Wednesday 19 September 2018

Summer comps not summer camps (part 4): "Punk Lives! - Let's Slam" compilation Lp, 1986

While I fully agree with the bold statement that "Punk lives!" instead of slamming, let's just talk about it for a minute. Actually, I am not completely sure about the proper meaning of the phrase "Let's slam". Does it refer to slam-dancing, which can be defined as "taking part in a form of dancing to rock music in which people deliberately collide with one another", aka good ole pogo? I suppose, although, to be fair, the deliberate collusions are usually not really consensual. In other terms, you often end up with a hairy, sweaty drunk colliding with the pint you just bought, spilling half of it on the floor (or worse, on that one good pairs of trousers you happened to have washed just the day before, you know what I mean) in the process and trying to hug you to apologize afterwards... You know the feeling. 

Punk lives! - Let's slam was a compilation Lp released in 1986 on Slam Records (I see a recurring theme here), a sublabel of Rot Records which was run by members of Riot Squad. I rarely see Rot Records mentioned in topical punk conversations which seems a bit unfair as the label not only released classic records from English Dogs (the Forward into battle Lp and the To the end of the Earth 12'', which rate as some of the best metal-punk records of all time), Varukers (the Massacred millions 12'') or the oft overlooked Picture Frame Seduction (the Hand the rider Lp) but also put out some excellent compilations with great lineups in the mid-80's that are sadly seldom discussed. Granted, they did not exactly look stunning (they did not include inserts which is such a missed opportunity in retrospect...) and often included materials that had already been released elsewhere, but still, Rot Records should, at least, be acknowledged for its promotion of international hardcore punk in the insular UK. World War Three included tracks from Crude SS, Raw Power, Rovsvett or Zyklome A and What are you going to do about that hole in your head? had Olho Seco, Puke or Inferno. As for the compilations that focused solely on UK punk, they often displayed strong lineups (No Choice, External Menace, The Enemy, Oi Polloi, English Dogs...) combined with wacky titles like A kick up the arse or Have a rotten Christmas. Quality stuff for the most part, I'd say, without mentioning that Rot Records kept going for a few years after the so-called UK82 wave died out. 

Punk lives!, despite its rather ugly look and the absence of any information about the bands, is a fine example of what the label was the best at: solid, diverse and modern punk compilation Lp. Of course, in 1986, I was just a fat three year old who was already spending too much time watching animes on the telly, so you can imagine I did not buy the record at the time. The main reason why I got this compilation a few years ago was because it included one of my favourite anarcho songs ever: Anihilated's "40 dumb animals". Which takes me to the actual content of the record.

The Lp contains twelve songs and eight bands (four bands have two of their songs included, one on each side). I think it is more practical to process one band after another so let's start with... Anihilated, form the Ipswich area. "Inferno" and the aforementioned "40 dumb animals" are on this Lp and if you have never heard these songs, you are in for a treat. Both songs first appeared on the band's second demo tape recorded in 1985 and originally entitled Shadows of fear, though it would subsequently be renamed Speedwell demo (after the name of the studio) and is nowadays largely known as such. While Speedwell marked the band's shift toward metal, their first effort, 1983's How much more, was firmly rooted in the glorious noizy anarchopunk tradition of Dirge or Disorder (the song "Book of death" was lifted from that recording). The Speedwell sessions are my favourite materials from Anihilated (with just the one "n" because it looks punkier, a spelling I totally validate). Of course, you can hear that the band was getting heavily into the then blooming thrash metal scene but the music kept that raw, urgent, angry punk sound. Charged haired punx playing fast metal. Along with early Onslaught and Concrete Sox, this Anihilated demo is my favourite thrashy metal punk recording. "Inferno" opens the Lp and starts with a super epic intro (which reminds me of over-the-top triumphant Japanese hardcore actually) before bursting into galloping, English Dogs-influenced raw metal punk. This is catchy as hell and makes me want to wear a bandana with permed hair and headbang. But for me, "40 dumb animals", Punk lives!'s last song, is the unsurpassable gem. It is a much punkier number than "Inferno" though there is some metallized riffing. The song starts deceptively like a fast thrashy one before slowing down and getting into a heavy and crunchy mid-paced beat, enhanced with a snotty delivery and half-shouted, half-spoken parts, we are in the midst of anarcho brilliance. I particularly enjoy the changes of pace in that one and how passionate the words sound and how the youthful vocal flow fits absolutely perfectly with the music. I never fail to sing into an imaginary mic when playing "40 dumb animals", especially when the singer vociferates "money-making muuurdaaaaarghhhh". It's like '83 Antisect and Icons of Filth with a thrashy metallic Legion of Parasites touch playing at an ALF benefit (the song is about the fur trade). This song is untouchable. Cracking stuff. Of course, Anihilated would go on to become even more thrash-metal afterwards (the Path to destruction 12'' is still punk enough for my liking, not so much what followed) and they have been playing again since 2010.

