Friday 25 May 2018

Noize Not Music is a Fine Art: "Natural Crust and Punk Force Noise Making" compilation Ep, 1996

Initially, I had not considered including this compilation Ep in the Noize Not Music is a Fine Art series. The main reason for this reluctancy lied simply in my lack of familiarity with the record. After all, I bought it only recently because it included the great Mindsuck, a band whose split with Unarmed was gloriously reviewed on Terminal Sound Nuisance (here) a few months ago, and because it was nowhere to be found for download on the internet. Thankfully for me, neither Mindsuck nor Order and Mental Disease seemed to be particularly sought after since I got it for pretty cheap (not that you should care about the state of my personal financial situation but I often buy records that I think would be interesting to write about on Terminal Sound Nuisance... how heroic of me, right? Please fund me). Is this Ep a crucially brilliant work of punk? No, it is not. Don't get me wrong, it still delivers the good, but it cannot be deemed a classic Ep. And it is completely fine with me. In our day and age of constant, but paradoxically very short-lived, acritical hyperboles, a bit of objectivity does not hurt (though I must admit that it is not my forte). Besides, posting this compilation also fits with what was one of Terminal Sound Nuisance's primary missions back when it all started: reviving and archiving unavailable recordings, regardless of their standing in the current canon.

First, let's talk a little about the record itself before getting to the music. I bloody love the name of it! Natural Crust and Punk Force Noise Making. With such a title, I guess I was bound to select the geezer anyway. Karma it is. It has an almost poetical quality and summarizes very well the central topic of the series with its focus on noisy music as a chosen path and on rawness as a being the real, "natural" state of punk. The cover looks great if you are into silly, punk as fuck drawings and the visual aesthetics of the Bristol school (you all know I am). Two different types of punk kids - crust punk and spiky punk - organically united in the puerile but essential purpose of making an aural racket through the distorted sound of a "chaotic noise" telly (it all makes a lot of sense, right?). I love the face of the mother entering the teenager's bedroom and witnessing a Gremlins-like disaster. Of course, there are visual referential clues pointing at the genres represented on the Ep with the presence of the logos of Doom and Chaotic Dischord on the door. However, I think that Natural Crust and Punk Force Noise Making was probably originally meant to be a split Ep between Order and Mindsuck, since the two cans from which the snotty punx emerge respectively indicate Mindsuck and Order but there is no trace, no mention of Mental Disease... Could they have been a late addition, after the cover was already done? Strange indeed.

Anyway, this Ep can also be seen as a local compilation of - then - young bands from the Aichi prefecture since Order were, I think, from Toyohachi, Mindsuck from Nagoya and Mental Disease from Kariya. But let's start with the first band, Order. Or should I say ORdER? That's a dilemma. Apparently, the band changed the capitalization of their moniker around the time of their first (mini)album from 1999, 秩序. But since the comp was released in February, 1996 (on the ever prolific MCR Records), a few years before they switched, I will stick with Order. I already feel better now that this crucial issue has been settled. 

Punx'n'doves unite and win!

I have long been familiar with Order - if rather vaguely at first - because Disorder covered an Order song ("Trap" from the aforementioned '99 album) on their 2002 Lp We're Still Here and I actually like this album (played the cd to death when it came out as a matter of fact). Back then, the idea of Disorder covering a Disorder-influenced band called Order sounded ridiculous, in a good way, and I registered that Order were closely tied to the Disorder style of punk-rock. The song "Natural" included on the compilation appears to be the band's first vinyl appearance and I would not be surprised if it were taken from a demo. As expected, Order plays what can be called noizy punk-rock. Since the so-called "noisepunk revival" that kicked in the late 00's, the term has progressively come to designate mostly super distorted, tight, fast hardcore with a binary beat and reverb drenched vocals (as they say), and I am not dissing bands sounding like that and I can really enjoy some of it but a lot of it sounds too generic and soulless to me. Order however focused more on the catchy, punky, snotty, UK82ish aspect of it. And that's what I really enjoy in their early period (the Ep Punk Navigation is a masterclass of noizy punk-rock), they have that fun and sloppy singalong quality usually associated with Japanese pogopunk bands (like Discocks or Tom & The Bootboys for instance), but they still build on early Disorder (they used the same font at the time), Chaos UK or Ad'Nauseam and on old-school noisy Japanese hardcore like Confuse and, obviously, The Swankys (they do also have that demented aspect). The sound here is genuinely raw and spontaneous, the band didn't feel the need to use a tons of effects and for their upbeat, cider-fuled, anthemic noizy punk-rock, it works perfectly. I wish more current bands had taken that side of noisepunk instead of pointlessly hiding their boring lack of catchiness behind walls of fuzz. I suppose bands like The Wankys, Skizophrenia and Sad Boys would be into early Order. A really good song that will make you feel like you're 16. Order went on to release many records up until the early 2010's but I unfortunately have to confess that I am not knowledgable enough about their later works to talk about them properly... Any takers? 

