Thursday 27 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 9): Putrefaction "Scavenger" Ep, 2015

If you ask your next-door neighbour about his favourite contemporary crust bands, Putrefaction are unlikely to come up in the discussion. And the hypothesis is not rhetorical, go ahead, chat him up and you'll see I am right. It is, along other dismaying things like the recent French elections or international shipping costs, one of the many sad truths of our time and I do not have a reasonable explanation for this discrepancy. 

It would be far-fetched to claim that Putrefaction have gone completely unnoticed, as I remember that their 2012 Lp did garner some well-deserved attention, but this wonderful Ep pretty much flew under the radar. If the amount of active crusty metal-punk bands is any indication, it is then sound to assume that Putrefaction's sound is not happening at the wrong time. Could they be at the wrong place, being from Dublin? Yet another instance of the "had-they-been-from-Portland" syndrome? Still, the ever-increasing globalization of punk music through the internet should precisely keep great crust music from remaining relatively unknown and, ideally, foster both a more horizontal way of apprehending music from multiple backgrounds and an urge to discover exciting bands from all over, as vertiginous as it might be given the spectrum of inquiry. But then, the internet also tends to exacerbate pre-existing glorifications of some parts of the scene at the expense of others. We have a window open to the world and yet use it as the mirror of our obsessions. Could the world wide web be the ultimate reflection of this duality? Or has our attention span been permanently damaged by the overwhelming mass of information continuously renewed before our eyes? Or perhaps the name "Putrefaction" sounds too ingrained in death-metal lexical mythology and might scare "da punx" away? 

You should ask your neighbour again, unless he threatened to call the cops the first time. If so, it might be safer to leave him on his own and just leave a note in his mailbox or something.

Putrefaction are friends so I could be a little partial to them but have no fear, I will be just as subjective as usual, prone to defend the crust underdogs against the trendies (that I always picture wearing Fall of Efrafa shirts and Metal Punk Death Squad hats for some obscure reason that even my shrink cannot make sense of). As I remember it, the idea of Putrefaction was born in 2005 in Dublin when Eric (the handsome guitarist/singer, formerly in Easpa Measa and currently also singing for Rats Blood) mentioned that he was thinking of forming some kind of D-beat band under that moniker. Helped in this task by brothers Donal and Eoin, it first came into being with the 2007 Destroyers demo. The demo was a rather raw but promising 8-song effort that gave the listener an idea of what the band was then trying to achieve. It could be roughly described as an aggressive blend of State of Fear-type crust, Hellshock's epic stenchcore style and Repulsion's primitive extreme metal (the punk as fuck Sepultura cover is pretty ace). There were some genuinely good ideas on this one. Though it was partly impaired by a raw punk production, it still conferred the demo some sort of Hellhammer charm, so even if it was not a groundbreaking recording, at least it had the relative merits to sound unpretentiously spontaneous and angry. It did not, however, prepare the unsuspecting listener for the mammoth metal-punk scorcher as unleashed on Blood cult five years later.

To be fair (time for confidences), when the Blood cult Lp came out in 2012, I had almost forgotten about Putrefaction. I do not know how active they were locally between 2007 and 2012, but the truth is that I thought they had basically stopped playing so I was both pleased and surprised when a full album was released on four reliable labels such as Underground Movement (also responsible for the Coitus discography and the brilliant Bullet Ridden album), Distro-Y Records, Phobia Records and Ratbone Records. Without even getting into the songwriting, the progression from the demo is immense. The album has a massive sound and, as tempting as the claim that the musicianship considerably improved appears, it might be closer to the truth to say that the effort is that much more focused and cohesive that it allows the instruments to really shine. Blood cult is a more diverse work which borrows more heavily from the world of extreme metal than the demo. The direct crustcore element is toned down to give room to a more refined death-metal influence that never feels contrived and mechanical. Although Putrefaction's investigative fields are apparent, the band never sounds derivative or generic. More crucially, despite the diverse stylistic additions, the music does not feel disparate and the different phases sound like adhering parts of a smooth whole and not like a bland series. I would argue that this is what makes the album good: it sounds whole. I may not love to death all the elements when taken separately, but as an entity, they all work. On this album, Putrefaction borrowed from old-school death-metal bands like Repulsion or Autopsy, but also from modern metal crust acts like Limb From Limb or Hellshock, from the dark hardcore punk sound of Tragedy or World Burns To Death and the epic cavemen crustcore of Cop On Fire and Consume. The list of possible influences is endless and it would be pointless (and a probable tedious read) to go on, as what really matters here is that the band tied all of these elements in the songwriting with one thing: mood. Whether they go for a brutal death-metal beat or for a mid-paced heavy hardcore moment, the mood remains the compass. Putrefaction sound like a trance-inducing apocalyptic ride into the industrial wasteland as a symbol of the decay of an ever-rotting society. Sure, the hellish bike (it has to be a motorbike, right?) sometimes takes a turn or goes faster but the destination does not change.