The second band on Punk lives! - Let's slam is Stone the Crowz, with "Suffer children" and "Friendship", well technically anyway since the songs were mistitled, the correct names being "Suffer little children" and "Friendship through profit" (both of them appearing originally on the Suffer little children 1985 demo tape). I suppose that Stone the Crowz are mostly remembered nowadays - assuming they are at all - as a pre-Axegrinder band. And indeed, they are since Trev (on vocals) and Matt (on the bass) would form Axegrinder a few years later (they also played together in Tyrants of Hate in-between). Actually, Trev's coarse, furious vocals are pretty recognizable and being a fan of his, I suppose I cannot really help but see Stone the Crowz as a punky Axegrinder, quite untrue I know, but it must come from my reptilian brain. Apparently the phrase "stone the crows" is an  old-fashioned exclamation used to express disgust and surprise and I guess that the "z" substituted the "s" because there was a Scottish blues band called Stone the Crows (though I doubt someone could  have confused both bands...). Anyway, beside Trev and Matt, the band also had Steve Beattie on the drums, at the time running Endangered Musik (the two Stone the Crowz were released on his label) and later on founder of Plastic Head Distribution and drummer for Disgust. Musically, Stone the Crowz were, to the core, an anarchopunk band. Heavy, threatening, energetic mid-tempo punk music with a direct, in your face vocal style and some Flux-like feedbacks as texture. I am especially reminded of Exit-Stance quite a bit (though they were not as tribal sounding), Icons of Filth and also of Anti-System and Antisect in their mid-paced moments. The two songs are really good and convey a genuine sense of outrage and disgust. I strongly recommend the two demos of the band (they were reissued on vinyl on Overgound Records a few years ago) if you are into pounding, heavy, almost primitive anarchopunk. Ace.

Following up are Rattus. Yes, Rattus. With the song "Naytelma" (which should have been spelt "Näytelmä" if I'm not mistaken) taken from the Will evil win 1985 demo. I suppose everyone is fairly familiar with Rattus, probably the most famous Finnish hardcore band with Tervet Kadet. The sound is rather raw with a metal influence creeping in (in the drumming for instance), as if the band had listened to Venom a lot before entering the studio while remaining rooted in their old hardcore sound. The riffs are actually really good (but then, Rattus always had great riffs) and I like the rather primal atmosphere of the song, but overall it may lack a little in pure energy and aggression (the vocals are sometimes monotonous) which are really traditional Finnish hardcore's forte. By no means a bad song though and that first riff is pretty much perfect. 

After Rattus, things mellow considerably with one song from the mighty Political Asylum, "Cat's eyes" (mispelt "Cats eyes"...), who have another one, "Flight of fancy", on side two. I am a big time fan of PA (as can be seen here) so, as cheesy as they might objectively sound at times, no nasty comments about the band will be allowed here. If you have never heard of them, they were an anarchopunk band from Dunfermline, Scotland, that was quite prolific, resilient (they survived the 80's after all), versatile and far more adventurous than most (trigger warning: they had progressive rock moments). If you can get past what Ian Glasper called the "fretboard heroics" of the guitar player (the expression makes me giggle but, still, brace yourselves since there are a lot of solos, too many in fact), PA's "Cat's eyes" is a wonderful melancholy song full of atmospheric melodies and emotions. Although there was such a thing as a "PA sound", the band really excelled in expressing different moods and feelings from one song to another, so that on one recording, you could have a really upbeat number, followed with an angry one, then a lengthy autumnal ballad, a gothy postpunk gem and so on. I suppose we are in the slow and mournful department with that dark, poignant song, that sounds like The Mob and New Model Army OD'ing on guitar solos. "Cat's eyes" was originally released on the great Valium for the Masses demo tape from 1984. On the other side, PA contributed one of their most famous songs (I think?) "Flight of fancy". The sound is much thinner than on the previous recording as it was recorded in the practice room with four microphones strategically placed around the room (I'm quoting here). As I mentioned, PA were good at conveying different moods and this is a perfect example. While "Cat's eyes" made you feel miserable, "Flight of fancy" is much more dynamic, energetic and, well, punkier. The trademark tunes and chorus are still there and Ramsey - while not the most gifted punk singer - still had a very recognizable voice that sometimes reminds me of protest folk singer. "Flight of fancy" has an old-school punk-rock feel to it with, again, some great guitar parts and catchy singalong parts. This version of the song was originally included on the band's third demo Walls have Ears, from 1986, but it would be rerecorded for the Someday mini Lp in 1987. A truly unique band that, whatever the style they embrace, never fail to sound fresh and interesting.

