Thursday 15 September 2016

The PDX-Files: Deathcharge "S/t" Ep, 2005

Deathcharge almost made it to the "Chronicles of Dis" series I did a few months ago and to be honest, if I had physical copies of their first two Ep's, they would have. Sadly, when I had the chance to get them years ago for a normal price (aka "a decent price" since Discogs took over), I didn't take it and opted for records with covers depicting orcs wielding axes and causing havoc instead. C'est la vie... But the inclusion of Deathcharge in the PDX series is just as relevant and hopefully I will manage to get a copy of the "Plastic smiles" Ep in time for a possible sequel to the aforementioned Dis-series (I'm still working on a name and taking suggestions).

For a long time, Deathcharge was just a band that did what their name suggested: Discharge-worship. And they were good at it too. I distinctly remember them being praised for trying "just like Disaster" to sound "just like Discharge". Deathcharge were a "just like" band and I feel there is a quixotish beauty to it. No one has ever actually sounded just like Discharge and no one ever will, but many will keep trying, against all odds, aware of the illusoriness of the task, making the fight a romantically doomed one, but re-affirming not only the uniqueness of Discharge but also the relevance of this traditional punk discipline. Silly Discharge-worship may be a shibboleth to some, but it is one I am unashamedly proud of. And so were Deathcharge when they formed. The name is pretty self-explanatory (I love the fact that, when pronounced quickly, "Deathcharge" almost sounds JUST LIKE "Discharge"! Top meta stuff, right?) and as you would expect, their first Ep, the cheekily named "A look at their sorrow" from 1997, was a solid D-beat offering, packed with specific Discharge references (in the song titles with "A look at their sorrow", "The price of violence" and "Fear their power", and also in the actual songs, the chorus to "Fear their power" is the exact same as "Drunk with power" with just a few changes in the words). In terms of sound, this Ep sat comfortably between Totalitär and early Hellkrusher and it remains a solid specimen of 90's D-beat.

At that time, the line-up was made up of Adam on vocals and Roger on drums (both of them formerly in Masskontroll and the only members who have been in Deathcharge all along), Matt (Religious War, Blood Spit Nights, Dog Soldier...) on the bass, and Gabe and Colin on guitars. By 2001, Matt had left and Adam also played the bass for single-sided Ep "Plastic smiles". Now, this is indeed a record that sounds almost "just like Discharge" actually. But there is a very smart twist as the three songs included are all classic early Discharge mid-tempo songs, therefore not technically D-beat songs. It does raise the question of Discharge likeness when taken from the angle of track order and how it also creates meaning. If the three Deathcharge songs on "Plastic smiles" certainly rate as some of the best mid-paced Dis songs I have heard, the fact that they use a systematization of a mid-paced beat that Discharge used precisely as a means to balance and also emphasize their faster, proper D-beat songs is a shift from the global structure of Discharge writing. I still really like the Ep though and I actually love the concept but arguably, the inclusion of a couple of classic fast Discharge tracks would have brought Death closer to Dis in terms of the Discharge matrix of meaning creation. It could have hit the Dis-nail on the head in a spectacular fashion.

But enough disgressions already, especially since the eponymous 2005 Ep is not a D-beat record. In fact, despite an obvious Discharge influence, it doesn't really even try to be a dis-record - which is kinda weird from a band called Deathcharge, I'll give you that. Prior to this Ep, the band had recorded a demo in 2004 with their new line-up that saw the arrival of Chris (from Defiance, Religious War and even Poison Idea at the time) on guitar and Joe (from Assassinate) on bass. This tape demo (that is apparently pretty hard to find now) is probably my favourite Deathcharge recording. It already had what would make the subsequent Ep so good and unique but also kept a genuinely great hardcore punk basis. In my opinion, it is one of the strongest PDX punk recordings of the 00's and I cannot believe it has not been reissued yet. The mood of the demo is much darker than before, which definitely hinted at what the band was up to in terms of songwriting, and the five songs feel very cohesive, both individually and collectively. It includes three fast dischargy songs that would make any "raw punk" fan drool for their actual rawness and urgency, the perfectly timed vocals and the sound textures. They bring to mind the sound early Sacrilege, 83/84 era Varukers or early Hellkrusher, with a distinct Californian peace-punk vibe in the songwriting. Clearly top shelf. The remaining two songs are more metallic and moody, but not in a crust or metal punk way, rather they evoke post "Hear nothing", thrashy Discharge, but without the cheap glam touch, and late Antisect, dark and heavy, but not crushing or brutal. These two tracks are the foundations of the 2005 Ep.