Next up are two songs from the gruff crust heroes Mindsuck, from Nagoya, that I have already covered quite extensively in the past. To sum it up, Mindsuck was a short-lived pre-Reality Crisis band active in the mid-90's and they were going for a sound that they defined as "Rags noise crust". The two tracks on Natural Crust and Punk Force Noise Making are "Blind and dominion" and "Hypocrite is piss!" and I think they were recorded before the songs the band contributed to the split Ep with Unarmed that was released later in 1996 (MCR-092 against MCR-104). But to be honest, the difference between both sessions is pretty slim (there is even a song in common!). There is more fuzz and generally more care given to the guitar texture on the split with the Swedes but that's about it. As you are entitled to expect, Mindsuck unleash two top quality, monomaniacal and delightfully repetitive, noizy cavemen crust songs heavily influenced by Doom, Macrofarge, Sore Throat and Abraham Cross with a thunderous bass sound, a pure Scandi beat and a highly distorted, fuzzy Collapse Society-ish guitar sound. The vocal work is amazing and qualifies as one of the best Jon Doom impersonations I have ever heard (the World Championship in that peculiar punk discipline alway takes place in Japan and attracts many foreign tourists each year). More please. 

The third and last band on the Ep is Mental Disease and, like Order and Mindsuck, it was their first appearance on a proper record, so the idea behind this Ep may have been to offer a medium for young noizy punk bands from the Aichi area. Despite a rather honourable discography (one Ep and three albums), the band can hardly be said to have left a deep mark on Japanese crust history. And I am not sure why that is. The Get the Knowledge. Free your Mind Ep is a very solid crust punk record and compares well with similar works from the 90's crust era. Maybe Mental Disease got lost in the abundance of quality bands or maybe they are still remembered fondly in Japan but went unnoticed elsewhere. But then, it is not particularly surprising, the history of punk is replete with such instances after all.

As I mentioned on numerous occasions, Japanese crusty bands have always had an acute sense of details and referentiality. Mental Disease were no exception. If Disclose cosmically worshiped Discharge and SDS cherished Antisect and Abraham Cross honeymooned with Doom, Mental Disease wholeheartedly married Nausea. From the use of the exact same hairy font, to the circled (F) and (E) in the logo, to the crunchy riffs, to the over-the-top Amy-like intonations of the female singer, the band's late 90's period was stamped with a Nausea branding iron. And you know what? I am a huge sucker for Nausea and I have often wondered why there weren't more crusty bands openly working on their amazing legacy (a similar statement could apply to Misery). The song "Human lost" is a raw metallic crust number that sounds like early 90's Nausea were invited to a garden party held at the SDS house, with Iconoclast handling the buffet and LIFE taking care of the drinks. Or something like that. To be honest, the sound is a bit thin and the drummer experiences some awkward moments but it does not impair the listening pleasure. The song kicks off with a crunchy, mid-paced Sacrilege-meets-Effigy metal riff, then bursts into orthodoxally fast, dark and epic crust punk with aggressive dual male/female vocals, then there is an eerie break with the return of the opening metal part, and finally the song closes with a groovy stenchcore bit and accentuated trade-off vocals. I'm into it. Regardless of the production, there is a healthy Nausea feel to the song but still completely sounds like the intense Japanese crust of the time. I also like the fact that MD were the (sole) national instance of a typical 90's punk speciality: heavy crust with dual male/female vocals. The aforementioned Ep, release on MCR in November, 1996, saw the band polish their Nausea crust style and can be said to be a minor classic in terms of crust-with-male-female-vox. MD also recorded a full Lp, Sometimes Like Flowers, for MCR in 1999 which contained the band's best, most powerful crust materials with some ace songwriting but also what can be diplomatically called "artistic mistakes" (there are some uncomfortable and unfortunate rap/fusion numbers on the Lp too...), which makes listening to the full album a rather ambivalent experience. The two following recordings of MD were released on Discrete Records during the first half of the noughties but I have sadly never heard them.

To wrap it up, Natural Crust and Punk Force Noise Making is an unpretentious but highly enjoyable compilation Ep with three bands who were being offered their first vinyl appearance to proclaim their love for Disorder, Doom and Nausea and who would go on to pen some solid records afterwards (in Mindsuck's case, they did it under the Reality Crisis name but it counts, right?). And let's face it, how could you not love a record that has a two-dove logo on its backcover?      

Monday 21 May 2018

Noize Not Music is a Fine Art: "Final Noise Attack" compilation Ep, 1994

To ignore Final Noise Attack in a series revolving around the canonisation of the notion of "noize" would be criminal. Or dumb. Or even worse, a proof that you are not familiar with the record. And this discrepancy could mechanically have you eliminated from the contest for the - much coveted - Noiz Cruster of the Year award, assuming you did survive the Crust Pants of Hell battle royal of course. It is a tough game. 

But really, doesn't the very phrase "final noise attack" basically point to the next logical step, the sensible continuation of "noize not music"? Once you have settled that noize (and not conventional music, whatever it entails) is your project, then it makes sense to push the statement further and emphasize the agency inherent in the concept. The purpose of this music is to be hostile and relentless, to attack in a radical fashion that relies on noisiness and crudity. After all, radicality and extremity have always been punk's main selling points and attractiveness so you could argue that the call for a "final noise attack" can also be read as a healthy return to the basics, to the genuine foundations of hardcore, raw and noisy by essence, like the noize to end all noise...or something. Strictly speaking, the bands included on the Final Noise Attack Ep are not even that spectacularly noisy, though it depends what meaning one gives to this term and what is expected from it. But they are not particularly deafening or strident (especially by Japanese standards). They cannot be described as a wall of blown-out distorted d-beat noise, which would be the implication if the phrase was used today, since "noise" has come to be equated - I blame our epoch's compulsive need to classify everything for it - with the Disclose-style sound. At least within our little quarter of the hardcore punk scene, since to other people, "noise" will designate grindy noisecore bands or grungy dissonant bands or harsh noise electronic band or ambient stuff and so on, while Joe Public will probably be thinking that this is all bollocks and give him Phil Collins any day. We are all someone else's noise I suppose.

