Monday 7 September 2020

Ten Steps to Make Your Life CRUSTIER Starting Today (step 10): Deviated Instinct "Re-Opening Old Wounds" Lp, 1993

This is the last part of Terminal Sound Nuisance's UK crust series and I suppose it will be a very suitable final chapter since the mere uttering of Deviated Instinct irrevocably makes life (and I mean any form of life) much crustier. It is just a scientific fact, trust me on this one. Although the two recordings included on Re-Opening Old Wounds are anterior to the other segments making up this sharp, urban and edgy guide to the appropriate modern crust lifestyle, I decided to tackle this Lp last since it is the only retrospective compilation of the series. I had this idea that listening to the genre's originators Deviated Instinct in the last position could cast a meaningful light on the barrage of crust music you have been served so far, as if it could somehow be used as an ontological tool to isolate and extract the very essence of crust, the mythical source of energy that, according to barely legible fanzine scripture from the mid-80's, could confer to any average punk incredible moshing powers as well as complete mastery of the arcane arts of crust pants making. Myth or reality? Does crust really have an essence? Is it a common sonic and structural template shared by the bands or more of a tension and a vibe allowing for some gruff creative width, a way of playing and writing? Or is it just an unhealthy obsession with crudely approximative patches, filthy haircuts and sleeveless jackets, like mummy used to scold?

Of course, I have already written about DI on several occasions (in case you have not noticed, the quest for crust is one of Grail-like proportions on this blog). They have become a fairly well-documented band during the past decade, with a crucial cd reissue of their Peaceville recordings in 2006 and a delicious chapter in 2009's Trapped in a Scene, which, combined with the renewed interest prompted by the band's top notch reformation, might make a thorough archeologist survey of their early days a little redundant in 2020. This was not always the case however and when my obsession for crust kicked in in the early 00's, little information was available about DI. The band was seldom referred to and yet, when they were, they were always presented as "crust legends", which was confusing for two main reasons: first, I did not understand how a "legend" could not have some sort of discography available for young punks with a thirst for knowledge like myself and, second, I had no idea that crust had its own lore and legends and it instantly conveyed an aura of epic mystery to the genre while reinforcing its legitimacy in the process. The chase was on indeed.

Like many of my generation, the original metallic crust wave of the mid/late 80's seriously got my attention upon the release of Hellshock's Only the Dead Know the End of the War in 2003, a work described as "PDX stenchcore" (the nod was lost on me at first) and often compared to British bands like Sacrilege, Hellbastard, Bolt Thrower or indeed Deviated Instinct, bands I had never heard of. In retrospect, I realise that such parallels, without looking at their accuracy, were mostly drawn in order to create an old-school crust halo around Hellshock and locate their style into that early Peaceville tradition, renamed "stenchcore" for the additional winking tribute. I was already heavily getting into UK crust when this album came out and was desperately searching for all the founding bands of the genre - bands that sadly no one seemed to really know or even care about at all in my hometown - so that the release of the Hellshock album felt like a sign of the punk gods notifying me that, if the way of crust can be a long and arduous, my devotion to the black(ish) arts shall be rewarded. Whereas I easily obtained the first two Bolt Thrower albums on cd, managed to order Hellbastard's In Grind We Crust cd from Acid Stings and somehow managed to procure an homemade tape copy of Sacrilege's Behind the Realms of Madness (courtesy of Catchphraze Records), recordings that proved to be life-changing kicks up the arse, DI's music however tragically remained out of reach. This minor existential setback did not keep me from getting a magnificent vintage DI patch (the splendid visual with the indigenous face and the gun from the Hiatus compilation Lp if you must know) from an old punk who used to distribute Squat or Rot and Tribal War records in Paris and still had a stash of crust patches made in NY in the early 90's that were particularly unfashionable ten years later. It was the first and only time I ever wore a patch from a band I had actually never heard, a shameful, despicable act usually associated with the lowest cast of the punk scene, the incurable inveterate posers, and I am well aware that such a confession might threaten my established reputation but I had to come clean.