The record contains two songs, "The hangman" and "New dark age", and I remember that, upon hearing it for the first time, I thought that I had never really listened to anything like it. Although there were enough familiar elements for me to relate wholly to it, I was still at a loss to describe the Ep. It is a genuinely dark record. Now, I realize the term "dark punk" has been overused and misused lately but I can't really think of a more relevant term. But it is 80's dark, clearly, as the Ep has a very peculiar 80's vibe (let's say 1986) in the songwriting and the overall mood. While the vocals remained very hardcore-sounding on the demo, here they have an almost goth quality but keep a very raucous tone that gives a dark incantatory aura to the songs that is not unlike Zygote or Bad Influence. There is mid-paced, heavy and groovy metallic riffing here, and mid-80's Discharge (for a long time one of punk's most tragic taboos) and late Antisect are relevant comparisons, but the purpose of Deathcharge is different. The songs are atmosphere-oriented, they sound like raw "danses macabres", they have that strange occult feel, lusting for death, and, dare I say it, are ultimately pretty glamourous and even sexy (if you are into morbid stuff but still like a bit of sophistication and velvet). As well as Discharge and Antisect, Smartpils and post-Amebix bands like Zygote and Muckspreader could be interesting postulates here, and I guess there were some Coitus songs that had a somewhat similar vibe, especially on the first demo, and even late Anti-System or English Dogs can be invited to the party too. But Deathcharge really created something with this Ep, something that certainly appealed to the Antisect fanboy in me and showed me that the way you tell a story is as important as the diegesis and that the meaningfulness of the output is completely conditioned by the narrator. And man, the two stories from this record, even though they are objectively heavy 'n' groovy metallic goth-punk numbers, utterly echo with the label's name: whispers in darkness indeed.

Like with any self-respecting PDX punk band, this Deathcharge Ep is highly referential, from the glam-punk picture of the boys on the cover, the "Grave new world" font they used, the riff from "The more I see" they nicked, to the Antisect nod in the title "New dark age". But despite all these familiar things, no one sounded like Deathcharge then and even the Ep itself looked like no other at the time (Discharge-loving goths with charged hair and studs?). Although the so-called postpunk/dark punk revival certainly borrowed from this unpretentious record and sometimes explored the same paths, I cannot think of many recent bands that wrote songs that were as inspired and inspiring. Following the Ep, Deathcharge released an album, "Love was born to an early death" in 2011, with Dusty from Hellshock on guitar and Frank from Lebenden Toten on the bass, that unfortunately did not live up to the Ep in terms of songwriting. Not a bad record by any means, but probably one that I was expecting too much from, hence a possible lack of judgement here.  

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The PDX-Files: Ausgebombt "Hellbomber" cd, 2003

Ausgebombt make me think of Survivor Series, possibly my favourite wrestling competition. In it, you traditionally have four-on-four survivor matches that see four wrestlers teaming up to take on another four-man team. While it can be pretty messy but nonetheless glorious, sometimes you do have teams that work great together with the four dudes displaying proper collective skills and charisma and you wished that you could see them do another match together but you know you won't, because you've got different teams every year. It breaks my heart really. Ausgebombt is really not unlike the Randy Savage/Razor Ramon/1-2-3 Kid/Marty Jannetty team from Survivor Series 1993 as they showed solid wrestling kills, a great sense of timing and storytelling and delivered a quality match that, if rather classic in its construction, completely lived up to a wrestling connoisseur's expectation. But never did the four blokes wrestle together again, it was a one-hit wonder. And man, I have always been a sucker for Razor Ramon.

If you have followed this witty wrestling metaphor proving, once again, the distinction and sophistication inherent in Terminal Sound Nuisance, and assuming you have ever seen a wrestling match, you will know exactly what I mean about Ausgebombt. If not, don't worry, I will be more literal in the following lines. Ausgebombt (meaning "bombed" in German) only recorded once and released this record "Hellbomber", whereas they objectively worked really well together and I remember being pretty gutted at the time when I realized that they no longer existed. Now that I am infinitely wiser, I can get over the pain and revisit a record that I have loved dearly and regularly listened to, just like I can finally rewatch that Survivor Series match again after all these years.

In the Hellshock's post, I mentioned that PDX was a city of many bands, some of them quite successful and others really just short-lived sideprojects - which does not mean that the latter were bad at what they did. I would venture that Ausgebombt, from the inception, were more of a sideproject between long-time friends looking to play rocking music together, rather than a stable band built to tour Japan every year. I could be totally wrong of course, but I like to see the band in this light: four experienced punks getting together for a brief time but long enough to record a very enjoyable work. "Hellbomber" was certainly not the first endeavour of the members in a studio. Let's take a look at the resumes then. Ausgebombt's line-up (they all used cheesy nicknames for that one) included Jackal (singer of Defiance and The Unamused, and bass player for Blood Spit Nights) on vocals, Ratgunner (Religious War and Hellshock's guitarist) on guitar, Pigripper (bass player of Religious War and formerly of Deathcharge and guitar player of BSN) on bass and Hatchet Face (drummer of Axiom and Atrocious Madness and singer of Hellshock) on drums. Two things immediately spring to mind. First, my wrestling metaphor was utterly relevant since the name combination of Jackal/Ratgunner/Pigripper/Hatchet Face would make an awesome wrestling team. Second, Ausgebombt probably saw the light of day when Religious War stopped playing and, henceforth, promptly formed since having just one band in PDX was just impossible (or even prohibited). More seriously, although Ausgebombt were firmly rooted in the metal punk sound, I do see their essence as being not dissimilar to Religious War and BSN's. The respective musical intents certainly differ but the bands wrote solid, triumphant and well informed studded, bullet-belted punk rock. And by the way,  if a friend ever claims that Religious War sounds like Subhumans and Blood Spit Nights like Gai, please tell him that the Punk Taste Police requires him, in the shortest delay, to leave his scene membership card on his desk before more drastic measure must be taken.

