Friday 30 June 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 1): Six Minute War "75p" Ep, 1980

After a well-deserved break that coincided with yours truly finding a part-time job (sigh), let's get Terminal Sound Nuisance going again. 

This new series is guaranteed crust-free. Not that I have suddenly taken a dislike to the genre though. At this point in my life there's no going back from it and I leave the odious crime of crust betrayal to posers, scene tourists and modern post-hardcore enthusiasts. But after 23 posts dealing with crust music, I understandably need to think about something more tuneful than the usual cavemen choir, something that Time itself (yes, with a capital "T") has validated, something that makes my heart beat like a spotty teenager with a crush on his PE teacher (it is Physical Education, not Profane Existence, though they are not mutually exclusive I suppose): British anarchopunk from the eighties. In order to make things more challenging for me (as the famous French saying goes: "why should you make it easy when you can make it difficult?"), I decided to pick ten records, each of them corresponding to one of the ten successive years that made up the decade. There is no profound reason for this other than it provides me with a fun frame to work with. I guess my definition of "fun" is a bit twisted but there you go.

The first entry will be about a record that was first released in 1980, on April fools' day to be accurate, the irony of which, judging from the overall sloppiness of the work, is not lost on me: Six Minute War's first Ep. There is not that much information about the band's story but here is what I managed to dig out. There were actually four different versions of this Ep. Apparently, the original pressing was the one with the WWI soldier on the cover but I do not know when exactly my copy was released compared to the other versions (I don't think any of them saw the light of day after 1981 but I could be wrong). Anyway, the record was either successful enough to warrant subsequent rereleases or they were such small pressings that the band had to make new ones. I would venture that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Because SMW were such a devout DIY band, I suppose they could not afford large pressings to begin with, but then, their music was also unique enough to garner meaningful attention form the punk-buying public. The title of the Ep is technically 75p which is a bit of a shit name, though it does not fail to point out a crucial selling argument, namely the cheap price (if you look at the cover, it even says "Only 75p" at the bottom, in case the unbeatable price escaped you the first time). The first pressing also indicated the actual length of the record ("14 minute EP") which is another top selling point for punks, but the band apparently thought that it was too reminiscent of value-for-money grocery talk and they switched to the "33.3RPM" notice on later versions (it still gives you a good idea about how good a deal it is though). 

Hailing from Raynes Park in London and cheekily called after the infamous Six-Day War, Six Minute War are possibly the most staunchly DIY punk band I am aware of from the early 80's. The cut'n'paste cover is just a folded xeroxed A4 sheet and, if you look very closely, you can notice that the white labels are in fact not blank but that they intriguingly look like labels from another record that were reused on Six Minute War's! You can still make out some words from the original record they may have belonged to: Hazel O'Connor with the song "White room". Now, I have no idea who Hazel O'Connor is (is my ignorance for the best?) but I like to think the SMW boys, in a genuine act of proletarian autonomy, nicked her records from a chain store so as to use bits of them for their own. Punk is assuredly a romantic endeavour. 

The band kept this radical and minimal DIY spirit for their two next Ep's, the poetically-named More short songs and Slightly longer songs Ep's which demonstrated a certain sense of humour and some funny literalism. In terms of musical content, Six Minute War were as DIY, minimalistic, amateurish and uncompromising as they looked. 75p contained no less than eleven songs, some of them less than a minute long, which was clearly a rarity in 1980 (even Discharge didn't have songs as short and Peni's first Ep only came out the following year). The rather original format (almost proto hardcore) of SMW's songs was completely relevant to their very direct, angry punk music however. Keeping in mind that it was recorded at a transitional time between the two major British punk waves, you could say that the music was not unlike an angrier, more primitive, more straight-forward version of 77 punk-rock that, to some extent, prefigured the second wave of punk-rock (be it of the UK82 or anarcho variety). Simply put, describing Six Minute War as a gloriously sloppy blend of Crass and Crisis with a hearty spoonful of The Epileptics and Wire (turned raw) is actually not far-fetched. You have got the typical energetic crassy tribal drumming as well as mid-paced, darkly catchy songs with vocals ranging from deliciously snotty, protest punk shouts to sterner spoken tones reminiscent of the crisisy elocution. 

Despite obvious limitations in terms of production and musicianship, 75p had something that so many other punk-rock records lacked: an aggressive tunefulness. The riffs are very simple, the sound trebly and the song structures very basic, we are in the "minimal snot-punk" category here. But it works. It just does. The contagious passion, the spontaneity, the bursting urgency permeating the songs are unstoppable, the guitar sound is cheap - almost out of tune - but perfectly fits precisely because it reflects what the band's statement is all about. In fact, this Ep probably has some of the best two-chord punk songs ever written. For all the thinness and the instability (one can definitely picture the boys struggling on their instrument), the sincerity that the band conveys, visually, sonically and politically and their undeniably great ear for good, simple, catchy but aggressive tunes make Six Minute War stand out. 