When Putrefaction released their Scavenger Ep two years ago, this time I was ready to ruck and when they played in Paris I bought it in a heartbeat (and let me tell you that they were one of the most convincing crust trios I have ever witnessed live). If Blood Cult was a dantean journey to the threshold of Hell's gates, Scavenger can be described as the mad descent into the Inferno itself as it sounds like the (un)natural progression of the Lp. It is a great Ep with memorable clever riffs that never falls into complacency, enhanced with a thick, heavy and aggressive production that is burning and abrasive and never sounds overdone or artificially angry. Superb job on that level. The bass sound is ominous and distorted and confers a crunchy texture to the songs, the guitar has that vibrating, filthy metallic quality but keeps a distinctively hardcore aggression and the drumming is excellent, just at the right level, pummeling but neither buried nor overshadowing everything else. The vocals are hoarse, guttural and aptly expressive of the sense of desperate rage that the band goes for, and, more importantly, they never sound forced or ridiculously grandiloquent. 

Despite the shorter format, Scavenger is still a pretty varied, highly mood-driven work with some delicious hooks in the arrangements and the articulations. "Welcome death" is a crushingly epic introduction to the record, reminiscent of vintage Stormcrow (especially in the textures), Limb From Limb and of a punkified Bolt Thrower; "Wasted time" is a mid-paced dark hardcore anthem (skipping on my copy for some unfathomable reason) that brings Tragedy and Wolfpack's best moments to mind; "After the storm" is an epic mid-00's "gruff-yet-modern" crustcore number that nods towards Cop On Fire and Nuclear Death Terror (with perhaps something of the Spanish D-Beat/crust school as well); finally, "Ballast existence" goes back effortlessly to Stormcrow heaviness and concludes the last ride in style. Although they certainly build on old-school metal and punk (you won't be hearing silly technical blast beats, pseudo screamo atmospheric parts or similar nonsensical atrocities), Putrefaction sound modern in a good way, dark, powerful and epic. They are not openly referential and, in spite of some unavoidable sonic familiarity, write songs that are singular, catchy and strong enough to stand out from the crowd. The lyrics are another definite strongpoint, pissed, genuinely political and carefully written despite their directness, they depict the homicidal and exploitative nature of modern politics instead of rehashing dull doomsday allegories. I particularly enjoy "Wasted time," with words about "A vicious ruling class crucifying the poor. Ireland 2015" that read bitterly familiar in the current era of austerity politics. 

A truly cracking record released on Distro-Y (and still available) that you could argumentatively recommend to your neighbour now (never underestimate the connective power of crust).       

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Interlude: Ελληνική κρούστα's apocalyptic crust epics

Alright then, this is not the next post of the "Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST" series but more of an interlude, a creative break.

I had been toying with the idea of doing a classic Greek crust compilation for a while now and finally got to it. The purpose of this modest compilation is twofold. First, it makes for a bloody amazing crust compilation; second, through its making, I intended to select songs that embodied and epitomized the specific characteristics of the Greek crust sound, so that after you listen to it, you can have a clearer picture of the defining traits of the genre. Because it is a proper crust genre. "Greek crust" does not merely refer to a particular geographical area, it is not just "Crust from Greece", it must actually be understood as a particular subgenre, with its vibe, its patterns, its recurring motives and themes, its aesthetics, its language and its own referential schemes.

Undeniably, Greece was - along with the British initiators and the Californian scene - a crucial, pivotal spot in crust history. Although a lot of the Greek bands remained quite little-known and obscure, the quality and the prolificity of crust there is breath-taking and I do hope that the renewed interest in Greek crust along with old bands reforming and recording again (with great results, let me tell you) will lead to more reissues, articles and, of course, new bands.

There are 22 bands with 22 songs on the compilation, all recorded between 1988 and 2003 as I felt a 15-year span was enough for a panoramic retrospective glance (and besides, an 84 minute comp is fine). I have often heard people complaining that the Greek alphabet is too complicated thus rendering the discovery and memorization of Greek names more difficult so I have included romanized versions of the names as well as English translations (but it makes more sense to try pronounce it correctly, right? After all, punx can pronounce Suomi monikers - badly, I'll give you that). Some of the recordings are a little rough but keep in mind that these were DIY operations. Whenever possible, I used my own rips of the songs and I did try to find the best ones for the other. Anyway, es lo que hay.

