Thursday 25 May 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 12): Cancer Spreading "Ghastly visions" Lp, 2016

Just a few weeks ago, Cock Sparrer released a new album, modestly entitled Forever, and, being a modern man on a budget, I have been listening to it constantly on my portable music device. The new Lp works especially well while walking the streets with your head up high as you're heading up to the pub to meet up with the lads and have a right laugh (although you are just really making some errands and queuing at the local store). I suppose a most adequate description of Cock Sparrer would be "local conversations between middle-aged men, overheard at your local pub and put into music with all the best random tunes you have been casually whistling in the shower". Perhaps that's where the secret of the band's legendary tunefulness lies, contrary to us mere mortals, Cock Sparrer are actually able to remember all the great melodies they come up with while showering, they may even bring a water-proof guitar with them, just in case a solid tune needs to be tested on the spot before it vanishes. 

There is no similarity between Cock Sparrer and Cancer Spreading I can think of other than their initials. However, when I think about the former, the song "Where are they now?" immediately comes to mind and if you were to ask this question about the latter, I would point to Ghastly visions (an album that proves to be much more difficult to whistle to while showering), and then probably quote the song "Still pist" from The Pist to further develop. How fun would that be to have a full conversation using only the names of punk songs! Right? Right?? RIGHT??? 

Okay then, let's cut the crap and get to the penultimate round of this series about contemporary crust with the new album of Cancer Spreading, whom I will refer to from now on as CS (like Cock Sparrer, Civilised Society or Concrete Sox). I already wrote quite extensively about this Modena band exactly three years ago with a review of their 2011 Suffering Ep which also saw me discuss the implications of the term "stenchcore" both diachronically and synchronically and enjoy using these two lovely adverbs in the process. Incidentally, CS did not release anything for a few years and the two-year gap between the 2014 split Ep with Fatum and last year's Ghastly visions felt somewhat unusual for a band that had been so impressively prolific in the past (one album, two split Lp's, one full Ep and five split Ep's in six years). If you look closer at CS' recording session - a perspective that often proves to be more enlightening than release dates - you will notice that they did not record for almost three years, since their July 2012 session during which they immortalized the songs that would end up on the 2013 split Lp with Last Legion Alive and the aforementioned split with Fatum. It is not far-fetched to assume that the band must have decided to take more time to write new songs, think about where to take CS next in terms of musical direction and sound and allow some space for self-reflexivity. This makes all the more sense if you consider the self-defining project that inherently encompasses CS: the persistence to play stenchcore.

Whether you like the band (or the genre for that matter, both of them being so intertwined in 2017) or not, in an epoch when a band's lifespan is increasingly and even intentionally short, sometimes to the cynical point of anecdotage, the fact that CS resolvedly stuck to their guns for more than 11 years now is quite remarkable. They started off as a sloppy punky crust band and grew progressively, improving and polishing their take on the genre with time. In that sense, they are a "real" band and not just a short-lived side-project. CS is a band that you follow, record after record, and enjoy noticing the development of. Their previous records (the 2012 session) were fairly impressive - the song "Insomnia" being a genuine highpoint and I would bet my collection of Antisect shirts that the band will be particularly remembered for that one when we are all old and grumpy in our studded wheelchairs - and I was really wondering what they would do next. An easy way out would have been to do a classic "more of the same" new album, but the risk of having jadedness settle in cannot be taken lightly. They also could have gone for something significantly different in terms of genre and turned into a full on sludge-metal band overnight, but then it would have run contrary to the core stenchcore identity of the band. The crucial point was to be inclined to change without losing essence. There is no obvious solution to this equation and different bands will come up with different answers (as Instinct of Survival's move can attest). In CS' case, it was death-metal.