Perhaps ironically considering the templates of this series, SMW were not exactly an "anarchopunk" band. Or, perhaps more accurately, they were a non-anarchist anarchopunk band. They wrote songs (like the fantastically catchy "Camera" on 75p) that openly questioned and challenged the vision of a peaceful stateless society promoted by Crass that they judged middle-class and unlikely to come true because of our nasty tendencies and even made fun of the pseudo-revolutionary teens that followed and imitated Crass ("Marker pens"). Instead, they believed in social disorder to express and reach personal freedom. However, like Crass, they radically embraced the DIY ethics (more than a lot of anarcho bands of the time to be fair) and played with bands like Flux of Pink Indians, The Sinyx, Anthrax or Hagar The Womb. Similarly, their lyrics were clearly of a political nature, with songs about attacking the capitalist system through strikes, the danger of nuclear power, animal rights, the justice system, the idea of progress or social conformity. SMW's words are, like the music and visuals, of a direct nature, written from the working-class perspective of a youth and with some biting sarcasm. 

Following 75p, Six Minute War self-released (as they always did) their second Ep, More short songs, a slightly better produced, heavier effort that was not quite as catchy but still contained the absolute hit "Sell out" about the first wave of punk bands and the genuinely hilarious song "Guitarist" about their guitarist completely losing it during the session (you can even hear the banter). Punk, innit? The next Ep, Slightly longer songs, saw the band toy with postpunk unconvincingly and they split right after. Some members (rumoured to be the most musically proficient) joined bands like 400 Blows and Concrete, but Rob and Charlie formed the brilliant Fallout and switched back to their brand of sloppy but tuneful, intense punk-rock. Still with a foot firmly rooted in the anarchopunk scene, despite not being technically an "anarcho band", Fallout released two magnificent Ep's and two solid albums of angry, abrasive UK punk music with postpunk ovetones that sound like the logical evolution to Six Minute War, more polished and diverse but with the same minimal vibe, DIY statement, social anger and aggressive tunefulness. Quite amazingly, there has never been a Fallout discography and at a time when reissues flourish like never before, it is definitely a mysterious oddity... Are we really growing that tasteless? 

Thanks to Hazel O'Connor

Thursday 8 June 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (final round): Asmodeus "Life?" demo tape, 2016

Anyone who has ever been in a band (even a virtual one that never practiced and remained stuck at the "idea stage" like so many) will tell you the same thing: finding a decent moniker can be a nightmarish task. It is arguably harder in 2017, now that you can check on Discogs if the name was already used at some point by another band and realize that all the cool names have already been picked. How painful and depressing. 

Judging from the number of bands called "Asmodeus", it is unlikely that this Japanese band really cared about the existence of similarly-named acts, which shows an admirable strength conviction and a fearlessness about being sued. Apparently, Asmodeus is a king of demons and he specializes in twisting people's sexual desires. I am clueless about demons to be honest but this information immediately made me ponder about two things. First, that I really should get back to watching Supernatural because it is a fun show with hot main characters (especially Dean), and second, that there must be dozens of black-metal bands with the name Asmodeus. After a quick search on Discogs, I discovered that there had been indeed quite a few of them and one in particular, from Austria, caught my attention since their page indicated that Azazel and Desdemon played in the band during the early noughties. I always find it deeply inspiring when old-school biblical demons like them remain invested in the evil scene and strive to use fresh, modern media in order to spread pain and suffering to a new crowd. Much respect.

As mentioned, our Asmodeus are from Japan, Tokyo to be accurate, and although no incarnation of evil actually plays in the band (sadly), they are certainly one of the most solid crust bands that Japan has produced in the 2010's. I originally wanted to select twelve bands for this series, each one of them from a different country. But then, I really could not decide between Disturd and Asmodeus so I gave up and picked both bands. The presence of this specific Asmodeus recording can be seen as being somewhat erroneous since Life? was originally recorded and released in 2010 and the idea behind the series was to focus on crust works that are no older than five year old. However, it was properly rereleased on tape last year on Black Konflik Records, with one additional song, and I feel that this demo did not really receive enough attention the first time around. Well, certainly not from yours truly anyway. Before the reissue, I vaguely remembered seeing them mentioned on a message board, then hearing the demo (through soulseek probably), rather liking it but not quite enough to arouse my interest. Fast-forward to the summer 2016 and the news that a tape version of Life? was roaming in Malaysia. I promptly played it again and could not believe how good it sounded. Well, "good" reads inappropriate here for it would be more correct to write "how much to my liking" it was. Asmodeus' demo contained everything I love about crust music and, to my dismay, I still have not figured out why I was left unimpressed upon first bumping into it. I mean, they use the bloody Antisect font and the title of the demo is a direct reference to "Hallo there... how's life?", and normally this type of things guarantee unconditional, unequivocal love and support from myself. I felt like a traitor, probably just like a hardcore dude who's just broken his edge for half a pint of cheap lager. So from now on, I shall pursue the path of penance and flagellation to atone for my sins. Please, do not revoke my Crust Elite membership card.

