Wednesday 23 December 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 7): "Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986" compilation tape (2004?)

Not so long ago (or at least it seems that way but perhaps I’m heading toward the mid-life crisis faster than was previously thought), tapes were going virtually extinct in the Western punk scene. In fact, I really struggle to remember even buying a demo tape from a Western hardcore punk band (to be understood in terms of living and technological conditions rather than strictly geographically) in the early and mid noughties. Cdr’s - nowadays universally considered as the most uncool format ever for its rather bland and cold aspect - had replaced the tape format in terms of convenience (you could easily burn your own cd’s), low prices (cdr’s were cheaper) and availability (everyone had cd players in those days). My generation saw the decline of tapes in the early 90’s, followed by the unstoppable rise of the cd format, the arrival of a seemingly invincible new challenger in the guise of the mp3, the rapid decline of the cd format, the rebirth of the tape format now declared a deliciously vintage and exclusive - not to mention Insta-compatible - artifact and, eventually, the undisputed victory of online streaming platforms and the downfall of the mp3. And I am not even mentioning the vinyl format here because it had already lost much of its cultural and commercial relevance when I started to listen to music in the 90’s. Of course, punks have always bought vinyls and will keep doing so religiously, forever and ever, until the end of times because, when punk-rock was born, the vinyl format ruled the music industry and since, as a consequence, all the 70’s and 80’s classics were originally released on vinyl, our punk brains have so closely linked the content to the container that to keep releasing and buying vinyls 30 years after the format is a ritualistic way to connect ourselves to our roots and to our tribe, the distro table taking on an almost altar-like function where punk are given Holy Communion. To buy a record from a DIY punk distro is much more than just acquiring new music, it is also engaging culturally and symbolically in a historical subculture and taking part in one if its rituals, an act often summarized as "supporting the scene".  

But I digress as usual. While we still used tapes in the early noughties to make compilations for mates, tape radio shows and records we borrowed from each other or, of course, record our weekly afternoon drinking sessions that we also called "band practices" at the time (though I am really not sure it deserved to be referred to as such), we never considered releasing a demo tape and thought highly of the cd format which granted you more autonomy and could allow for a totally DIY project, though you did have to find someone with a computer that could burn cd's at decent rate. We did buy music tapes though, on a rather regular basis, from the Polish or Czech distro and labels like NNNW, Malarie or Trujaca Fala not only released many tapes of Eastern punk bands but also offered tape versions of Western bands for really cheap. Back then, many Polish punks did not own CD players and tapes were therefore still socially relevant and affordable for the unwashed masses. The format basically still made some sense at the time, even for us since, after all, we had grown up listening to tapes and still used them, only we did not think highly of a format that did not age well and knew it was bound to disappear. Tapes certainly did not have that hip, exclusive, vintage aura of nostalgia chic that it often has nowadays, completely disconnected from its very real convenience, its many uses and the crucial role it played in the development of punk in the 80's. I do buy tapes nowadays - because bands I love release tapes - and I am well aware of the technological obsolescence and the cultural snobbishness inherent in the format in 2020. The modern punk tape is twofold: it symbolizes something I actually love about us punx, that we have strong and meaningful cultural practices and rather subtle aesthetical traditions that we romantically and passionately keep alive (the act of buying demo tape makes you part of the tribe, even though you are going to stream the thing anyway), but the tape is also something that is more problematic and can be our downfall, that lies in our intentional exclusiveness and growing nostalgic obsession with a reconstructed "golden era", whether it translates into the music (the endless mimicking of the 80's) or the format (just show a tape to a modern teen). This might seem unrelated to the topic at hand but it is not as the social and cultural perception of the container also affects the way we engage with the content that homemade. What this endless rants is getting at is that this cheap-looking Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986 tape, adorned with a xeroxed cover, that will conclude the introspective Wesh to Sweden series cannot be said to have a highly fashionable item of the winter 2004, when it was presumably bootlegged.