Now, from the vantage viewpoint of the Terminal Sound Nuisance's ivory towers (I've recently got meself a comfy chaise longue on the rooftop if you must know), I have often admonished crust bands that treaded too heavily in death-metal territory, not because I find the idea preposterous or unworthy, but because, more often than not, they ended sounding like a heterogenous mix of crust and death-metal that did not really fit with one another and felt like a tedious series of disconnected elements. Some bands did it quite well (like Limb From Limb), others still do (like Putrefaction), but on the whole, upon hearing death-metal and crust in the same phrase (I will not gratify the calamitous term "deathcrust" with anything more than a posh scoff), I tend to wield my punk shield as a derisory repellent. But basically, it all depends. The death-metal influence in CS has been more and more pregnant from their 2011 recording session on but I would argue that they wisely picked elements that actually blended well with old-school crust and therefore kept away from the variegated clumsiness that I often associated with such endeavours. If Ghastly visions can be seen as some sort of death-metal hybridization, it is not because it contains more death-metal songwriting bits as such (although it does), but because it certainly relies more meaningfully on old-school death-metal sound, textures and vibes.

Let's compare Ghastly visions with the first album of CS, 2011's Age of desolation, a record that is seldom discussed in the band's discography (truth be told, it was released on cd only). The latter was clearly a classically modern (understand 00's) stenchcore album in terms of production and intent, with death-metal touches of course - and even a Bolt Thrower cover - but not to the point of informing the whole work like in its successor's case. Ghastly visions uses the down-tuned heaviness and aggression of old-school Swedish metal (I'm hardly the expert but think early Dismember, demo-era Entombed or Carnage), along with some of its typical riff and vocal structures, and then crustifies it, making it rawer, less technical and more direct. The record does not fall in the much-dreaded "double-bass drum overdose" and "lengthy tremolo pickings fest" trappings and walks - or rather crawls heavily like an agonizing beast - the thin line between crust and death-metal, blurring it with focus and determination (the only song where I feel it does not work is the too rocking "Sinners shall weep"). The guitars are low-tuned and I like how they work together, one doing the heavy chugs when the other is carefully piercing your ears. As is crucial with the genre, the bass playing is top notch and there is old-school crusty groove at work here (I'm always a sucker for that). As for the vocals, you can tell that the singer has really studied the old-school death-metal repertoire with Genital Deformities peaking above his shoulder as you are invited to an orgy of mean guttural growls, savage roars and postmortem demented screams. Your gran probably won't like it too much.

Upon first listening to the Lp, I must admit that I was a little taken aback by the permeating death atmosphere of it. And then, after repeated listens, the classic crust elements became apparent, like the early Axegrinder moment on "Putrid angel", the early Deviated Instinct beat on "Fragment of filth" or the nod to Antisect on the macabre "Hanged corpse", and of course Ghastly visions contains just enough fast cavemen crust moments (à la Nuclear Death Terror or Accion Mutante) to remind you of where the band essentially stands. The core influences of CS (Bolt Thrower, Genital Deformities, Stormcrow...) are not gone but have been reworked through a different lens, one through which you usually observe Dismember or Coffins. It is a bit like that one time I switched from soy milk to rice milk. The cereals taste different but you know they are the same. And at the end of the day, they are still crunchy and familiar and that's all that matters.

The object in itself is stunning. The cover and backcover - drawn by Stiv VOW and Skinny respectively - are reminiscent of old-school death-metal imagery (the Dismember demo comes to mind) and referential, a little cheesy but tasteful. You also have a large booklet with the lyrics and a cracking Rudi Peni-esque drawing of a bat and a brilliant "hanged corpse" drawing on the inner sleeve that looks like the missing link between Crass and Hellhammer (both of them done by Klaudiusz Witczak). The lyrics are mostly dealing with despair, madness, alienation and negativity (did you really expect songs about cycling or vegan cookies?) and quite well-written for the genre, you can tell there has been a genuine effort to convey meaning and evoke powerful images while remaining gritty and carnal.

There's even a bloody poster! yolo

The record was released last year - and is thus still available - on Neanderthal Stench (one of the most exciting labels in terms of crust right now), Back on Tracks (from Brazil) and Heavy Metal Vomit Party (from Slovakia) and the vinyl's actual colour is "beer with black splatter" if you still need an excuse to get it.

