Sunday 20 August 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 7): Paranoid Visions "The robot is running amok" Ep, 1986

"The scene in Dublin was stagnant, violent and divided. (...) Every gig was a bloodbath and seemed like the last gig ever, and would end up with the bar robbed, glasses and blood everywhere, and police riot shields and truncheons and a "barred forever" tag for the band... (...) Punk was a dangerous four-letter word, and so the scene and bands and most of the people either emigrated or burned out through lack of interest." (Trapped in a Scene, 2009)

This is the context Paranoid Visions sprang from in the early 80's. It could not be further from the cheesy image of the "Celtic tiger" so popular last decade or the rose-tinted (green-tinted would be more correct I suppose) picture that horrendously horripilating bands such as bloody Dropkick Murphy's unequivocally paint about Ireland, the Paranoid Visions's Dublin was akin to "a bleak authoritarian Catholic slum, overrun by the rich elite and the violent inbred poor". Not so romantic indeed. 

As you have guessed - perspicacious you - the seventh part of The Tumult of a Decad will deal with Paranoid Visions, from Dublin, Ireland. Now, I know I claimed that the series would be about British anarchopunk bands and the Republic of Ireland is, of course, not part of the United Kingdom. However, I chose to include them for several reasons. First, because of the band's crucial role in opening up the Dublin DIY punk scene to and creating strong ties with Belfast and England's; second, because PV, although they clearly had their own specific sound, were, in terms of genre and aesthetics, rooted in the UK anarchopunk world; and third, because I really enjoy them and I could not think of a better anarcho record released in 1986 than The robot is running amok (apart from The ungovernable force but that would have been too obvious a choice, right?). I think these are alright enough arguments and Terminal Sound Nuisance is the domain I rule over with a kind, merciful but firm hand. 

Oddly enough, I discovered PV later than most of the 80's British anarchopunk bands, during the year 2006. I am not sure why or how I could have missed them, especially considering that they were proper big at some point in Ireland, but there it is. And when I did listen to them for the time (it was the Outside in cd), I tended to confuse their moniker with Nightmare Visions (you know, that raw and punky death-metal band with an Electro Hippies member in it), a silly but barely forgivable mistake that still showed that Paranoid Visions and I did not get off on the right foot. I guess that now that they have reformed and are making music with Steve Ignorant, they must be quite well-known again but they were hardly mentioned at all in my corner of the punk scene 10 years ago. And neither were Nightmare Visions now that I think about it. The validity of this statement still stands unfortunately.

The early years of the band were fairly chaotic apparently, because of the difficult background of the time and the lack of stable lineups, but PV still managed to record three demos between 1982 and 1984. The first one, recorded in 1982 but apparently released in the following year, was Destroy the myths of musical progression (a Riot/Clone reference? How great is that!), a very captivating demo which, for all the sloppiness and the shit sound quality, still indicated that PV had some good ideas in terms of songwriting. The demo has a genuine haunted feel, almost psychotic and industrial at times, with very harsh vocals (that really remind me of Napalm Death's Hatred surge's actually), some postpunk moments and a dissonant sound. To be honest, it is all over the place but if a blend of Riot Squad, The Deformed and Exit-Stance could be your thing, I strongly recommend it. I am unfortunately not familiar with the second demo, 1984's Blood in the snow, but both demos were originally released on PV's own label, the poetically named FOAD records, and re-issued on Bluurg on one single tape. The third demo, From the womb to the bucket, released in late '84, is far more relevant to today's topic as it included two songs, "Strange girl" and "Detention", that would be reworked for inclusion on PV's first Ep, The robot is running amok.

By the time From the womb was recorded, PV had enrolled a synth player (who didn't stay for long), a female vocalist and one lad called Skinny on bass, who would leave to squat in London later on where he formed the mighty Coitus. This demo is absolutely fantastic if you care to ignore the raw sound (three of its songs were recorded live in the practice space, so be warned). This is pissed but moody anarcho-postpunk at its very best, with obsessive tribal beats, a dark and tense atmosphere and an angrily nihilistic vibe, cracking guitar tunes, polyphonic anarcho-tinged vocals and delightfully goth synth parts. It brought to mind Polemic, The Deformed, Tears of Destruction, even early Amebix, as well as the All The Madmen bands. A truly great recording that, although it does not aptly represent what PV would become and be known for, would undeniably send chills to current days' "youtube dark punk lovers". Strangely, the demo contained an anti-abortion song, "Slash the cord", that did not seem to fit and make sense with the otherwise anarchopunk lyrics and symbolism. Apparently, the band changed the words afterwards and turned it into a more conventional anti-police song, but still... Very unsettling... Anyway, this demo was also distributed through Bluurg and it coincided with the Subhumans coming to play in Ireland, a great success that would be followed by many more British DIY punk bands crossing the Irish Sea like DIRT, Poison Girls or Disorder. Through their implication in the making of the scene and their musical progress as a band, PV were certainly gaining momentum at that time and the next logical step was a vinyl output which would materialize with the grandiose The robot is running amok.

Recorded in early '86 and released six months later on FOAD as the band had staunch DIY ethics (it was licensed to All the Madmen records in England), this Ep saw PV leave the goth/postpunk sonorities behind (an unusual move at the time, you might say) and embrace whole-heartedly what they would be renown for from that point on: catchy, anthemic punk-rock displaying both a love for shock value and an emotional depth. The robot Ep has four songs, going from the fast and snarly, snotty punk scorcher, to the more introspective, melancholy mid-paced number and the epic, desperate singalong anthem. That's multilevel catchiness for you. The four songs are truly memorable but my favourite would be "Strange girl", a gloomy, poignant, heart-breaking song about Ann Lovett, a 15-year old schoolgirl who died giving birth in a field (childbirth outside marriage was still socially unacceptable then and this tragic event apparently opened up important debates about women's rights at the time). The horrid topic notwithstanding, "Strange girl" is intensely catchy, emotional even with both anger and sadness being barely contained and surfacing potently in the music. A tour de force indeed. The three other songs are of the same caliber, with "Something more", an upbeat vintage anarcho hit tackling the inhumane treatment of animals and the risk of a nuclear holocaust (two birds, one stone), "Detention", another moody, introspective and anthemic mid-tempo number about the prison system and isolation and "Paranoid", a heavy and quite pummeling but also subtle dementia-inducing song about state and physical abuse. The production is a bit thin in places but the urgency and intensity of the songs are never lost and that's what makes a record great. The presence of three singers certainly gave PV an interesting and unique edge, with Deko's threatening raucous gnarls being perfectly complemented with Aisling's high-pitched voice and Brayo's clear pissed off shouts. The polyphonic arrangements between the three undeniably enhance the music's intensity and angry nihilism but also its multilayered tunefulness. The comparison challenge feels a bit cheap when dealing with such an amazing work, but imagine a battle royal between DIRT, Polemic, The System, Chaos UK and Stiff Little Fingers taking place in a rough and dirty street of Dublin.

PV went on to release more excellent records afterwards, the great Schizophrenia Lp from 1987 (to be heard if only for the crucial hit "Newtownism" that makes singing in the shower such a pleasant experience) and the Autonomy Ep from 1988. Of course, a write-up about PV would feel incomplete without mentioning their war on U2 (who were recently elected "Ireland's most dreadful band") that saw them openly taking the piss out of Bono and his boys on I will wallow (though to be fair, it is as much a criticism of the mainstream americanized music industry than it is an attack on U2) which led to people cheekily painting "FOAD2U2" across many an Irish wall. 

Is there a more fitting conclusion to Paranoid Visions' tumultuous 80's career? I think not.

There are a few skips, sorry for that.

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