Tuesday 30 August 2016

The PDX-Files: Axiom "Establishing a culture of resistance" Ep, 1997

Fun fact: there are no less than 32 entries for "Axiom" on Discogs. Well, it may not be side-splitting but "Axiom" is a good name for a band, especially for one that has something to say, which, judging from the corny Discogs avatars of some Axioms is definitely not the case for every one of them (yes, indie-rock Axiom number 27 and wanker hip-hop Axiom number 20, I am talking about you). But anyway, our Axiom is number 13 and that is pretty cool indeed and much less embarrassing than number 18 (a Canadian thrash-metal band from the 90's apparently).

Axiom was a band I was heavily into in the early 00's. Those were frenetic years of startling discoveries as the yet uncharted world of crust was progressively unraveling before me, revealing bands that would prove to be eye-openers and genuine inspirations. Extinction of Mankind and Misery taught me to love the darkness of (good) metallic punk, Hiatus and Warcollapse enlightened me in the ways of caveman crust, Homomilitia and Apatia No showed me that anarchopunk was a worldwide thing... and Axiom demonstrated that such a thing as "grinding anarchocrust" could work, that brutal music could also make you think, that an aural assault could actually be a legitimate vector for promoting a radical social change. Such was the strength of the band that they even made me check the definition of "axiom" in a dictionary.

To be honest, I had not listened to an Axiom record for a good few years before I got the idea to do a PDX special, which is strange since I have always seen them as a genuinely good band. The fact that I tended to overplay "Apathy and privilege" at home when I first bought it (and I did not skip Mike Antipathy's long spoken word either, I was that dedicated to the band) may be an explanation. Or it could also be that the band is rarely - if ever - mentioned today, but then I don't think Axiom have ever been really famous, even back then, and thus have not been rewarded with the "cvlt band" status. Oh well, they really should have printed more shirts I suppose or, at least, should have penned some vaguely occult songs about armageddon using the whole lexical field of destruction instead of being so serious all the time...

And yet, if you really think about it, Axiom was a highly significant band, possibly the last great US crust band of the 90's AND one the last great anarchopunk bands of that decade as well (you can add A//Political and the revived version of Aus-Rotten to the list). And that is something I particularly like about Axiom. While on the one hand, they undeniably focus on composing hard-hitting, intense, relentless crust music, on the other, they also craved to use the sweeping brutality of the music to emphasize and fit with their political message. The form works hand in hand with the content, both of them reinforcing each other in Axiom's music and they never sacrifice one for the other. I feel that, throughout the 00's, bands have been slowly discarding either form or content (the latter usually) to the extent that, today, I sometimes have the impression that the lyrics and the paratext are completely disposable. And it has nothing to do with the content being political or not, you can write good, interesting, thought-provoking words and use clever artworks that are not about politics. I suppose it is all about quality and a cohesiveness between the intent and the result in the end.

"Establishing a culture of resistance" was Axiom's first Ep, released conjointly by Gasmask Records and Catchphraze Records (a label run by Contravene people in Phoenix) in 1997, and although their Lp is probably their crowning glory, this Ep is arguably their second best endeavour inside a studio. At that time, Axiom was a six-piece with two full-time vocalists, Kevin and Mike (the latter "sang" on this Ep only and was replaced by Brian who never appeared on any recording to my knowledge) and two guitar players, Ben and Alex, while Joel also drummed for Atrocious Madness. In the language of crust, it means that you are in for one hell of a racket. The structure of the Ep itself is rather original, with a "crust side" and a "blast side" where the grindcore influence is quite evident. Musically, Axiom are best known for playing this brand of intense, metallic, polyphonic crustcore as best exemplified on "Apathy and privilege", but on "Establishing a culture of resistance" the band's sound was not quite as metal yet. In fact, the song "Dear capitalist" even starts like a straight-up PDX anarchopunk number that could have been lifted from a Resist Lp, although truth be told it is the only mid-paced moment of the Ep. On the "Crust side" Axiom syncretizes the crustier side of the Scandinavian thrash with the classic ENT/Disrupt crust mayhem. The Swedish influence is fairly obvious in Axiom's music and I am reminded as much of late Asocial (which they covered on the "Impaled by chaos" Ep), G-Anx or No Security as of Disrupt, Destroy! or State of Fear (especially in the vocals). Interestingly, a band like State of Fear was also very much influenced by scandicore and a lot of their riffs were abrasive adaptations of Mob 47, but while SOF always retained that impactive, rocking, groovy feel, Axiom's sound is mostly characterized by harshness and brutality, not unlike on some Destroy!s recordings perhaps but with a colder bottom. And the real strength of the band lies precisely in this songwriting position, right in the interstices between late 80's/early 90's scandicore and 90's crustcore.