Thursday 11 May 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 11): Disturd "Dark" cd, 2015

Any punk elder (or wannabe elder really, since they are basically the same thing, age being a bourgeois social construct and all that) will tell you - even if you didn't request his opinion (it is often a "he") on the matter - that it is unwise to break some sacred rules when brainstorming for a band name. As History has often proven, picking the wrong moniker may eventually condemn your top band to obscurity and make your shirt highly difficult to sell. When it comes to names with a Dis prefix, one has to be even more careful as the frontier between an acceptable Disname and an embarrassing one is tenuous indeed. 

Here is a short guideline to help you through the Dis-picking process (this is a strictly linguistic enquiry and does not take the band's quality into consideration):

- Great Disnames: they are referential, relevant to the Discharge worldview and actually mean something (Disaster, Disaffect, Distemper...).

- Decent Disnames: still referential and meaningful but tend to stray away from the Discharge signifying web (Disclose, Discard, Dislike...).

- Fantasy Disnames: neologisms relying solely on referentiality with still some kind of sense (Disfear, Dischange, Dissystema...).

- Tasteless Disnames: Dis-based neologisms that sound corny and on the dark side of humour (Disbeer, Disfornicate, Dishit...).  

Unfortunately, and as much as I like the band, Disturd fall into the last category. When I first read about them about ten years ago, I ignorantly scoffed and mentally discarded them as a "comedy Dis-band" unworthy of my royal attention. Even though Disturd were often mentioned in the same breath as Effigy, AGE or SDS, I was not going to waste my princely time and money on a band that had "turd" in its name (the only exception I was then willing to make applied to Pink Turds in Space). It took a short review of the Isolation Ep which compared them to Antisect (it really is that easy if you want to make me buy a record, just say casually that they sound like Antisect) for me to, first, order it and then realize how mistaken I had been. Of course, I could blame my past foolishness on the arrogance of youth or on the troubled relationship I had always had with Japanese punk. But I will try - for once - to acknowledge my errors with dignity and take it on the chin. If I have to be slapped in the face as many times as I mocked the Disturd name, so be it. And well, at least they did not go for Hellturd or Turdgrinder.

I had originally thought of including a Disturd Ep in the "Japanese crust against the world" series but decided against it since the band had just released Dark in late 2015 which qualified them for this crust series instead (quite a fascinating TSN anecdote, innit?). Perhaps because of their bold moniker, Disturd are seldom seriously discussed when the burning topic of Japanese crust inevitably pops up, be it at a dinner party or while you are at the gym with your mates. This discrepancy, which has nothing to do with the music since Disturd certainly deliver the goods, can be partly explained with the band's unusual history. Because of the rather recent span of their prolificity (from 2012 to 2016), they are sometimes thought to be a late 00's/early 10's band. But Disturd must have actually formed in the late 90's as the existence of an early demo (with no actual date) seems to suggest. However the songs of the aforementioned demo being apparently - I haven't heard it - in a UK82/pogopunk vein (which might explain the silly name of the band if you know what I mean), I will not take this mysterious recording in consideration. In 2002, Disturd released a two-song demo, Fight back/Life, one song of which, "Fight back", ended up on a MCR compilation the same year. In 2003, they also appeared on the quietly seminal The Darkest 4 alongside Effigy, Zoe and Acrostix. If by 2003, Effigy were already a confirmed crust band (arguably one of the very best of the period), Acrostix and Zoe were, just like Disturd, in their infancy and had not had a vinyl release yet. But whereas the former quickly went on to have their own record out, the latter waited until 2011 to do so. 

It does not mean that the band was snoozing, since they self-released a tape, entitled Darkness... Faint gleam... in 2007 and Discogs lists a couple of other undated as well tapes, about which I was unable to find sufficient information (Disturd are actually little documented on da internet). In 2011, Black Water released the Isolation Ep, then one year later the Collapse Ep came out on ヤシマレコード, and, in 2014, Hardcore Survives unleashed the new Disturd incarnation with the Inside Ep. At some point between the last two Ep's, Disturd frontman Age relocated from Tsuyama to Kobe, bringing with him the full band's repertoire. My knowledge in Japanese culture being fairly limited, I do not know the specifics of Tsuyama, but from I have read, it looks like a pretty quiet town, so quiet in fact that Disturd were the first punk band to ever emerge from the location, an impressive, if anecdotal, fact when one considers the number of Japanese punk bands in the past four decades. Age reformed the band in Kobe with a new line-up, with Kakuda (formerly in Effigy and Axewield) on the drums and Nassan (Sex Messiah's singer) on the bass. The Dark cd was recorded with this new-look outfit.