For a mere demo (but demos these days often sound as solid as Lp's), Life? is a brilliant work and releasing it again for a wider audience was the sensible thing to do. Apparently, Asmodeus was not the first band of the four members, as they all played in bands like Varaus SS (no need to tell you what this one was going for, right?), Stench Mass Genocide (called after a Sore Throat song, need I say more?), Babeldöm (great dark and fast crusty hardcore) and Buck-Teeekka (alright, that one is completely obscure but judging from a 10 year old youtube video with a shite sound, they were Confusish). Being an "ex-member of" is by no means synonymous with quality but in this case, you can tell that, even for a young band, they all focused closely on what they intended to create sonically. The band is often described as sounding like "Antisect, Axegrinder, Hellbastard and Deviated Instinct" and, while these particular references are far from irrelevant, they can be a little misleading. I would locate Life?'s creative matrix (I have not heard the 2015 Lp and therefore unable to pronounce on it) deep in a specific region of the SDS soundscape, namely In to the void. I am aware that the SDS comparison sounds a little lazy when dealing with a Japanese crust band but I cannot think of a more meaningful one. Asmodeus' overt referentiality to Antisect cannot fail to remind one of SDS' during their 90/92 era. Beside the font and the demo title, the front cover also includes plants with curves reminiscent of In darkness and the song title "Change tomorrow" is deeply rooted in the antisectish mythology in that context (without mentioning the many riffs of course). But rather than being straight references to Antisect (like Anti Authorize used), I would tend to think that they should be read as references to references to Antisect created by SDS. In other terms, they refer to antisectish referentiality and therefore substantially to SDS more than they do directly to Antisect. Know what I mean?

Life? conveys a great early SDS vibe, especially their mid-paced crunchy songs and the opening of "An abortion" is a wonderful instance of that with its super tight beats and its cold, dark metallic riffs that sound simple and yet just right. However, Asmodeus' guitar sound and riffing also points to later periods of SDS (Ameber and Digital evil) and to AGE in terms of texture and in its aggressively deranged and deformed thrashy sound. The band do not overuse it but whenever they do, it works marvelously. But what makes Asmodeus particularly stand out is not just their mastery of the "SDS sound" but also how they surprise the listener with unexpected breaks and changes of mood. The chorus to "An abortion" is surprisingly moody, the guitar takes on a melancholy tone and the bass line gets subtler and more complex, which strongly reminds me of Skaven's gloomy songwriting here. Did I see it coming? Absolutely not. But this inventiveness is Asmodeus' strong point as they achieve to blend other ingredients in their SDS crust pot. The song "闇" still builds on early SDS but this time with a mean and dirty Coitus-ish grinning chorus (how I wish more contemporary crust bands borrowed from the crusty squat crust of Coitus... but let's not digress) and vintage Deviated Instinct crunchy übercrust riffs. The following number, "虐待の連鎖", is faster and more rocking, not quite unlike Coitus at their beefiest again and even GISM (not a band I often find myself mentioning but there you go), with vocals that for some reason bring to mind Global Holocaust's for their hoarseness. "Change tomorrow" sees Asmodeus diving deep into Antisect/Axegrinder-worship with a riff respectfully borrowed from "New dark ages" and updated with SDS vibrance. It is a HEAVY song with a groovy, almost sensual hypnotic metal quality, and lovely additions of more evil-sounding backup vocals and a doom-metal break toward the end, making it almost reminiscent of Instinct of Survival at times. The last song on the tape, "生の渦" I believe, was not originally included on Life? but appeared on the Dfer cd compilation in 2012. The production is a little different, thrashier probably, but the songwriting has not changed in its conceptualization. The song starts like an Hellbastard riff fest with a heavy thrash vibe and then bursts into fast and somber Effigy-ish metal crust. This makes for quite a ride into Darkness.

Overall the production on Life? is top notch and the balance between the instruments is exactly as it should be when you aim for classic Japanese crust. As I mentioned the guitar sound bridges the gap between SDS' main periods with a proud dexterousness while the sound of the bass is deceptively simple, without effects, not unlike Axegrinder and Effigy's actually, and delivers the compulsory groove to the whole. I am fine with the vocals, they are not overdone and at times the singer tries different things by tackling several crust repertoire. He does not necessarily nail it all the time but I appreciate the effort (I'm really being captious here). This delightful tape was released on Black Konflik, from Malaysia, a (mostly) tape label that has been focusing on (re)releasing top-shelf raw hardcore and crust for more than 15 years and is worthy of your support. I sadly have not got to listen to the Asmodeus Lp that was released on Strong Mind Japan yet (kind souls may leave a link in the comment) but I am crossing my finger well hard right now.

Terminal Sound Nuisance will be done with crust for a while since I need (for my sanity) to focus on things more tuneful in the immediate future. I am not sure what it will be yet. But there will possibly be another crust series with more good contemporary crust some time in the next twelve months.