The tracklist:

1.Χαοτικό Τέλος (Chaotikó Télos / Chaotic End) « Επιτάφιος Για Νεκρές Συνειδήσεις », taken from  « Πέρα Από Τα Τείχη Της Σιωπής » demo tape, 1991

2.Ρήγμα (Rígma / Rift) « Κρυφή Επιθυμία », taken from « Ο Τελευταίος Αιώνας » Lp, 1994

3.Πνευματική Διάψευση (Pnevmatikí Diápsefsi / Spiritual Contradiction) « Σκέψεις Άγνοιας », taken from « Ανεξίτηλα Σημάδια » demo tape, 1995

4.Απολίτιστοι (Apolítistoi / Uncivilised) « Γενοκτονία », taken from « Η Ώρα Του Κυκλώνα Δυο » compilation tape, 1996

5.Ανθρωπινος Ληθαργος (Anthropinos Lithargos / Human Lethargy) « Οι Ασκοι Του Αιολου », taken from « S/t » demo tape, 1992

6.Βιομηχανική Αυτοκτονία (Viomichanikí Aftoktonía / Industrial Suicide) « Η Ζωή Του Θανάτου », taken from « demo # 3 », 1990

7.Μι-άσμα (Mi-ásma / Miasma) « Το Πιο Βρώμικο Παιχνίδι », taken from « Διατάραξη Οικιακής Ειρήνης » compilation Lp, 1996

8.Ανάσα Στάχτη (Anása Stáchti / Ashen Breath) « Κελιά Ανυπαρξίας « , taken from « S/t » Lp, 1994

9.Ανατέλλων Τρόμος (Anatéllon Trómos / Rising Terror) « Μια Ριπή Στο Μέλλον », taken from « Ο Παιδικός Μας Πόλεμος » cd, 2001

10.Ναυτία (Naftía / Nausea) « Συνθετική Εμπειρία », taken from « The Ναυτία Kinky Horror Show » split Lp w/ Graue Zellen, 1994

11.Μάστιγα (Mástiga / Scourge) « Δηλητηριασμένη Γενιά », taken from « Σύνδρομο Άγνοιας » tape, 1992

12. Ψύχωση (Psýchosi / Psychosis) « Ο Δρόμος Της Σφαγής », taken from « Unreleased cd », 1994

13.Ατομική Σχάση (Atomikí Schási / Nuclear Fission) « Τα Σύμβολα Του Μίσους », taken from « Ακροβάτες Στο Κενό » demo tape, 1995

14.Υποταγη (Ypotagi / Submission) « υποδουλωση του αυριο », taken from « Καθοδικη Πορεια » demo tape, 1998

15.Ξεσπασμα (Xespasma / Outburst) «  Μέλλον », taken from « S/t » demo, 1998

16.Σαρκασμος (Sarkasmos / Sarcasm) « αιώνια τιμωρία”, taken from “S/t” demo, 1990

17. Ξεχασμενη Προφητεια (Xechasmeni Profiteia / Forgotten Prophecy) « Οι Αλυσιδες Σου », taken from « All Hail Discordia » promo tape, 1990

18.Πανικός (Panikós / Panic) «  Όλα Για Το Χρήμα », taken from « Όλα Για Το Χρήμα » Ep, 1995

19.Αρνητική Στάση (Arnitikí Stási / Negative Stance) « Έρημος », taken from « Άγγελοι Του Ψεύδους » Lp, 1993

20.Αρνηση (Arnisi / Refusal) « Στερεοτυπη Απαντηση », taken from « Το Ψωμι Να Βγαινει » tape, 1988

21.Πυρηνικός Χειμώνας (Pyrinikós Cheimónas / Nuclear Winter) « Πύργος Καταιγίδων », taken from « S/t » cd, 1997

22.Χειμερία Νάρκη (Cheimería Nárki / Hibernation) « Εφιάλτες », taken from « Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης » Lp, 2003

Because we're becoming lazier with the progress of technology and because for some, downloading a file and clicking four times are apparently colossal tasks that have no place in 2017, I have uploaded the compilation onto youtube (so just the one click). The download link with the wav version is at the bottom of the post.

I hope you enjoy this slice of heavy, apocalyptic, atmospheric crust music as much as I enjoyed compiling it. TRIGGER WARNING: there will be synth parts.

