Wednesday 18 October 2017

Kids of the 90's (part 2): Deformed Conscience / Scourge split Ep, 1993

There were tons of bands in the 90's. In fact, just a quick search on the internet would be enough to give a vertiginous glimpse into the insane amount of punk bands that were active during that decade and I cannot help but remember this ace sample that both Subcaos and Destroy! used as an introduction to one of their mid-90's songs, "Sugadores" and "Anthem" respectively (granted, this one is more a burst of noise than what most people would consider "a proper song" but there you go, punx did challenge the ontological status of the music piece after all), in which a girl epically claims: "I think that punk-rock now is stronger than it ever was". I suppose you could argue endlessly over the relevance of such a statement and the definition of "strong" but still, I feel it does ring true to some extent. Of course, there are probably more bands today worldwide, but the main difference does not lie so much in sheer numbers but in the awareness of the actual existence of the bands. In 2017, all bands (this is rhetorical, there are of course exceptions) have a physical, local presence as well as a global, digital one. Even bands that are very local can potentially be heard by someone at the other end of the globe, which is both sensational and a little overwhelming at times. But twenty years ago (or even ten, really), a lot of bands were intrinsically local and unless you got their demo or saw them live in their area or if they happened to tour or if you had a mate who knew them, you would probably never hear them. 

I know it must all sound pretty obvious, and it is, but whenever I come across a great 90's "local band" that has flown under my anarcho detector, I reflect upon the role and the significance of punk bands in their scenes and how they and our own perceptions of them evolve through time, conjointly with broader cultural changes triggered by technology. Did you know that there were two bands called Scourge in the U$ of A active at the same time? I did not, until I scouted the internet for details about the Scourge included on today's record (and to be honest, I did not find many...). Then I realized, completely by chance, that there was another Scourge, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, that had a demo from 1993 and played amazing anarchopunk with male/female vocals, somewhere between Antischism and what Flat Earth Records put out at the time. How many more ace bands are there from that period that I have never heard, and maybe even never will? Exactly, bloody loads of 'em. And that's a very exciting thought for me.

But enough meditative bollocks already and let's get to this split then that saw Connecticut-based Deformed Conscience teaming up with Scourge. As I briefly discussed in the post about Crust and anguished life, Deformed Conscience is the perfect example of a band that most people kinda know but is not really listened to any longer. I first heard DC when I got my grubby punk hands on their split Lp with Excrement of War, however I had read about them quite often in the early 00's. I distinctly remember mentions of other crust bands (like React or State of Fear) featuring "ex-Deformed Conscience members" which indicated that, not only were the band an early instance of US crust, but also a respected, influential, act. And Marald drew covers for them so they had to be good, I thought. 

Years later, now that I have been graced with crust superpowers, I see DC as being part of the Big Three D's of Fast 90's US Crust (I copyrighted the phrase so don't bother nicking it, yeah?), along with Disrupt and Destroy!. DC never became as good as Disrupt (but then, who really did?) or as versatile as Destroy! but regardless, I would argue that their sound also helped shape what US crustcore would grow up to be throughout the 90's. And besides, their moniker has always reminded me of Deviated Instinct's which cannot be a bad thing, right? 

As far as I can guess, they must have formed sometime in 1990 and recorded two demos in 1991, a self-titled one and No excuse for suffering, that set the stage for their blend of Scandinavian crusty hardcore and fast and raspy US hardcore. I suppose you could describe DC's take as being rooted in Scandicore riffing and pummeling beats (No Security or Disrupt come to mind) but with a more extreme hardcore songwriting that certainly coincided with the rise of powerviolence at the time (bands like Dropdead or Demise are not far off at times). Basically, the harsh vocalic tone and (even more so) flow would not be out of place in a more strictly US hardcore setting and some beat structures are here to remind you that the year is 1993. Their first eponymous Ep (though some call it Indian givers after the name of the first song for some reason) was a deliciously crusty and raw hardcore record with punk-as-fuck artwork, aggressive dual vocals (a shame they didn't use them on the subsequent split) and enough cohesive variety in the songs to keep it from falling into genericity (early Doom meets Dropdead and Embittered or something?). Some sloppy bits here and there, but they are what made early 90's crust so enjoyable in my book, on this great unpretentious Ep released on Swiss label Off The Disk (which also put out materials from Infest, Fear of God or Disrupt if you know what I mean).