Eventually, after months of begging pathetically, a friend of mine with a computer and a good internet connection downloaded Rock'n'Roll Conformity and Guttural Breath and burnt them on a cd. Almost 18 months after reading about DI in the Hellshock review, I finally got to listen to them. Had I been born 15 years after, I would just have had to type "Deviated Instinct" in the youtube search bar and the quest would have ended in a couple of seconds. Still, it would have been a shame to miss on the frustration, the anticipation and the seemingly endless wait that the quest for DI implied, a band that I loved and revered before even knowing and whose music I had to create and play in my head from the few pieces of intel I had in my possession. In the end, when I finally played the cd, it sounded strangely familiar. Perhaps as much as in their music itself, you could argue that DI's legacy lies in their aesthetics. The striking artworks of the band's records (drawn by guitar hero Mid) have informed the visual identity of crust for years and, to this day, they remain the ultimate visual self-representation and reference point of the crust aesthetics. It is of course no coincidence that iconic bands of the 00's metal crust revival like Hellshock, Nuclear Death Terror or Stormcrow had record covers expertly drawn by Mid in the purest late 80's style (on demand, I suppose), so that the referentiality to the genre's foundations is as much about the dirty vibe, tones and the songwriting than it is about the visuals and the organic apocalyptic visions from the most talented originator of the crust aesthetics. Undeniably the appeal of DI (and of other classic crust bands) was both sonic and visual and I would venture that the stenchcore revivalists perfectly understood the necessity to combine both referential dimensions in order to identify totally with the first wave (an ontological creative move that was born with the 90's d-beat wave). Another crucial, if more prosaic, part of the DI testament has to do about their personal look and how they epitomised the crust punk fashion. To this very day, their cider-fueled, soap-dodging, thrash-loving Mad Max rejects impersonations remain potent emblems of the prelapsarian Eden of the crust punk lifestyle and, not unlike the nirvana of stenchcore, I like to think the pursuit of this noble goal is what really matters.

Re-Opening Old Wounds was released in 1993 on Desperate Attempt Records, a label based in Louisville responsible for some wicked records during its eight-year existence by the likes of Apocalypse, Chaos UK, Hiatus or Disrupt. I remember reading that Old Wounds was very much an initiative from DI's singer Leggo, as he had already worked with the label for the release of Filthkick's Hand Crushed Heart Ep in 1991, which presumably accounted for the inclusion of two uncredited Acrasy songs (a superb metal crust band Leggo sang for in 1990 while living in Brum) on the cd version and, unfortunately, without the involvement of Mid, for a rather ugly cover that did not include any original artwork or represent what the band was about at the time of the recordings (in fact, I would argue that the absence of any piece of Mid's art makes makes Old Wounds a record containing DI songs but not a proper DI record if you know what I mean). However, this Lp is still the only way to listen to the songs off the Terminal Filth Stenchcore demo (minus "Distance", which was recorded before anyway, and the joke song "Clean core killer"), originally recorded on October, 21st, 1986. It was the band's second demo and the first one to really showcase the filthy metallic influences that were massively creeping in the UK punk scene and that DI would be known for. I first came across Terminal Filth Stenchcore through a cdr I ordered from Nations on Fire sometime in the mid 00's and it was, as they say, love at first riff. In Trapped in a Scene, Mid expressed disbelief at the popularity the demo still enjoyed and at the undisputed cult status the new generations religiously conferred to it. To some extent, I understand his amazement. Indeed, if you play Terminal Filth Stenchcore to someone used to the clean productions and expert musicianships so common in extreme metal and hardcore nowadays (or even crust really), he or she will express shock and a very different kind of disbelief at the punk as fuck sloppiness, amateurishness and uncontrolled snotty aggression of the recording. This is filthy metallic PUNK. I would hypothesise that a fondness for the fastest and most intense anarcho bands of the early 80's is required to really get the demo, bands like Antisect, Legion of Parasites, Exit-Stance, but also Chaos UK or Disorder, but with the addition of a nasty thrash metal edge played with a youthful punk energy. I can listen to those songs every day and never get tired of them (I tell this from experience). Even though the production is super raw, the songs retain the catchiness of snotty punk and are all memorable thanks to, in spite of obvious technical limits, a rather ambitious variety of song structures, proper buildups, a sense of narration, two different vocal tones that perfectly complement one another and manage to sound pissed, savage and unpredictable. There are too many highlights for me to list but the melancholy anarcho introduction to "Birthright to subservience", the inclusion of actual religious chant in the primitive tribal crust "Possession prayer", the epic progression of the anthemic "Warmachine" or the crunchy moshing groove of "Cancer spreading" easily come to mind. The perfect colliding ground of filthy anarchopunk and cavemen metal.