But my point is that this compilation is not so much "noizy" in a literal, sonic way (although it is also that), but above all for its focus on referenced influences and their almost systematic aestheticization, and for its unshakable belief in the value and relevance of hardcore punk as a raw, unpolished, noisy music belonging to a particular tradition, as opposes to the overproduced brand of hardcore that was blooming in the early/mid 90's. Noize becomes a way of looking at and creating punk music. On that level, it very much echoes with the almost bitter message on the back of Gloom's Recomendation of Perdition from 1997, dismissing crusty bands they deemed too melodic (which brings us to the real £100 question here: did neocrust kill Gloom?). But then of course, it makes sense since Final Noise Attack was, by essence, an Osaka record since it was compiled by members of Gloom themselves. As mentioned in the introduction to the Japanese Crust vs the World series (here), Final Noise Attack was originally the name given to the gigs organized by the then young and enthusiastic Osaka crusties in the early 90's. Not unlike the Punk & Destroy gigs that took place in Nagoya, Final Noise Attack gigs were numerous and certainly helped foster a new generation of raw punk and crust fanatics on a local level and consolidated crust as a powerful genre on a national one (just look at the posters and you will see that basically every single Japanese bands going for the crusty, d-beat, scandicore sound played at those events). I am not sure how many Final Noise Attack gigs were organized throughout the years (but judging from what I saw on da internet, quite a lot of them during a relatively short period, which says a lot about the dynamics and the momentum of the 90's Osaka scene) or when (or why) they stopped using that name, so I would be grateful is someone could shed some light here. What is pretty clear however, looking at the posters on the Ep's backcover, is that the visual aesthetics promoted by the gigs (a blend of Discharged-loving imagery, Bristol-by-way-of-Kyushu drawings, Crass-y anarchopunk symbols and so on) adequately reflected the music style of the bands playing (and the fashion of the people attending). Subcultural in the noblest sense of the term. And that is why I love this Ep. Of course I like the music and the looks of it, they are replete with visual cultural clues, nods, precise references, and it validates what I already know, like and know I like. But it also acts as a wonderfully accurate cultural artifact of a specific time and place. It has true meaning and meaningfulness as it concentrates what it was all about, and despite the many references to the glorious decade of the 80's, it completely conveys the energy and conviction of the next decade so that it does not feel nostalgic. But let's get to it.

The main surprise here is the absence of everyone's favourite 90's Osaka band: Gloom. I have no idea why since members of Gloom were the instigators of the Final Noise Attack gigs and I am sure they had a hand in the making of this Ep but there you go. They released Speed Noise Hardcore Rags the same year, in 1994, so maybe they did not have any songs ready for the compilation but that is just a wild guess. But if Gloom were technically absent from Final Noise Attack, it did not mean that all its members were. Indeed, the first band of the Ep, Defiance (the name is unlucky enough in retrospect), actually had Habi and Jhonio from Gloom in its ranks while Kaco and Okamoto respectively played in Warcry and Asphyxia. Noizy bands to say the least. I have already talked about Defiance on Terminal Sound Nuisance (here) since they were included on the magnificent Meaningful Consolidation 1994 2xEp and to which they contributed the brilliant metallic punk scorcher "Future is darkness". I could be wrong but I believe that the two Defiance songs on Final Noise Attack could be from the same recording session. Although they are nowhere near as metal-oriented, the production is similar and the thick and groovy bass sound that is genuinely appropriate for some thunderous Dis-oriented heavy scandi hardcore - with a mandatory dash of crust - is the same. I can hear obvious hints of Anti-Cimex, especially on the rather rocking "Violation of human rights", early Doom, Private Jesus Detector, Discard (the riffs on "Never be deceived") and even Anti-System (especially on the guitar texture). The songs are heavy, relentless and have this high energy, explosive quality that characterizes Swedish hardcore. The almost organic thickness of the bass and guitar certainly confers an edge to the otherwise classic 90's Discharge-flavoured songwriting and I really enjoy them. Classically-trained but very effective in a "Swedish hardcore crusties" way. The vocals are shouted but neither yelled nor gruff. This recording is from February, 1994, and Defiance also had a demo tape from 1993, the three songs of which subsequently landed on 1995's Truth compilation Lp, and had two tracks (with added crustness due to a dual vocal attack) on the What is Crust? cd from 1998 (though I guess they were recorded much earlier). I wish there was more from them...

Next are Reason Why. And... that is unfortunately all I can tell you about them! I have not been able to find any detail about the band so far (no trace of them on the internet) and it looks like the song "Contradiction" was their only vinyl appearance. The only thing I know about Reason Why is how their singer looked since there is a picture of the band in the book Inferno Punx. I know, it is pretty slim. As for the song itself, it sounds a lot like early Gloom (the 91-94 period). In fact, I even wondered at some point if it was not a Gloom cover or Gloom in disguise. Seriously. Perhaps Reason Why was a young band trying to emulate what was the most exciting punk band in town at the time? It certainly would not be the first time in punk history (more like a rule of thumb really). Anyway, judging from that one song, RW played a direct style of proto crasher crust with a very raw sound, distorted guitar and screams. A bit like listening to Chaos UK, CDFL and Confuse having an argument over a dove logo in the basement. How very Osaka.