The additional sleeve...

The year after, DC came back with a better, heavier bass-driven sound on this split Ep. Although I personally miss the dual vocal attack, this effort is more powerful indeed. The song "How free am I?" starts off with a punchy mid-paced moment with dark riffing before exploding into typical crustcore crunch. All in all reminiscent of Hiatus which is always a good thing. The second one, "End the pain", opens with a slow and groovy metallic part (somewhere between Siege and Deviated Instinct) before getting to Scando fury with the delightful addition of an anarcho spoken part from the singer which makes this song some kind of 90's crust bingo. The last one is short, more aggressive and faster than the rest and more akin to the Dropdead school of thought. Following this, DC would release three more records, the Constant strife Ep in 1993, a split Ep with 3-Way Cum the next year  and the aforementioned split Lp with the might EOW (which took three years to be - very poorly - released though...).

The lyrics on the split deal with the oppressive nature of American democracy, the desperation of drug abuse and animal cruelty. And I just love the cover art on DC's side with its vintage late 80's underground metal-punk vibe. This is how it is done. After the demise of the band, drummer Pete went on to hit things with Dissension, React and Hail of Rage, while guitar hero John sang and played the bass for State of Fear, before switching back to the ole "guitar and voice" for Calloused.

I wish I had a lot to say about Scourge but unfortunately I do not. This split was their sole vinyl contribution and the internet is remarkably quiet when it comes to them (it could be a curse put on bands called Scourge since very little information is available about their Albuquerque homonym either). There were actually three versions of this split Ep. The one I own was released on Spoon Fed Records with cover art and lyrics for each band. But there is a second version of it, released on the same label, with a different foldout cover (that was still included in my version of the record for some reason...) but no information or anything about DC and with different artwork and a lot more more details about Scourge. Finally, there is a third, pre-release version of the split, released on Fetus Records, a Phoenix label who did not seem too happy about Scourge... A bit of an odd one. But anyway, judging from the inlay included in the second version, Scourge were a four-piece from Arizona and... that's about all I know. Well, not completely, since the singer and artist of the band, Mike, would play the bass later on in a hugely influential Oakland band, and arguably one of the very best crust acts of the decade, namely Skaven. The connection between the two bands is fairly obvious if you only care to actually look at the Scourge's art drawn by Mike, who also did a lot of artwork for Skaven (and let's face it, he is a very talented geezer with a distinct, disturbed artistic vibe). I had that OMG moment when lazily manipulating the record, looking for clues, until I thought "this is funny, it reminds me a lot of some Skaven drawings" and then "wait a second, it has to be the same bloke who did them" and finally "what a fool I have been all this time..." which is turning into a bit of a mantra for me lately.

Anyway, Scourge played a very different kind of punk-rock though, slightly dissonant, freakish hardcore with great snotty vocals and a hypnotic vibe. Like Resist and Econochrist on mushrooms or something? Not necessarily a genre I am that familiar with but it works perfectly on that split. The art is amazing (there is another piece by someone named Gross that also looks fantastic) and I really enjoy the aggressively anti-religious diatribes that make up the words of the two songs "Moral prison" and "One fine sunday with Jesus" (especially this last one actually). If anyone has more intel about Scourge, please share.


  1. "while guitar hero Pete sang and played the bass for State of Fear, before switching back to the ole "guitar and voice" for Calloused." I think you meant John? Deformed Conscience is one of the greats from the 90s, and they have one of the best band names as well. Thanks for this. -ZM

    1. You are quite right, I got the wrong name... I am glad you agree that they are one of the unsung greats of the decade in their style.

  2. I was friends with the lead singer from Scourge Mike M. I got to see them play with Groundwork from Tuscon, Arizona and RORSCHACH the OG American punk band twice each. I also saw them play with Toxic Narcotic. That went on later to form Mouth Sewn Shut. This was a great review mate. 🤟✌️