Calling Dark a new album (in the sense of novelty) is actually open to discussion. It is undeniably a full length record with a collection of Disturd songs but none of them are technically new. Indeed, all of them had already appeared in different versions on previous recordings. As a consequence, it would not be irrelevant to see Dark as a compilation of re-recorded Disturd songs (some of them written in the early 00's). It does not mean, however, that it is a lazy work or one that you should ignore assuming that you are already familiar with the band's Ep's. If you are not acquainted with Disturd, then Dark is clearly a great starting point, but even if you are, the band has developed a slightly but significantly different sound with the new line-up and it is always an interesting exercise to compare different recordings of the same songs and try to notice the discrepancies in terms of texture, production and vibe (as you can imagine, afternoons with me can be really fun). Despite having a rather limited stock of them, Disturd's songs, from one recording to another, can sound really raw and distorted, or totally triumphant in a Japanese hardcore way, or totally epic like a classic old-school crust anthem... Variety in details if you like.  

A friend of mine called Disturd "the ghost of SDS" and, even after thinking long and hard about it, I cannot really think of a better phrase to characterize them (and of course, I love the high degree of nerdery of the remark, since SDS referred to themselves as "the ghost of Anti-Sect"). If you blended all the different eras of SDS into one tight, cohesive unit, the end result would sound something like Disturd. They have the heaviness, the intensity, the referential but clever songwriting, the Antisect-worship to a tee, the chugging riffs, the shredding ones and they even nod directly and respectfully toward the national crust pioneers with the song "Scum system fear". Significant dissimilarities do exist between both bands as Disturd are globally more metallic in terms of songwriting and the production is unlike any of SDS'. The band fearlessly went for some glorious UK crust moments and I cannot think of many bands able to recreate the dark vibe of "Out from the void"-era Antisect as well as Disturd (who did not think twice about borrowing a couple of riffs and vocal parts in the process). Add to this some heavy, filthy early Hellbastard riffing and mid-paced thrashy moments reminiscent of Sacrilege's flair and you will get a sonic picture of the band's backbone. As I previously pointed out, SDS remain the main compass but I would argue that their overarching influence is as structural as it is literal since it also provides the band with a creative template for the seamless incorporation of classic UK crust elements into the Japanese crust sound. They make it sound easy but it clearly isn't. Contrary to SDS who mostly and contextually worked on the UK sound, Disturd also largely build upon the national brand of metallic crust and I distinctively hear some influences from AGE in the overall triumphant groove and from Effigy, not only in the drumming (the peculiar but brilliant double-bass parts evidently come to mind) but also in the arrangements and the balance between the three instruments. 

Disturd do not really bring anything new to the table but they are remarkable in the way they keep that specific school of Japanese crust alive, without pretension but with an unrivaled conviction, especially when one considers that Age has been playing these songs for almost 15 years. The tempos are diverse, ranging from the fast and pummeling dischargy beat to the mid-paced crunchy metal specimen and the slow, moody epic trek. The sound production is perfect for this kind of sound, it has a definite rawness and urgency but still maintains a degree of crispiness so that it feels organic and not the product of a fancy engineer (truth be told, it also works because they are a tight trio). The distorted bass sound is truly to die for, groovy, brooding and thick, it cements the heaviness into the composition and leaves enough space for the guitar to thrash. The vocals are very upfront, which I like, naturally pissed and harsh, with a some variety in the tones (from caveman growls to angry shouts). 

