For the last entry, I wanted to pick a record from a band that was still active. I usually do not review recent records, mostly because I feel that one needs time and hindsight in order to gain the critical perspective necessary to look properly at a given work. Too often, we are caught up in the ceaseless, glorified flow of novelties and, because of our decreasing attention span (both in terms of quantity and quality), we end up celebrating records that are really not that good and hailed short-lived bands who intentionally play the right fashionable subgenre as classics. Not being a mean-spirited geezer, I am not going to mention neocrust and the half-arsed "raw-noise-punk" or the lazy postpunk trends of late here, although I could have. And yes, that is called a preterition.
There has definitely been some solid Japanese crust being released for the past ten years and I was unsure (as usual) of which band to pick. Bands like Absurd Society, Asmodeus and Massgrave recorded top crust in the early 10's, but then long-going bands like Death Dust Extractor, ZyanosE or Disturd - the latter even getting better and better with the new line-up - relentlessly kept delivering the goods (and I am not even going to mention LIFE who are in a category of their own). And then you have brand new acts too like Avvikelsse, whose recent Ep brought back the best years of Crust War, or Scene Death Terror and Ulcer, who I am dying to hear proper studio recordings from as they are likely to cunningly blow the crust barometer to bits... In truth, some bands did disappoint me during those years but I am guessing it had more to do with my own high expectations than with the music itself... Anyway, things really do look good on the Japanese crust front and I feel optimistic for the next few years. But to get back on tracks, I decided to pick a record from Asocial Terror Fabrication to conclude the Japanese crust series for several reasons. First, ATF (you didn't really think I was going to write "Asocial Terror Fabrication" throughout the whole post now, did you?) epitomize the high referentiality that has always been an important part of Japanese crust and they certainly carry that tradition with pride; second, ATF have that specific Japanese crust sound that no one else seems to be able to recreate, as hard as they might try; third and finally, it is a bloody great record I am personally really fond of and, in the end, it is probably what matters the most.
ATF are a Tokyo band that (apparently) formed in 2007. From what I have read, some members have also played in Exclude and Abysstyx (both of which I am completely unfamiliar with and I therefore cannot confirm the veracity of the intel) and singer Riki played the drum (well, beat the proverbial D) for Krossa. I remain quite undecided about the name "Asocial Terror Fabrication". I do like the idea it conveys for its "crusties gone Mad Max" implications and I feel it actually suits the music well. But it is a bit of a mouthful, isn't it? Three distinct words and nine bloody syllables. I am guessing it could be a nod towards late 80's crust and longer band names such as Deviated Instinct or Genital Deformities or indeed Extreme Noise Terror (both phrases having a similar linguistic pattern), and, although I am not sure I like the sound of the moniker, it certainly borrows from the traditional lexical field of crust, in an act of both structural and nominal referentiality. And that is exactly what ATF is about.
The first demo was recorded in 2009 and had five songs. If the Doom-styled logo already gives the game away, it is the actual picture on the cover that is the most relevant. The highly contrasted picture of the crustier-than-your-socks singer obviously, and intentionally, refers to the one found on the cover of Abraham Cross' "Peace can't combine", which, keeping the Doom nod in mind, indicates that ATF was going for multileveled worship: the early Doom sound by way of Doom-worshiping Abraham Cross. Actually, the demo is closer to Abraham Cross than Doom so could it be... the worship of Doom-worship? Seeing it in that light, ATF's demo would take on an interesting meta dimension that, given punk's propensity to continually recycle itself, would reflect the overall trend of self-aware referentiality, both deferent and cheeky. Musically, and unsurprisingly at this point, the demo is absolute gruff crust heaven. If you think Abraham Cross' singer sounded like Jon Doom, you are in for an epiphany as Riki sounds JUST LIKE him. It is extremely impressive and also almost scary... These five songs in seven minutes sound like a crash course in cavemen crust. The riffs are great, the arrangements clever and the production has that raw, almost subterranean, aggressive and tense quality that is a genre-defining characteristic but that few bands can actually pull out properly. And the vocals... listen for yourself. Apart from Abraham Cross (the religion) and Doom (the deity), the dischargy songs of Sore Throat also come to mind (but it is almost redundant to point it out since this specific influence was at the core of the Abraham Cross sound) and I am also hearing some Private Jesus Detector in the songwriting, in terms of gruff power and impact (and well, they also had a rather long name, right?).