Monday 10 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 8): Femacoffin "S/t" Ep, 2014

Until today, I had never given much thought about the semantics of the word "femacoffin". And then, as I was meditating about the band's music (as I always do, occasionally to the point of levitating), it struck me: "but what the hell is a femacoffin?". I tried to figure it out by myself, and thought of possible etymological roots for the prefix "fema" but I could not find any satisfying one. So I did what anyone with too much time on his hands would: I looked it up on the internet. The results were a little unsettling, I must say, for most of the sites referring to "fema coffins" appeared to be heavily into conspiracy theories and these are not exactly my cuppa (litotes for you). But there you go, the online world is the new heart of darkness. From what I understood, fema coffins are ugly disposable things made of black plastic that, though they probably are very convenient if you need to find thousands of ready-made coffins, make for a pretty grim sight. Conspiracists believe that fema coffins (FEMA being the acronym for Federal Emergency Management Agency so you know this lot doesn't fuck about), which were supposedly stocked in camps, are to be used for the body disposal of thousands of political dissenters after martial law is declared in the U$ of A. Yes, it does sound like an Atrocious Madness song. I don't know whether Femacoffin believe in the fema coffin theory or not but I reckon that it is a fitting name for a crust band as it conveys the idea of claustrophobia, anonymity and massgraves. Cheery stuff.

I first heard of the band through Terminal Escape, when the demo tape was posted on the blog. I genuinely liked it and proceeded to order it promptly. Like a simpleton, I had not realized that Femacoffin was a post-Stormcrow band and thus my nebulous amazement at the quality of the songs was left unexplained, shrouded in mystery. Before checking out the line-up, at first, I even thought that the singer was female and listening closely to the demo today, judging solely from the vocals, it was not implausible (right?). It did take to see them live in 2014 to be struck by the truth, and even then, they had to play Stormcrow covers for me to be enlightened. What can I say? There are days when I am just not the quickest. But at least, I could originally listen to Femacoffin (which I shall call FC from now on because it is still a ten-letter word) with an open mind and a fresh ear, unaffected and uninfluenced by the intel that they were - OMG - ex-Stormcrow. But once I knew, this made me ponder actually. Does knowing that "band X" has ex-members of "older well-respected band Y" completely condition our reception of "band X"? Does this piece of knowledge send us in a limited direction and a circumscribed appreciation of a given band? But then, not knowing means that you are going to miss important points and be unable to properly contextualize the band diachronically? And who wants that??? Existential questioning, to be sure.

Getting back to FC, their 2013 demo particularly impressed me with the unpredictability of the riffs and the drummer's natural ability to change beats. The band never really picked the obvious solution in terms of songwriting and it felt good to have a band with a real identity. I am not saying they re-invented crust but I love how seamlessly they integrated elements from sludge, death-metal and doom-metal into the music. In general, I am quite orthodox with my crust and I am suspicious with bands borrowing too heavily from other metal genres, not because I dislike the idea - on the contrary, I feel it is important to try things and widen the fields - but because, more often than not, the balance has not been thought through and the result becomes very mechanical or strays too far away from crust for my liking. So I was thoroughly pleased with FC's tape, it was heavy, very much so, but with an organic, cave-like quality, the riffs were rocking and dark without being cheesy, the drumming was top-notch, song-oriented and diverse and the vocals were desperate and coarse but definitely punky. Of course, the Stormcrow comparison is unavoidable since Brian and Tony were both in the band and the latter's riffing style is unmistakably similar to "Enslaved in darkness"'s (Tony has got a very distinct sound and strumming technique), an Lp whose opening song still sends chills down my spine when it kicks in and one that I have just incidentally realized is almost 12 years old... The other guitar player, Nick, used to play in Sanctum but I do not hear any strong resemblance between both bands other than the Bolt Thrower tonalities. 

FC's vibe is close to Stormcrow's early years, both bands share the same punishing heaviness and magmatic tension but I would argue that FC does not rely as much on atmospherics for their songs are not as long and dilated as Stormcrow's (especially in their later incarnations). I also hear something of late 90's Misery (the split with EOM to be specific), not in terms of sound or songwriting, but for their ability to incorporate smoothly discrete metal elements, and bands like Bolt Thrower (I would even say that FC's use of Bolt Thrower-type riffs and guitar tone is exactly right), 13 and Dystopia are - each on different levels and to varying degrees - other highly relevant points of reference. However, I think the other main source of influence in FC's musical approach can be located in a classic Oakland crust band from the 90's: Skaven. I can already hear the head-scratching of people staring in disbelief at their screen, certain that I have positively lost me marbles, but if you consider both bands' music in terms of vibe and tension, and not just as the sum of correlating instruments, the parallel is sensible. There is a similar atmosphere of lucid dementia pervading the music that is conveyed through the pained vocals, the versatility of the strings and the almost tangible slimy thickness born from the relationship between all the instruments - including the vocals. There are also significant differences, as Skaven were a much more inventive, narrative-oriented band, but still, it does situate Femacoffin in a specific crust tradition.   