The artwork is pretty simple, darkly suggestive and looks a lot like the Inside Ep's, so that it ties both records aesthetically (perhaps too much so). Dark was self-released by the band on cd only (for now anyway) and is still available if you care to look for it, but then it might take more efforts than just clicking twice on youtube.            

Monday 8 May 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 10): Ruinebell "Embers' grave" 12'', 2015

When I started to think about a possible roster for this series, I was confronted with a dilemma. Not the kind to keep me awake at night in a pool of sweat and tears, but one that still needed thoughtful consideration and inner investigation (if that helps, just picture me thinking hard while the sun is setting on a postindustrial landscape). The scope of Terminal Sound Nuisance has changed significantly throughout the years and even if I like to think that I managed to maintain some sort of recurring narrative motif for its contents to hold together cohesively, the idea to write about novelty - possibly our epoch's main shibboleth - raised a few issues in terms of the perspective to adopt. Not being particularly prone to rave purposelessly about the latest releases whose cool factor is often too transient to trust ("don't believe the hype" as they say), the relevant trope to be used in this particular case was uncertain. I knew it had to be different because of the novelty element of the works but it wouldn't have made much sense if I only focused on the excitement induced by discovery. There is nothing quite like hearing a cracking unknown recording for the first time but the feeling is not the same if the band is contemporary, especially since we fatally lack perspective about our current present context. How well will 2010's crust hold in 10 years time? And flowing from this interrogation, one also needs to ask: how unperceptive may these words eventually become? And where are my prescription pills?

But to get back on point, the "Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST" odyssey is, because of its transversality, a fun opportunity to be enthusiastic about new records, focus on the priceless element of surprise and take responsibility for its impermanence. Which brings me to Ruinebell, because it is a band that I did not see coming at all and that I became acquainted with considerably later than I feel is appropriate considering the quality of their music. The fact that no one told me about them before is preposterous and, were we living under the French Ancien Régime, I would have thought of writing a nasty pamphlet and possibly settled things via a couple of bloody - but honourable - duels. But since it is 2017, I am just writing a new post entry, though rest assured that I hit the keys with bitterness in my heart right now.

I do not even remember how or when I first heard of Ruinebell but my first two reactions are still vivid. It was first "OMG this is absolutely excellent! Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?" and second "and a what lovely name they picked!". Obviously, the immediate lexical meaning of "Ruinebell" is "the bell of ruin", which aptly reflects the music's spectral mournfulness and fits with the metal/crust lexical field. But what about the "e" then? It is Ruinebell and not Ruinbell. In a short interview for Terrorizer (that you can read here), multi-instrumentalist Lasse explains that "ruine" is the French word for "ruin" and that they ended up using the former for their moniker because it looked better graphically. However, such a choice also created a rather pleasant double entendre as "ruinebell" is almost similar to "ruine belle", a phrase that translates as "beautiful ruin" and which meaning also coheres with the band's music. So even before I actually listened to the songs, I was already taken in linguistically though, to be fair, I am not sure the band really did that on purpose.

More than an actual band, Ruinebell can probably be best described as a studio project, which implies that we are not likely to ever see them play (which kinda sucks). It is a trio made up of two Finns - Pekka on the drums and Lasse on the guitar, bass and synth - and one Spaniard on vocals, so you can imagine that band practices must be few and far between. This said, the boys have solid experience in playing in bands indeed since Lasse and Pekka play together in Hooded Menace (and before that in Vacant Coffin and respectively in many other acts as well) while Dopi was the drummer/singer of long-running grindcore band Machetazo and has also played in such projects as Dishammer or Mutilated Veterans throughout the years. So not exactly an amateurish lineup and it certainly shows.

