Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Polish Tapes Not Police States (kurwa 5): Monoteizm-Co-Existence "Patrz I Odczuj!" tape, 1998

It's that time of year again. On the streets, people look stuffed and exhausted while they are clumsily dragging suitcases full of meaningless gifts that they won't know what to do with in about two weeks. Books they won't read, clothes that do not fit, nasty sweets that your great-aunt bought on her last trip abroad, overcomplicated boardgames or, worse, a mainstream pop-rock album. "Happy homes destroyed and for what?" to quote a great band. 

So to make up for all the consumerist frenzy - and the awkward misery it implies - that social conventions have brought upon you on this day, here is a much more punk-appropriate present for you: a Polish crust tape from the 90's. And if you live in a country where Christmas is not celebrated, well, then that's just a regular gift because we are incredibly generous and honourable at Terminal Sound Nuisance headquarters and we would probably deserve to be selected for the Nobel Punk Prize next year. 

Of course, because under the patches and the extremely cool punk shirts, I am very respectful of conservative traditions and have been confirmed to be, overall, a decent, neighbourly citizen who won't hesitate to play Atrocious Madness at late hours if the situation requires it, I tried to emulate the grandiose Christmas spirit and therefore picked a band with a message of hope, togetherness, peace and interfaith dialogue. This band is Monoteizm-Co-Existence. Now, I suppose the moniker is a bit odd for a gruff metallic crust band that sounds about as friendly as a charging hippo. I am sure the band had good intentions and meant "please everyone, let's not slaughter each other in the name of imaginary friends because that's kinda unhealthy and just insane" but I cannot help being reminded of the Coexist bumper stickers that I used to see in the States. Well-meaning but really cheesy and naive. Fortunately for you, the cheesiness in Monoteizm-Co-Existence (which will be referred to as MCE from now on) did not result in them playing folk punk or alternative reggae rock. Otherwise, this post would just be another nail in the Christmasy coffin. 

I know it is becoming like a running joke but I haven't been able to discover much about the band and most of the things I am going to assert below in a scholarly fashion are really just informed guesses. MCE were active in the second part of the 90's, a decade when crust ruled over Europe with an iron fist and a smelly armpit. They were from Kolno, a small town northwest of Bialystok (that's in northeastern Poland you ignoramus) and their first demo, entitled Oblicze Prawdy, was released in 1995 on Demonstracja Tapes, a Bialystok-based tape label (I am quite the investigator) run by Martin from Sanctus Iuda. Even a quick look at the discography of Demonstracja will show you that it was responsible for tape versions of records from the likes of Doom, Meanwhile or Agathocles, as well as demos from ace Polish crust bands like Hostility, Disgusting Lies and of course Sanctus Iuda. They even released two tapes from Sarcasm and if that is not a definitive proof of good taste, I don't know what is. Oblicze Prawdy was a rather rough and brutal crust attack with dual vocals reminiscent of Embittered, Money Drug or early Disrupt. The demo tape shows a lot of energy and anger and if you are a sucker for raw eurocrust like I am, I strongly recommend it. For some reason, I did not buy it at the Ultra Chaos Picnic festival although it was available and only got the second MCE tape. I don't remember why, I probably never will and needless to say that I feel very silly for this system failure.