As expected from a bunch of PDX punk rockers, Ausgebombt's visual and musical production is permeated with references. The very band's name derives from a famous Sodom song, there is a Broken Bones cover, the title of the cd (it came out as a mini Lp on vinyl) has the "Hell" prefix, you've got nuns in leather wearing gas masks (smelling Terveet Kädet here), a reaper riding bombs and a pretty neat PDX HC skull-embroidered axe logo. Ausgebombt quite obviously indulged in old-school metal punk with a distinct UK flavour that is naturally to my liking. I am reminded of a less technical, rawer Dis-take on classic bands like Broken Bones, Debauchery, Anihilated and English Dogs, or a punky, dischargy version of actual metal bands like Sodom, Warfare and Virus, or even of a PDX remodeling (aka the full studded jacket hardcore remix) of 90's UK metal punk band like early Hellkrusher or Aftermath. But there is one band that is incredibly close to Ausgebombt's music: Metal Duck on their 1987 "Quackcore" demo. Try to go beyond the unavoidable differences in terms of sound and production between a mid 80's young English band's first demo and a mid 00's Smegma studio record from thirty-something PDX punx for a second and focus on the music. Yep, amazingly close, especially in the triumphant, fist-raising, sensible riffs, the offbeat vocal flows and even in the peculiar energy. I have no idea if Ausgebombt knew about Metal Duck's demo, but it is not unlikely (they certainly did not keep the duck gimmick or the silly sense of humour though).

"Hellbomber" was recorded and released in 2003 on Hardcore Holocaust Records. I used to be a very regular customer at HH distro as I really liked the tasteful record selection (the distro carried Whisper in Darkness stuff as well) and I would buy pretty much everything the label put out. This particular record is by no means "a classic" but it is an ideal one if you are looking for simple, hard-hitting, epic, crunchy metal punk with a D-beat vibe and victoriously heavy intros and thrashy breaks. The guitar sound has that crunchy Nausea-meets-Sacrilege vibe, the bass is super buzzing, thick and groovy, and I love how the vocals are arranged, shouted but understandable and following the mighty "Rhythm of Cal". On a personal level, I would much rather listen to Ausgebombt all day rather than all the lame "crust'n'roll", "motörcrust" or "metal punk death squad" bands that seemed to pop up in the late 00's/early 2010's. They may just have been a side-project, an anecdote in the grand story of Punk, but sometimes, a short story written from the right perspective is really what you need. A good retelling can still make a good story. And if you do need to know the rest of this particular one, just listen to Dog Soldier, the band that Jackal and Pigripper, backed in their PDX HC quest by Matt from Defiance and Greg from BSN, formed after the end of Ausgebombt. Japanese hardcore-infused PDX metal punk. And the movie is great too.

Friday 9 September 2016

The PDX-Files: Hellshock "S/t" Ep, 2003

There are two reasons I can think of explaining why someone wouldn't see that one coming for a PDX special.

1. That someone has no idea how he or she ended up on Terminal Sound Nuisance and will probably swiftly escape from the blog (you can stay by the way, it is not a select country club).

2. Or that someone is thinking that dealing with Hellshock is too easy and I should spend time on more obscure bands that are not loved properly (you can also stay, I will try to make it more interesting than you expect).

Hellshock were undeniably a game-changer. I remember that, when their first album came out, everyone I knew, whatever their age, was into really it. Of course, there was banter about the over-the-top metal sound, but it was mostly good-natured and I think everyone agreed that "Only the dead know the end of the war" was bloody brilliant (I have no idea if Hellshock were aware that such a title had already been used by Brainstorm for their excellent 1989 demo). And by the way, Plato never really said that, it was apparently erroneously attributed to him by one American general. And yes, I have been to a Plato message board to check the information and, believe me, the level of nerdism on this was at least as impressive as the one you can witness on boards dedicated to Japanese hardcore. Scary shit.

And yet, I don't think that anyone could have predicted (including the band) that, in 2003, the subgenre Hellshock so cleverly revisited would make the band so popular in DIY punk circles. Just think about the PDX context for a moment. Although there were local bands that could be seen as being rather successful at what they did, touring and releasing records (like Atrocious Madness, Remains of the Day, even Blood Spit Nights), some others pretty much remained local and short-lived side-projects (who really remembers bands like Midnight, Bomb Heaven, Ausgebombt or Assassinate in 2016?) which does not mean that they were bad at what they did, just that their existence were transient, maybe due to a lack of recording opportunities, or a lack of enthusiasm or motivation, or just busy schedules, or bad karma, but that is not the point. The fact is that Hellshock, whatever their intents were when they started (I am guessing something like "How about doing a metal punk band with a lot of early Peaceville worship? Who's with me? I'm buying the beers for the first practice!"), really struck a chord and became one of PDX's most popular punk bands of the 00's, prompted an actual crust revival and unearthed a forgotten term that would spread like fire in the years to follow: stenchcore.