The first and only Ep from FC was released in May, 2014, on local Brainsand Records. On this recording, the band switched to a three-piece with Nick only playing on the third song, although FC were back to a four-piece when they played live with the addition of Erika on second guitar. The first riff of the energetically mid-paced "Dismal twilight" exemplifies meaningfully and eloquently Tony's ability with the guitar. The riff is catchy but not stereotyped, it has an undeniable chugging, galloping metallic groove and works perfectly in a loop. The vocals are threatening and expressive, with some reverb, while the drumming is adequately pounding without sounding obnoxious. The guitar sound is filthy but aimful and the all-out boltthrowerish part concluding the song tells you that they could do that all day but would rather use it wisely and pointfully. In fact, the last part of the song illustrates the flowing quality of FC's songwriting and how, in just 90 seconds, they effortlessly (well, so to speak, I am well aware that it does take some work to achieve it) go from their mid-tempo dirty crust epics to a heavy and monumental doom-metal part, then to a short suffocating sludgy interlude and finally to the death-metal epilogue I mentioned above. The key here does not lie in the multigeneric nature of the finale, but rather in how the different parts seamlessly transition with one another. The second song, "Trinity", is faster and globally closer to death-metal, possibly a little too much for my taste and I am not completely convinced with the team work between the guitar and the drums (it could be just me). This song blends with a cover of Icons of Filth's "Midnight" which is introduced by creepy noises (a little like on Antisect's "THEY" or "The moor" from Amebix or what SDS did on "Ameber", you know, that kind of ominous atmosphere), notably the death rattle of Kayako from Ju-on which is undoubtedly the most horrific, frightening sound I have ever heard (seriously). This unexpected prologue to an Icons of Filth song somewhat announces the song's change of mood initiated by FC and turns it into a lugubrious danse macabre made possible by the obsessiveness of the original riff, played here with an almost black-metal tone. The righteous anger is still present in the vocals but it now feels like it comes from the underworld. This is a great cover, not overdone or forceful, which is well adapted to the band's sound thanks to this clever sonic mood change. 

The Ep looks really good. The cover, a smug-looking Apocalypse angel playing the harp and dropping bombs, and especially the backcover, with its lovely reworking of a classic Icons of Filth artwork, were drawn by crust artist Stiv (from Visions of War), while the words of the lyrics were written by Dino from Dystopia in that characteristic fashion of his (I love how it looks but you do need to focus in order to read it). Unfortunately, the band stopped playing not long after the Ep's release, a real shame since I would have been very curious to hear a full album from them, with all the possibilities that a longer format entails.   


Friday 7 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 7): Swordwielder "S/t" demo tape, 2014

Before unleashing my usual wisdom, I need to get something off my chest. Swordwielder was an obvious choice for the "Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST" series and I suppose the most faithful of my readers (meaning those who purchased the much-coveted Terminal Sound Nuisance membership card which came with a signed picture of yours truly in full Amebix cosplay for the - non-refundable - princely sum of £9,99) saw that one coming. Their music has left a lasting impression on many people - myself included - since they released this demo and not including them here would have been akin to high treason to the crust crown. Still though, Swordwielder. I cannot help thinking how ugly it must sound if you pronounce it with a strong American accent. I realize it is a silly thought, but I mean, /sɔrdwiːldər/ does sound like a bit of a mouthful and I have been trying to utter it like that this morning and ended up giggling like a schoolboy upon hearing a loud fart in biology class. If it can make you feel phonetically better, with our horrendous French accent, we pronounce it something like /swɔʁdwildœʁ/ so you still have it pretty good my North-American friends. 

But why "swordwielder" then? In a rather informative interview for Terrorizer (read it here though I do not get the interviewer's enthusiasm with Fenriz' validation of Swordwielder's music, and nor did the band, but that must be a metalhead thing), when asked about the choice of moniker, the band replied: "who doesn't wanna be a Swordwielder?". I personally do not mind the fantasy of wielding swords although I know perfectly well that I would injure myself badly if I ever tried for real. There is always that medieval reenactment thing (aka traditional European cosplay) but I am not sure I want to hang out with that Manowar-loving crowd. Anyway, that the name refers to the lexical field of ancient battles, pagan warriors and bloody heroic fantasy coheres with crust's visual mythology and its ontological use of allegories to look critically at modernity and it also allows to locate Swordwielder in the specific crust tradition of metal epics (a wide and fluctuant spectrum that goes from Amebix to Bolt Thrower). There is however another answer to the query "why Swordwielder?" that I find more nerdishly appealing. A friend of mine recently asked them that fateful question and "because Axegrinder" was the response. Of course, I like the postmodernist quality of such an exchange based on the shared knowledge of a common set of references that would be utterly unintelligible if taken out of the crust context (though it could be still be enjoyed if you're into Theatre of the Absurd). Besides, from such an answer, the name could then be read as being the logical continuation of "axegrinder" since once the weapon is sharpened, attack becomes possible. Would that make Swordwielder an offensive, more aggressive version of Axegrinder? It could just be paronomastic lucubrations on my part, but approaching SW as a modern reenactment of AG is not unsubstantial. Right?