Some people prefer the first tape over the second one, and while I really enjoy it, my vote still goes for Patrz I Odczuj!. The band had improved since Oblicze Prawdy (I think Patrz I Odczuj! was released in 1998 but I am not completely certain) and there were some lineup changes as they welcomed a new bass player and recruited a new - female - vocalist. The sound became heavier, groovier and more metallic. Yes my faithful readers, you know where I am getting at, MCE were now playing raw metallic crust with dual male/female vocals, a common artistic practice in the 90's DIY punk scene and one I have been obsessed with since I first heard Nausea. As I mentioned the production is better in this second recording and I just love the dark, dirty heaviness of the guitar sound. It works great whether the band is in fast eurocrust mode or when they unleash their old-school crusty metal power, and overall the balance between both moods is amazing. The vocals are aggressive and raucous but not overly gruff, which gives the song a tasteful anarchopunk vibe (there are some overt anarcho musical references in a few songs). It is pretty obvious that MCE had been listening to a lot of Sanctus Iuda, Silna Wola and Homomilitia, but then I guess it is a pleonastic comment to even mention it considering the tremendous influence they had, while the crunchy metallic vibe that they injected into their crust recipe probably points to the cruelly underrated Hostility. Classic bands like Nausea and Hiatus are also major influences here and judging from the MCE's font, it is safe to say that you can add Extinction of Mankind to the list, which would account for the old-school crust streak running through their vernacular take on the genre.

That's a picture from their '97 Poznan gig with Counterblast and Scatha... What a cracking lineup! 

This is a top-shelf metallic crust tape and it is frustrating that I know so little about MCE. It was released on Malarie Records and you can still find this gem on distros for cheap (meaning for its real price). Wouldn't that make a brilliant Christmas present for 2019? 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Polish Tapes Not Police States (kurwa 4): Stupor "Prawdziwe oblicze..." demo tape 1997

I have to admit that I had never listened to, nor even heard of, Stupor before I lifted Prawdziwe oblicze... from the box that lied solitarily on the distro stall. This box only contained tapes from the 90's, mainly from Polish bands, and you could tell that they had not been looked at for a long time. In fact, they looked like they had not seen the light of day at all for a good few years and I felt like a fearless archaeologist carefully and lovingly excavating some rare artifacts in a distant land, while still remaining on the lookout for wild animals that might attack from behind. The only realistic risk was that a drunk punk would spill his beer on my classy jacket while I was browsing through the tapes, or, worse, try to engage a conversation, but I have to say that I handled the situation particularly well, the local fauna was mostly peaceful and I was unharmed. As I mentioned, I did not know Stupor but the fact that they had a good name for a punk band (not to mention one that I could understand) combined with the grim postindustrial artwork sealed the deal and I ended up with the demo tape in my bag, which I was carrying around lovingly, like a punker, but much less manly and adventurous, Indiana Jones (I always bring an umbrella at punk festivals because I don't like getting wet, which is kinda unpunk I suppose but then I get very grumpy when my socks are soaked so it is really for the best).

The thing is that I should at least have been aware of Stupor since they did a split Ep with Portland's Harum-Scarum in 2000 and I do like Harum-Scarum (especially Suppose we try actually) so I was a little upset about my own ignorance when I got back home and checked the band's discography. But you cannot know everything, even in our era of mass information, and, if anything, it demonstrated once again the vastness of the 90's Polish punk scene as well as some possible lacks about US anarchopunk on my part. But anyway, it always feels exciting to discover an old band that has flown under your radar for no apparent reason, so my enthusiasm certainly prevailed over my narcissistic injury. Judging from the cover, I was expecting some heavy metallic crust with nasty blast beats (I mean, Stupor did have a hairy logo so it made sense) but I was wrong - again - and probably for the best. Hailing from Oleśnica (not so far from Wrocław), the band formed in 1996 with two former member of Sonderkommando in its ranks and Prawdziwe oblicze... was their first recording, a demo tape recorded in May, 1997. Stupor would subsequently appear on a split Ep in 1999 with Verrecke (from Poland too I think?), a split tape with Slaughterhouse in 2000 from Spain and, of course, that same year, on the split Ep with Harum-Scarum released on Malarie. 