The initial idea behind Ruinebell was to write Amebix/Axegrinder-influenced metallic crust music with an industrial touch and heavy Voivod riffs without sounding too referential. Honestly, I could almost stop writing right there since they absolutely nailed the sound they were reaching for and their music speaks for itself, but as we all know, I won't. Their first Ep, Demise in grace, recorded as a duo (with Dopi playing the drums as well as singing) and released in 2011 on Czech DIY metal label Doomentia Records, is a coup de maître that demonstrates how brilliant axegrinding mid-paced doomy crust can sound thanks to concerted songwriting and proper ideas. The Amebixian vibe is strong and potent and yet it never feels old or literal, rather it is used as a binder to make new additions hold together. As they use the basic ingredients of old-school crust, they also update them. Ruinebell sound both old-school and modern and on that level they do remind me conceptually of early Morne. I am not going to dwell too much on the Ep (that, for reasons that may have to do with the unfamiliar label that released it and my own ignorance about the underground metal scene, completely passed me by until recently) but it has everything a crust-loving person can hope for. And yes, that includes apocalyptic moody synth parts and terrific bass-lines.

Embers' grace can be relevantly seen as Demise from grace's sequel, meaning that it is not just a follow-up but also a genuine progression. Assuredly, Ruinebell built on similar grounds for the 12'' and the amegrinder scripture still stands as the music's backbone but it is a more versatile and diverse work with a slightly different mood, not as mournful and more ominously mechanical. I suppose Ruinebell could have picked the easier path and write a full Lp that would have sounded just like a longer Demise in grace - and honestly, I would still have been thrilled - because their musical ability and their sense of clever songwriting would have allowed it, but they went for something a little different, globally more rhythmic and colder, the industrial influence more upfront. And it works. While crust has often been openly infused with black, death or doom-metal in recent years (with varying results, truth be told), I cannot think of many crust bands that have ventured into industrial sonorities since the 90's. The opening song, "Inexistence", epitomizes this shift, with heavy chugging riffs and cold, steely beats cloaked around the classic mid-tempo crust structure. Quite the perfect meeting point between Sonic Violence, Depressor, 13 and Axegrinder. The following track - "The hermit" - is a more orthodox locomotive old-school crust anthem, with a monumental driving synth, some wicked gloomy guitar arpeggios and even a progressive feel on one riff. Clearly an epic number that brings to mind vintage Greek crust, early Morne and mid-90's Counterblast for its inventive recreation of canonical crust elements. On the flipside, "Temple of isolation" is even more indus-influenced with its stark martial beats, super heavy bass sound and dark incantatory guitar riffs, not unlike a combination of early Godflesh, Killing Joke at their heaviest, the mighty Depressor and of course Amebix. Finally, "Flesh bone catacomb" is a galloping Amebix/Axegrinder song with a desperate doom feel concluded with an eerie spoken part that nods heavily toward vintage crust. Quite a ride in twenty minutes.

The production on Embers' grace sounds very clear, almost surgical, in the bleakest sense of the term, so it confers a literal metallic quality to the songs. This kind of production seldom works with the crust genre because it can make the music sound too clean and lose its filthy groovy edge, but in this case I feel it connects adequately with the band's songwriting intent. Because of the mid-paced 80's crust style of Ruinebell, one might think that going for this very cold modern production would have impaired and deprived the songs of their darkly threatening power, but thanks to a clever use of the synth as a texturing agent and a focus on heavy, precise, cold industrial rhythms, Ruinebell manage to offer a new relevant perspective on the genre, keeping it heavy but in a different sepulchral way. The musical abilities of the participants are obvious but always serve the general direction and help create a meaningful oppressive atmosphere that feels tense and sorrowful. I haven't talked about the vocals yet but they clearly demonstrate an awareness and a knowledge of the rules of the genre that are impressive. I can hear some Japanese crust influence in the harsh gruff tone, especially since the singer uses an effect on his voice, but also Steve from Neurosis if he tried to impersonate an entombed humanoid entity (the sorrowful lyrics also point in that direction actually). In any case, it shows that one does not have to squeal like a grossly constipated boar to deliver proper crust vocals and that, in the end, clever vocal placement is the key.

Embers' grace was released in September, 2015 on Doomentia Records (I still have not figured out how to correctly pronounce "doomentia" and probably never will) and I am pretty sure it is still available. The only reservation I can voice about this wonderful 12'' has to do with the artwork that does not really reflect the music (the cover looks more like a doom-metal one) and only partly illustrates the mood. Oh well, great records also have flaws I suppose.