Monday 30 November 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 4): Uncurbed "...Keeps the Banner High" cd, 2000

A few weeks ago, "lockdown" was unsurprisingly named Collins English Dictionnary's word of the year for 2020. I guess it is a half-arsed prize that you probably do not care about, and rightly so too, and if you do happen to live a life as fascinatingly rewarding as your instagram account suggests, you probably don't have time for such trivial matters. I don't think the judges had to scratch their heads for very long before reaching a consensus as this year's prize was what you would inelegantly call a "no-brainer". Still, it is rather amusing to see that a term that I had always readily associated with wrestling events without giving it much thought has become so pervasive. 

Anyway, the current French lockdown has not exactly developed the healthiest cultural habits in my case since I have recently taken to watch usually mediocre horror movies at night, not because I really fancy them (I must confess I am a sucker for creature movies though) but just because I can stay up late because school's out. Last time I watched The Ritual, a pretty decent witchy movie, somewhere between Blair Witch and Predator, but with half-witted English lads in the middle of a dodgy forest in north Sweden. The bloodthirsty creature was meant to be some sort of pagan god but looked a bit ridiculous to be fair (half giant centipede and half bloody moose) and ended being defeated by Johnny English from Slough. Take that Scandinavian pagans. It made me wonder about the Swedish fauna and upon checking a website about the wildlife of Sweden, I realized that the country's woods were inhabited by wolves, bears, lynx, fucking wolverines and, at the top of the food chain, black metal musicians, the latter having been listed as particularly endangered because of climate change. Sad. But why am I telling you about animals and natural habitats in a post about Uncurbed? Well, the movie unexpectedly put me in an allegorical mood and I just want to claim that Uncurbed's ...Keeps the Banner High basically sounds like a loaded moose being ridden by a bunch of rabid wolverines. Rock'n'roll mate, rock'n'roll. 


In spite of a twenty-year career in scandicrust and no less than 16 (!) records, Uncurbed do not often pop up in conversations about classic 90's Swedish hardcore bands. Their prolificacy and longevity might look somehow suspicious or even unwise to some (how many albums of similar songs can a band write?) but I, for one, am always favorably impressed with bands who stick to their guns and display resolve and faith. The idea of a band remaining true to their crusty käng roots impervious to trends, receding hairlines and growing beer bellies is deeply romantic and, in its quixotic nature, punk as fuck. Just picture how much punk changed between the time when Uncurbed formed in 1990, and Disfear and Dischange hadn't released anything yet, and when they split up in early 2011 - a lifetime later -  and Belgrado were recording their first album. While I am unfortunately not qualified enough to assess the band's popularity and legacy in their home country nowadays, I would think that their mid 90's era (a decade which was the apex of the d-beat/käng/scandicrust wave and saw dozens of Swedish bands having a determined go at surfing it) does stand the test of time and even though some of their works may not be of the highest order, others were not far from the top and the band was undeniably able to deliver some serious blows at a contest that also included contenders like Wolfpack, Skitsystem, Meanwhile or Driller Killer. On the whole Uncurbed's run was respectable and, as you have guessed, I am a bit sentimental when it comes to them but then Wesh to Sweden, if anything, is a series about sentiments, subjectivity and the coming of age ritual of getting pounded by a d-takt. This softness of mine may account for the utter disbelief upon discovering recently that some close friends, people in their late 30's really into the Swedish hardcore thing, confessed after I played Peacelovepunklife... that they had never heard of Uncurbed. Odd, right?


Such a discrepancy might be accounted for by the fact that Uncurbed's first four albums (released on Lost and Found Records and Finn Records) were only available on the cd format, a practice that was not uncommon at the time but now seems unintelligible because of our fetishisation of the vinyl format which renders cd-only 90's records irrelevant, hopelessly passé and undeserving of the cool "vintage" varnish that us punx irrationally confer to tapes. My argument could be countered by the existence of a 1993 split Ep with Disfear, however, because it was a crappy Lost & Found release with only four minutes of music, it can barely be called a classic although it is worth mentioning. In fact, the band had to wait until their fifth album Peacelovepunklife... Andotherstories from 1998 to finally have their own vinyl Lp. It was Uncurbed's first collaboration with Sound Pollution, a label which would eventually release three other Lp's and one Ep for the band until 2006. I first became aware of Uncurbed through the Sound Pollution connection that I mentioned in the series' previous part. In the early 00's, my unshakeable and disciplined thirst for knowledge combined with a limited budget drove me to adopt rational record-buying tactics. It seemed wiser to get two or three records from one particular contemporary label, in an attempt at conceptualising what it offered in terms of genre, aesthetics and politics, instead of getting a full discography of a specific band. That way, I thought, I would be able to accumulate enough musical knowledge, therefore sharpening my taste in order to find my way in the maze of DIY hardcore punk and take over the world in no time. That Sound Pollution order included Krigshot's Örebro-Mangel, Hellnation's Thrash Wave and Uncurbed's ...Keeps the Banner High, all on cd to save money on shipping costs. 