It might sound weird but I actually got this tape at an emocore show in 2004 (or was it 2005?). As you can imagine, I never cared much for the genre and, to this day, I would be at a loss to name any proper emo classics although the few bands I knew were actually alright. This did not mean I went to many emo shows but, as I remember it, my mates and I had nothing better to do on that particular Saturday night and it just so happened that it was the only "punk gig" taking place and we thought we would "hang out". At that time, we were really not that picky about the gigs' lineup or the genres the bands were adopting, we just went to "the punk gig", be it savage and sloppy crust punk, nasty goregrind, embarrassing French punk-rock, fucking folk punk or, in this case, bloody emocore. We would usually get a bit pissed on the outside (well, more than just a bit actually) and then get in to watch the bands, out of curiosity and to show our support to "the scene" because we did have some ethical principles. On this night, the long-running French record label and distro Emergence had set a table and was selling your usual hardcore cd's and vinyls as well as a couple of punk tapes, among which one immediately caught my eye: Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986.

As I mentioned in the first part of my highly fascinating autobiographical series Wesh to Sweden (rumoured to be soon adapted by Netflix but don't hold your breath), I first heard Mob 47 on the radio through a Paris-based radio show called Ça Rend Sourd that was broadcast every other sunday night and, in spite of it being the day of the Lord, played a lot of Scandinavian hardcore, grindcore and things of the D which, one surmises, can be considered as one of punk's dominical sacraments. A friend of mine with a computer in his room and a decent internet connection allowing for some soulseek frenzy then burnt a cdr, on my request, with plenty of random recordings of the band. I absolutely cherished that cdr. Mob 47 was probably the most energetic band I knew, they sounded so relentless and furious but also very snotty and punky. I could really picture a bunch of spotty teenagers getting pissed and playing as fast and hard as possible all afternoon. The very punky vibe that pervaded their raw hardcore songs reminded me of a sped up version of the Varukers' early recordings, a band that I was genuinely fond of. Although I did not own any official record of Mob 47 then - the Ultimate Attack discography was probably not out yet and neither was the reissue of the Ep - I had managed to find a tape that had their 1985 demo on one side and Asocial's 1982 demo on the other (kind of an odd one I now realize) the year before but spotting a vintage compilation with not only Mob 47 but also five other Stockholm bands I had never heard of felt like a sign from above, one not to be discarded (get it?). At that time I did not know that many scandicore bands from the 80's but, thanks to the very referential 90's Swedish wave, I had a rather precise idea of its characteristics. I knew of Anti-Cimex of course (my mate had compiled a very disorganized cdr with songs from all their periods as well as some Shitlickers numbers, for some reason, which was terribly confusing for me), Avskum (I had bought the bootleg Ep of Crucified by the System), No Security (the When the Gist is Sucked from the Fruit of Welfare bootleg discography was mine thanks to an earlier trip to the 1in12 Club in Bradford) and Disarm (read their name in a fanzine, got some mp3's through that aforementioned benevolent friends and adored the raucous but tuneful singing style over the raw hardcore music and still do). Along with Asocial through the aforementioned unofficial split tape, that must have been pretty much it, give or take one Svart Snö. Therefore the perspective to discover five new bands for a mere three euros felt like an unmissable opportunity, one that I took fearlessly with the proverbial heart full of pride. 

Was the name of the band "Discard" or "Discaro"? The doubt remained when we first listened to the tape collectively and passed around the minimal xeroxed cover but, as the self-appointed leader of the Shakespearean language, I pointed out that "Discard" actually meant something while "Discaro", to anybody's linguistic knowledge, did not. Needless to say that I played this tape to death and, to this day, it still easily ranked as one of my favourite hardcore punk compilation. I learnt years later that my Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986 tape was a bootleg of 2000's Stockholms Mangel compilation Lp (released on the highly transparent label Swedish Punk Classics), a reissue of the original 1986 compilation tape Stockholms Mangel (fun fact: it is nowadays worth twice the medium monthly wage in Moldova). The 1986 tape only included Mob 47, Crudity and Agoni so that Protes Bengt, Discard and Röjers - as well as five Mob 47 songs - did not initially appear on the tape. To be honest, had some knowledgeable punk told me those nerd-oriented details when I acquired the object, I most certainly would not have given an actual fuck, but the compiling and recompiling history of Stockholms Mangel is rather interesting and might get handy on trivia nights. Another urgent reason why I bought the tape also lied in the presence of the band Agoni. At that time, we were seriously thinking of starting a crust punk band and has settled for the name Agonie (the French for "agony" obviously). We were therefore a bit upset that a band had already picked the moniker, even twenty years before, and worried that old-timers would mercilessly scoff at our choice. Those fears related to punk terminology proved to be unwarranted as, not only were Agoni a very obscure Swedish hardcore band, but we were also never good enough to be worthy of being scoffed at anyway.     

