meanwhile or Disfear's. However, if I am in the mood for utter Discharge worship, I am not going to play covers but rather the best imitators (and I am not using the term in a derogatory fashion). Is it adapting Discharge to one's sound against adapting one's sound to Discharge?

I am still thinking...

Tuesday 5 April 2016

The Chronicles of Dis (part 2): "Discharged" compilation cd, 1992

The two next records I am going to write about are both Discharge tributes bearing the same name: "Discharged". They were released around the same time, 1991 and 1992 respectively, and both had a vinyl and a cd version. Now, I am aware that having two records with the same concept, the same name and even bands in common sounds a little weird, if not suspicious. The first "Discharged" was released on Allied Recordings, John Yates' label, and was an Ep, while the second "Discharged" was out on Rhythm Vicar, a sublabel of Plastic Head run by Steve Beattie (formerly of Endangered Musik and Stone the Crowz). There are two possibilities here. Either both labels had got Discharge's green light but couldn't reach an agreement and thus released their own "Discharged" tribute (which sounds a little silly), or all the parties involved agreed to have two related but distinct tributes, one Ep on Allied Recordings and one Lp on Rhythm Vicar. I only do not have a clue (the internet has remained very silent about this case so far) but the presence of Nausea and Extreme Noise Terror (Dean Jones was the brain behind the UK project) on both suggests that it was amicable (but still a tad silly, methinks).

Anyway, let's start with the "Discharged" Lp from the UK, here in the white cd version (there is also a black cd version which is the same colour as the vinyl). I got this geezer a long time ago for one reason: it has SDS songs on it. I had read about them on several occasions but could not find anyone in my circle of acquaintances who could be arsed to do a tape for me and they had become a bit of an obsession. I found this cd for cheap in a mainstream second-hand record store and, although I am not really big on tributes in general, there were familiar faces on it (C Sox, ENT and Nausea) and I have always been a sucker for Discharge covers. To me, covering Discharge is almost like a D-Beat punk subgenre of its own. It is unfathomably geeky, I'll give you that, but the fact that the DIY punk scene has produced a few Discharge-cover bands throughout the years indicates that covering Discharge is quite unlike covering other bands. And doing a good Discharge cover is very difficult because it looks deceptively easy. But more often than not, the easier it looks, the hardest it is to master because there is very little room for error. You can go two ways in such an enterprise: you can pick the path of utter worship and try to stick as close as possible to Discharge, or you can turn a Discharge song into one of your own. Both ways are arduous and should not be trodden lightly. They require long hours of focusing on the magic of this band and of actually listening, and not merely hearing. When done rightly, they are a real treat but they can be embarrassing when they sound like a half-arsed job (I will probably still dance and sing along to them though, just for the gesture).

The "Discharged" album is both satisfying and disappointing. It has really good Discharge covers but there is absolutely no information about either the bands selected or about Discharge themselves. There is not even a booklet! So you don't have any basic details about recording dates, members or even the country of origin. For a long time, I had no idea Scamp were actually from Japan. That is my main issue with this record and it is just the perfect opposite of the "Does Dis system work?" tape that I reviewed last: there is no passion involved here on the part of the label. Don't get me wrong, it is obvious that the bands truly love Discharge and they all did a pretty good job. But with a tribute such as this one, the opportunity to write about Discharge, ten years after "Hear nothing", should have been seized. Done correctly, this record could have been a proper landmark, with the bands' perspective on Stoke-on-Trent's finest, some interviews, some new artwork, some critical thinking about the legacy... I mean, the lyrics are not even included here, so you've only got the songs and that's it. I know it is not the same context but the tribute to Doom, "Slave to convention", that I posted here a few years ago, was a real labour of love, and in spite of a rather unequal line-up, it displayed what should matter the most: passion.

But enough whining already, let's get to the songs. The record opens with three covers from Extreme Noise Terror, "It's no TV sketch", "Religion instigates" and "They declare it". Judging from the sound, they must have been recorded in 1991, with the "Phonophobia" line-up (possibly the same recording session as the "Punk's not dread" compilation). I am a sucker for ENT and I must say their outrageously over-the-top dual-vocal attack sounds completely glorious to me. ENT were a genre-defining band and their Peel Sessions remain a blueprint for obliterating, fast crust music. The band cleverly didn't pick songs from "Why?" or "Hear nothing" but focused on earlier Discharge recordings, notably two mid-tempo anthems, "Religion instigates" and "They declare it". I suppose there was not much point picking a fast song for ENT anyway as they always were faster than Discharge to begin with. The covers are solid, they are not stellar as they sound slightly rushed perhaps, but I suppose that the rather thin production is what ENT were going for (or they were running out of time in the studio). The dual vocals are used wisely and to great effect and there is enough groove to make up for the lack of power.    

Next are two songs from Concrete Sox and probably the highlights of the compilation to my ears. The absence of information implies that I am not completely sure about the line-up (unsteady if anything with the Sox) but my money is that it is the same one as on the Nightmare split Ep, with Loyd on vocals (I don't recognize Sean's voice here). Great choice of Discharge songs, a incantatory mid-tempo scorcher, "Death dealers", and a hit from "Why?", "Is this to be?" (that song probably has some of my favourite Discharge bass lines). Concrete Sox don't go for heaviness and gruff power but rather, opt for hardcore energy and infectious bass-driven groove with snotty vocals. Fantastic work here and exactly what I expect from genuinely good Discharge covers.