The production on this first Ep is probably a bit thin in places but it works thanks to the intensity and the focus of the delivery. The second Ep, 1999's "Impaled by chaos", saw Axiom add more metal to their formula (possibly a little too much but I could also have this impression because of the very clean production) and was a sign of things to come for the PDX punk scene in the 00's: Hellshock. As I have said, the 2000 Lp on Tribal War remains the band's apex and probably one of the best dual vocals crust Lp's of the period with just the right amount of metallic crunch. Besides there is a neat poster coming with the Lp so you can't really go wrong here.

Aesthetically, Axiom borrowed equally from the anarchopunk tradition (circled A and crossed $, peace symbol visible in the band's font...) and the crust beauty canons (hairy and slimy font, chaos cross...). Since it was 1997, some elements of the cover and booklet are rather pixelated which is unfortunate but pretty typical of a time when digital imaging was still new (but no one realized that it would look old much quicker than the cut'n'paste technique... oh well, what do they say about hindsight again?). The lyrics are obviously of a highly political nature as the band promoted "Freedom through: community, education, direct action". The subjects tackled on the Ep are the corrupt nature of capitalism and its upholders, drug use as a sad way to cope with life, war (you didn't see that one coming, did you?) and the prison system and how it is part of the social fabric. In addition to the lyrics, there is a massive booklet with essays, statistics, articles, pictures, drawings etc in order to illustrate the band's message and provide more information about the topics that the songs deal with. Some parts of the booklet haven't aged that well - which makes sense since the articles were accurately contextualized and were written 20 years ago - but it is still a very good illustration of the state of the anarchopunk scene in the late 90's and of the bitterness and frustration felt by the band about the passivity and hypocrisy of the political punk scene at the time. I especially recommend the essay that opens the booklet, which is about punk and apathy. Idealistic maybe but at least it is heartfelt and a lot of the criticism still rings true.

After Axiom split up, Joel drummed for short-lived bands like Ausgebombt and Midnight and accessorily started singing for a band called Hellshock (you may have heard of them, they're kinda famous), while Alex and Kevin formed War Machine with Kelly and Hopper from Detestation. As for Ben, he joined Resistant Culture in the early 00's. Apparently, Axiom reformed recently, though I am clueless about the current line-up (I know Ben is part of it), and they recorded a new album that can be listened to on the internet and sounds pretty good, judging from the few songs I have heard.

Thursday 25 August 2016

The PDX-Files: Starved And Delirious "Unproud" Ep, 1995

Brilliant ideas come at night. So do mosquitos actually, but that's the itch talking.

For this PDX series, I had originally preselected twenty records, knowing that only eight would make it to the finals, just like in the Olympics. Among the first eight finalists was Detestation. An obvious choice, right? I mean, Detestation is one of these bands that everybody likes. Judging by the staggering number of Detestation memorabilia I have seen worn in my lifetime, it sometimes feels as if the sewing of a Detestation patch is akin to some sort of coming-of-age ritual for crusties. Or perhaps it indicates the rank of the person, I haven't quite figured it out yet. Don't get me wrong, I think Detestation were a top band and - obviously - I am pretty sure I still have a patch of them somewhere. But here is the thing though, like so many supposedly beloved bands, Detestation's actual works are seldom discussed nowadays, which made me think that 90's US anarcho bands may actually have been cursed with never being analyzed ever again. I therefore thought that taking a good look at some of the band's materials could be both fun and useful. Besides, I have grown tired of hearing people call Detestation "a crust band". I know it may sound futile, if not puerile, but this kind of intellectual laziness, especially applied to a band that everyone is supposed to be sooooooooo much into, makes me lose my temper (meaning a sharp tightening of the lips in my case).

But then, I realized that it would make me sound like a bitter man prone to bang his fist on the proverbial table for a lexical reason. So instead of a rant on Detestation being class (but not crust), I chose to write about a pre-Detestation band that no one seems to give a damn about although they are remarkably significant if you want to know where Detestation was coming from: Starved And Delirious. Still, rest assured that I will, at some point, write more thoroughly about Detestation and sound like a bitter first-banging man.