I have always loved the manic energy and the youthful anger that pervade Mob 47's music and, obviously, the sheer speed of the songs, so fast that the songs constantly sound like they are on the brink of derailing. As an accelerated hardcore version of the traditional Discharge beat, some people have been calling the Mob 47 pace "C-beat", which is both ridiculous and awesome (but then, so is punk I guess). The seven songs originally included on the Stockholms Mangel tape from 1986 were recorded in January, 1985, with Ake on vocals but the five additional songs come from different recording sessions: "Racist regime" was done in June, 1985, "Stop the slaughter" in February, 1985, "Arms race" in April, 1985, all with Robban on vocals, while "Couch slouch" and "Nedrusta nu" were recorded in September, 1987 with Tommy behind the mike during the band's practice before the band's last 80's gig (in case you did not know, no less than five singers - including guitarist Ake - tried their luck in Mob 47). All the songs were recorded in the "bowling studio" (Ake's parents owned a bowling alley) and therefore have the same specific tone, raw, rough even, but warm and frenzied. What more can I say about this wonderful band that has already been well documented? They epitomized the typically Swedish "mangel sound", that brand of furiously fast, raw, short, Dis-oriented hardcore songs, and were therefore quite particular and identifiable, but, at the same time, as their covers of BGK, Varukers and DRI attested, they were completely rooted in and indicative of the collective worldwide hardcore explosion of the 80's. Both unique and representative. And I had forgotten how brilliantly catchy and powerful those guitar riffs sounded like and how much of an influence on crust punk they have been (just listen to State of Fear and Consume if you need a blatant example). An exceptional band for ordinary punks, one that can appeal to fans of Gang Green, Disorder, Minor Threat, Ratos de Porao or Discharge alike. This band smokes. Love it.
The insanely energetic Mob 47 are always going to be a tough act to follow and, to be fair, when I got the tape, I did not think much of Agoni who, though not bad at all, inevitably struck me as a little bland and, well, even slow when compared to the other bands. Throughout the years though, I have taken to really enjoy the gruff hardcore power of Agoni, reminiscent of fellow Swedes Svart Parad, early Avskum, Bombanfall or, of course, Anti-Cimex. Seven rough songs in about eight minutes of raw and pummeling käng with cavemen vocals and aggressive rousing chorus that were originally released as a demo tape in 1985. Classic but aptly executed with that typical Scandinavian crunch. Following those early songs, the band got bitten by long-haired drunks wearing sleeveless denim jacket in a dodgy rock bar on the outskirts of Stockholm and subsequently changed their name to Agony and started playing thrash metal, a turn that, out of common decency, I shall not comment upon. As is often the case in punk-rock, the Stockholm hardcore scene was quite incestuous and one could not be a proper scene member unless he or she played in at least three different Discharge-loving bands (a very sensible rule indeed). Agoni's singer Per also growled in the magnificent Discard (and apparently wrote many lyrics for Mob 47) while Peter joined Svart Snö later on. For some strange reasons, the Agoni demo was never reissued but I am sure it will eventually get the treatment.     