Condemned follow on the other side with two songs, "Remember" and "Depends on bloody human". Like for Reason Why, information about this band is scarce (someone should write a book methinks) but it was not their sole recording. Condemned had two demo tapes out before Final Noise AttackDo you respective live? in 1993 and To all human error (possibly '94?), the latter being actually the very first Crust War release (catalogue number CW001 if you're wondering), and Jacky even played the guitar for Condemned toward the end of their existence (he formed Framtid after they split up). They were also included on Japankore's first omnibus tape compilation (that I have sadly never heard but also had Disclose, Battle of Disarm and the deliciously intriguing Ace of Shit) and contributed live recordings to the third volume of Bondage Maniac Record's tapes. If you are a devout Terminal Sound Nuisance believer, you will remember that I included the song "Depends on bloody human" on my cavemen crustmas compilation so that already gives you a hint at what Condemned were about. In Inferno Punx they are described as "PRIMITIVE BLAST CRUST CORE" which is pretty fucking accurate (I love the neological terminology used in the book). Condemned played fast, all-out primal crust with savage vocals reminiscent of early Disrupt, Embittered, Extreme Noise Terror (obviously) and the local Warcry (without the Sore Throat influence). There is a distinct early British feel to the band that is reinforced with the band's visuals being heavily "inspired" by the UK anarcho aesthetics (they use The Mob's dove and the logo of Dirge). The sound is raw and the songwriting direct and I so wish someone would reissue the band's demos on vinyl one day. Basic but glorious nonetheless.   

Finally, you have two songs from Despair, yet another rather obscure band that did not quite fulfill its potential. Despair had Gun from Asphyxia (he later on played in the tough guy hardcore act T.J. Maxx) on the bass but that is about all I know about their lineage. The band released three demo tapes in the early 90's, the last of which was called Victims of War, and were also included on the Outlast compilation tape (released around '95 or '96, I would say, and alongside a couple of brilliant Japanese hardcore bands like Toxic Noise, Scum Blast and GJPB) and the aforementioned Bondage Maniac tape (the Despair songs are taken from their third demo). In terms of sound, you will not be too astonished to learn that the band was into punishing the audience with fast and intense crusty hardcore with really gruff vocals. The production is pretty thin and is lacking in heaviness but the music is frantic, energetic and pissed enough to make up for this and I like the deep, hyperbolic crust vocals (they are forceful but not goofy-sounding and work well on a short format). Judging from the metallic opening of "The free world" and the crunchy guitar sound, Despair were clearly into early SDS, though I would describe the overall tone as a blend between early eurocrust and blazingly fast Japanese harcore (with a twist of Ripcord too). Two short sharp shocks that do not fuck about.

Final Noise Attack was released on MCR Records in June, 1994, and you could see this Ep as being part of the series of hardcore compilations focusing on specific Japanese towns that the label put out at the time. It should be pointed out that this Ep did not merely celebrate hardcore punk from Osaka but also the work and efforts from a bunch of young punks into raw punk and crust to create their own scene in their hometown through the Final Noise Attack gigs and bands. It highlights and validates specific dynamics. You could argue that this Ep (especially taking into consideration the reputation and distribution of MCR) pretty much put the Osaka crusty hardcore scene on the map, although the compilation itself, from a strictly musical point of view, with four quite short-lived local bands, is solid but not earth-shattering (and not as potent as Tokyo Crusties). Context might be more relevant than text here. At that time, all these Osaka bands (and by and large most of the growing second generation of Japanese crust) only had demo tapes so to be included on a proper Ep was probably a success for the whole Final Noise Attack scene. Also around that time, Crust War Records released the first Gloom Ep and the rest is crustory.


Friday 11 May 2018

Noize Not Music is a Fine Art: "Mie City Hard Core" compilation Ep, 1994

From the inception of this series in my tiny mind, I instantly knew that this Ep had to be part of it but that it would represent a challenge. The main argument for selecting it could be summarized in one powerful word: CARNAGE. Given the templates of Noize not Music is a Fine Art and my endless obsessiveness with old-school crust music (one that Japanese punx have also been sharing for almost three decades, thanks fuck for that), picking a highly referential metallic crust band of a high standard, one that was not too obvious, appeared like a contractual obligation. If you really think about it (go on then, do it) Carnage were therefore the best solution, with only three songs recorded, a solid historical relevance and a cracking sound. It was to be a cruise on an ocean of excited blabbering over crust authenticity, yet another heroic and victorious march into dark uncharted stenchcore territories, one that would ensure yours truly a comfy spot on the Mount Olympcrust. Or so I thought...

