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.


  1. Best blog ever. Impeccable taste. I'm a huge nerd and collector for all real stench core too. Keep the reviews coming buddy!

    1. Thanks man. It is always fun to write :)

      For now, I am going to deal with other genres for a while since I have been writing more than 20 posts about crust and I think my inspiration is running a little low at the moment. But maybe at the end of the year or something.