The reason why I originally picked this particular Uncurbed cd instead of Peacelovepunklife or 2002's Punks on Parole was pretty simple: ...Keeps the Banner High's cover was better-looking. I mean, Peacelovepunklife had actual 70's hippies in the nude on the cover and the punk religion prohibited me from getting involved in any hippie business, whereas Punks on Parole was basically a spoof of The Usual Suspects' poster and, while I was never deprived of a sense of humour, one is never too cautious about punk bands trying to be funny. So I went for ...Keeps the Banner High as the picture of demonstrating autonomous punx looked much more comforting and I thought - quite rightly so by chance - that the three albums were bound to sound similar anyway. And I did buy the hippie album years later in case you are wondering. By the late 90's, Uncurbed was a significantly different animal than on their first album The Strike of Mankind, an overlooked classic record of dual vocal dark käng crust with a raw old-school Swedish death-metal vibe. The lineup had not moved that much until the 2000 album with only Tommy, former singer of Asocial in the 80's, replacing Henrik on vocals in 1994. The change of direction was progressive but manifest and one could say that, by the time Uncurbed entered the studio in early 1999, the band was at its best and they had turned their brand of rocking Scandinavian crust into an unstoppable beast, indeed into wolverines obnoxiously riding a moose.


We all have a mate like Uncurbed, someone that you are not that intimate with but that you are always pleased to see, a friend who is just the best to party hard with. Uncurbed is like getting stupidly and happily wankered, it is not something you are going to reflect on afterwards, something deep and life-changing but it is still a brilliant time that brings smiles to your ugly face. On ...Keeps the Banner High Uncurbed sounded like a rock'n'roll machine delivering blows after blows of hard-drinking Swedish crust punk anthems with two wild punk vocalists and two guitar players, allowing for additional heaviness and many cheesy guitar shredding that work well in that context and give the songs that high energy, over-the-top vibe. I had forgotten how guitar-driven Uncurbed sounded like, it is basically riffs after riffs after riffs often nodding in all the right places. The pace is mostly of the fast and pummeling käng variety but it must be pointed that you are also offered mid-paced dirty Motörhead numbers for some variety, although I personally think the record loses a bit of momentum because the band slows down too often (but then I'm hardly the "rocker" type). With a production by Mieszko (yet again) the result is punishing and emphatic to say the least. The dual vocal style of course points to the Extreme Noise Terror tradition and the eurocrust wave it spawned but the Swedish foundations of Uncurbed's music are strong and classics like 90's Anti-Cimex, No Security, Driller Killer or Disfear do come to mind although the Motörhead influence is far more present and Uncurbed rock harder, perhaps excessively so at times. To be fair, I think Uncurbed sound best when they are at their most aggressive, when they use those Totalitär riffs and intense crust singing styles in Swedish to emphasize the raging hardcore aggression and the heavy rock'n'roll influence can be said to be a little overbearing by the end of this 40-minute long album. I think, overall, that in retrospect the slightly rawer, more direct and shorter 30-minute long Peacelovepunklife may be slightly superior although I should also point out that, in 2020, we are no longer used to 40-minute long käng albums. Besides, if Uncurbed already used that Motörhead vibe in the late 90's, twenty years have passed and all the post-Inepsy, "metal punk death squad" and post-Misanthropic Generation bands pretty much spoiled and wore down the genre so that I am now almost allergic to any "Motörhead punk".


I really like the booklet coming with the cd with its deliciously punky DIY cut'n'paste aesthetics, with handwritten lyrics, blurry pictures, gig handouts, crushed beer cans and dodgy ashtrays. It looks like a humble, homemade record coming from the heart, almost like a family thing, and it is no coincidence that the band often referred to themselves as "The Uncurbed Family", although their family reunion must have suspiciously looked like massive punk parties. The lyrics are of a political nature, in the protest punk tradition, but you also have more rock-oriented words that you can sing along to while spilling your beer on your friendly neighbour's boots. This album does exactly what it says on the cover, keeping the punk banner high and providing you with the perfect soundtrack to party and get pissed to with friends and family.          


Riding on the highlife indeed!

Keeps the banner high!

 *about the title of the series "Wesh to Sweden": "wesh" is a slang word commonly used in France by the urban youth. It is derived from the Arabic language and can mean a variety of things like "hello", "what's up", "how are you?", "what!", "fuck" and the list goes on and on. Sorry if the meaning gets a bit lost in translation.