I had originally bought Mie City Hard Core just for that one Carnage song and had not paid much attention to the other three bands on the compilation (I am not sure if it makes me a cooler punk or more of a poser...). Listening to the whole Ep again made me realize that, not only did I know nothing about these bands (and I do mean nothing), but that they played a genre I never felt completely at ease with: burning spirit hardcore. Now, I certainly do not mean to provoke the ire of honest, hard-working nerds with a crush for obi-wearing records by saying this and I hope I did not offend anyone. Please do not flog me with one-sided flexis as a punishment. Not being an expert in traditional (to be understood here as a genre signifier) Japanese hardcore, I cannot even really claim that Self, Zig-Zag and Blood Feast completely fall in the burning spirit category since they are not quite as over-the-top and epic as the 90's bands I tend to associate with the term (like Death Side, Slang, Warhead, Bastard or Tetsu Arrey), but I will leave the responsibility of clarifying such an issue for good to the ones in the know. However I feel like they each hold enough significant similarities with burning spirit to be widely described as such, if only for the sake of classification and clarity and because of the context of the time (there seems to have been many bands going for the style during the 90's in Japan). If you mention the phrase "90's Japanese hardcore" to me, I always hear flashy and epic guitar solos, ferocious speed metal leanings, a massive love for Discharge and Motörhead, some mosh parts, a direct and rough vocal flow, dynamic enormous gang chorus everywhere, weird lyrics about self-empowerment (you could easily make a few quids selling a book with burning spirit quotes these days) and even weirder band names. But perhaps the best definition I have heard for this style is that it makes you feel invincible and triumphant and for all the subjectivity of such a statement, I can see why someone would say that. 

But let's get to the record. Mie City Hard Core was released in May, 1994, on MCR Records and was part of a series of compilation Ep's focusing on the hardcore scenes of specific Japanese cities or areas. Before Mie, MCR had put out compilations highlighting bands from Kyoto, Nagoya, Sapporo, Yokosuka, Shizuoka, Niigata, Utsunomiya and Kochi-City (yes, Disclose). I personally love the concepts of local comps as they can meaningfully capture the essence of a particular era in a particular area. Of course, they are not all breath-taking and some bands never released anything else after but they are relevant cultural shots of a given context. Mie is not actually a city but a prefecture so this Ep includes bands from the same region but not necessarily the same town. 

The first candidate on the Ep are Self. Yes, Self. Now if that's not a name for a self-empowered, spiritually liberated hardcore kid, I don't know what is. Discogs tells me that the song "Clay guilty" (a song against war) is the sole appearance of the band on record and that is a shame. Self checked several important burning spirit boxes and played with a lot of raw energy (but then, that's a bit redundant to point it out given the genre) and that distinct Japanese hardcore fury. The Bastard-like riffs are excellent, very uplifting, the vocals are hoarse, the pummeling drums are super dynamic, there is a short but catchy solo, the singalong gang chorus are epic and contagious and you are even treated with Mad Max samples for good measure. Self were from Ise and I haven not been able to find any detail about them other than the fact the bloke who engineered the song also worked with bands like SOB, Warhead or Rise From the Dead and that the singer, Sakkon, produced an Ep for Dislike (you know, that late 90's noisepunk band, back when no one did the genre?). On an unrelated note, I am really into the band logo displaying a peacefully praying spiky punk inside a Star of David, also featuring two yin yang symbols, circled with an antiwar message written in the Crass font. Ace. 

Next up are Zig-Zag with the song "Act out!". From what I understand looking at the band's artwork, the name refers to the French brand of rolling papers since Zig-Zag (the band) used the same famous drawing of a zouave than Zig Zag (the brand). I am not sure what to think about it. They could have been heavy smokers or something got seriously lost in translation... Despite the rather raw sound, Zig-Zag pretty much epitomize burning spirit hardcore to my ears. The riffs are triumphant and catchy, the drumming is all over the place, the chorus are anthemic and will induce some intense sessions of fist-raising in your bedroom and I challenge you not to be taken by the sheer energy of the song. In terms of writing, you can tell that they really thought things through with a two-parts chorus that allows for the pressure to build up before exploding. I really like the snotty vocals on this one as they remind me of UK hardcore or vintage peacepunk at times and they add a genuine punky feel. Zig-Zag's drummer also played in Assfort (the first Japanese hardcore band I have ever heard) so it will give you a good picture of the waters in which the band liked to swim. Two years after Mie City Hard Core, they contributed four songs to a compilation cd entitled 2nd Round of the Game of Death (that could work as a title for a teenage horror movie as well). Much better recorded and even more aligned with the burning spirit school of crazy guitar solos and homeric hardcore songwriting, these songs will literally make you feel like a super saiyan. 

Blood Feast, from Tsu, are the next in line and contrary to Self, Zig-Zag and Carnage, they seem to have had a decent discography of their own (three Ep's) and can even pride themselves to have recorded some classic 90's Japanese hardcore. The band also appeared on a tape compilation (probably form the mid-90's as well), Outlast, along with bands like COSA, Slang or Guillotine Terror, but I am not too sure which was their first recording session. Judging solely on the quality of the sound production, I'd say that the split with Poison Cola contained their earliest stuff but I could be wrong. Anyway, from the three "Japanese hardcore" acts on Mie City Hard Core, BF are easily my favourites because they are the punkiest-sounding of the bunch. Super aggressive and direct thrashy hardcore punk with a punishing, hammering 1-2-1-2 beat and snarly desperate vocals. Mind you, I even enjoy the mid-tempo mosh parts with the crazy soloing. I can definitely hear that typical Chaos UK influence that pervaded a lot of Japanese punk although the arrangements and the riffing are undeniably local (Kuro and Death Side come to mind). The (moderate) distortion on the guitar - which they would subsequently pursue - is also an asset as it confers an additional edge to the song and they sang in both Japanese and English which I really enjoy since the flow of the language goes well with the steep relentlessness of the genre. Their '95 Ep on Discrete Records (that label responsible for some classic DSB records a few years later), War in a Babylon, was even better, with a distorted raw punk edge, a genuine antiwar message and one of the best Crucifix covers ever (in fact, BF even openly borrowed the Crucifix logo on this Ep!). Really solid band that is well worth (re)discovering and rates pretty high in terms of quality 90's Japanese hardcore.     