Starved And Delirious (aka SAD from now on, the name is super cool but I am not being paid for Terminal Sound Nuisance so the abbreviation seems in order, though it does read as "sad") existed for five years, between 1991 and 1996, a crucial period indeed for US anarchopunk as we have seen in the now legendary "Anarchy in the U$A" series. Apparently their career was plagued with the infamous Oi Polloi curse and quite a few members came and went from SAD with Sally (on vocals) and Adam (on the guitar) being the only two original members by the time the band split. A demo, weirdly and ironically (?) entitled "Release" was released in 1992 (Discogs says 1993 though) and the band apparently had a live tape floating around about that time as well. Their first eponymous Ep saw the light of day in 1994 in two versions, one of which was a limited numbered edition of 75 copies (was that a warp in the time-space continuum? 2016 in 1994? Your thoughts?) with the exact same drawing than the one used on the lyric sheet of Civilised Society?'s "Scrap metal" Lp (it was done by Clown, who also contributed arts for Sore Throat). This kind of fanservice immediately won my admiration. After yet again a line-up change, SAD settled with a steady line-up that would last until their demise and was the one that played on their posthumous 1997 split Ep with Svart Snö and the record we are about to deal with, the "Unproud" Ep from 1995.

Yay! Merry punx!

PDX punx love to play in many different bands at the same time and start as many projects as they humanly can. They really do and it is a tradition that has been going on for years. On "Unproud", beside survivors Sally and Adam, we find none other than good old Ty Smith on the drums (Godless and Resist were probably over when he joined SAD though) and Hopper (SAD was his first recording band, I believe, but he would go on to play in acts like Detestation, Atrocious Madness or Hellshock afterwards) on the bass guitar. Now that I am done name-dropping, let's get to the actual record. "Unproud" was the third release of Spiral Records, a label based in Berkeley that also put out records from Zero Hour, Resist And Exist or Resistant Culture throughout the years. Even with your eyes closed and one of your ears covered, you can tell that SAD was a mid-90's political band from the U$ of A and it is a good thing, because I believe bands of their time ultimately make more sense than those who crave for the past.

If I wanted to make a half-arsed job of the review, I would just say that SAD is the missing link between Resist and Detestation and leave it there, enjoy the sun outside and maybe have an ice-cream. But it is true though, listen closely to the faster riffs of Resist and those of Detestation and try to imagine some others that would fit right in the middle. Exactly, right? There is the fast UK element of Resist but also the distinct Scandi bottom of Detestation. The first song, "Aerial slaughter", is a case in point. The first riff is basically the epic one from "I don't need you" by Blitz while the second one could have been lifted from a 1992 practice tape of Anti-Cimex. This said, SAD's songwriting is fairly diverse, and even though they were nowhere as polished or tuneful as Lost World and remain a fast and pummeling hardcore-punk band, I sense a similar intent in terms of punk variety: there are crossover breaks here and there, obvious Swedish hardcore moments, some blast beats... Taken individually, not all songs work flawlessly but as a five-track Ep, I think it is pretty good job. "Unproud" is definitely of its time as I have said and as such, it is reminiscent, though probably unintentionally, of other prior or contemporary bands. For instance, the song "Separate colors of hate" reminds me of Antischism while "Chicken soup" has a strong Pink Turds feel (taken out of context, this last bit sounds horrific).

If the guitar work does point in a direction that Detestation would perfect, the female vocals of SAD deserve to be mentioned. Raspy, raucous and highly expressive, there is no denying that Sally was a strong vocalist, somewhere between Pink Turds, Disaffect, Antischism and Lost World. The production on "Unproud" is probably a bit too thin and although I love the fact that the vocals are really upfront and the clarity of the drumming, the guitar is probably too low in the mix. Like the Godless Lp, "Unproud" was recorded at Smegma Studios, in 1995. The lyrics are of a political nature and illustrates what 90's anarchopunk was about with songs about religion being a drug, hunting for pelts and homophobia and you've got a nice-looking - if a little confusing - booklet as well.