The Ep "Under the dark force" was released in 2010 (or was it 2011? I cannot remember exactly but Discogs says 2010) and contained six songs. These were actually part of a larger recording session as the three songs from the split Ep with Exithippies were also taken on this occasion. It was released on Hardcore Survives, a label that has grown to be one of the most reliable in terms of top-notch Japanese crusty noize and had put out records from D-Clone, Disturd, Kriegshög or Skizophrenia!. And now the time has come to be completely honest with you. Although I had heard the demo before and thought that it was a great effort indeed that made the (demo-era) Doom fanboy dance inside my skinny self, it was really the cover of this Ep that made me jump on ATF like a goofy nerd. Absolute, unashamed, direct Deviated Instinct worship, to be more accurate their 86/87 era ("Terminal Filth Stenchcore", "Welcome to the Orgy", "A Vile Peace"...). And despite DI's "cvlt" status, few bands visually paid tribute to them as obviously and lovingly as ATF. Granted, the insert of the demo already had a pretty cool crow, but there were also your typical Disorder/Electro Hippies/CFDL smiley faces and one sloppy Amebixian character, so I think ATF aimed delightfully at the broader early crust aesthetics on that one. But "Under the dark force"'s cover is all about DI (well, the font for the band's name might be Genital Deformities' actually) and so is the first page of the foldout (I mean, it has to be a scarecrow, right?). This is the ultimate level of fanservice and I will be forever grateful for that. Thanks Asocial Terror Fabrication.
And now, it would be logical to assume that ATF also went for some heavy Deviated Instinct worship sonically on this Ep, right? Well... they didn't. Not exactly. If you look hard enough, you will be able to spot a DI riff but "Under the dark force" was actually not about the Norwich bunch. So why the over-the-top DI's referentiality then? Well, it is a contextual clue rather than a textual one. In other terms, it acts as a symbol of an epoch and of an overall vibe, namely the mid-late 80's UK crusty punk wave. It wouldn't be far-fetched to describe this Ep as "Mermaid crust" in reference to this Birmingham pub where so many early crust gigs took place (the metaphor does not work quite as well with the imaginary creature). Although Doom and Sore Throat were definitely still crucial influences on this one (with Abraham Cross' pregnant template in the background of course), ATF added elements from other regulars at the Mermaid like early Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, (noisecore) Sore Throat, to which you can also significantly add (though I am not sure they actually played there, they shared that specific vibe) Genital Deformities and Mortal Terror. Of course, the production and the distorted sound of the guitar and bass indicated that you dealt with a Japanese crust band, because they have that recognizable craft, but "Under the dark force" (and the aforementioned split Ep) nevertheless spoke that Mermaid crust language which they learnt through the Abraham Cross textbook. It is a brilliant exercise in style, but one that does require the listener to know the basics of the language and its culture. Does it make ATF an over-referential band? Possibly, especially since one might argue that punk music has always been meant to be easily accessible and spontaneous. But then, don't all works of art (and yes, even your filthiest crust band makes art) require some level of cultural background for them to make sense? I am aware that there are thousands of music styles I am not able to understand because I lack the basic information and knowledge, I don't speak their specific language. Even if I feel ATF's Ep is strong and energetic enough to be enjoyed even without being a fluent crust speaker, I still think a lot of its meaning and essence would be lost in translation without at least some skills in crust linguistics. And I am fine with that.
The production on this Ep is brutal (not quite on the level on the fantastic "Peace can't combine" but it still works great), with a lot of echo, it sometimes sounds like it was recorded in an actual cave and I am reminded of the crasher crust school quite a bit on this level, although there are important differences in terms of intentionality. It is an absolutely ferocious record with an impressive flowing quality, as it has that groovy and filthy referential old-school crust sound (in merely 6 minutes, the band managed to vary the beats without it feeling forceful or mechanical) and, never falling into pointless technicality, still sounds relentlessly aggressive, angry and out of control (which it is definitely not, they know what they are doing). This is exactly how I like my crust, with a dark neanderthal vibe, a tense moodiness and meaningful chunks of punk in it. The split Ep with Exithippies, released on Doomed To Extinction (a label also responsible for a really good Contagium Ep that is not unlike ATF actually), also comes recommended. In 2015, the band released two new recordings, a tape entitled "Folly of wisdom" (that I have not heard), and a split Ep with False Insight that saw ATF back with an early Carcass old-school grindcore vibe (and borrowed font, of course) and some crisp Hellbastard and Axegrinder nods in terms of visuals. It is tough being a fanboy sometimes.
The band is still very much active despite the significant change in sound and some of its members started the intriguingly named noizy Kaltbruching Acideath that sounds much closer to what ATF originally did and has a demo out.