Following up are the fantastic Crudity, a band with a rather unfortunate name from the perspective of a Frenchman fond of silly puns (believe me, that's somewhat pleonastic as I have yet to meet a French person who is not desperate to crack a joke after learning that there is a band called "Crudity"). If you are the kind of punk who cannot ever grow tired of Mob 47, listening to Crudity could be an ideally healthy sonic complement and will have you fantasize the magic excavation of a yet unknown Mob 47 session. Fast, catchy and raw, riff-driven mangel-style hardcore punk with top notch angry singalongs and raspy vocals courtesy of Tommy, who later joined Mob 47. Crudity was also the first band of Mart Hällgren (referred to as a punk legend on the internet) who went on to play in De Lyckliga Kompisarna, Ubba and Greven & James, in other terms bands I have absolutely never heard about... To get back to the heavenly rawness at stake, Crudity were to the point and, perhaps, a little heavier - or just a tad more Cimexian - than their closest neighbours. Twelve short songs of mean hardcore fury recorded in 1985 by Ake in the infamous bowling alley that will have you pogo like you're 16 again (I'd recommend warming up a little before though, one is never too cautious) which, when you think about it, is rather paradoxical since Crudity only ever played one gig in 1984. So maybe don't think too hard about it.
Next are the brutal Protes Bengt, the first of the three bands that were not originally included on the compilation tape, but do appear on 2000's expanded version and on this DIY unofficial tape of mine. Although undeniably more a studio project than an actual band, Protes Bengt are the stuff of legends. A shame they never played a proper gig then, a somewhat unusual characteristic in a genre that is best appreciated live with a suspiciously foamy pint of lager and foul-breathed punters speaking far too close to your face. Formed in 1985 by Ake and Chrille from Mob 47 and Per and Ola who played in Filthy Christians, PB will remain in the grand narrative of punk (a narrative is pretty much like a story but it immediately tells the reader you have a university degree, hence its inclusion here) as that lightning fast, crazy and rough hardcore band that had a 32-song Ep in 1986, In Bengt we Trust. I do not know the exact recording details of the 16 songs included on Stockholm Hardcore, but presuming that they were recorded sometime in 1986 at Ake's bowling studio is a safe bet. The first 12 songs originally appeared on the Bengt E Sängt tape, the following three were taken from the Ep and I am clueless about the last one, "Trippelmoral", that has Ake on vocals. Contrary to Mob 47, Agoni and Crudity, who, on the whole, reveled in just one faster-than-D-beat, PB proved to be even faster. With a more direct and brutal hardcore music, but also adopting a less linear style that was closer to that emerging brand of fast hardcore that used proto blast beats (bands like Siege, Gauze, DRI or Lärm), PB sound quite different from the other bands on the tape. Well, there is still a significant reliance on the traditional Dis-mangel beat but I would argue that the dominating beat here is the proto blast beat and I would not be surprised to learn that PB were a meaningful influence through the mid-80's tape trading movement on many early grindcore and crust bands (especially in the light of Filthy Christians' eventual direction). The vocals are deliciously gruff and caveman-like and, among all the insane speed, there are even a couple of mid-paced crunchy metallic pace to remind you that you are entering the second part of the 80's. The sound is, well, rough like a badger's arse but I wouldn't have it any other way because that's exactly how I want speed-crazed old-school hardcore to sound like. Most of the songs don't even last a minute (some don't even make it to 30 seconds in fact) and many obey the untold but pregnant rule of primitive hardcore "one riff equals one song" and there is nothing wrong with such wise zen-like religious beliefs. PB's music is probably not safe for work but will probably be a blast at your 8 year old nephew's birthday party.
Next up are Discard which I have already discussed at length in my Pulitzer price-winning diatribe here so I am not going to bother repeating myself too much. If you missed the previous seasons of Terminal Sound Nuisance, Discard was yet another side-project of Ake and Chrille from Mob 47, this time aided in their quest for noize by Per from Agoni and Rickard (later on in Asocial). Discard was the band Doom wanted to be when they started and you could argue that in terms of conception and philosophy (but not of execution), Discard created the d-beat genre. As Ake willfully admits in an interview from the latest issue of the great Our Future fanzine "DISCARD was meant to be a DISCHARGE rip-off band, the music, lyrics and band logo", however I personally would not qualify them as a genuine d-beat band since their version of the Discharge formula was faster, rougher and more gruff, therefore they did not sound "just like" Discharge like Disaster or the 90's incarnation of Discard did. The D is too serious a subject not to be dealt with subtlety. The Discard songs on Stockholms Mangel/Hardcore were taken from the deliciously raw Sound of War recording session from 1985 and sound like Discharge being covered by a bunch of disgruntled bears on speed. Certainly one of my favourite hardcore recordings from the 80's. The last band on the tape is Röjers, yet another band with guitar hero Ake. The band only ever recorded three songs, one of which is just a 24 second long blasting hardcore filler, so it is rather arduous to make a definitive judgement. The perceptive listener will have little trouble to recognize Ake's potent hardcore riffs - the man basically personifies the dynamism inherent in hardcore punk - and vocals (right?). The songs are still bloody fast scorchers and do not stray too far from the safety of traditional scandicore territory, but you can still hear a soft but distinct Venomous and evil touch in the singing style and the arrangements, not unlike Mob 47 jamming with Onslaught and Criminal Justice in the bowling studio, knowhatimean? I had forgotten how thoroughly enjoyable those Röjers songs sounded like and it is a shame the band, more probably a studio project, did not record more at the time. No recording dates but 1985 or 1986 seem sensible.
The sound of the tape is obviously a bit rough. First, because all the original recordings were spontaneous slabs of raw 80's mangel so only a simpleton would feel entitled to expect clean-sounding music; second, because it is a homemade bootleg tape that is the same age as the dodgy teenagers who smoke weed listening to vocodered crap in front of your flat; and third, because I played Stockholm Hardcore a lot and I have fond memories of taking the portable tape player out on hot summer days and getting pissed on the river banks with friends while blasting those classic Swedish hardcore songs and showing the fingers to the tourists on their fly boats. Good times.
This is mangel heaven. My sole complaint is very minor but why is it called Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986 when all the recordings were done between 1985 and 1986? I like Stockholms Mangel better, don't you?                           



