Friday, 1 July 2016

Anarchy in the U$A: Civil Disobedience "In a few hours of madness..." Ep, 1993

I thought long and hard about including Civil Disobedience in this anarchopunk series or not. I actually love this kind of dilemma since it is a good opportunity to think about a band's legacy and relevance. Can Civil Disobedience be seen as an anarchopunk band? My initial, spontaneous answer to this question would be positive. The band had radical anarchist lyrics, was part of the DIY political punk scene and borrowed traditional elements from the anarchopunk canon. On the other hand, I have never seen them being referred to as such and both their music and aesthetics (not to mention some of their lyrics) were unusual from an orthodox anarcho perspective. The point of this series is to provide a clear picture of the characteristics of the 90's US anarchopunk wave and in order to achieve this, there needs to be a significant guiding thread throughout all the records. It does not mean that they all have to sound alike but there needs to be solid common aspects to illustrate the essence of this sound. Despite the band's originality, I feel Civil D gathered enough of them for them to fit interestingly with the theme and offer a different, and even more meaningful, picture of political punk in that time and place. So, I decided to include them. And come on, they were anarchist punks, right? Who cares if they had some reggae beats!

"In a few hours of madness..." is one of the best American punk Ep's of the 90's. I know, I know, it sounds really dramatic but rest assured that I remain remarkably stoical as I am writing this (I am not even flinching). It is just the truth and anyone telling you any different has either never actually listened to it (and I do mean LISTEN not just vaguely heard) or is trying to be polemical. This Ep does not sound like a band's first record at all, it feels really mature, cohesive and the manic demented energy that was the core of Civil D's music is rendered perfectly. It has to be said that, contrary to Aus-Rotten or Mankind? who both formed in 1992/93, Civil D started a few years earlier, in late 1989, and were therefore more experienced when they entered the studio four years later which can account for such an impressive debut. The fact that Civil D was a slightly older band may also partially explain why they sounded quite different to the other punky anarcho bands of the time as they sound as much like a late 80's band then a mid-90's one. But then, if I had to find one notion that characterized the band it would be in-betweenness and I commend them for that (although it makes their music very difficult to aptly describe).

The first Civil D recording was their 1992 demo entitled "Political prisoners". The band was still living in their hometown of Saginaw (Michigan) at that time although they relocated to Detroit after the release of the Ep and then to Minneapolis a few years later. In spite of several flaws related to the number of songs on the demo (writing 13 top songs for a first demo in no easy feat), "Political prisoners" is great but utterly confusing. On the one hand, it can be seen as a collection of straight-forward, angry, fast punk songs and it works perfectly in that respect: it is full of anthemic chorus, punk as fuck singalongs, snotty vocals, effective riffs and the youthful angst is just infectious. But on the other hand, and despite how accessible it can be, it is also a very dense work, a polyphony of different influences, a genuine royal rumble of punk subgenres. You can hear the typical 90's US anarcho sound obviously, basically a dynamised, US-hardcore infused blend of UK anarchopunk and UK82 but it is also much more than this. I can spot a real thrash influence in the vocals and some guitar breaks, not unlike Concrete Sox or Legion of Parasites, but also an Italian hardcore influence for the level of fury, like Raw Power and Negazione. And then there are typical UK82 chorus that heavily nod to Uproar, Skeptix or External Menace, followed by some mean, demented US hardcore sound like Void or Filth. And then, when you think you have wrapped it up, some Rudi Peni weirdness pops up, quickly followed by classic Deutschpunk leads like The Targets or Razzia and a couple of vintage UK anarcho spoken parts concluded with some bass-driven reggae. And that's just the demo... To be fair, Civil D were a six-piece so it is not far-fetched to assume that they had some musical ambitions and it really shows. Of course, the production is a bit rough and the composition is not deprived of sloppiness, but from the start you can tell that the band aimed for more than fast'n'spiky punk music, although they were also that. Confusing, I told you.

The Ep was recorded the following year and saw Civil D coming back as a tighter, more focused unit. The band had dropped some of their influences (the UK82 and Deutschpunk elements have been toned down) and seriously focused on the songwriting in order to create four songs that highlighted their strengths and their incredible intensity. It is hard to tell if the band did that on purpose, but it really feels as if they had picked the very best ideas from the demos and reworked them on the Ep. Again, in the way the vocals are arranged, in the way they flow, you can definitely tell that this is a US punk band from the 90's and I suppose you could say that their structure is not unlike Defiance's. But when the Portland band's vocal textures remained rooted in classically pissed punk-rock, Civil D's are more akin to the screams of a demented man out to destroy private property. Even more so than on "Political prisoners", the dual vocals work incredibly well on "In a few hours of madness" and give the impression of two angry, obnoxious, impertinent lunatics giving a conference about capitalism, thus conferring a genuine theatrical quality to the music, as if Negazione and Antischism's singers were trying to do karaoke over Toy Dolls in Rudimentary Peni's practice room. This is punker than punk. The energy and intensity of the vocals only emphasize that of the music. The production is very clear and allows the band's musicianship and creativity to shine. Although definitely bass-driven, it emphasizes the clever and complementary work of the rhythmic and lead guitars. The reggae influence (if you can call it an influence...) is probably more prevalent than on the demo but, in spite of my relative distrust as far as bands mixing punk and ska/reggae are concerned, the band uses it wisely, with narrative intent and they are just so intense that it sounds like the Ruts in a funk mood played at 78. This Ep is epic and dramatic, overwhelming the listener with a genuine, atavistic punk feel. It has the energy of Italian hardcore, the snot of UK punk, the anger of US anarchopunk, the "in-your-face" vibe of US hardcore and the weirdness of Peni (Godorrhoea are a rather relevant point of comparison to some extent). "In a few hours of madness" is a genuine US anarchopunk classic that, ironically, does not sound totally like a US anarchopunk record. Although it also does. Confusing, I told you.

Lyrically, Civil D were also above the rest. If the topics were rather usual for the time, the band always picked a perspective and narrative techniques that made the critiques fresh and thought-provoking. Sometimes with a sarcastic voice, sometimes with elements of oral speech, Civil D construed their words as reflections of the madness that would inevitably descend upon us. In that respect, in a metatextual move, I would argue that the dementia pervading the music is also a means to reinforce the lyrics that focus on the insanity of conforming and religious masochism. Through joint images of lifeless faith and physical pain, the band describes an inner wasteland fueled by frustration, manipulation, willful obedience and blind faith. Very good lyrics that never read as elitist or pompous, they are rude and angry enough for "da punx".  Visually, the Ep looks great as well and the visuals have a brilliantly deranged anarcho feel to them.

"In a few hours of madness" is a proper classic and I am not surprised in the least that seven pressings (!) were done throughout the years which means that you can get it for cheap. It was released on Havoc Records in 1993 (the label's second record) and distributed through Profane Existence.