As for the music, you can tell in a heartbeat that, stylistically, Stupor were a 90's band since they adopted a punk cultural practice that this decade consecrated: fast anarchopunk with dual male and female vocals. The sound of my copy of the tape is trebly and unstable in places but that is what you get. And after all, the blog is also about sharing experiences and making you feel as if you were right here, with me, listening to the same tape while enjoying tremendously my witty insights, being inspired by my unrivalled analysis not to mention awed by my charisma. But then, if you have a better rip of the tape, I'm not against it. The production is pretty raw and a bit thin but the energy certainly makes up for the lack of heaviness. There is a strong thrash influence in the songwriting, especially in the guitar parts, but the raw and angry vibe of the music makes it sound really punky, upbeat and passionate. I am reminded of early Disaffect, Jobbykrust, Mushroom Attack, or even Fleas and Lice, or indeed of a thrashy blend of Harum-Scarum and 105 Lux (a fantastic early 90's female-fronted Polish band). While the songs are mostly fast and direct, there are also some metallic mid-paced moments to give some variety and on the whole the eleven songs make for a great listen if you are into that kind of sound (and if you have read that far, I suppose you are). The two vocalist complement one another very well, the female singer sounding more tuneful with a warmer, but still aggressive, tone while the bloke goes for the gritty, throaty shouts. I cannot really tell you anything about the lyrics but I am sure that they were of a serious political nature (it is pretty much a prerequisite of the genre, right?). The tape could be described as a promising and great-looking demo with a lovely foldout insert - as Polish tapes often had - and the split Ep with Harum-Scarum (I haven't been able to find the other recordings) confirmed Stupor's potential thanks to a better production that highlighted their proper 90's anarchopunk sound.

Prawdziwe oblicze... was released on N.I.C., a label and distro operated by singer Kudłaty (who now plays in a band called The Axe) that is still very much active to this day (even more so maybe) and has been running since 1994 with releases from bands like Aferra, Evil and Amen.

Now, for real, does anyone has a spare copy of the Stupor/Harum-Scarum split Ep?   

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Polish Tapes Not Police States (kurwa 3): Earth Movement "S/t" tape, 1997

This band takes me back to the early days of Terminal Sound Nuisance. 6 years ago, in October of 2012 to be accurate, I reviewed and posted Earth Movement's Ep, W Sprawie Ocalenia. It was a very different time, an age of innocence when I could write fourteen entries for the blog in a single month (the novelty effect made me feel unstoppable and imbued with a dignified sense of purpose, though some would call it self-importance), and yet still struggled to find my voice in this virtual jungle and offer contents I was truly pleased with. And here I am, six years later, a bit older but still in pretty good shape despite a receding hairline, still writing about forgotten punk bands with dodgy musical abilities or foggy monikers (they are not mutually exclusive obviously). So when I found the tape this summer on a distro, unjustly covered with the dust of indifference, I got a bit sentimental and instantly grabbed it, like an unexpected Proustian madeleine.    

The one thing that really has not changed is Earth Movement's status as the band seems to remain inextricably shrouded in mystery. I haven't been able to learn more about them and no one really seems to know much about this lot twenty years later. It is pretty sad that you can find easily all sorts of nonsensical frivolous bollocks on the internet (sometimes without really intending to) while relevant intel about solid Polish hardcore punk bands from the 90's are hard to come by. Unfair, yeah? I am not even completely sure about the release date on that tape. It could be 1998 (like the aforementioned Ep) for all I know, but the rawer sound made me think that it had to be a previous recording and since the label had already put out, at least, two tapes in 1997, I went for that year. But do correct me if I am mistaken.