Sunday 22 November 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 3): Krigshot "Örebro-Mangel" cd, 2002

Particularly rainy days are often thought to symbolise the perfect backdrop for musing and reflection, as if the weather somehow allowed for such existential meditative moments, potentially pregnant with self-revelation, epiphanies and, of course, a melancholy sense of vacuity and helplessness, one that might threaten to devour our vulnerable resolve and lead us down the cruel path of shoegaze. Who knows how many of our comrades in hardcore punk were brutally taken away by shoegaze on rainy days, never to return, betraying the scene, their friends and their own promises of staying true to the roots... Perhaps straight-edge were visionaries after all? On such umbrella-loving days, I personally like to ponder over punk albums that deeply affected me in my teenage years and my early 20's, an intense time as much ruled by juvenile idealism and unlimited passion as it is by insecurity, narrow-mindedness and naiveness. Among the records I used to love unreservedly at the time, there are those that I no longer can seriously listen to - either because they are objectively not that good or because they are too anchored in a strictly defined era that is no longer to my liking (yes, I am looking at you neocrust) - and those that still have a similar effect although my context and experience have changed. It is a strange feeling, a sentiment that can as easily be applied to novels or movies and I think it operates on several levels. 

First, when playing again and enjoying a record you used to adore, you also tend to appreciate and rely on the memories of adoration and enjoyment, without which you would not engage in the record in the same fashion, so that it is difficult to be objective (do you love the record or do you love the memory of love?). This nostalgic element can get entangled with the second level, that is based on your acquired, and always evolving, knowledge of the particular field and aesthetics adopted by the record. Your punk culture has vastly improved during the past twenty years (or, at least, it should have), not just in the quantity of bands you happen to be familiar with but also in terms of the creative processes inherent in hardcore punk music, in how trends and waves come and go, how intertextuality and referentiality work in punk, how the context define and illuminate the text, how the medium influences how we listen to and engage with punk music and what bands we chose to listen to and so on. With real knowledge of punk, some did argue, comes the end of the age of innocence and the metaphorical loss of paradise: the inimitable excitement that your excited and uneducated teenage self felt upon discovering on a very primal basis a solid punk record. It is an experience that one cannot replicate indefinitely as it can only last for a couple of years, as long as the magics still work, and d-beat (or whatever punk subgenres) still sounds fresh, new and personal. With the realization that most bands sound the same on purpose, the feeling of novelty, spontaneity and enthusiasm can wear down and an awareness of the aesthetics, context and creative processes at stake can cast a revived light on your subgenre punk record, one that is not incompatible with the primitive enjoyment of its crushing power, but rather, illuminates and completes it. That way I can still unashamedly listen to The Casualties' For the Punx and like it on a nostalgic teenage level and on a fancy pseudo-intellectual as well ("Did you catch the Skeptix reference on "Drunk on the streets"?"). It's a win-win. 


All this to say that Krigshot's Örebro-Mangel massively kicked my arse when I first played the cd in 2003 and that it still does today, in so brutal a fashion in fact that it almost feels tricky to take a step back and look at this hardcore tornado with the materialist eye of reason. Like for my Prank Records order, I had picked some records from Sound Pollution because, judging from the website, the label had an international focus and it was well distributed, therefore, easy for a promising youth like meself to find. Also, the short descriptions accompanying the label's releases all sounded like honest promises of intense sessions of hardcore trash bollocking and I just felt I was ready for it. I mean, I had been to many grindcore gigs in Paris before and, although I mostly spent the gig getting pissed outside and chatting about Conflict, I still thought that I had what it took to genuinely enjoy a full album of Hellnation and I was wrong of course. I remember the description indicated that the Örebro-based Krigshot had members playing in grindcore bands but sounded like a more intense version of Mob 47, which I loved. Since I first heard them on the radio thanks to the great work of the show ça Rend Sourd (see the first part for that), I must confess that I had become a little bit obsessed with them and, although a mate of mine had burnt a cd full of random Mob 47 songs, I was frustratingly looking for anything from the band (I was eventually able to find some bootleg tapes, unaware that a full discography, Ultimate Attack, would be released the year after...) so, I thought, a band that sounded like Mob 47 was probably the best I could muster at that moment. Despite my conceited confidence, I was, clearly, unprepared for the awe that Krigshot induced in me. Örebro-Mangel fucking smokes.