I have been trying to think about the reasons that allowed for such a fate. Of course, the music is excellent, but more often than not, it is not enough. There could be the fact that Hellshock was made up of people who had played or were still playing in well-liked bands like Axiom, Detestation, Atrocious Madness, Religious War or Remains of the Day, something which could indicate quality. But again, it cannot account for the unanimously good reception of the band and such an argument tends to discard the wider context in which Hellshock's rise took place. Here is my theory: Hellshock were the first great crust band of the decade. I don't mean this in terms of chronology but in terms of sound, aesthetics and songwriting as I think Hellshock were the first genuinely 00's crust band. By the very early 00's, the genre was clearly fading. The 90's eurocrust wave had lost its inspiration and dynamics and only Filth of Mankind and Χειμερία Νάρκη (aka Hibernation) were still flying the flag of old-school crust in Europe, yet, as fantastic as these sadly underrated bands are, they were still, I feel, inherently 90's bands in spirit and sound. Older classic bands like Extinction of Mankind, Misery or Warcollapse were either in a state of transition or on hiatus and were still working on finding their 00's footing sound-wise. The Japanese crust scene was also changing and a lot of 90's bands were no more with the exception of two bands that may have been an inspiration to Hellshock, not only in terms of musical influence, but also, if not more especially, in terms of intentional referentiality: AGE and Effigy, both of which eventually shared split records with Hellshock. In parallel, dark, heavy but tuneful heavy-hitting hardcore punk bands like Tragedy or From Ashes Rise were becoming more and more popular with a sound that was essentially crust-free (yep, sorry everyone, neither band were ever "CRUST"). So it is in this local and global environment that, like a dreadlocked phoenix, the new face of crust rose in the 00's.

But what made Hellshock special then? Not unlike Atrocious Madness, Hellshock took the sense of Japanese intertextuality and applied it to vintage late 80's crust while keeping that PDX punk sound. Let's get real here. If I ordered the first album (the cd version on Yellow Dog as it came out before the vinyl) from Hardcore Holocaust, it was pretty much because the band had used the Antisect font, had a name starting with the prefix "Hell" like Hellbastard and had Mid from Deviated Instinct draw their cover. It felt gratifying to me that I could spot such references, I felt Hellshock were nodding at me and I literally thought "how could it go wrong?". And of course, it could not, the album is mind-blowing and I definitely overplayed it at the time (to such an extent that I just could not listen to it for a few years afterwards). Hellshock were, without the shadow of a doubt, THE crust band of my generation, something that they even seemed to confirm with the use of a new word I had not heard previously, "stenchcore". And I was definitely not the only one either, it is no wonder that so many "stenchcore" bands followed in their wake. Of course, reflecting on all this now, I realize that the crust signifiers they disseminated on their works derived from Japanese crust, especially Effigy and SDS, not unlike the nerdy relation between Atrocious Madness and Gloom really. But even though I got Effigy's "From Hell" at the same time (possibly even in the same order from HH) and I noticed that they also borrowed a font from a classic band (Axegrinder), Hellshock's sound was more accessible, it felt more modern and that was exactly, albeit unconsciously, what I was looking for at the time: the marriage between old-school crust and a crisp modern hardcore sound. Ironically, I could not make it to their one and only Paris date in december 2003 when they were touring with Consume as I was living in Manchester at the time, and Hellshock is a band that I have never ever seen live to this day. Gutted.

But I have been sharing too much already and I forget that I have an actual record to talk about here so let's get going. This self-titled Ep was recorded in late 2003 (no exact date but during the winter apparently) but probably released in 2004 on Whisper In Darkness, a very classy and tasteful label run by Frank from Atrocious Madness. The two songs were part of a larger recording session that saw the remaining four songs appear on a split 10'' with fellow, crust reference-crazed Effigy, released on Wicked Witch. At that time, the band was prolific as they had already recorded no less than 12 songs in April that ended up on the first album, on the split Ep with Consume (both of them released in 2003) and on the "Portland City Hard Punk" compilation Lp that only saw the light of day in 2005 and also included Lebenden Toten, Dog Soldiers and Assassinate. For some reason, the cd version of "Only the dead" included 11 of the 12 songs of that recording session as one song from the comp was left out (I can't think of a good reason for that discrepancy but here is is). The late 03 session was also the last one with Dan from Religious War on second guitar as he was later replaced by Ripper (possibly a nickname?). Apart from Dan (aka Ratgunner apparently), the culprits on this Ep were Keith on the drums (previously in Bacteria, at the time also drumming for Remains of the Day and later in Warcry), Hopper on the guitar (too many bands to be exhaustive at this point but he also played in Assassinate at that time), Derek on the bass (formerly in little-known Maneurysm with future Wartorn members from Wisconsin and also in ROTD at the time) and Joel on vocals (previously a drummer for Axiom and Atrocious Madness). All I can infer from this is that there must have been a law among the PDX punx that required everyone to have at least three active bands at all time. Still implemented by the way.