The next band is Rabid, from Leicester, one that I already touched upon four years ago here. If you remember (I assume you do not because of the the internet-induced decrease of our attention span and all that), Rabid were a rather typical but enjoyabe UK82 bands that had two records on Fallout in 1982 and that was pretty much it. I haven't been able to find details about the recording sessions of their two songs that ended up on Punk Lives but they were definitely recorded in the mid-80s since Rabid had turned metal. It was of course not unusual at the time (the other possible path being "turning new wave") but it was a tricky endeavour since, well, playing metal of the crossover thrash variety is more difficult than straight up snotty punk-rock. I suppose English Dogs have a lot to answer for considering these two songs, and I do mean A LOT. From the riffs, the vocal tones, the chorus to the song structures, everything is reminiscent of Forward into Battle, although it sounds nowhere as powerful, energetic and mean. It is not terrible, but pretty average especially when you consider that there were far better metal-punk bands at the time, I suppose from some demo recording and the band stopped after that. For some reason, "Bloody road to glory" (which was also the title of their 1982 Ep) and "Black cat" makes me want to drive a car in the desert wearing wayfarers, although I don't have my driving licence and I look like a knobhead with sunglasses.

Poison Justice also have two tracks included on Punk Lives, and really good ones too. However, I have not been able to find much information about them. Prior to this Lp, PJ appeared on a DIY mixtape called Ere Whats This? volume 2 compiled by U.K. Tapes (I suppose an enthusiastic teenager armed with a tape-to-tape machine) in 1983 in Huddersfield. There were three volumes of Ere Whats This? and, interestingly, the second one also had "songs" from Deformed, Devoid and Genocide Association, that fake hardcore band done by Dig from Earache. But anyway, the four PJ songs that appeared on the tape were rather raw but really tuneful and catchy slices of catchy political punk-rock, not unlike a low-fi version of The Instigators or Naked, the potential of which was hindered by the sound. The band returned as a different animal on the compilation Lp however, with a much clearer sound, improved musicianship and a new postpunk sound. "Rebellious city" and "Life to it's end" (the proofreader must have been on vacation) sound adequately dirgy and melancholy, with epic tribal drumming, eerie goth-like guitar parts, tuneful vocals and catchy chorus that will stick in your head for the rest of the day ("Enjoy your freedom, the future is bleak"). I can definitely picture a crowd of scruffy, gothy punks circa 1985 dancing lasciviously to these songs. The sound is lacking in thickness (not enough bass probably) but if you enjoy the postpunk side of anarchopunk like I do, it pretty much ticks all the right boxes. Somewhere between Slaughter of the Innocent, Decadent Few, Vex and Southern Death Cult. It certainly would have made for a good Ep.

The last band I am going to talk about has just the one song on side two and is called Throbs, with a song entitled "Happy but ignorent" (the record should have been called Punk Lives - Let's Misspel!). I think the band was from Surrey and they released two demo tapes in 1985 on their own Homebrew Music, respectively called Make Homebrew not War and Skatebords from Hell. I don't really know what to say about Throbs, judging from just one song. Pretty standard mid-paced UK anarchopunk, with basic tribal drumming, a fuzzy guitar sound, punk-rock bass lines and snotty tunes. Pretty decent and I suppose that they listened a lot to Flux of Pink Indians, DIRT and Anti-Pasti (which they covered live apparently). One of the members also played in the new-wave band NMBD (No More Bloody Destruction) and Throbs appeared on a couple of LOL tapes as well. What else? Oh yeah, they of course had a song called "We make homebrew not war" which is never a bad thing.

A lovely compilation with enough standout songs to keep everyone interested. I'm still not sure about the slam thing though.

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