Toward the end of SAD, Hopper (switching to the guitar) and Ty formed the much more referential and focused Detestation, along with Kelly, the bass maniac of Resist and Masskontroll (both of which had split), and Saira. It was this line-up that recorded the first demo "Unheard cries" in 1996, after which Ty was replaced with Andy and... But this will be for another day. Until then, if you have a Detestation patch, shirt, button, tattoo or scarification, do yourself a favour and listen to some Starved And Delirious' songs. Thanks.

I <3 thank lists


Monday 22 August 2016

The PDX-Files: Godless "Who's in control?" Lp, 1992

Finally. Back again.

I would love to tell you that I have returned wiser, smarter and sharper than ever, that I was waiting for the right time to write again and that my resurrection will reveal Terminal Sound Nuisance's unfading glory to the eyes of the unconverted. But let's get real, I have just been lazy really and besides, it is pretty sunny here, in Paris, and I did have other important things to do, like exhibit obscure punk shirts to the world. Yes, I am a smug wanker sometimes. But anyway, enough with the turpitude of life, let's get to it. I had originally not planned to start a PDX series for my comeback but after giving some super deep thoughts to it, I figured it could be a wonderfully geeky way to get back on tracks.

Not unlike Japanese punk, my relationship with Portland punk has always been a tormented one. To an extent, I felt that the never-ending hype surrounding the city was overbearing and tended to overshadow other worthy bands. Although I will be the first to admit that the PDX mania is more indicative of the obsessiveness of punx outside of the fantasized PDX scene than anything else, it still seemed that, no matter what, PDX bands were inherently cooler (the "Had they been from Portland" theorem derives from this) and to this day, the mere mention "from Portland" on a gig flyer is often enough to make sure you will attract enough people (granted, some of them will be hipsters, but at least they seldom scrounge to get in). But then, my directionless mumbles about PDX bands regardless, I couldn't help liking a lot of the bands that the punk scene has produced over there and I certainly was not the last one to buy those cool records from cool bands. I hate, but also love, to say it: PDX punk is often synonymous with quality. By no means am I an expert in US punk but there does seem to be something special and alluring about the city that has given birth to so many great punk bands in every known subgenres (with the apparent exception of ska-punk but it is really all for the best) and it is no coincidence that so many people want to move there (I mean, it cannot be weather-related, right?).

I won't be talking about the first time I heard about Portland but if you need to know (in case anyone wants to write my biography some day), it was through the Bulls vs Blazers video game, from 1992, that I had on Genesis, and having watched a video of it today, I sadly realize that it looked much uglier than I remembered. The second encounter with Portland was fortunately more determinant and came much later through the first Defiance Lp, which incidentally made me aware that Poison Idea were also from there. And little by little, as I started to sink irresistibly, deeper and deeper in the awe-inspiring depths of punk music, I noticed that Resist and Final Warning, but also Detestation and Atrocious Madness were from Portland, and that it was cooler to mention it as PDX (which I will actually do from now on). What was with PDX? In these pre-internet days (for me anyway), unaided by my distinctively British punk upbringing, I was clueless at first. And then, analyzing the thank lists (my main sources of information), I realized that while there were to be millions of bands, it was pretty much always the same people playing in them. It was my first contact with the all-important notion of inbreeding as applied to punk bands. A touching moment indeed. As years went by, I got to see many PDX bands play, bought more PDX records than reasonable and became aware that every self-respecting knowledgeable punks loved PDX punk, even secretly, although, for some very strange reason that epitomizes the paradoxical nature of human beings, it was both cool to love it and cool to dislike it because it was almost too cool to take sometimes, and it is pretty cool to dis outrageously cool things. Know what I mean?

But enough talk already and let's tackle the first PDX punk record of the series: "Who's in control?" by Godless. Now, I must confess that for a series that is supposed to be übercool, I did not really pick the coolest band of the block as an opener (a quick look at how much the Lp goes for on discogs is the sad proof of it). And their inexorable fall into obscurity does not really make sense because Godless were excellent and, although completely of their time, they still sound remarkably original, inventive and insanely catchy. I cannot really think of another 90's US anarchopunk bands sounding quite like them. Information about Godless is scarce but I did find a 1994 interview of the band that appeared in an issue of Flipside and gives a little background to the band's work. Godless emerged from a previous band called Corrupted ("No, not the Japanese one!" Captain Obvious yelled) that was formed by the singer Leslie in 1989 and came to include Matt on guitar. After numerous line-up changes, the band changed its name to Godless (it would be easy to scream "Nausea reference" but I don't think so) and settled to a relatively stable three-piece with the addition of Ty Smith on drums (from the classic anarchopunk band, Resist, and the not-so-famous neanderthal crust side-projects Namland and Amnesty, he seemed to be a busy bloke that one). After "Who's in control?" - and after other members coming and going apparently - the band became a five-piece with Ward Young (also ex-Resist and Amnesty) on second guitar and Jason on bass (Leslie, as well as singing, played the bass on the Lp). It was this line-up, I believe, that recorded the self-titled Ep for Campary Records in 1993, that I have sadly never heard.