And finally, my precious, my beloved, my treasured Carnage. As you can imagine, a large amount of bands throughout the years decided to make a stand and call themselves Carnage, mostly of the metal variety, but by no means exclusively, and that is without even considering variations such as Total Carnage, Supreme Carnage, Mörbid Carnage or the classically misspelt Karnage. Still Carnage from the Mie Prefecture are, by far, my favourite Carnage, in spite of their very short discography. There must have been demos at the time but I have never heard them (or even heard of any) so that one song from Mice City Hard Core and the two others from the oddly named What is Crust? What is Melo-core? Be Different Hardcore? '98 compilation cd (that also has Disclose, Frigöra and Argue Damnation) will sadly have to do. 

As I mentioned, Carnage were pretty much the main reason why I picked that particular record for treatment. And let's face it, it was an obvious choice. Carnage excelled in crust referentiality and exemplified the notion that "noize not music is a fine art" and the aesthetic intent and artistic carefulness underlying such a statement. The point is not just to pay homage by playing with visual and sonic elements originally created by crucially influential bands, but to build on them. The motivation is twofold, as referentiality is a means to consolidate and validate one band's creation into a pre-existing tradition, but also to turn a band's sound into a legitimate style of its own, with its rules and codes as well as its songwriting potentiality. In Carnage's case, you could argue that they turned the sound and referential creativity of SDS into an actual subgenre, they conceptualized it. Very much like Anti Authorize at the same time (and closer to us, Disturd), they referred to SDS' sense of Antisect referentiality (as their piece of artwork and their hairy antisectish font can attest). Of course, the influence of SDS on the Japanese crust scene was prevalent by 1994 but Carnage was one of the first bands to openly work on the template of Antisect and UK sound as generated by SDS. 

The result is brilliant. The song "Desperate future", recorded in January, 1994, is basically a raw but powerful blend of Out From the Void and In To the Void with some groovy but filthy metallic riffing strongly reminiscent of SDS of course but also heralding bands like AGE and Disturd. In itself, the song is rather simple and effective, the vocals are gruff, almost Neurosis-like, the bass sound is thick, the riff is crusty and catchy and thus you've got the perfect mid-paced crust song. The short spoken words at the opening nod toward Flux of Pink Indians' "Neu smell" and Crass' "Mother Earth" and act as reminder of the anarcho roots of the genre. The two other Carnage songs on the cd, "Total destruction of nuclear weapons" and "Change", are faster and heavier and were recorded six months after, though they were released in 1998. These mere three songs showed that, at a pivotal time for Japanese crust punk, when bands like Abraham Cross, Disclose and Gloom were really coming to the fore with their own concepts, Carnage (along with Anti Authorize) paved the way for a different crusty path, carefully and specifically crafted with the SDS approach, that would be taken by more bands afterwards.  

Of course, it would be strange not to talk about the "crustier than Concrete Sox' socks" artwork, which can actually be rather misleading if you consider the lineup. It was done by Carnage's drummer Sucker and is yet another example of referential crust art with the adequate amount of broken instruments, crust pants and dreads. I personally have a soft spot for the drawing on the backcover because the geezer is drinking from a beer bottle sporting the infamous crossed out music note logo and because he sort of looks like me, I'm afraid to say. Noize not Music can also be a fine drink.   

Mie City Crust Core            

As a follow-up to this one, MCR released Mie City Hardcore 2 in 2002 with a much crustier lineup made up of Contrast Attitude, Deceiving Society and Alive. 

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Noize Not Music is a Fine Art: "Tokyo Crusties Conp" compilation Ep, 1994

Back with a bupp-u-dupp-u-du-bupp-u-dupp-u-du-bupp-u-dupp-u-du-bupp-u-dupp-u-du (or however you want to transcribe the holy D)!!! Yay, right? 

After some weeks spent in the rather captivating task of compiling anarchopunk music that allowed me to get away a little from the writing itself (truth be told, I ran out of inspiration, but then I am only human, you know), I decided to drag my lazy arse back to work. And of course, I chose the sunniest day of the year (so far) to get started so that it is summertime outside and my aforementioned bottom is sweating on a chair in front of a overheating computer. You really are a lucky bunch. But I'm not here to discuss the imperfections of human anatomy, this is not goregrind month on Terminal Sound Nuisance (thanks fuck), but rather I'd like to offer some carefully selected, organically grown, fair trade blends of noisy, fuzzy, crusty hardcore punk music from a scene we all just cannot help loving: Japan.

I'm aware that the idea is not original, especially since I already did an epic series about Japanese crust not so long ago, and to be honest there will be familiar faces, bands that have already been dissected in TSN's music laboratory but that I fancied inviting again, in a casual, chilled but also cosy, sophisticated atmosphere, just for the sheer fun of it. Five compilations with all-Japanese lineups released between 1994 and 1998 will make up this series entitled Noize Not Music is a Fine Art. I did not choose this title not because the bands all fall in the "noisepunk" or "crasher crust" categories but because the underlying theme, the driving idea behind it is the intentional aestheticization of noisy, chaotic, crusty punk music - prompted by bands like SDS and CFDL - that Japanese punk's unparalleled sense of details makes possible. That and because I think 90's Japanese crust is bloody ace which should be a good enough argument in itself.