This Ep may actually be my favourite Hellshock record. Although it is not as heavy and gruff and instantly appealing as the first Lp, I feel it is a more accomplished work and one of the most cohesive crust Ep's of the decade. The sound is clearer, very crisp and does not rely on brutality and power like on the album, but is rather more oriented toward texture, mood and atmosphere. The feelings of anguish, ominousness and gloom are rendered perfectly through the production which really highlights the actual songs and the songwriting intent (something that the band could not really replicate on subsequent Ep's). I would also argue that, while the songs from the spring recording session were heavily influenced with UK bands like Onslaught, Sacrilege and Bolt Thrower (I spotted a couple of "borrowed leads") and German metal acts like Kreator and Sodom (everyone and his mother seemed to have been into Sodom in PDX at that time for some reason and the very name "Hellshock" derived from Sodom's song "Shellshock"), these are more reminiscent of vintage Misery, Antisect, Nausea, Genital Deformities or indeed SDS and retrospectively feel stronger, more subtle and potent. The Ep format fits amazingly with the two songs, "Arrows to the poor" and "Last sunset", that are very different in their construction but work perfectly together as a single. "Arrows to the poor" has an incantatory, anguished vibe of insanity with Amebix/Killing Joke drumming and deceptively dissonant guitars that brings to mind Misery at their bleakest. I absolutely love how the martial-sounding verse merges with the very epic, angry chorus, it feels like a shift from an eerie, suffocating nightmare to harsh reality. The second song starts with a long, dirgy, mournful introduction (I am really reminded of Apocalypse and Xaotiko Telos here) before exploding into pummeling metal punk with angry gruff vocals that feels like a modern adaptation of early Axegrinder and Misery. Top songwriting here with a very dynamic, crunchy sound that is sometimes lacking in this then genre-to-be. Hellshock did not go all out Bolt Thrower, the riffs are simple and smart but the rhythmics and the arrangements are superb, the bass is both omnipresent but only really surfaces to offer a catchy hook, the vocals are gruff indeed but remain intelligible and don't have that forceful constipated tone that is often a deal-breaker for me. They did not overdo anything because, probably from experience, they knew that more is not always better. There is a definite dark and heavy hardcore vibe here as well, especially in some guitar leads that scream "PDX punk", in the textures and in the overall conception that is very focused and self-conscious. It is both a fantastic reworking of classic metal punk bands and yet completely of its time.

To conclude, just a quick word about the "stenchcore" tag that Hellshock embraced completely at that time. I distinctly remember Hardcore Holocaust selling early Hellshock materials as "PDX stenchcore" and the phrase was even carved on the actual vinyl on their side of the split Ep with Consume (who had "Seattle raggies" carved on theirs which really cracks me up). Following the band's success, many bands started to play "stenchcore" and what started as an inside joke, that had more to do with hygiene and the addition of the "core" suffix to anything and everything in the 80's, became an actual subgenre. I am very much undecided about the term and, if I understand its usefulness for clarity's sake and because the term "crust" has been so ill-treated for years, I must say that I am still a little puzzled and unconvinced as to what it has come to represent, namely badly played death-metal with far too few slices of hardcore punk in it for me to relate to it. I am sure that Hellshock's use of the term was just another nod toward the aesthetics and terminology of old-school crust, possibly influenced with the 90's Japanese crust scene that basically invented a new term for each new band, and certainly not an actual statement about genre. But in the end, it became one and what they started got strictly reproduced with less inspiration (be it musically or lyrically), less direction and more double-bass drums so that when I read "stenchcore" today I am often expecting the proverbial "Bolt-Thrower-with-a-D-beat" bands and I doubt the world needs many more of these.


Tuesday 6 September 2016

The PDX-Files: Atrocious Madness "Spectres of Holocaust" Ep, 2001

Is the notion of "acquired taste" compatible with punk-rock? And should it be? It is a tough one if you really think about it because punk is meant to be direct and accessible, not fancy and out of reach and requiring the listener to have a specific musical background in order to relate to it. The punk ideal is contrary to this: angry kid listens to spontaneous angry music made by other angry kids and the magic just happens. But then, we have all been confronted with bands we disliked or did not understand at first but grew to really enjoy once the effort to really engage with the music was made. Such a new connection is only made possible through knowledge, context and perspective. Does such a stance, that I deem necessary if you really want to understand what is going on, jeopardize the inherent directness of punk music? Well, it only does if you believe that the sensate approach has to exclude the cerebral one, which I certainly don't. If anything, they work very well with each other and even have to if you want to literally make sense of things. Besides, I would argue that even the senses are shaped by the sum of punk knowledge that you accumulate throughout the years. When in 2002 I only heard sloppy noisy punk with unpalatable drumming and angry vocals, in 2016 I listen to tasteful crasher crust with referential drumming that couldn't have been done any other way. I (painfully) enjoyed it then and I enjoy it now. The two level of appreciation are not unreconcilable.