The remaining four songs on Old Wounds were recorded on July, 15th, 1987, as part of the so-called Return of Frost third demo (it was never actually entitled that way though), a recording that had seven songs, all of which ended up on compilations. I suppose the whole recording could not fit on the Lp because of the running time but we do have the classic "Stormcrow" from the Consolidation split Ep with fellow Norwich bands Revulsion and Rhetoric, "Return of frost" from the 1984 The Third compilation 2xLp, "Master of all" from the Attack is Now Suicide compilation Lp and "Mechanical extinction" from the Airstrip One compilation Lp (missing are an early, and possibly superior, version of "Rock'n'roll conformity" and "House of cards"). By that time, the band had been joined by Snappa and Sean (on the bass and the drums respectively) and had improved musically. DI enjoyed a thicker, crunchier production this time with an energetic roundness and an organic vibe fitting the songs perfectly. The sense of narration was still present in the songwriting ("Stormcrow", for instance, is a two-minute masterclass in genuinely epic crust) and the structures reflected an intent to create songs that, of course, delivered the filthy crusty metallic punk goods, but also told proper stories and strove to capture the listener's attention through catchy hooks, be it a guitar lead, a spoken word moment, a change of riff or a gruff cavemen chorus. DI's music was still crustier than your favourite festival socks but below the growls, the thrashing riffs and the hardcore aggression, there was always this drive to write good punk songs that you can actually remember and shout along to. By 1987, DI had notably incorporated a fast hardcore thrash influence (furious Italian hardcore immediately comes to mind) to their rocking and raw Antisect-meets-Frost-and-Venom-at-a-punk-piss-up formula. Mid's guitar has a heavy, warm, dirty, organic tone that I am massive sucker for and instinctively associate with the crust sound (especially the bends'), while Leggo sounds like an entranced and vengeful rabid fox looking for a brawl. These four songs are absolute scorchers, defining, genre-making moments in the crust mythology, exemplifying how one can successfully blend rocking metal and fast hardcore without sounding like a jersey-wearing, constipated New Yorker.

Re-Opening Old Wounds, in spite of the excellence of the canonical source material, still feels like a missed opportunity. There is no insert and therefore no lyrics, which is a shame given the clever nature of DI's lyrical content and use of dark and tortured metaphors, and obviously no trace of the original visuals. Just imagine a reissue with a booklet including the visuals from Terminal Filth Stenchcore and from all the compilations that hosted tracks from the 1987 recording session. There was a plan for Agipunk to reissue properly Terminal Filth Stenchcore on vinyl (like they did for Hellbastard's Ripper Crust) but I suppose it fell through. Not many demo recordings can claim to have birthed an actual subgenre and, although the relevance of the term "stenchcore" can be discussed and although bands conceptualising and identifying with the genre only really crystallised in the 00's, there are still today bands claiming to play stenchcore, bands that have developed specific sonic templates that are part of the crust punk world but whose take on crust is more referential, making stenchcore a real subgenre in an analytical context. In spite of their status as "forefathers of crust", DI's actual music was, for a long time, a diffuse influence on subsequent crust bands (perhaps because of the different phases in the band's history, reflecting diverse shades of crust, making them harder to mimic), while their aesthetic stance (the stunning dark visuals and the crust fashion show) and creative posture (filthy punk loves filthy metal) were undeniably more substantial. However recent bands like Cancer Spreading, Zygome, Instinct of Survival, Scene Death Terror or Asocial Terror Fabrication started to openly referred to DI through covers, respectful nods or loving plagiarisms, which I must say is very pleasing to the ear. And did I mention that DI are, by far, the best reformed crust band?

This will make life crustier indeed.