Monday 9 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 4): Dispense "Nothing but the Truth" Ep, 1993

"When will it stop? When will it stop?" yells the irate punk as the chorus of the eponymous song "When will it stop" opening Dispense's Nothing but the Truth 1993 Ep. This ferocious-sounding bit is quite possibly the record's most remarkable moment and whenever a gentle soul reminds me of Dispense - which unsurprisingly does not happen very often to tell you the truth - I can hear with clarity the phrase "When ill it stop? When will it stop?", always repeated twice, just like in the song, resounding in my head. The doc tells me it is one of the many symptoms of a medical condition commonly found in persons who have been exposed to high levels of D for an extended period of time. It is a bit like being exposed to radioactivity, but with d-beat instead. It is by and large not lethal - only two casualties have ever been reported - but after effects can include irritability, antisocial behaviours, questionable clothing choices and an aggravated tendency to play a discharge-y beat with your fingers on any surface that is plane enough. So you can basically live a long, if unfulfilling, life with it. Long exposures to d-beat at a very young age have also been rumoured to prolong virginity but studies have been inconclusive so it remains mere surmise. Still, I am grateful I got into Crass before Discharge.

What I also really enjoy about that "When will it stop? When will it stop?" chorus is that you can read it retroactively. Of course, the song is about Discharge wars, brutal fictional conflicts where innocent men, women and children (in that order, always) scream in agony on the battlefields of the atrocities of waarrgh. Unfortunately they are not that fictional and war is, of course, still horrendous. When you were a 90's Dis-band, it was dictated by law that at least 50% of all your songs had to be about waarrgh. In the rare cases of non-compliance that have been documented, bands were immediately deprived of the Dis prefix and shamed in fanzines, usually with accusations of selling out (which was pretty much the worse possible insult to spit out at a punk band). Those were of course the good old days when bands still had some integrity to show for themselves... But that's not really the point, the reason why I find the chorus particularly congenial is that, beside the condemnation of armed conflicts that slaughter and maim, you could also read it a comment on the Dis phenomenon. Of course, Dispense did not mean it that way but I cannot help thinking about the different d-beat trends that have spouted since the early 90's and, in this light, the only reasonable, sound answer to "When will it stop? When will it stop?" (always twice) is "Well, it ain't gonna". Whether you are into Dis bands or not is completely beside the point: there will always be Discharge imitators on a scale that is growing more and more global. And, as it causes me to contemplate on the D, that's exactly why I find the chorus so stimulating. Tragically, this answer is also relevant when applied to wars which is much less amusing.

As for Dispense, they were from Nyköping, Sweden, and must have formed around 1991 since their first demo - which I have lamentably never heard - was recorded in May, 1992. As far as I understand, Dispense was the members' first band and you could say that their rather short-lived career was not unlike Disfear's. The two bands were from the same town, had their first Ep on the same local label (No Records), shared a Dis prefix and were progressively tending toward a more heightened likeness to Discharge (especially for Disfear). I cannot be sure, but I bet that the 1992 Dispense demo is closer to traditional 80's Swedish hardcore than to total Discharge worship. The fact that the lyrics were originally written in Swedish points in that direction and, like Disfear, the shift to the English language also signified more sonic closeness to Discharge and one could even advance that the prevalence of English in 90's Discharge-loving punk bands was not just a characteristic feature of the first d-beat wave but a central component in the birth of the genre (Spanish d-beat would actually challenge this linguistic hegemony to great success). 

Dispense are often considered as an average Swedish band, which is unfair but also makes sense since there were a lot of bands going for a similar style (d-beat, crust, scandicore) at the time in Sweden and I guess we are all inclined to remember the cream of the crop, the top shelf stuff (Disfear, Meanwhile or Warcollapse) and discard (pun) the rest as "run-of-the-mill" or "middle-of-the-road", which does sound harsh, but then you have to admit that, even in retrospect, it looks like a d-beat epidemic was sweeping across the country, overrun by punx in dire need to play Discharge riffs. What a cracking time it must have been. Seriously. I suppose that the name "Dispense" did not exactly help either. It is not terrible or even embarrassing, I mean, twenty years after the fact, you can still look your betrothed in the eye and confess that you used to play in band called "Dispense" without too much fuss, and you could even say that it is objectively a better name than Dischange or Disfear and certainly nowhere near as bad as Dissober or Disfornicate (just try to admit this one out to your betrothed). It still is a pretty pedestrian 90's Dis moniker but, truth be told, recent years have shown (as if proofs were needed of modern punk rock's deliquescing creativity) that you can far worse than that. No names will be given. 

Classic D-words

Despite the Dis, Dispense did not exactly play d-beat like their neighbours Disfear on Brutal Sight of War or Dischange/Meanwhile on any given day. On Nothing but the Truth, they can be described as a punishing and heavy Swedish hardcore band, with a strong Discharge influence, inherent in the genre anyway (it feels almost redundant to point it out), but one that is not completely behind the steering wheel. I am reminded of a more robust version of Asocial, No Security or even Totalitär (in the raspy vocals especially). Like many Swedish hardcore/crust bands at the time, Dispense were produced by a bloke who specialized in recording extreme metal band so that the outcome sounds relentlessly punishing (are the drums almost too loud?). I think the songs are catchy enough in their conception for the genre, the musicianship is there, the sound is excellent, the riffs effective, the solos tasteful and there is no denying the raw, brusque power of the Ep. It sounds of course quite predictable but the distinct 90's textures and the delightfully dischargesque "When will it stop" remains an absolute hit in my book with prime singalong galore one the chorus. Clearly not a bad record in spite of a rather gruesome cover typical of the fashion of the day. My version of the Ep was released on No Records in 1993 (it was to be the third and last production of the label) but it was cojointly reissued in 1998 by Rødel and Finn Records just like the first Disfear Ep. Following Nothing but the Truth, Dispense did a mini cd for Really Fast Records entitled In the Cold Night, another fine record that saw the band at its d-beat-est with a more pronounced Discharge love. Dispense also had two songs included on the Really Fast Vol. 8 compilation Lp from 1993 (same session as Nothing but the Truth with one of them also on the Ep) alongside Randy and Refused (for real) and they also contributed three songs to the legendary Distortion to Hell '94 cd compilation, released on Distortion Records, where they rubbed shoulders with delicate acts such as Warcollapse, Asocial, Sauna, The Perukers, Driller Killer, 3-Way Cum or Bombraid. Those last three songs were the last recordings of Dispense. 

Is it the end of the story? Not really. Both Dispense's bass and guitar player would go on to form Victims (the former on vocals and the latter on the six stringed instrument) while the drummer would join Skitsystem. Not bad, right?   


  1. Everyone I know who is into Swedish HC and Dis- considers both Dispense EPs to be some of the best ever of the genre, if not bona fide Dis- classics. Some consider the 3"CD EP to be the better of the two, but it doesn't help that it is CD-only. Stubborn punk ways. I think they're both top shelf. -ZM

    1. Perhaps it is a generational thing but I have the feeling that people around my age group (say between 35 and 40 year old) who did not really experience the early 90's tend to forget about Dispense. I know I do. I enjoy both Ep's but the second one is probably better (soundwise at least).

      Definitely a very typical 90's band, in a good way.