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first heard of the band, but I suppose it was through Crust Demos in late 2012, a little while after the demo was first released. I do recall being a little suspicious upon noticing their name though and thought inwardly (or, more likely, I threateningly said it out loud): "If you so openly refer to the mighty Axegrinder, you better do it properly". By no means was it the first time that I had come across a band nodding textually toward the londoners (Grind the Enemy and Axebastard are the first ones springing to mind) but paying a tribute to the crust canon is tricky and if you do a half-arsed job of it, magnanimity is not an option. But the demo completely baffled me: it was brilliant. So good that its flaws made it even more lovable. And the best part was that SW came from out of nowhere. Well, not exactly, they are from Gothenburg, Sweden, but what I mean is that this was not a band relying on an "ex-members" list (something which they reasserted in their Terrorizer itw and that I am grateful for). This was just a young punk band with their first four-songs DIY demo and they completely nailed it. That's the spirit. This demo was actually first released in May, 2012, on a cheap-looking cdr - which confers SW 100 additional punk points - and then, in December, on tape thanks to Boneyard records (a label dedicated in heavy metal-punk with releases from Last Legion Alive, Hellisheaven or Mörkhimmel) and on digital files. My own copy is the tape reissue that was released in April, 2014, on Malaysian label Blood of War Records (picking this release date, I therefore tackled SW at the 7th position of this series although the recording is from 2012).

SW is a Swedish crust band that does not play Swedish crust (cracking subject for a dissertation, you've got four hours). I have already written about the development of crust in Sweden and how its old-school avatar (understand Amebix, Antisect and their natural Peaceville successors) never truly materialized over there. You can find exceptions in some Warcollapse records ("Crust as fuck existence"), the sadly short-lived Jesusexercise and, most of all possibly in mid-90's Counterblast. Although the Swedish punk scene has produced a large number of bands affiliated to crust (Skitsystem, Uncurbed or 3-Way Cum come to mind), these mainly built on the national hardcore and metal sounds rather than the UK ones (Doom being a deceptive exception to that statement since they were themselves very Swedish-influenced). But then, when you have Anti-Bofors, Bombanfall or Entombed as a legacy, I suppose it makes sense. SW's sound however does not fit in with the traditional Swedish crust sound and is decidedly rooted in the old-school stenchcore sound.

Let's start with the Axegrinder comparison which is fairly conspicuous. From the atmospheric use of the synth, the thick riffs, the delicate and eerie arpeggios to some obvious emphatic and repetitive drum beats, without mentioning the placement of the double-bass pedal, you can tell that they have been listening closely to "Rise of the serpent men". This said, SW do not aim at recreating Axegrinder's music like a band with a more referential intent would, rather, they pick generously from the Axegrinder bag of crust tricks those that are the most relevant to their own songs. Some ingredients are similar, but the recipe and the oven aren't. It is a different cake. On the whole, SW's songs are faster, more aggressive and not as atmospheric and thick as AG's and the textures are dissimilar and do not serve the same purpose. To a lesser extent, I suppose 86/87-era Deviated Instinct is not an irrelevant point of reference too, especially in the songs' structure and in the way the riffs work together and are arranged so as to create different vibes. In spite of these parallels, I definitely hear more of a 00's sound in SW. Their highly dynamic, epic, almost galloping changes of pace (one of the band's strongest points) remind me of Contagium's mid-tempo moments (they really excelled at these) while their slower apocalyptic parts are not dissimilar to After The Bombs', especially since both bands have two guitars whose orchestration conveys a delectable sense of both doom and heroics, and some of the catchy guitar leads typically bring Hellshock's to mind (SW wisely do not overuse them). All the instruments ride epically in the same direction: the metallic guitar riffs are monstrous, heavy and energetic, the bass is groovy and organic and the drummer definitely has Weetabix in the morning. Because of its rather rough production, the demo displays a genuine primitive, pagan metal feel, enhanced with some occasional and tasteful old-school doom- and heavy-metal elements, that goes perfectly with its almost trance-like rhythmic quality. It sounds both modern and atavistic, reflexive and yet spontaneous.