If Avskum's In the Spirit of Mass Destruction was fairly reasonable and easy-listening for a käng work, one that, because of its rocking vibe and catchy vocals, could be enjoyed by moderate metalheads and even played successfully as background music at a punk party, Krigshot's Örebro-Mangel is a very different and much wilder animal although both albums have similar running times. Who said that scandicore was uniform? I remember having to sit down at the end of the first song "Örebro-mangel", an insanely fast and pummeling hardcore trash number of 44 seconds, a little shocked at the level of intensity and not quite sure whether it was a brilliant idea or a terrible mess. I must say I have never played Krigshot that often compared to Skitsystem or Warcollapse for instance because Krigshot's music usually sounded like it was just too much. Too fast, too loud, too intense and after 10 minutes, a little dizzying, not unlike being smacked in the face again and again and wondering why you still enjoyed it. This style of fast and direct Swedish hardcore is often called mangel by the temple guards of punk and Stuart Schrader - formerly behind Game of the Arseholes - defined the mangel subgenre as a cross between the speed of U$ hardcore and the Discharge aggression, the substantive itself coming from the Swedish language for washing clothes with a laundry roller and the noise it makes. Mangel usually works best on the Ep format for the obvious reason that eight minutes of that relentless a bollocking is more than enough and that, as the latest scientific studies have shown, a normal human being can only take so much radically overblown Mob 47 worship in a day before fainting from exhaustion (the studies also showed that longtime Swedish hardcore fans have developed an additional membrane in the ears so as to be able to withstand without limitation of time, yet another convincing example of the theory of evolution). As a result a full album of 24 songs of uncompromisingly fast and orthodox mangel hardcore can be seen as a tricky endeavour. Indeed, to keep a punk listener engaged for 28 minutes with a Swedish hardcore record made up of one minute long songs is a challenge in itself as you have to keep the intensity level high and the songwriting sufficiently catchy. 


To be fair, Krigshot do have a couple of slightly longer and slower numbers on Örebro-Mangel to allow the listener - not to mention the album itself - to catch its breath. A wise and welcome choice. But otherwise, be prepared for an all-out hardcore attack with a very aggressive and loud guitar sound and vocals sounding meaner and throatier than on their previous 1999 Lp, Maktmissbrukare. This aforementioned album used the same songwriting template of mid-80's Stockholm hardcore but had a rawer sound and more distinctly 80's-styled vocals, so that it resembled a 90's tribute to Mob 47 and Crudity whereas Örebro-Mangel sounds more like a more modern extreme take on the genre thanks to its production. As you probably know, Krigshot - originally the name of a Mob 47 song - was a side project of Mieszko and Anders from Nasum, on vocals and drums respectively, while Jallo (from No Security, Totalitär or Meanwhile among many others) was in charge of the Åke-styled riffing and the bass on this recording. If Mob 47 were undoubtedly an influence on the 90's Swedish d-wave, there were not many bands who openly aimed at sounding "just like" them and Krigshot can be relevantly said to be to Mob 47 what Meanwhile were to Discharge. Know what I mean?

Of course, it was recorded by Mieszko at Soundlab Studios, a man who certainly contributed to make Swedish hardcore heavier than ever through his production works with bands like Skitsystem, Acursed, Avskum or Wolfpack and who tragically died in the 2004 tsunami. Örebro-Mangel is an intense, pounding, really fast and brutal hardcore work that is not for the faint-hearted and one that casual hardcore amateurs won't probably play every mornings. However once it kicks in, it sounds like an unstoppable beast going straight for the throat and it is basically impossible not to enjoy those fast, dynamic riffs and the really fucking fast energetic drumming that make you feel like a teenager again. Did I mention the album ends with a Riistetyt cover? Just icing on the mangel cake. As for the lyrics, they are all short, sharp and angry protest songs in Swedish with short explanations in English. One of them, about the song "Denna jävla teknik", rings a nostalgic bell "The song is about the new technique and it's consequences where the punks have 50gb of mp3's in their computer, but not a single classic 7'' in their possession". "The punks" no longer even bother having mp3's, they just stream. So 2001.

Mangel up your life

 *about the title of the series "Wesh to Sweden": "wesh" is a slang word commonly used in France by the urban youth. It is derived from the Arabic language and can mean a variety of things like "hello", "what's up", "how are you?", "what!", "fuck" and the list goes on and on. Sorry if the meaning gets a bit lost in translation.

Monday 16 November 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 2): Avskum "In the Spirit of Mass Destruction" cd, 2000

Sweden is bloody everywhere. 

Even the most superficial glance at the hardcore production of the last three decades is enough to realize how important and influential traditional Swedish hardcore has been for the punk scene worldwide. In fact, a mere five minute walk into the luxuriant yet slightly frightening sonic jungle that bandcamp has turned into today would allow the casual listener to find dozen of bands of the scandicore (or käng or whatever terminology turns you on) variety or, at least, proudly claiming to belong to that well-presented group with educated hashtags. This is not a particularly original realization and you could argue that I am just stating the obvious here, but just take a moment to think about the large and evergrowing number of Swedish-flavoured bands all over the world since the 90's. While the impressive quantity and quality of Swedish hardcore bands in the 80's pretty much ensured that there would always be solid representatives of the branch in Sweden, it still did not necessarily entail its spread into every corner of the punk world. After all, Italy had tons of brilliant bands too but, in comparison, there aren't that many bands outside of Italy that are openly influenced by the vintage sound of Wretched, Indigesti or Impact and try to replicate it, whereas I presume that even my granny could name ten mediocre copies of Anti-Cimex in a heartbeat. 