The first compilation to be the hapless victim of my unchecked ravings is the Tokyo Crusties Ep. It was released in 1994 on the rather literal DIY Records, a label run by Ryuji from Battle of Disarm that was very prolific in the mid-90's. It was actually DIY Records' very first vinyl output although it had already released a compilation tape, Animal Rights Tape, the year before, with a pretty great lineup (Disrupt, CFDL, Resist or Fleas & Lice were on it to name but a few). I can claim with self-assurance that Tokyo Crusties is one of the best compilation Ep's that I own. Not only is it amazing on a musical level (but we'll come to that), but the very conception of the record works great with and highlights its content. There are four bands with two short songs each, eight songs in twelve minutes and that's pretty much ideal for both the genre and the format. Two songs is enough to grasp what the band is going for and four bands on an Ep is quite perfect. But Tokyo Crusties - or should I say Tokyo Crstsies? - is also one of my favourite Ep comps for its visuals. I mean, look at the cover... Crusty punx that could have been drawn by a sight-impaired 5-year old who was raised solely on fourth generation live tapes of Chaos UK and Disorder (but the crust artist for the cover was actually Soujirou from Abraham Cross). If that's not pure talent and genius... And I'm not even being funny. This cover may be the best visual example of the intentional aestheticization and systematization of chaotic punk I mentioned earlier and possibly one of the purest visual embodiments of noizy crust music. Just think about it. Of course the spelling mistake in "crusties" is the icing on the cake and I love the little "u" that was added hastily under the title. They did not think of correcting "conp" though... The backcover poetically depicting a vomiting punk was drawn by Hiroshi from Collapse Society who would go on to make some pretty amazing artworks for LIFE or Frigöra.

The '94 release of Tokyo Crusties on DIY Records pretty much implies one thing: Battle of Disarm will be on it. And, of course, they are and they even provide the two opening songs for the Ep. I have already written rather lengthily about BoD (and my favourite record of theirs, the split Lp with Brainstorm, here) so I am not going to repeat myself in too obvious a fashion. They were a political crust band with a strong focus on animal rights and a deep love for Hiatus, Macrofarge and Doom (but then, an endless passion for early Doom seemed to have been a national obsession in Japan since Macrofarge). I think the two songs included here ("Murderer is hero" about warrgh and "We shuldn't go long any more" about vivisection) were part of the first recording session in which then new drummer Papa (a rather odd nickname, I'll give you that) took part. Otherwise, it is pretty much classic BoD, groovy crusty punk with riffs that bring to mind Crude SS and Lobotomia and, for some reason, for their grooviness, even Hellhammer in places (but I could be getting deaf). I suppose BoD were never the most brutal or relentless or even the catchiest songwriters but their dedication to the global and local DIY punk scene at the time is certainly inspiring and there is no denying that there was such a thing as a "BoD sound" since they are quite easy to recognize, despite not really having a musical gimmick or a memorable special. The ways of the Punk are mysterious...

Next are two songs from crasher crust pioneers Collapse Society and, to be perfectly honest with ya (someone told me that TSN was lacking in street cred so here's some slangy stuff), and although all the other bands and tracks are top quality, they were still the reason why I took Tokyo Crstsies to the TSN treatment. I suppose that at that time, along with Gloom and Disclose, who just cannot be topped on that level, Collapse Society (aka CS from now on) epitomized the notion that "noize not music is a fine art", and precisely not just noise, that noize not music is actually a musical state of mind and a form of songwriting. Right?

I haven't been able to find much information about CS. They were apparently quite short-lived and only released a demo tape in 1993 and a brilliant self-titled Ep in 1994 on Overthrow Records. One thing is certain though, they were very referential, so much so that you could almost play a game of raw punk bingo just looking at their artworks and their cover selection. They used to cover Shitlickers' "War system" as well as "Battlefields" and "Domination or destruction" from The Iconoclast (yes, two covers from the peacepunx and judging from the amount of doves drawn on the inserts, the influence was also graphic), proudly wore studded jackets adorned with Dirge, Wretched and Mob 47, used typically anarchopunk leaves and flower designs and even took a four-leaf clover as the band's logo, which might have been - it's a wild guess but it makes sense given the band's sense of details - a nod toward Mower from Chaos UK who had Irish clovers on his jacket when he toured in Japan in 1985. But we're not just here to discuss fashion statements. CS played a remarkably noisy and fuzzy brand of fast and raw hardcore punk that summarized different 80's hardcore sounds into one condensed crustified assault on the senses. In the book Inferno Punx they are described as "Burst away 2000miles with totally broken engine till the end! ULTRA-SCANDI TOKYO CRUSTIES!!" and I suppose it is as good an introduction as any and although their raw distorted sound was intentional, I can see the parallel with a broken engine you'd still try to get going. If the Swedish influence is clearly strong (Mob 47, Discard or Crudity come to mind), I can also hear bands like Plasmid (or even the Heresy demo) in CS for the sheer noisiness and relentlessness. Another punk tradition into which the band tapped was clearly Italian hardcore. Wretched, EU's Arse or Underage are clear inspirations and I would even argue that the super rough and aggressive sound of the demos from Disarmo Totale and Infezione could also have been instrumental (and who knows, perhaps the super crude rough distorted hardcore sound of late 80's Medellin bands was as well).