There is some proper inventiveness at work on the demo. The eerie bass line opening "Shadow," with the sound of rain in the background, is slightly disconcerting at first but works very well at creating a gloomy soundscape. And then you have got that long emotional spoken part at the beginning of "With my dying breath," with a mournful synth melody, the wind blowing and Misery-like guitar arpeggios, and the dramatic monologue keeps flowing from the mouth of an apocalypse preacher resigned to our impending doom, and it should sound cheesy and corny and lengthy but the prosody is so passionate and heartfelt that it incredibly works. Daring move indeed that proves that you can still come up with new ideas and use the crust template creatively. The vocals in SW play an important role in setting up that primitive epic vibe. They are not exaggeratedly gruff, goofy growls or pseudo black-metal piercing howls, on the contrary, they are raw, passionate and desperately angry shouts which confers that threatening punk intensity to the songs, very much like early UK crust actually or even 80's Swedish hardcore. As I mentioned, the production is raw and rather thin, but then it was done in a totally DIY fashion as the band recorded it with Garageband. I would argue that in this case, the rough sound and the relative blurriness of the textures contribute to the dirty primal vibe that permeates and identifies the work. SW re-recorded the four songs for the first album "Grim visions of battle" with a more polished, heavier production that certainly highlighted the subtleties of the songwriting but also changed the overall mood to something more monumental while the demo is all about filthy epics. I enjoy the Lp a lot but it is texturally and narratively a different animal.

The lyrics are appropriately pessimistic and apocalyptic and can make for a lovely afternoon of intertextual crustpunk bingo with lines such as "Recognize your own potential" or "Face, destroy your tormentor". And if you need more proofs that you need this demo, SW use a slimy hairy font for the band's name AND there is a drawing of a one-eyed skull in the booklet, which says it all really.           

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 6): Đornata "Simple, Fast and Good + So What" Lp, 2014

Đornata is exactly the kind of band I go to festival for. I stumbled upon the band last summer at the Monte Paradiso festival in Pula, Croatia, and instantly loved them. I am not going to pretend I had heard of them prior to that gig, but then, the discovery of yet unknown local bands was precisely what prompted me to travel there (well, that and the rather flimsy - it appeared - rumour that you could set camp close to the seaside without too much hassles). Obviously, the presence of familiar faces on the festival's lineup (in this particular case, FUK and Extinction of Mankind) and of bands I was really curious to see (Pizda Materna and Crude SS) comforted and reassured me, but the prospect of watching bands I was utterly clueless about was a thrilling factor and therefore, in order to make the whole thing more exciting, keep an open mind and give a proper chance to all the bands, I chose not to check those I had not heard about before I went. The Monte Paradiso is an old-school punk festival, one that does not go for monomania and instead offers a diverse array of punk music, which is totally fine by me as I usually have troubles with festivals that only have one or two subgenres represented. They always get tedious after the first day and, even though I specifically favour certain types of punk music, I no longer can stand eight crust bands in a row, as good as each one of them is separately.

But on the whole, I am not a huge sucker for festivals anyway. You inevitably get pissed early and you usually have to bear with grindcore bands playing for far too long (without mentioning their contractual encores), survive the apocalyptic state of the bogs after dark and deal with wankers bellowing and bleating all night on the camping site. Call me a diva all you like, I am seldom in the mood for idiots, even when they wear studs, dreads or a mohawk... But let's not digress, I'll tell you all about my fascinating holidays when I write my autobiography (or more likely, when I finally get someone to do it for me). A local friend of mine had told me good things about Đornata and how I would probably like them, which made me both eager to watch them play and, paradoxically, slightly vexed that I had not heard of them before, although I had decided not to on my own. And she was completely right, I did like them a lot and got their record after chatting up to the lads when they were done playing. The rest of the festival was good but Đornata remained my personal highlight because I did not expect to appreciate them that much and because, nowadays, it can prove difficult to be pleasantly surprised and, let's get real, this feeling is unbeatable.

Đornata (it is pronounced something like "Djornata") are based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and have been playing since 2012 according to their website. The drummer, Gaber, also sits behind the kit for the national grindcore heroes, Extreme Smoke 57, while vocalist/bass player Dan (who has been in quite a few bands apparently) and guitar player Lisko had already teamed up together in Wasteland, an interesting mid-tempo dark metallic crust project, somewhere between Warcollapse's slow moments, Misery, Intoxicate and Bad Influence, but with a modern twist. The recording dates on the Lp are not indicated (or maybe I just did not get the insert or the memo, which is plausible) but seeing as it was released in March, 2014, I suppose that 2013 is not such a wild guess (thanks fuck Captain Obvious was whispering in my ear on this one). There are actually two different recording sessions on the Lp, each corresponding to a side, as the first one contains the "Simple, fast and good" Ep while the other includes the "So what" Ep. It is unclear whether these Ep's saw the light of day in physical format before the Lp's release, for all I (and discogs) know there could have been cd or tape versions of them or just digital releases. Angry Voice, from Germany, a label with a focus on international punk music (they also released records from Antimelodix, Los Rezios, Mutabo, NoWhiteRag among others) was responsible for putting out the vinyl.  

