Wednesday 20 November 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 12): Ruin "Distort/Confuse" Ep, 2006

We are finally reaching the last stage of Sonatas in D Major. Thank you for riding with us! We hope to see you soon on the Terminal Sound Nuisance coaches (we welcome men, women and children of course). We would also like to congratulate you for making it this far into yet uncharted punk territories, covered with blind alleys, dark and gloomy corners where feral d-beat bands can roam freely after the gig, looking for the odd dog end and, sometimes, even food. I will try to improve our pertinacious readers' experience in order to attract a younger audience for the next dis-themed series by using new technology. Assuming people got the proper 3d glasses for it, "3d-beat raw punk" doesn't sound too bad, does it?

But before thinking about the futuuuuuuure, let's wrap the present series in majestic fashion with one last Ep. If the last part - with Final Blood Bath - dealt with an Ep recorded in 2002, I chose to skip a couple of years for this one, which was released in 2006. There is no particular reason for it, only that Ruin stand for a school of Discharge-influenced hardcore punk music that I had not tackled yet and felt needed to be included given the postulates of Sonatas in D Major, a series meant to cast some meaningful light upon the pre-internet d-beat phenomenon that swept through the 1990's and consolidated and legitimised the artistic practice of emulating Discharge (and later on, the practice of emulating the emulators of Discharge). Although I have to humbly admit that I am not quite the all-knowing cultural figure I wish to be, I still don't think that punks' mania for Discharge, best embodied in the d-beat style, has any equivalent in other subculture. And while I honestly don't know if such a particularism is a good thing or not, I still feel weirdly pleased and proud about this achievement, assuming it is one at all.

For this last part, we are back to where it all started: Britain. And we are north of the North since Ruin were from Scotland. I cannot recommend enough reading the issue of great fanzine Our Future that deals with Discharge-inspired hardcore punk bands from Scotland as it has an interview with Ruin among other bands like Social Insecurity (whose Ep was previously reviewed on Terminal Sound Nuisance), Oi Polloi and the mighty AOA. If you have never heard of Ruin, you definitely know about other bands the members used to be part of (unless you just stumbled upon the blog while looking for actual sonatas, in which case I wish to apologize but still encourage you to keep reading). In fact, Ruin was far from being the first collaboration between the guitar and bass players, Brian and Andy, since they played together in classic bands Disaffect and Scatha and in the cruelly underrated Debris along with Ruin's singer Neil. As for the drummer, it was none other than Stick, from Doom and many others, a man who, if you add up all the hours he spent beating the D on the drums, is estimated to have spent a whole year of his life (368 days in fact) behind his kit playing variations of the exact same beat. A genuine punk hero. 

With such an experienced lineup, Ruin were unsurprisingly quick in releasing their first Lp in 2005, entitled Ghost of the Past and released on Agipunk for the vinyl version and MCR Company for the cd. It was a very solid album with some genuinely cracking numbers and a heavy, crushing production that went straight for the throat. Truth be told, Ruin were not a "just like" d-beat band in the same way as Disaster or Meanwhile. The Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing influence is certainly strong and foundational but the band added other dischargic flavours to their recipe, most notably 90's crusty UK dis-core and mid-80's Swedish hardcore. Ghost of the Past certainly set the standards pretty high and everything in that album, from the songwriting, to the musicianship, the lyrics and the visuals, screamt that they definitely knew their craft and were clear about their creative intent, as the inclusion of two tasteful covers (of Disclose and Ultraviolent) confirmed. A split Ep with Pause, from Finland, saw the light of day on Fight Records the same year, with a top Mau Maus cover this time, and another Ep, Distort/Confuse, was released in 2006 on Putrid Filth Conspiracy, a Swedish label based in Malmö and run by Rodrigo (from Intensity, Kontrovers and Satanic Surfers) that was prolific from the late 90's to the late 00's. 

Distort/Confuse is an excellent record of angry, politically-charged, heavy Discharge-influenced hardcore punk. It is a more focused effort than the album in terms of songwriting and probably one of the most intense UK hardcore Ep's of the decade. I am aware that qualifiers such as "intense" or "relentless" often tend to be misused in reviews but I cannot really think of more relevant attributes in this case. Ruin created eight minutes of furious and desperate hardcore that leaves the listener somewhat dizzy. The sonic equivalent of being trampled by an angry hippo (but they are generally angry, aren't they?). I had not played this record for a while before the series and I was surprised at how mean and powerful it sounded. As I said, Ruin did not really play straight-forward d-beat hardcore and opted for a variety of scando-influenced paces that went from fast and pummeling to superfast and pummeling, a bit like how Discard sped up the original Discharge rhythm, if you know what I mean. Mean-sounding bands like Totalitär, Asocial or No Security plainly come to mind, to which you could add the gruff heaviness of local beasts like Excrement of War, Hellkrusher and of course mid/late 90's Doom. The massive riffs sound quite classic but the band always add a twist to the songwriting or use a different guitar texture on a lead or a slight change of pace to keep things unpredictable while staying in the strict perimeters of dis-oriented hardcore punk. It requires a trained ear for the D and Ruin plainly had it. The number "Hate to be alive" is a fantastic reworking of the canonical mid-tempo Discharge song and exemplifies how it can be done with taste. 