I am not qualified enough to assess the Swedish hardcore influence worldwide in the 80's (but I would love to read articles about this), although it is well-established fact that Doom just wanted to be Discard when they first started and that the UK hardcore wave was well into the sound of their Nordic cousins. I am sure there were many individuals outside of Scandinavia dreaming about Crude SS and Mob 47 but it did not translate into a mimicking frenzy at the time outside of the country. I would venture that the generalization of the classic käng sound started in the 90's and its development can be seen in the same light as its contemporary neighbours': the d-beat and crust waves. Of course, in that decade, things were probably not as compartmentalized, narrow and clear-cut as they are now and the frontiers between the three genres were fluid and they often intersected and fed each other. After all, all three were, to varying extents, the children of Discharge, part of the same family and fearless agents of the Discharge legacy. By the time I caught that train around 2003, the spirit of the 90's wave was still fresh and strong and I remember having long, tumultuous arguments with like-minded friends about the similarities and differences between crustcore, d-beat and scandicore. It never quite ended in a punch-up but I remember a particular heated conversations about the possible classification of State of Fear, a band we held in very high esteem at the time. Good times indeed. 


I remember exactly why I picked Avskum's In the Spirit of Mass Destruction. I had never heard of the band but the description proclaimed that it was a classic 80's band that had reformed but sounded "better than ever, paying tribute to their hardcore roots while still offering something fresh for the new generations". Those were not the exact words but we all know the drill. Since I was still very gullible and rather insecure about the level of my knowledge in hardcore punk - and thus about my hardcore credibility, a thing that appeared to critically matter judging from some lyrics - the prospect of getting to know a "classic Swedish band from the 80's" was exciting indeed and I recall, in a sensible move, adding another reformed classic, Totalitär's Ni Måste Bort, from the same record label, Prank Records, to the order so that, to this day, I tend to unconsciously associate both bands because I first heard them at the same time. Of course, looking at the number of Totalitär-ian bands today, it is safe to say that Totalitär have become a much more popular and influential band than Avskum, but it is a rather recent phenomena and I don't remember it being quite the case in the 00's although I could be wrong. Such considerations were of course foreign to me in 2003 and I played the cd's to death. My initial fear that they might sound like cheesy new wave or terrible crossover (like, I imagined, many reformed bands did and let's face it I wasn't that far off the mark) was rapidly dissipated. Avskum quite literally fucking rocked. 


The official party line of the punk elite is that, however good Avskum's later material might be, their 1984 Ep, Crucified by the System, remains their genuine moment of hardcore glory. And it is quite right. As temptingly easy and intellectually lazy it is to consider any old 80's recordings as a classic moment, therefore untouchable and irremediably superior to anything that might come next, Crucified by the System is undeniably a work of genius, although probably an unintentional one (the best, ain't they?). According to The Encyclopedia of Swedish Punk, after the release of Avskum's first demo a local reporter "thought that they wanted to be a garage band, but it was still like cavemen. In other words, they hadn't even reached the level of a garage band. This was meant as a bad review but nothing could explain their music better!". And how true is that! I guess the raw hardcore punk sound of early Avskum combined with the very gruff vocal style of singer Gunnar make the cavemen comparison understandable. However, in addition to all the typical käng characteristics and savage aggression a nerdy punk is rightly entitled to expect from a Swedish hardcore Ep released in 1984, Avskum were more tuneful than most. Just listen to the opening riff of "Glöm ardrig Hiroshima" and to how melancholy, dark and just beautiful it sounds like. And of course, in another context, those vocals could be the work of a wounded caveman, however it is a caveman trying to sing - for real - because he is desperate and in pain, like a morose, glum Anti-Cimex or something. To me, "Glöm ardrig Hiroshima" is - like Rappresaglia's "Attack", Anti-Cimex's "Warmachine" or RIP's "Policia no" - one of those perfect hardcore songs that are even improved by their flaws and age very well. 