Saturday 12 December 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 6): Kontrovers "S/t" cd, 2002

The genuine melomanes among you (and I know that there are many) might be, upon the realization that the sixth part of Wesh to Sweden will deal with the first album of Kontrovers, a tad surprised and understandably so. I wouldn't blame them. The previous parts of the series saw me wrestle bands such as Skitsystem, Avskum, Krigshot, Uncurbed and Diskonto and tackle records strongly grounded in the 90's d-beat/käng wave, works that were, in their conception and execution, fundamentally rooted in the creativity of that decade (the argument that the production of Örebro-Mangel sort of heralded the 00's sound is not irrelevant though). Kontrovers' self-titled opus however firmly belongs to the decade of the 00's, the noughties, not so much literally but diachronically. This is not to claim that this very album was breaking brand new grounds or that it marked a spectacular shift in the world of käng. Kontrovers did not navigate in totally unchartered territory and they relied enough on dual vocal crustcore savagery for the patched punx to know where they were coming from. However, not unlike Acursed at the same time and with a similar evolution, Kontrovers were taking a path that was more progressive, more narrative not to mention melodic, a change that informed large segments of the 00's crust scene on a global scale, in Sweden and abroad. 
There would be (too) many bands, in the early and mid 00's, taking the dangerous and challenging path of moody and epic - if not emotional - crust music, with varying degrees of success. This new quest for dark melodies was baptized "neocrust" (although in France we called it "crust de salon", "lounge crust" as opposed to "crust des bois", "wood crust" which represented the Hiatus school of crust) and I suppose the old guard must have been rather distrustful of the term, and with reason, since, as the "nu metal" debacle proved mercilessly to the world, the addition of such novelty-implying prefixes is always dodgy at best. Although I was absolutely clueless at the time - as one generally is to global evolutions - a major shift was occurring in the early 00's just as I was starting to understand what the whole Swedish hardcore business really meant. The 90's d-beat/crust/käng wave, as symbolized in Sweden by the Distortion Records empire, was crumbling while new, younger bands, often with related but different songwriting ambitions, started to emerge. In retrospect, it would be relevant to see Kontrovers, perhaps more than any other Swedish band, as an embodiment of this moment of change. The band started out as a pretty classic savage crust band with a typical 90's spirit and ended up releasing possibly one the best (neo)crust album of the era, 2003's När Spelreglerna Ändras.  
Before I keep going with my enlightening analysis and my breathtaking insights and let my biting wit loose, I would like to point out that, although I very rarely play any bands of the neocrust obedience today, during a couple of years in the 00's, there were dozens upon dozens of punk bands all over the world trying very hard to emulate Tragedy, His Hero Is Gone or From Ashes Rise (but then, haven't most people always fantasized about being American?). Everybody seemed to be into those modern bands and, because that take on hardcore sounded fresh and was advertized as a novelty for the next generation - in other words for me - I was definitely not insensitive to the appeal and charms of neocrust and melody-driven Swedish hardcore. While I think Tragedy and From Ashes Rise are objectively great bands, they unintentionally spawned far too many bands in the 00's that have aged very quickly and not that well in retrospect and whose grandiloquence sounds pretty cheesy in 2020. This said, I am perfectly aware that the same criticism could be formulated about the 90's d-beat clones that I love so much. They may be objectively average but subjectively brilliant. It's all a matter of love. While some of us easily discard all the melodic crust bands of that period (not exactly the boldest of statements in 2020), I believe that there were some genuinely class acts that unfairly ended up getting dumped disdainfully in the "neocrust" wave and were often accused of "jumping on the bandwagon", one of the harshest accusations in the punk world - second only to public allegations of posing - that has been known to destroy once immaculate hardcore reputations. But doesn't the very notion of punk trends (whether it is 80's käng, 90's d-beat, 00's neocrust or 10's postpunk) imply some degree of jumping on the bandwagon? In the end, the other major crust trend of the 00's, the so-called stenchcore revival indisputably won the crust fight from my perspective and I, like most people, stopped bothering with melodic crust rather quickly (it has to be said that, to this day, there is still a quite vibrant emo/neocrust scene in Spain for example). But at the end of the day, I'd rather play Kontrovers, Schifosi or Muga instead of cheap radio-friendly Belgrado clones.