But in the end, this is just a list of 80's raw hardcore bands and in terms of intensity, CS really raised the bar ten years later. The level of energy and the intensity in their two songs are incredible and the texture of the guitar sound is exactly (and I mean that) as it should be for the genre. Of course, it is super noizy and distorted - sometimes almost to the extent of intentional crappiness - and indeed it says on the insert that Atsushi plays "fuzz" (there is no mention of the word "guitar" which again points to the careful artistry of the band's production) but it completely serves the band's intent to play fast and energetic raw hardcore punk; the sound enhances the song, and not the other way around, which usually creates boring punk music with aimless distortion. A quietly (!) classic band that definitely had an impact on the way Japanese punks approach scandicore and 80's raw hardcore in general (yes, I'm looking at you Frigöra, Ferocious X and Isterismo).        

Next up are the colossal, titanic, Brobdingnagian (and now here is a literary reference in order to appeal to well-read punx) Abraham Cross, a band I still feel slightly uncomfortable wearing the shirt of because I have no idea why they picked that odd moniker in the first place (do you?). But they are still ace, or rather they are still FUCKING ace. The most potent instance of cavemen crust to ever come out of Japan despite the relatively large number of great candidates for the job. I have already written about them in the review of the Meaningful Consolidation 2xEp (here!) which saw AC share grooves with SDS, CDFL, Disclose, Defiance, Anti Authorize and Iconoclast, but I do not mind raving a second time about them. The band shared a member with Collapse Society as Yasushi played the bass for both acts and was active (I think) until the mid/late noughties although by that time they had become a harsh techno band or something (I really suck at defining electronic music so bear with me).

In an incredible moment of dazzling intellectual brilliance, I once made a parallel between Battle of Disarm and Abraham Cross arguing that the main discrepancy between them lied in their musical intent and their artistic intentionality. Although both bands pretty much built on the same ground material of early gruff crust like Doom and Macrofarge and on this very type of songwriting, they ended up sounding very different in terms of sound because AC went for a thick, blown out, distorted sound and a referential approach (basically what we often associate with Japanese crust) when BoD picked a more direct and less self-conscious path. I suppose you could say that AC shared a similar intent in terms of texture and sound as Collapse Society although their respective influences differed. Perhaps the massive inspiration from Sore Throat was key here, for although they were an original UK crust band, they were already very referential and self-reflexive, albeit for the purpose of taking the piss while being as noisy as possible.

Anyway, the two AC songs included on Tokyo Crusties were recorded in February, 1994 and stand as one of the band's most punishing offerings. They hit really hard. I love how the drums are really upfront thus highlighting their relentlessness. The sound is super groovy and heavy and any self-respecting linguist would confirm that the vocals are probably the closest thing to an accurate rendition of the original language of neanderthal men. Absolute early Doom/Sore Throat worship and sometimes I even feel like they outdoomed Doom. The songs here are "Same as war" and "Pointless tooth", the latter including this magical line of crust poetry  "Dogs eat meat but we are different. Rabbit don't eat it and us too." Crust not music is indeed a fine art. ACE.

The final band on the glorious Tokyo Crusties were the unfortunately-named Crocodileskink, a band I love dearly as you must have noticed in the review of their split Ep with No Security (here!). The two songs included on the compilation, "War game" and "Remember" (a great song about Japan's war crimes in Asia during WWII), were part of a recording session that also saw them immortalized the song "Discrimination" but I have not been able to find the exact date (late '93 or early '94 are sensible guesses). Since I only recently wrote about CrSk, I am not going to dwell too much upon them. By the mid-90's, they had started to play fast and intense Japanese crust, not unlike Macrofarge but with a very distinct Swedish hardcore influence. Actually, they never sounded as Scandinavian (or as furious really) as on this compilation Ep. They sound like Macrofarge trying to play like Crude SS trying to play like Discard. Don't they? Pummeling and over-the-top crusty and raw scandicore with Japanese-styled vocals. Really top-shelf stuff and I still find it hard to believe that CrSk are not discussed more often during coffee breaks at the office. After all, they may very well have been one of the very first (if not the first) Japanese bands with such an obsession for fast and raw Swedish hardcore that it incited them to work and build on that sound, creating in the process a crust-infused referential hybrid that would influence a lot of bands in its aftermath. Maybe I have lost me marbles here but the liner notes in the graphic Japanese crust bible Inferno Punx (edited by some well-known old-school Osaka crusties) say about CrSk that they were: "One of the pioneer of TOKYO CRUSTIES. CROCODILE SKINK must be the first band who played SCANDI-BEAT in OSAKA city. Weren't they?" Well, were they? A genuine important question that could be broadened nationally is being asked here. But anyway, if the band had to be remembered at all, I suppose that "IMMORTAL CRUST SPIRIT" would be quite relevant.

Though it is always difficult and tricky to assess retrospectively, I suppose that Tokyo Crusties may have been some kind of landmark for the blooming Tokyo crust scene, with a new generation of 90's bands coming to the front with a referential approach (largely inherited from the mighty SDS) carefully applied to new sectors of the punk spectrum (early gruff crust and scandicore here), one that is still very much alive today. 

Who said Fine Arts could not be fun?