But I am not here to delve into Avskum's early career, a part of their existence I was not familiar with by the time I played In the Spirit of Mass Destruction for the first time and therefore did not influence my first impression of the band by offering me a point of comparison. This album was recorded in late 1999 and it was the band's third since they reformed in 1994, after 1998's Crime & Punishment cd on Distortion Records (obviously) and From Vision to Nightmare Ep on Retard Records. Avskum's reformation took place at the height of the 90's d-beat and scandicore wave and I presume seeing so many Swedish bands playing the very hardcore style you took part in creating ten years before prompted former members to resurrect Avskum. The new Avskum did not sound like the old one though. Vocalist Gunnar and drummer Pyri were still there but the original guitarist Nezze, who was not part of the new d-beat odyssey, was replaced by the original bass player Håkan and second guitar player Henke while Jorgen took on the bass duties. Gone was the brooding and furious raw 80's käng sound to make room for a far more rocking approach. I remember In the Spirit of Mass Destruction being described (possibly by Prank Records themselves) as a Swedish blend of Discharge and Motörhead and, while I revered the former, I did not enjoy the latter - and still don't to be honest. Mentions of "d-beat'n'roll" or "motörcrust" have always triggered a strong sense of suspicion and wariness (if not plain insult) in me and my gut instinct often told me to get the fuck out of here before it was too late and I had to endure terrible Lemmy's impersonations, double pedal drumming and heavy metal guitar solos. However I can see why a Motörhead comparison would be relevant in Avskum's case as they have that deep rocking feel and that overdrive power in the guitars and Gunnar successfully attempts at singing on classic d-beat hardcore punk, not unlike a motörheadish Disarm if you know what I mean. It is not exactly melodic but the tunes are definitely hummable, catchy and quite distinctive. This vocal style might not be everybody's cup of tea - it won't do if you are looking for the shouted kind - but I think it works perfectly here, somewhere between a more rocking Jawbreaker-era Jonsson and Meanwhile's Jocke, Gunnar's rough-hewn voice sounds powerful, angry and infectious.  


In the Spirit of Mass Destruction cannot really be described as a spectacular album. It is quite linear, homogeneous and not meant to crush you into the ground. But once you let yourself get into its rocking käng vibe, it is a very pleasant work and the more Discharge-inspired song like "Rebel vibe" and the brilliant mid-paced "The bomb is our future" work best for me. This album is not unlike, metaphorically speaking, "dad d-beat" in the sense that it is not drenched in distortion or insanely fast, cleanly produced and not harsh-sounding, aggressive but not furious, with a distinct sense of tune and clear singalongs, a very pure d-beat pace and a heavy rock influence that makes it the ideal soundtrack to drive long distance, scrap the kitchen clean or have a couple of pints at the pub with your mates to. A particular sort of Swedish d-beat in itself. The production, courtesy of Mieszko of Soundlab Studio (if you are into Swedish punk and do not own a Mieszko-produced record, you are clearly a poser), is crispy and guitar-driven with very upfront vocals, it is clean but not so clean as to lose the hardcore edge. This is probably the best work of Avskum after they reformed - but then I never really got into 2003's Punkista that sounded too polished and heterogeneous - and since it does not really sound like their 80's outputs, it feels a bit pointless to compare them. The dark and direct political lyrics are pretty sweet with a lot of class war-oriented rants against the system that puts us on our knees. I really enjoyed the classic line "Hitler is in the limo again". The cover is a bit of a mystery however and does not really reflect what the music is about although the drawing technique is not in question. A bunch of skeletal punks bathing in biohazardous waters coming out of giant sewer pipes with burning buildings in the background suggest bandana-wearing second-rate US-styled crossover rather than rocking Swedish hardcore for middle-aged crusties in need of a solid and tasteful mix of Meanwhile, 90's Cimex and Motörhead. 

 In the Spirit of Käng Destruction

 *about the title of the series "Wesh to Sweden": "wesh" is a slang word commonly used in France by the urban youth. It is derived from the Arabic language and can mean a variety of things like "hello", "what's up", "how are you?", "what!", "fuck" and the list goes on and on. Sorry if the meaning gets a bit lost in translation.

Monday 9 November 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 1): Skitsystem "Allt e skit" compilation cd, 2002

I would love to tell you grand stories about the tormented but powerful relationship I have slowly built with Swedish punk music throughout the years, potent tales that would inspire or empower you to be all you can be. Some proper moving shit with misunderstandings, breakups, reconciliations and Anti-Cimex covers. I would love to tell you that the first Swedish punk band I came across was Mob 47 or Wolfpack or another such respectable hardcore band that an older friend would have taped for me because that was how knowledge circulated and passion was shared in those pre-internet days. Of course, it did not happen like that and reality, once you remove the gratifying coat of storytelling, is often not so inspiring after all and probably not worthy of a smarmy self-help book complete with ugly mugs and weird dentitions on the cover. The first punk band from Sweden I heard about was Millencolin through Punk O Rama Vol. 2, a cd I got in late 1996 at a local supermarket for 29 French francs (yes, a supermarket, though it has to be said that they used to have decent rock sections in those days). I was 13 and had absolutely no idea that punk-rock was an international movement. In my tiny teenage mind, there used to be punk bands in England before but not anymore as they all died out like dinosaurs but because of drugs and all contemporary punk bands were from California and lived in "the Epitaph house" or in the vicinity and if there were any foreign bands (meaning not from North America) they basically only wanted to be American though they perhaps did not realize it yet. I was not the brightest kid in the neighbourhood as you can see, although I suppose such delusions also say a lot about the marketing powers and tactics and the worldview they generated in the 90's. 