The genesis of "Who's in control?" is as chaotic as the inception of the band. The 13 songs were written between 1990 and 1992 and were meant to appear on an Lp, but the band still released 6 of them as a "pre-album demo" because the album took too long to be released. There is a mention of a fourth member in the interview who is supposed to have played the guitar on the Lp, Molly, but there is no trace of her anywhere on the actual record, which is a little weird to say the least. But anyway, "Who's in control?" was put out by the always reliable Tribal War Records (with Neil Robinson still based in New York at the time) and it was the label's second release. The Lp was produced by Thee Slayer Hippy, aka Poison Idea's drummer, and recorded at Smegma Studio, just like so many other PDX punk records from that era, and it is not far-fetched to claim that this place may have helped define the classic PDX sound from the early 90's on to this day and age.

Musically, Godless played highly energetic and deliciously catchy American political punk-rock that borrowed equally from US hardcore and British anarchopunk. I suppose it could also be relevant to see the sound of the band, with the very dynamic, snotty female vocals and the typical American flow of the language, in the light of the then growing Riot Grrrl movement, not unlike bands like Smut or even The Gits perhaps. Godless used a variety of beats into their songs, from fast hardcore punk like Dan or Conflict ("No, not the English one!" Captain Not-So-Obvious yelled), upbeat punk-rock like Action Pact or The Expelled, or mid-paced moody punk like Lost Cherrees or A-Heads. The structuring, recurring motif in the band's music is catchiness, a word I am known to use to death in my permanent ravings. But still, although rather simple and direct, the music is always tasteful with enough smart hooks to get you to listen to the full Lp. The production is probably a bit thin but I think it gives the band this extra raw energy and a feel of urgency that work particularly well and provide some balance with the amazing vocal work. Because the real star of the show is definitely Leslie's voice. Intense, emotional, powerful and just so bloody tuneful. She really CAN sing. It is difficult to find relevant points of comparison between "real" singers (it is always easier with cavemen growls, isn't it?) but I am strongly reminded of Jae Monroe, from APPLE, who were contemporary with Godless, but were essentially a slow-paced punk band, while Godless did fasten things up at times, which makes Leslie's singing even more impressive. There are also times when Jools from Dan or even Kay from Youthinasia/Decadent Few come to mind. Retrospectively, a band like Godless, not unlike Post-Regiment, opened the gates to that brand of female-fronted, fast yet tuneful, punk-rock that almost became a genre of its own with bands like La Fraction or Signal Lost.

There are two covers on "Who's in control?", Conflict's "I've had enough"(this time, I am referring to the Brits) and Rudimentary Peni's "Blissful myth", so that gives you an idea of what Godless were about ideologically. Unsurprisingly, the lyrics are angry, to the point and deal with such topics as animal welfare, homophobia, domestic violence, feminism, religious indoctrination, the capitalists' invasion of "free" Eastern Europe and the need to think for ourselves. Good shit. I am not a big fan of the cover however, which I find frighteningly creepy and not really representative of the band's sound (it would have been more fitting for a bandana-wearing crossover band I presume).

Last but not least, I suggest you read the thank list because, besides spotting most of the anarcho/crusty bands and people active in the States in the early 90's, you will also find someone called... Mark Landers! Now, depending on where you are from, it may not mean anything to you and you will probably think I have irrevocably lost my marbles this time. But if, like me, you grew up in France during the 80's and were into Japanese anime, Mark Landers was the bad boy in the excruciating and hilarious football anime "Olive et Tom" (aka "Captain Tsubasa" in Japan) and was a bit of an iconic character in my childhood (his signature move was called "the Tiger shot", that's how cool and badass he was). If anything, this only confirms what I have been thinking all along: PDX bands are so cool that they have Mark Landers on their thank lists.

Mark Landers in all his glory