EM were from Suwalki, in northeastern Poland, not far from the borders with Lithuania and Belarus, and were, I suppose, active in the late 90's. This self-titled tape was recorded at Salman Studio in Białystok, a recording space also used by the likes of Sanctus Iuda (who were actually from Białystok), Disgusting Lies or Piekło Kobiet as well as quite a few grindcore bands. I can definitely hear similarities in terms of sound and songwriting between EM and Sanctus Iuda actually, though the former were not as crusty. EM played powerful, energetic, fast, riff-driven anarcho hardcore punk with a crusty touch (it was the 90's after all). The eleven songs included on the tape flow and fit very well together and in spite of a raw(er) sound, the musicianship sounds pretty strong and focused. There are enough tempo changes to keep everyone interested, the vocals are passionate, pissed but with some tuneful hooks, the riffs are epic and catchy and when EM go into full on pummeling crusty hardcore mode, they sound relentless. There is even a punky reggae number, something which, in another context, would make me very dismissive (alternative reggae rock bands have been plaguing the French scene for the past three decades), but works very well here with its almost cold and moody vibe (it has to be said that reggae has been a very popular style in Poland and a lot punk bands have been toying with it, usually with admittedly good results). I can also hear a definite anarchopunk influence reminiscent of Conflict and, of course, of Włochaty and Guernica y Luno (two extremely influential bands at the time). Add a bit of the hardcore sound of Mushroom Attack and Anger of Bacterias with a crusty spoonful of Hiatus, Sanctus Iuda and Stradoom Terror (it was the 90's after all) and it made for a very promising first recording that the Ep certainly confirmed. EM had potential, were able to write good, potent, aggressive punk songs and, well, who knows what happened next. They may have got lost in the crowd of good bands at that time.

The tape was released on Qrwa Sistema (get it?) a tape label based in Slupsk that released some strong works from Silna Wola, Stracony as well as Swedish bands like Society Gang Rape or the delicate Dissober. I don't really know what EM sang about but judging from the Sedition/Oi Polloi pagan ecopunk imagery, without mentioning the abstruse name Earth Movement, I would endeavour that they were into radical ecology, nature and nudism. 

This is a great, unpretentious tape and I love it.   

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Polish Tapes Not Police States (kurwa 2): Undecided "S/t" demo tape, 1996

The next band to get the full Terminal Sound Nuisance treatment is Undecided. For those of you who arrived late at the party, the point of the Polish Tapes Not Police States series is to review a couple of 90's Polish punk tapes that I was fortunate enough to get my grubby hands on last summer at a muddy festival. To make the endeavour more interesting and challenging, I picked six tapes I had never listened to or, at the very least, completely forgot I had, and three of the bands involved were actually unknown to me. Among these punk acts shrouded in mystery was Undecided, probably the most obscure band of the lot. 

While foraging for forgotten gems on the distro tables, the Undecided tape caught my attention with its use of the crass font. Of course, there is nothing original in this particular typological choice, but being a sentimental fool, as a rule, I always check bands who use the crass font. I cannot really help it as it is akin to an automatic response to a sensory stimulus, like some strange punk reflex, and although I am aware that such an ordinary - if not cheap - punk trick seldom indicates a likeness to Crass or their politics, it still gets me every time, though not as much as the use of the Antisect font which makes me lose my legendary cool and I end up looking like a cat chasing a laser beam. Undignified indeed. But anyway, I noticed the crass font, then realized that it had been released on Malarie Records, a well-established label run - at the time - by a Polish and Czech tag team responsible for a lot of quality hardcore and crust recordings throughout the years. Malarie put out too many great tapes and records to mention them all, but it would not be far-fetched to say that the label played a crucial part in supporting, promoting and spreading Polish punk from the 90's onwards. They also made classy tape versions of albums from foreign bands aimed at the Eastern market, at a time when tapes were still very much the main format there, and I clearly remember getting the Malarie versions of Detestation and Scatha albums from them a long time ago... Funny how such outwardly minor events stick in the memory... But let's get back to the matter at hand. What I meant to say is that Malarie could be trusted and that their 90's catalogue was very much to my liking and therefore that Undecided must be decent, maybe not amazing, but at least interesting and enjoyable. Judging from the cover and the font, I was mentally betting on some fast anarcho hardcore-punk, maybe like Włochaty or Guernica y Luno, but perhaps a bit darker and heavier and "modern" because, after all, there was a skeleton on the cover. And I was wrong: Undecided are crustier than a pair of socks after an open air three-dayer.