So yeah, Punk O Rama. Of course all the bands were American apart from Millencolin who were from Sweden. Sweden... The only things I associated with the country until then were Abba (no thanks) and Henrik Larsson (yes please) and I remember being completely baffled by the inclusion of a Swedish band on the cd. I mean, Sweden? Come on! How utterly preposterous! What was next? Bloody Finland? It was all very exotic but, from my 13 year old wisdom, I somehow convinced my incredulous and ignorant self that, surely, Millencolin were a romantic exception. It is almost endearing to be that wrong I suppose. In the following years, I quickly discovered that not only were there more than a handful of Swedish melodic punk bands but that Swedes were also very present in all the other realms of punk music. By my 16th birthday I was heavily into wearing oversized bondage trousers, purple combat boots, disgraceful homemade patches and being chased down by bigger kids who, for some unfathomable reason, did not understand how magnificent the Casualties were. By then, Swedish "streetpunk" bands like Voice of a Generation, Bombshell Rocks or Guttersnipe were favourites of mine, however I was still blissfully if tragically unaware of Swedish hardcore. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I knew of Swedish bands playing US-styled hardcore but had no idea that the country had developed its own style of hardcore or that there were other styles of hardcore punk outside of the hegemonic tough guy American one for that matter (still a very common and unfortunate misconception to this day). The truth about scandicore hit me hard but progressively during the year 2002 through a local radio show broadcast on Radio Libertaire called "ça rend sourd" - meaning "it makes one deaf" in French - run by older knowledgeable punks with a strong liking for international hardcore, grindcore, crust and extreme punk music in general. To be honest, although I religiously listened to the show on every other sunday nights and did enjoy it, a lot of the bands they played were completely lost on me because my ear was still very much uneducated and unskilled to this type of music. Their scholarly references to Italian hardcore, Spanish raw punk or German powerviolence sounded deliciously cryptic and coded and it completely opened my eyes to the stylistic and geographical diversity of hardcore punk and to the importance of context and intent. And hearing Mob 47, Diskonto or Moderat Likvidation on the radio gave me a massive kick up the arse. 


How to cast suspicion on your own release...


The early 00's were an intense period of discovery, revelation and musical epiphany for me, one that I remember vividly and with nostalgia as everything sounded subjectively new and fresh at the time. In a very short time I became aware of the wide world of DIY hardcore punk and the numerous subgenres that composed it and, from this day on, trying to understand the making and the reproduction of hardcore subgenres in their context and native habitat has become my lifework, a bit like Dian Fossey but with Discharge fanatics instead of gorillas and without a biopic yet (but that goes with being murdered I presume so I keep the faith). My evergrowing love for crust punk made a frontal reunion with Swedish hardcore, one of the genre's inspirations, both unavoidable and highly fruitful. The series Wesh to Sweden* will be a presentation of seven records of Swedish hardcore - be it of the käng, mangel or d-beat variety, with the crust cursor more or less pronounced - that I deeply engaged and connected with during those formative years of intense discovery (2003 and 2004). The selection might look a little random, subjective and illogical as it is based on the purchases I made at the time on distros in order to explore and accumulate enough knowledge and as a result it was linked with the availability of records at that particular time and in that particular place and with my personal whims. 



One of the first Swedish hardcore cd's that I bought and that really won me over was Allt e skit from the mighty Skitsystem, from Gothenburg. I ordered the cd (because it was cheaper to ship than vinyl and my budget was limited) while I was living in Manchester as part of the student exchange program Erasmus, in late 2003. I had made friends in my hall of residence with a lad who was really into hardcore and metal and he often recommended bands to me. I remember him giving me local distro list that was updated every trimester and mostly carried extreme metal music and grindcore but also had some heavy hardcore and crust. In the list were Skitsystem's Allt e skit and Wolfpack's Allday Hell which he said were both amazing bands and compulsory listenings. Trusting in his better judgement, I sent a letter to the address indicated on the list with a £20 bill and a week later I was able to play Skitsystem and Wolfpack in my rather bleak and very small room (I had had the brilliant idea to bring a cd player along), in awe at the brutality of the music. Out of the two, Skitsystem prevailed in my opinion, probably because they sounded crustier and that was what I was after at the time and for this reason I played Allt e skit to death and can pretty much sing along in mock Swedish to all the songs (human waaaaaaste). I suppose that, in retrospect, Skitsystem is an obvious band to love, a genuine classic of what we mean by Swedish crust. What particularly impressed me at the time was that they sounded very heavy, menacing and aggressive and yet, at the same time, very simple and direct. The music had the desperate power of a charging rhino with a grudge but also felt quite accessible in its composition. Little did I know that Skitsystem was a band conceived by hardcore-loving metalheads as a tribute to that brand of heavy Discharge-inspired hardcore, namely käng, that had become so popular in the 90's in Scandinavia and whose best instances could be found in the releases of Distortion Records. To me, though the recordings were a bit old, it was an active band destroying everything in its bloody path.


