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!
*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.