By now, you all know how much of a sucker for proper 90's eurocrust I am. My militancy to promote this once flourishing subgenre knows no bound and I could be described as a candid enthusiast (or a raving lunatic) when it comes to unadulterated vintage Hiatus worship. And blimey, that's exactly what Undecided were up to, which makes me think that they were not so undecided after all and were, on the contrary, very much resolved to unleash that specific brand of crust that was all the rage in the mid-90's. Undecided were, in the context of the musical production of that decade, generic. If you played the tape to someone who is even remotely into crust, he or she should be able to point out the timeframe and the global area with condescending ease and maybe a sneer. Now, I know that sounds like a rather negative statement, and to be described as "generic" or "derivative" is rarely a sign of creative genius. But in the case of Undecided, I don't see it in that light at all. They were gloriously, positively generic if you will. The fourteen songs on the demo summarize and synthesize what eurocrust typically sounded like at its best and while you could legitimately see that stance as a lack of originality and creativity (because after all, you can always improve on a formula, work on sound textures or moods in order to bring something else to the crust table), you could also consider the tape as a sort of ultimate cavemen crust guidebook (like Dual Vocal 90's Crust for Dummies or something) that fervently and predictably checks all the appropriate boxes, like a validation of crust for crusties.

The Hiatus influence is tremendous on all levels, in the riffs, the structures, the super hoarse vocals, the gratuitous crusty growls, the filthy metallic breaks, the relentlessness, the energy... I have already talked about the importance of Hiatus in the development of crust music in the 90's and I would argue that a record like Way of Doom was probably as influential as any other (without mentioning the band's heavy touring). This tape is everything you are entitled to expect from a top shelf mid-90's gruff crust band, it has that dirty and unstoppable pummeling punk feel, great dual over the top vocals, a bit of variety even, as the first song is a mid-paced old school crust number, the moody and dark "System wartosci" reminds of early Mindrot. On the whole, if most songs play the "forward into crust" game, they also display some clever structural changes with intros, varying beats or some effective metal breaks so that it never sounds dull or - too - linear (because it still has to retain some linearity for it to qualify as proper crust in my book). The sound is raw but powerful (I love the dirty, fuzzy, expressive sound of the bass) and Undecided were actually pretty tight. Unoriginal as they may have been, they could fit comfortably in an act of emulating love with early Disrupt, Subcaos, Enola Gay or Amnesty. Closer to home, I can hear elements of Silna Wola (for the harshness) and Hostility (for the metallic crust moments), but on the whole, I would argue that Undecided did not really sound like the other great Polish crust bands of their time, which may be a little paradoxical for such an openly referential band stylistically. 

There is very little I can tell you about Undecided unfortunately. This tape was their sole record and I haven't been able to identify the members to learn about their punk careers before or after Undecided. They were from Bartoszyce, in the northeast of Poland but that's about all I know. As I mentioned in the first post, there were a massive amount of punk bands at the time in the country so it is not completely surprising that a band with only one demo under its belt would fade into obscurity (even in our arrogant digital age, there are more unearthed gems than we think). Also, the few old-timers I interrogated about Undecided, people who were active in the 90's and saw them live were rather unimpressed by the band's work, if not dismissive. But I suppose it also makes sense. By 1996, this brand of derivative eurocrust must have felt a little tedious and needlessly redundant. Although the tape itself is, I think, very good at what it sets out to produce, it could be discarded as just one more Hiatus type band as well. The context of the listening also conditions the critical reception of any work. 22 years later however, upon first hearing it out of its context, I cannot help but feel favorably for this unpretentious, unoriginal, but incredibly effective and tasteful crust band. But then, who still plays that kind of crust in 2018? And with that same urgency and unselfconsciousness? So, in the end, could I be projecting my own craving for that passé sound onto this 90's artifact? I am undecided.