Which brings me to Atrocious Madness... I have to admit that I was more than a little confused (pun intended) when I first listened to that one. I got it from Missing the Point, that Brighton distro run by Jules from Substandard, in 2002, pretty much when it came out. I think it was the first time I was ordering from a foreign distro so I was definitely a little nervous that the bills I had stashed in the envelop would get lost or detected by a money-grabbing postie. I remember there were also the Disaffect cd discography as well as Coitus' "Necrocomical" - among others - on that order, since both of them were on my "bands-I-have-to-get-records-from-at-some-point" list (the charming forefather of my Discogs wantlist). I have to be honest, upon first hearing them, I thought Coitus sounded very metally indeed and Disaffect almost too fast at times. But I was completely unprepared for Atrocious Madness. I had picked that one because they had a super cool name and I thought they were having a go at Madness which I also thought were atrocious (true story) and because I could see they had used the Crass font for the title of the Ep (there were little pictures on the distro list). I was expecting something intense, clearly. I think the description was along the line of "Confuse/Chaos UK/Disorder-style noise from Portland" and since the Bristol bands had been favourite of mine for a couple of years (although I was still unaware of "Short sharp shock" and "Under the scalpel blade" at that time and only had cheap Anagram "Single collections" from both bands), I felt - wrongly - that I was ready for that "noise". I had heard Confuse once on a local radio show done by old-timers that was broadcast in the Paris region but I don't think I remembered it well, especially since the reception was horrific where I lived and I was listening to the show on a derelict radio alarm clock.

So when I first played "Spectres of Holocaust", I was at a loss for words. It was apparently spinning at the right speed, there was no dust to be seen and yet... What a mess. And it was not just me either as I remember reading an early 00's AM interview in a zine a while back (it may have been Cancer from Sweden) where Frank explained that they did empty a few venues during their European tour, with people genuinely thinking that the band could not play in the least and were just making a racket on stage. It took me a whole year to start to understand what was really going on and buying Confuse's "New god, old god" bootleg in 2003 certainly helped (I still have to listen to the full live side to this day...), as it was then that I noticed that they had a song called "Atrocious madness" (so Madness were not that atrocious after all...), and reading an issue of Punk Shocker in which he reviewed almost only Japanese punk records (he had brought back a lorryload of them from Japan) was also enlightening and a fantastic way to add a lot of entries on my "bands-I-have-to-get-records-from-at-some-point" list.  

But anyway, you will be reading lengthy accounts of my personal punk-rock quest in my soon-to-be-published grandiose autobiography so I will leave the boring recollections here. Atrocious Madness were a PDX band active in the late 90's and early 00's. The original line-up had Joel (from Axiom and later Hellshock) on the drums, Chanel and Saira (who used to sing for Detestation) on the guitars, Rodney on the bass and Frank (who also sang for Final Massakre at the time) on vocals. It is a good thing my AM experience was through "Spectres of Holocaust" and not "Visions of Hell", their first Ep from 1998. As Chanel reveals about the inception of the band in an interview for a zine called UGZ from Oakland (an interesting read you can find here): "Saira and I decided we didn't need to learn how to play guitar before we made a band". And let's just say that it pretty much shows on the first Ep, not that there is anything wrong with it, but I am sure 19 year-old me would have been cruelly defeated by the wall of distortion and feedback. "Visions of Hell" is probably AM's record that is the closest to 80's Japanese noisy hardcore, it is shambolic, intense and all over the place, with the compulsory gratuitous referential yells in some chorus (something that I always really liked for some reason).

The term "noisepunk" would be the most likely term to be used in order to characterize this first Ep today, however it may be slightly misconstrued and anachronistic since I don't remember seeing the actual "noisepunk" tag before The Wankys. I could be wrong, I am not the ultimate "noise freak", however, it is clear that the band said they were influenced by "noisecore" and a knowledgable person like Stuart Schrader refers to it as "noise-core". Perhaps "noisepunk" was created in order to disambiguate "Confuse/Gai noisecore" and "Sore Throat noisecore" or it might just be a generational thing as well that has to do with the internet culture. But words have meanings and I like meaning, so just to decrease opacity I will refer to "Visions of Hell" as a noisepunk record. From what I can gather, that subgenre, assuming it operated as such before 2.0, has very much been a contextualized Japanese thing for a long time. Most, if not all, bands playing Confuse-driven hardcore were from Japan. Of course, it does not mean that these bands had no influence on foreign bands, after all Extreme Noise Terror reworked a Kuro song, Warfear was going for a "Gai-gone-crust" sound in 1989 and I am sure that a lot of hardcore bands worldwide took influences from the Japanese noisy sound (MELI, Total Kaoz, Heresy...), but not so much as to strive for its recreation and make a genre out of it. To be sure, there were 90's Japanese bands relying heavily on the sound of their 80's predecessors, but I cannot really think of many 90's bands outside of Japan doing the same (Sarcasm does come to mind but only just). I suppose that, if it is safe to assume that Japanese noisy bands were confined to an audience of pre-internet punk nerds, Disorder and Chaos UK were definitely not, and yet, even if they never ceased to be very influential, it was not really that "fast distorted noise" aspect of their sound that people used as an influence. The way a band is perceived changes through time and space and you can be influenced by the same band in very different ways.