Contrary to a lot of their peers of the time, Skitsystem had those heavy and dark down-tuned textures and a raw and heavy production closely associated with old-school Swedish death metal, which made sense since the original lineup was made up of members of At the Gates and Sarcasm, so that one gets the impression that, while it does fit with the crusty Swedish hardcore tradition, it nevertheless sounds like it is played by rabid death metal cavemen (I say this now but, truth be told, when I first played Allt e skit I had never even heard of Entombed and death metal was about as foreign to me as space rock). In spite of the intentional brutality of the sound and the punishingly simple riffing, you can tell that the boys had fun writing those early Skitsystem songs and many chorus are wonderfully anthemic ("Human waste", "Allt e skit" or the smashing Asocial cover "Revolt" specially come to mind and I challenge you not to sing along). To be fair, I had not played the cd for a while and had forgotten how fast, intense, energetic, mean and just unstoppable it sounded like. Genuinely headbanging stuff. I recall being blown away by the extremity of the vocals, how angry, direct and hoarse they sounded like, how the singers sounded like they were on the brink of rupturing their vocal cords just for the sake of expressing their blackest hatred of the shit system and outrage at the world's injustices and that just really spoke to me and still does. In retrospect, the sheer pummeling power and forwardness of the music, the dark down-tuned metal sound, combined with the extreme vocals of the two singers (who perfectly work together) and a d-beat drumming of mammoth proportions make Skitsystem a definitive highlight of the 90's Swedish wave and a fascinating instance of hardcore punk infused with death metal in terms of textures and sound instead of structures and composition like a fight to the death between Disfear, Extreme Noise Terror and Unleashed. It comes as no surprise that, to this day, Skitsystem is still a major reference for any band keen on taking the scandicrust path. 



Although it would not be far-fetched to call Skitsystem a crustcore band, it is not completely true either, not in the same sense as Warcollapse, the other great Swedish crust band of the 90's. While WC were much closer to the eurocrust sound of Doom and Hiatus, Skitsystem's roots were strictly located in the classic Swedish hardcore and metal sound which resulted in them creating a hybrid that was distinctly Swedish and could appeal to both punks and metalheads looking for fast, direct, heavy and extreme apocalyptic music. The ultimate compromise of studs and long hair. Allt e skit included the first three records of the band: the Profithysteri Ep from 1995, the Ondskans Ansikte 10'' fril 1996 and the split Ep with Wolfpack from 1997, all originally released on Distortion Records. This was Skitsystem at the height of their primitive power and while their following records still packed a heavy enough punch, they were also a little too polished for my liking and missed that early Nordic cavemen savagery replaced with a more controlled metallic fury. The version of Allt e skit I own was released on Barbarian Records, an American label that was more on the death-metal side of thing apparently, and there are a number of spelling mistakes in the names of the songs that I actually chose to leave as they were so that you get the most authentic experience possible (that's immersion for ya). Another odd thing about the reissue is that you can hear vinyl crackles at the beginning and end of the songs so I guess the fellow behind the label did not use the studio tapes for the reissue but the actual vinyl records from his collection. Added to the statement at the bottom of the backcover stating that "This is not a bootleg. Full royalties paid on this release to band in cash and copies" and to the absence of the label's contact or even logo, I always had the dubious feeling that, despite the warning, it was indeed a bootleg cd. And did bands really get royalties in cash when playing crust music? Now, that was a work option I could heartfully consider. Barbarian Records even reissued the reissue in 2004 with a new cover parodying the typical "singles collection" of 80's UK punk with a mohawked lion wearing a studded leather jacket at the center! That really cracked me up and it shows that for all the dark heavy music, we all enjoy a bloody larf at times. 


For opening my mind to the wonderful world of Swedish crust on a cold Manchester night, I would like to address my most sincere gratitude to Skitsystem. Allt e skit!                     


Allt e skit indeed  


*about the title of the series "Wesh to Sweden": "wesh" is a slang word commonly used in France by the urban youth. It is derived from the Arabic language and can mean a variety of things like "hello", "what's up", "how are you?", "what!", "fuck" and the list goes on and on. Sorry if the meaning gets a bit lost in translation.