The production is perfect for what the band wanted to achieve, crunchy, aggressive and heavy, the balance between the instruments is solid and Neil is an amazing vocalist, with a low, deep and expressive voice that manages to convey the primal anger and rage adequate to the style and still add on some warmth and genuine human emotion in the tone and accentuation. The singing style combined with the particular vocal tone set aside Ruin for me and I think this voice is the ideal vessel for lyrics that are all accurately political and belong to a specific context (the mid-00's war on terror, the rise of austerity politics, eugenics, rape culture) instead of playing with the usual Discharge mythology. If the lyrics rely on the classic syntax and metrics of Discharge-inspired haikus, they are complemented by explanatory texts developing the political message and Swedish translations (for the label's compatriots). There is also a long essay about the sociopolitical climate of mid-00's Britain and especially the Terror Bill which completely criminalized the ALF and other groups promoting direct actions and set the stage for even more state control (and state violence of course). Interesting read highlighting how relevant Ruin were trying to be.

The next and last Ruin record was a 2007 split Lp with TRIBE, an ace metallic tribal crust act with Angus and Brian from Scatha and members of Fastard, and it was another scorcher building on a similar basis of Sweden-meets-the-North in a Discharge-themed pub, this time with a stronger anarcho vibe (and a Raw Power cover!). Quality stuff. 


Friday 15 November 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 11): Final Blood Bath "Dead or alive" Ep, 2002

That one was definitely just around the corner.

The price of pixels

As tackled in the previous entry, a common way to pay tribute to the Stoke-on-Trent deity has long been to adopt a title taken from the holy scriptures - with Why being obviously the Old Testament of a vengeful d-beat - as your band's name. It is probably the most demonstratively effective fashion to show your love for Discharge to the world and, more importantly, to fellow Discharge-lovers who may be tempted to get your records and help you cover your petrol expenses during tours. If you use the classic Discharge font not just once but twice on the record cover (for the moniker and the title), then it clearly screams that you mean business and see yourself as a serious contender. And finally if one of your songs has the same name as a Discharge anthem but is not a Discharge cover ("Decontrol" in the present case), then it is undeniably synonymous with demanding a shot at the World D-beat Federation title. It is a bold move that reflects an unbreakable self-confidence and possibly feeds on an Icarus complex but I suppose that you could see Final Blood Bath in that light after all. 

There is not much information floating around about them but they were from Tokyo and must have formed in 2000 seeing that there is a live tape from a gig that took place in March, 2001. A eight-song (demo?) tape entitled Dead or Alive was also released, probably before the Ep's, but I haven't heard it. This tape is still quite fascinating since Final Blood Bath did not merely include the Discharge font and other references on the cover, they went further and re-used the Fight Back cover picture. Of course Active Minds did the same thing a couple of years before but the point they were making was of a very different nature and, as usual with them, was the strong means to formulate a strong criticism of d-beat as a subgenre, the validity of which they were arguing against (a battle Active Minds obviously lost as subsequent years confirmed). Final Blood Bath's use of the same Discharge photograph comes from the completely opposite critical stance: the picture is both an overt tribute and an identificatory trope. Still, if you think about it, Final Blood Bath basically put a picture of another band on the cover of their own tape, an action turning the classic Fight Back band shot into something akin to a religious representation, an icon that far transcends what it originally depicted - teenage British punks playing live in the early 80's - to become a symbol, the signified.

