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.   

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