All this to say that AM were probably one of the first bands to be not only openly influenced by Confuse/Gai/Kuro/State Children and so on, but also to openly try to replicate the sound and some of the aesthetics ("openly" being a key word here). Well, one of the first non-Japanese bands that is. The 90's saw the rise of a new wave of bands in Japan that would prove to be game-changers and shape a new genre: crasher crust. And that is where things get fascinating as much as complicated (but you cannot really have one without the other, right?). In the early 90's, a new generation of bands like Gloom, Collapse Society or Life (and Acid to some extent) were reviving the noise of the aforementioned 80's greats through the infusion of crust music, thus creating a new subgenre in the process, albeit unintentionally. These bands took the distortion, the fuzz, the drumming style and the feel of insanity of 80's Japanese noisepunk and blended it with the gruff power and the fast impact of late 80's/early 90's crust. The chain of influence gets a little mind-blowing if you think about it. From Chaos UK and Disorder influencing Gai and Confuse, who in turn influenced ENT and Sore Throat - themselves also influenced by Chaos UK and Disorder - who influenced Gloom who were equally influenced by Confuse (at this point, a diagram would have come handy). And Gloom, of course, you probably saw that coming is probably our most important point of comparison when trying to understand "Spectres of Holocaust". Atrocious Madness were PDX answer to Gloom and that 90's Japanese crust wave, and a perceptive punk will have noticed that the Atrocious Madness font is exactly the same as Iconoclast's (another very useful, if less obvious, band when trying to understand AM).

AM don't sound "just like" Gloom though, you can definitely tell that they were not a Japanese band if you care to listen, but the Gloom intention is striking.  From the drumming with these specifically exaggerated drum rolls, the use of the crash cymbals, the distortion, the solos, the crazy-but-furious vocal style to the use of the doubled Crass Records circle common to both bands (and let me tell you that I am a huge sucker for that and it makes my heart beat a little faster when I see one), the connection between the two bands is strong. And it makes sense that crasher crust's high degree of referentiality would appeal to PDX punx: it is like a rallying cry for punk nerds. AM relied as much on references in their music as they do in their aesthetics : in the "distorted wavy bird logo" with the Flux peace and equality symbols, the use of The Mob's dove, the mention of cruise missiles and trident in the "Nuclear violence" Ep, the highly stylized cut'n'paste artwork, the selection of skulls... As I said in the previous entry: top music and gratifying fanservice.

"Spectres of Holocaust" is my favourite EM's Ep as I feel it is their most accomplished. From 2000 on, Hopper (from Detestation, Final Massakre and so on) had replaced Saira on second guitar, and while the Saira/Chanel pair was all about "Distort PDX by way of Kyushu", the Chanel/Hopper tag team works differently, one guitar keeping the piercing, fuzzy distortion to the max while the other plays early Doom riffs with a proper raw sound. Playing crasher crust with two guitars must be quite challenging and I cannot think of many bands who gave it a go but it does work well on "Spectres of Holocaust" (especially after the sixth consecutive listen). The Ep was recorded by Toni from Harum-Scarum and released on Wicked Witch in 2001. Arguably, the "Total control" Lp from 2002 is the band's best achievement (it is my favourite) and a record that manages to be extremely intense (almost too much so, it took me a long time to be able to listen to all of it at full volume and my neighbours are still struggling to do so, even after all these years), very tight in the delivery and precise in the songwriting. Not an easy feat for this subgenre (you may add as many "sub" prefix as you feel is necessary).

The lyrics of Atrocious Madness are also what the band was renowned for. Love them or hate them, but they were one of a kind. While some of them could be dismissed as conspiracy theories, ever more popular since the rise of web 2.0 and 9/11, most of them deal with secret history, government manipulation, military experimentation, mind control, secret societies, the collusion of politics and economics on a global scale... AM's words not only describe the making of a dystopian future, they identify the 20th century as THE dystopia. In terms of the relation between form and content, the subject matters are actually very fitting: intense, desperate, paranoid, distorted music conveying the sense of an insane modernity that has been distorted and forced upon us. Distorted music for distorted minds, I like the idea. An atrocious madness indeed. In "Spectres of Holocaust", among other things, the lyrics focused on the ties between the US government and nazi scientists, militaries and dignitaries after WWII. You've also got pharmaceutical companies toying with the general public, the generalization of martial law, the education system creating neurotic citizens and government techniques for mind control. AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

If you need to remember one thing from my usual rambling nonsense, it would be this: Madness are alright really and throwing some silly dance moves to "Our house" can be proper fun.

Thursday 1 September 2016

The PDX-Files: Final Massakre "The bells of Hell toll the final chime" Ep, 1999

This entry should be relatively short for once. Not because I am running out of inspiration or because my insightful mind is shriveling, have no fear about that, I still have a lorry load of punk divagations to offer. No, the reason why this PDX chapter will be concise is that this Ep is objectively not a great record. I still like it, obviously, since I never write about bands that I do not like (however, if you are into gratuitous, inarticulate slander, I strongly recommend youtube comments), but Final Massakre's "The bells of Hell toll the final chime" is not a classic PDX punk record (not even a minor one) nor is it a favourite at Terminal Sound Nuisance's headquarters. So why bother writing about it, I figuratively hear you ask? Why? Well, the answer is "Why?" or rather "Why, why? Why, why, why?". Yep, we are back to Discharge-love.