Live, Đornata's music screamt eurocrust so I was looking forward to seeing how they had managed in the studio. Despite an undeniable crust element, "Simple, fast and good" does not dive head first into the genre like their live performance could have suggested. This first Ep is actually pretty diverse and cross over genres with an ease, a distinctly punk energy and a noticeable snotty enthusiasm that are refreshing and bring the 90's to mind. The production is very dynamic and clear but not needlessly heavy (it is arguably lacking in power sometimes). I suppose I was expecting the songwriting to be more strongly inclined toward eurocrust but I do enjoy the versatility as it remains coherent. I am sometimes reminded of early Patareni, not in terms of sound as they were much rawer, gruffer and grind-oriented, but for the ability to switch from a register to another while keeping a sense of focus (there is actually a Patareni cover on this side of the Lp). The main direction of the nine songs included on "Short, fast and loud" is still European fast crust à la Warcollapse/Hiatus/90's Doom, but there are punky grindcore numbers too and even a demented-sounding song called "Funky-punky". Clearly, Đornata are not a one-trick pony and their obvious technical proficiency (the top-notch pummeling drumming and the inventive bass lines point to strong musicianship) open possibilities that they joyfully embrace on this one. One could suggest that this kind of manic structural songwriting was influenced by bands such as Panic Overdose, a mid/late 90's Slovenian band - whom Đornata covers on the second Ep - that frantically blended raw hardcore, crust punk and grindcore (there were quite a few similarly-disposed bands in the Balkans in the 90's), or perhaps Polish crust acts like Infekcja or Toxic Bonkers. The bass parts are quite fascinating on this recording, very catchy and punky, somewhere between proper noisepunk and Patareni, while the bass sound is high and undistorted. The vocal work maybe stands as the Ep's cynosure to me. The voice is deep, hoarse and gruff, crustness incarnated (like Warcollapse singer's for instance), but can also maintain a sense of - dare I say it - tune when needed, on the song "Marchin in" for example, not unlike Ste's from EOM or Ralphyboy's from Disassociate. "Simple, fast and good"is a mise en abyme: it is simple, fast and good (simplicity pertaining to the composition).

In terms of sound, "So what" can be seen as the logical progression from the first Ep. The production is heavier, punchier and has that sweeping, buoyant quality that defines eurocrust. Texture-wise, this is definitely a crustier effort, and even though songs like "Kill" or "Punk" still retain a crazy Balkan grindcore feel, the sonic crustification combined with some clever ventures into mid-paced dark crust make "So what" stand out. The vintage Warcollapse feel remains important, and I still hear something of Polish crust in the riffs (think How Long? or Infekcja) but the influence of Belgian and Dutch crust is more pervasive, with bands like Hiatus (the eponymous song is a case in point of Hiatusitis, a medical condition that used to be common among punx in the 90's), Fleas and Lice (especially vocally), early Visions of War or even the protocrust, raw hardcore sound of Private Jesus Detector. As the number of covers demonstrate, Hiatus had a huge influence on Balkan crust in the 90's so the fact that Đornata work on that type of sound, probably best embodied by the truly excellent Spiridon Mekas Crust from Croatia at the time, makes sense (though it should be pointed that it had slowly become marginal in the area like everywhere else).

The two mid-paced songs "Why?" and "Squat" particularly caught my attention as they confer an additional dimension to the recording. "Why?" is a dark number with sung (but still deep and coarse) vocals reminiscent of the anarchopunk branch of the crust family. It is a really catchy song with a moody twist, not unlike Bad Influence jamming with Fleas And Lice after listening to Saw Throat all day. "Squat" is melancholy but ragingly so. It starts in a slow fashion with a rather mournful bass lines and Warcollapsish gruff spoken words before the chorus bursts into an excellent, intense, potent Anti-System/Antisect riff with hoarse, bear-like screams of anguish. I am not completely convinced with the emotional-sounding break at the end, but then they are always difficult to pull out (Jobbykrust were experts in those). "Why?" and "Squat" are two really solid songs that turned what was essentially a classically good eurocrust Ep (I would have signed for that anyway) into a highly promising crust one. Like on "Simple, fast and good", the bass is the focal point in the songwriting and in spite of the uncommonness of its lines and sound for the genre, I tend to think that it brings something more to the table and gives the song some extra dynamism instead of the usual layer of heaviness, which is an interesting option. The drumming is tight and song-oriented; the balance between the bass and the guitar's textures is adequate and stronger than on the previous effort. And of course, the vocals ideally cover every nuances of the 90's eurocrust repertoire, from gruffest savage growls to threatening doomy moans (what an ace alexandrine, right?).

I have read that Đornata had something coming out soon so I am definitely looking forward to seeing where they will take their band of crust and how they will transcribe in the studio what I have recently seen them do live. Breath held.