Final Blood Bath (who will be referred to as FBB from now on because of global warming and that) picked a great Discharge song for their band although it is admittedly a bit of a mouthful. But then by the early 00's, the catchiest Discharge song titles had already been taken and bands had to resort to names like Four Monstrous Nuclear Stockpiles in order to exist at all. Those were tough years for the D as the 90's wave was surely fading and only punk fanatics like Disclose or Meanwhile still engage willingly in the strictest Discharge worship. FBB belonged to that category of bands for whom the Discharge '80/'83 canon was creatively-speaking both the basis and the aim to their sound. Meaning that they carefully used some classic Discharge elements in order to craft a new and paradoxically fresh-sounding tribute to Discharge. I remember that the mate of mine who was distributing Crust War Records in Paris at the time introduced Dead or Alive to me in such a fashion: "they are an absolute Never Again rip-off with cheesy vocals and a Japanese vibe. Great stuff". And I guess he was right. He also described Zoe as "terrible Amebix-like heavy metal with members wearing make-up. It's crap and you will love it", and I guess he was also right. Contrary to most of the 90's d-beat legions, FBB did not try to go for harsh, hoarse vocals but rather opted for a reverbed tone highly reminiscent of Never Again but also and even more so of the more metallic, thrashier post-1982 Discharge. Until quite recently, the general consensus was that the last great Discharge record was the State Violence State Control Ep, but the 2010's have seen a growing number of people claiming that Warning or The Price of Silence were equally great (some raving lunatics even believe that Brave New World is not that bad if you forget that it is a Discharge Lp... The fools!). I don't dislike those records but never really loved them as I distinctly remember that the songs were at the end of my first Discharge cd (one that contained the Hear Nothing Lp and the '82/'83 singles) and I used to wonder why all the UK bands had turned shite around the mid-80's, a principle I had theorized after suffering a double cd Blitz discography. But anyway, the influence of such records as Warning and The Price of Silence was rather low on the d-beat production at the time so FBB's song "See the dark see the gream", an ace bouncy mid-paced blend of "The price of silence" and "Born to die in the gutter" sounds refreshing in the context and clearly points to Final Bombs in terms of intent, the legendary d-beat-free Discharge-loving heavy band. Although I have to say that I have no clue as to what "the gream" is meant to be (a grim gleam?). If you listen closely to Dead or Alive, you will find many details, dis-nuggets (some bass lines, intonations, guitar leads and so on) that refer to '82/'83 Discharge which, in the early 00's, paradoxically made FBB's songwriting original in its referential range. The basis for the cake is devout Never Again worship but the icing is clearly '82/'83. I just love that Ep. My only tiny complaint would be that the effect on the vocals, if it does achieve the intended result in terms of recreating a "1983 Cal vibe", lacks a little in aggression. But this is the price, the price to pay.

Dead or Alive was recorded in June, 2002 and was Crust War's fifteenth release and it was mixed by Habi, the drummer of Gloom and Defector, who managed to confer a raw but energetic vibe to the sound. The cover of the Ep is a live shot of FBB and it is full of leather and studs and charged hair and it is perfectly natural. What I love however is the (involuntary?) mise en abyme that lies in the presence of a Fight Back patch on the singer's right shoulder. It is a live shot inserted in a live shot, the second live shot - the cover - being a reference to the first one - the detail. Amazing, right? What I don't quite love as much is the highly pixelated quality of the cover, a common flaw in those years. It is odd to think that older records have aged much better visually than those that used a digital technology that was in its infancy. I don't remember noticing the pixels much at the time but in retrospect I cannot believe labels and bands thought they could get away with such results... FBB recorded another Ep just a week before Dead or Alive, a self-titled work released on Paank Levyt that also comes recommended but is not quite as good in my opinion (it is another pixel fest of course). In 2003, FBB then shortened their name for Final and also changed direction with more of a metal-punk vibe and more studs. They recorded an Ep for Crust War under the Final moniker that I personally find really enjoyable and powerful, a bit like a cross between Painajainen, Broken Bones and first-raising Japanese hardcore (they called their new style "Kamikaze gravecore metal" which makes me giggle all the time). I only wish they had done a full-on cavemen crust band called Final Bath. That would have been legendary.


Monday 4 November 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 10): Meanwhile "The Show must Go on" Ep, 2002

How criminal would the absence of Meanwhile have been in the context of a series dedicated to d-beat music? To exclude the most consistent "just like Discharge" band to ever come out of Sweden, an exploit that is no mean feat to say the least, the band whose very artistic path was heavily criticized on Active Minds' Dis Getting Pathetic... cult Ep, would have looked as either a silly provocation or the definite proof that I have no idea what I am talking about.