Although, this FM Ep is not the most spectacular or the most orthodox example of PDX Discharge-worship, it is still a very relevant and, I would argue, a genuinely lovable one. In the first chapter of "The PDX-Files" I pointed out that PDX punk is cool. Whatever genre these punx recycle, they do it properly and tastefully. The PDX scene even managed to give birth to a solid Blitzy oi band in the guise of Criminal Damage. And even though you could argue that the vast difference in the contexts of production between Criminal Damage and the Northern working-class oi bands from the 80's is unsurpassable, thus rendering CD's attempt inherently deprived of the directionless teenage anger that was the essence of oi (I'll be honest here, that was my argument when their first Lp came out and all the hardcore kids suddenly loved Blitz), the truth is that they were a good band and wrote good songs (too much guitar for me, but hey, I am a grumpy bastard). The thing is that, on the whole, there is a tradition of good, knowledgable punk music in PDX. These punx just know their shit, to put it bluntly, and it shows. It is no coincidence that from the 90's onwards, PDX punk (the brand I know anyway, I am not qualified to talk about plaid shirt bands like The Observers) became more and more referential and adapted foreign punk genres to the then strengthening PDX sound, sometimes renewing an interest on a global scale and even reviving subgenres altogether (I am thinking really hard about Atrocious Madness and Hellshock right now but I shall delve deeper into the matter in subsequent entries). Add this to the fact that PDX bands usually tour a lot and are often prolific and then the reputation of the scene starts to make more sense. You can enjoy PDX bands on a very direct level because they basically always deliver solid punk-rock and also from a cultural, cerebral perspective because you will find plenty of nods to other bands. It works both as top punk music you can get pissed to AND as geeky fanservice. They just can't lose.

I am guessing Final Massakre was more of a side-project than a proper band but I could be wrong. Their first recording, the "Nothing left but wasteland", was from 1998 and they also did a (really fitting) split Ep with Decontrol that year. "The bells of Hell toll the final chime" was released in 1999 and proved to be the last for the band, but certainly not for its members. In FM you could find Kelly (Resist, Detestation and so on) on the drums (he is a man of many talent apparently), Hopper (Starved and Delirious, Detestation and so on) on the guitar, Jeramy (from the Ministry of Peace label) on the bass and Frank (Atrocious Madness) on vocals. I am guessing FM started after Detestation stopped and around the same time as Atrocious Madness. This Ep was released on Tribal War (what a surprise) and was a benefit for the Buffalo Field Campaign.

So what about the band? Final Massakre exemplifies a type of fanservice and Discharge-inspired referentiality that finds its roots in the 90's. Listening to and looking at the record, you can tell that the members had fun doing it. It is ripe with references to Discharge and dischargy bands. On that level, I feel that the idea behind FM owes a lot to the 90's Swedish D-beat wave and maybe even more to 90's Japanese crust and D-beat. It is basically a cross between these two schools in terms of conception. There are far too many Dis-references to list them all but if I ever open a Department of Dis Studies, a thorough and exhaustive analysis of this Ep would work brilliantly as an exam. From the mention "Full metal jacket D-beat raw punk" on the backcover, the use of the Antisect font in the lettering, such songs as "Death from below" and "Probability of deaths construction" (these two really cracked me up actually), to the completely excessive Sore Throatian title of the Ep, without mentioning all the riffs respectfully borrowed from Discharge, Discard, Disclose and Dischange, this record is like a game of "Where's Wally?" for Discharge punx. And I bloody love it for that. By no means is Final Massakre the best band that this bunch of PDX punx played in, nor is it the most significant. But man, it certainly comforts the inner-nerd in his ways.

So what about the music then? Well, as expected, FM played D-beat raw punk in the strictest sense of the term with 6 songs in about 6 minutes. It is nowhere as distorted as Disclose though, probably more akin to early Disfear or Dischange but with the focus on Discharge-loving bands rather than Discharge itself, somewhere between Subversion, EU's Arse, Shitlickers and Discard maybe. The recording is actually raw, bordering on the sloppy as far as the drumming is concerned, and is probably lacking in bass to my liking but the guitar sound is powerful and there are a couple of proper leads here and there. It does works on the whole, as it is very energetic and the riffs are good, effective and used wisely. As I said, you can tell that they know their shit. Frank's vocals are a strong point here, very hoarse but not excessive, they sound very angry and not overdone, not unlike in Italian hardcore or Japanese D-beat.

As for the lyrics... Well, you could literally find a Discharge reference in each song if you really cared to look. You have got the classic Discharge enumeration (two occurrences of "Men women and children" with the second one including the variation "children and animals"), funny Discard intertextuality ("by death from below and not above"), the classic Discharge chiasmus with the repetition of the last term of the verse at the beginning of the following ("Refuse to make a change / a change in our lives") and so on. The artwork is just as you can expect, black and white, cut'n'paste pictures of nuclear armament and World War One soldiers and gas masks. After Final Massakre called it a day, the dynamic duo of Kelly and Hopper kept playing together in War Machine while Frank kept going with Atrocious Madness.

Studded punx with skull heads: 2 cool 4 skool