Next is "Mania for conquest" from the mighty Disaster, arguably the band that sounded the most like Discharge. Hailing from Halifax, Disaster were an integral part of the North East crusty punk scene of the early 90's. There will be a Disaster post in the near future (if the possibility of life's destruction has not been confirmed until then of course) so I will not dwell too much on them. Just know that their cover walks proudly on the path of total worship.

Excrement of War follows with an abrasive cover of "Tomorrow belongs to us" that fits their Swedish take on unabated Discharge-love to a tee. Their cover is just ferocious and pummeling, bringing to mind Shitlickers, Anti-Cimex or Discard. Great job. The line-up of EOW for this one only recorded that very song and was made up of Stick on the drums and Tom (from Genital Deformities) on vocals and guitar, the two pillars of the band, but also of Mark Bailey (ex ENT and Filthkick) on guitar and of Jez (Genital Deformities) on bass. The cover was recorded just after the split Ep with Dischange and "The waste... and the greed" Ep and before EOW was joined by Leigh and Mags on vocals. Very good shit here.

Next are two songs from Raw Noise, "A look at tomorrow" and "Always restrictions". It should not come as a surprise that a second Dean Jones band was included on "Discharged" as he was the man compiling it for the label. By that time, the old version of ENT was on its last leg and Raw Noise basically started when ENT fell apart with Pig Killer (the original ENT drummer) replacing Stick and Ali replacing Pete on guitar. I would argue that the Raw Noise covers are more effective than ENT's as the production is more powerful, heavier. I far prefer vintage ENT to Raw Noise as their songwriting was stronger and Raw Noise could never their level of aural savagery. This said, I do feel that Raw Noise's Discharge covers are better in this particular instance.

Nausea's "Hear nothing see nothing say nothing" is next. A great choice of cover that suits Nausea perfectly as "Hear nothing" allows them to add a metal element in the guitar and drums and increase the groove of the original with the bass being more upfront. The result is rocking, beefy and undeniably crusty, though not as heavy and punishing as the original but Nausea weren't trying to outdischarge the originators. Smart move. Al's vocals are perfect here as well, his tone being totally appropriate to Discharge's songwriting, and the result is that it really does sound like a Nausea song. I presume this one was recorded during the same session as the "Lie cycle" Ep, in 1991.

The last three bands on "Discharged" are all Japanese: SDS, Scamp and CFUDL. The mighty SDS deal with "Doomsday" and "Why?". These two songs were recorded between the split Lp with Misery and the unreleased "In to the void" Lp. The band had just hired a new bass player, Andon, and were at the peak of their Antisect-worshipping power. As expected, SDS deliver quality Discharge covers with a distinct Japanese feel: a focused and tight intensity that still manages to sound wild and out of control (that's the whole trick, innit?). I have already raved about SDS on several occasions so I'll leave it to that.

Then you've got two songs from Scamp, a band that is virtually unknown to me. If I get it right they are a band that blends traditional epic Japanese hardcore and... psychobilly. Now, I am totally ignorant about psychobilly and I don't intend to change that anytime soon, but at first, listening to the Scamp covers, I thought that my cd was scratched because there was that weird noise on the drums. And then I realized that it was a psychobilly move with the drumsticks (right?). The covers are great though, "Two monstrous nuclear stockpiles" and "Free speech for the dumb", very energetic and triumphant but I can't help being distracted by the noise... Bummer.

Finally, the glorious CFUDL offer two Discharge covers, "Does this system work?" and "Ain't no feeble bastard". I am a big fan of CFUDL, I love their youthful, unpretentious punk spirit, although they don't always deliver on record. But their songs absolutely rule here, a distorted blend of Discharge impact and Japanese noisepunk madness. The singer has that weird effect on his voice which confers an almost crazily evil vibe to the songs and it works really well. The band is tight and super dynamic here, the drum rolls are cascading, the bass is loud and thick and the guitar is distorted just enough to my liking. Probably the winners of "Discharged" along with Concrete Sox.

Interestingly, this compilation was released in 1992, just a few years before the D-Beat mania swept across the punk world. One can notice that no Swedish band was included, but then, only Dischange were already releasing at the time "Discharged" was compiled (Disfear's debut was also released in 1992) and the most popular D-Beat band ever, Disclose, was still in its infancy. I would argue that "Discharged" was also coming from an older generation of bands that were already active in the late 80's and may have been largely unaware of the storm that was coming. The notable exception to this was obviously Excrement of War, a genuinely 90's band that would embody the genre in England during that decade (along with Hellkrusher) and play with a lot of the D-Beat bands that would explode in the mid-90's. What was the impact of "Discharged" on this new generation of bands? After 1992, Discharge-loving certainly changed and became much more gimmicky, sometimes to the point of parody, it became an actual trend with its own name: D-Beat. Just for its position in time, a crucial one albeit retrospectively, "Discharged" is still a fascinating, if partial, journey into a particular era of Dis-love and reflects a specific side of it.