Although it is technically Meanwhile's first appearance on Terminal Sound Nuisance, the band's former incarnation, Dischange, was previously dealt with on two occasions: the split with Excrement of War and the Crust and Anguished Life compilation cd. I am not sure why the members felt the need to switch from Dischange to Meanwhile in the mid-90's (the first record under the Meanwhile moniker was the Remaining Right: Silence 1995 album). Maybe they realized that "Dischange" was too goofy-sounding and that the idea to combine the dis prefix with a random word made them look a bit silly after all. Besides, by '95, there were many bands rocking a Dis-name, especially in Sweden, so that, despite them objectively and gloriously pioneering the genre, they may have thought that picking a Discharge-related but dis-free moniker was a wise move. And so they went for a Discharge song: Meanwhile. The practice of selecting a Discharge hit as a name for your Discharge-influenced band is an old, time-approved one that many bands (Fight Back, Decontrol, Realities of War, Visions of War...) have relied on throughout the years. It provides your band with a Discharge reference that is quite explicit but that still requires people to be familiar with the Discharge gospel, maybe not all faithful but at least believers. And so Dischange renamed themselves Meanwhile, and of course "Meanwhile" is a brilliant Discharge song that is beloved by all although it is not their most transparent title. But Meanwhile's music speaks so much for itself anyway, loud and clear, that you couldn't sound much more like Discharge and stand for the d-beat subgenre than Meanwhile do. They are that iconic. This said, I tend to think it is an objectively pretty strange name for a hardcore punk band, and while I love the implications hidden in the meaning of "meanwhile" (the idea of different realities for instance), it still is an adverb, a lexical category that is uncommon in the naming of punk bands. Let's face it, not many hardcore unit are called "Henceforth" or "Afterwards" and I don't remember thinking about the Discharge song the first time I heard Meanwhile (it was on The Best Crust Album in the World ever! compilation cd, a deceitful work if there ever was one), I was just a little confused as to why they weren't called Disdoom 47 or something unequivocal like that.

If you are not familiar with Dischange/Meanwhile, here are a couple of details you should know. They were from Eskilstuna, Sweden, and started playing as a three-piece under the name Dischange in 1989. Jallo, who also drummed in No Security, was the guitar player (and vocalist at first) while Kenko, who also played the guitar for No Security at the time, was beating the D in Dischange, so that it could be quite relevant to see the band as some kind of Discharge-oriented side-project when they started. After the split Ep with Excrement of War, Dischange recruited a proper singer, Jocke, a tremendous addition to the band as his rough-hewn shouted vocal style fitted the Discharge-worship perfectly: aggressive but not overdone with the proper Cal-inspired prosodic elements. The band progressively got better and better, rebaptized themselves Meanwhile, and recorded what is arguably their best work in 1996, their third album entitled The Road to Hell. I personally enjoy everything Dischange/Meanwhile did, but I rate that album as one of the finest examples of "just like Discharge" d-beat with some songs being genuine punk hits. 

The Ep The Show must Go on was recorded in November, 2001, and was the follow-up to the very strong Same Shit New Millenium 2000 Lp on Sound Pollution. By that time, Meanwhile had started to incorporate more rocking elements to their d-beat tornado, reminiscent of Motörhead at their hard-hitting best. In general, I get extremely suspicious whenever I read phrases such as "motörcrust" or the even more appalling "d-beat'n'roll". In fact, if you want to get me out of a venue, just tell me that it is a Metal Punk Death Squad night and that a "d-beat'n'roll" band is playing next, and I will rush outside and remain in hiding for at least a few weeks, protecting myself from the aftermath of such abominations... But yeah, I am not a big Motörhead fan and the chances that you are going to spoil a decent d-beat song with lame Lemmy impersonations are always high. But Meanwhile can and do pull it with class as their rocking d-beat sound actually convincing, heavy and groovy, without overdoing or overproducing it and keeping it angry. While their '00 Lp, and most of their releases really, enjoyed a solid production emphasizing the Discharge power without sacrificing the punk rawness, The Show must Go on is purposefully underproduced, or, as the band put it, "not very produced". Seeing that Kenko is a sound engineer at Communichaos Studio, the raw sound is not accidental. It could be an attempt at sounding as direct, spontaneous and aggressive as possible, not unlike some sort of return to the hardcore punk roots out of a desire to sound meaner and grittier, maybe as a counterpoint to the massive production that many d-beat/crust bands opted for at the time (like Disfear or Skitsystem). Whatever the intent was, I love this Ep. It opens with the eponymous "The show must go on", a one-minute long, crunchy and rocking mid-paced dischargy number, while the three remaining songs are anthemic bass-driven raw d-beat scorchers with a primitive Motörhead vibe. It sounds mean and direct with a dirty rock'n'roll energy that works well with the format (an full album with such a production would have been riskier I suppose). That the result sounds so pissed and dynamic shows that even with, or maybe especially with, such a limited genre as orthodoxal d-beat, you need to focus on writing solid songs in order to succeed and no amount of guitar layers or distortion pedals will change that. Genuine d-beat raw punk.  

The Show must Go on was a cojoint release between Communichaos Media, run by Kenko, a label that also put out materials from Imperial Leather, Burning Kitchen (he also played in both) and DS-13, and Feral Ward, a well-known Portland-based label run by Yannick from Tragedy that reissued the two first Meanwhile albums and the 2008 Lp Reality or Nothing, all top-shelf works. 1500 copies of this Ep were pressed so that it is not too difficult to bring this lovely geezer home.