The early years of Kontrovers were furious indeed. The band seems to have started playing in 1998 (there is a tape from that year including a live recording of their Malmö gig with Detestation and Operation) and they were quite active on the record front until they folded sometime in the mid 00's. Although vaguely aware of it when I first listened to the band, I was largely indifferent to the band's connection with the rather popular Intensity (two members in common). It was not my cuppa at all and, if anything, my immature self did not understand how someone playing in the crusty Kontrovers would also play in a US-styled hardcore band like Intensity, and, fortunately for my delicate mental balance, no one at the time told me that the man behind Putrid Filth Conspiracy - a label I strongly respected - also played in Satanic Surfers. Such an apparently dissonant impossibility would have surely baffled me to death. Kontrovers' career started properly with the Slendedemokrati Ep in 1999, a fast-paced twelve song crusty affair released on PFC that already displayed the band's love for multiple singers practicing vocal savagery. With a touch of grindcore, some dark Wolfpack-inspired melodic riffs here and there and even a soft acoustic introduction, the first Ep was reminiscent of Scumbrigade and Decrepit but also hinted at a sense of versatility that would prove to strengthen with time. The second Kontrovers record, a split Ep in 2000 with Beyond Description on Crust As Fuck Records, was a heavier effort confirming the band's intent to add more layers, some moodiness and more variety to their songwriting while sticking with the wild scandicrust tradition. Indeed, their side of the split even had openly screamo moments, modern metal breaks and some blastbeats for good measures, which certainly conferred a manic epic vibe to the songs but also felt too disparate at times. Their side of the split Ep with Mass Separation, though released only in 2004, was recorded in late 99/early 00's and shared the same creative characteristics as the one with BD. Their next record, their first self-titled album, was recorded in 2001 by Rodrigo PLC and it was an undeniably stronger and more focused work that can be rightly considered as both one of the best Swedish crust Lp of the 00's and one of the most 00's-sounding of the decade's best scandicrust albums.

With my beloved brain cells slowly but irremediably deteriorating, I cannot say that I recall the reasons why I initially bought this cd. I must have thought that it looked quite nice on the website (probably Hardcore Holocaust's) and the label's pitch must have implied that the album, usually referred to as "a classic for this day and age", was taking the genre "to the next level", if not "to a brand new dimension". Needless to say that I was then an ingenuous and dupable young fellow. I have very fond (if hazy) memories of playing this cd on my crappy boom box while smoking weed in my tiny room in Manchester and trying to make out the different layers of guitars and vocals and count the many changes of pace, sometimes in less than a single minute and being quite amazed although probably a bit too high to understand what was really going on. This 2002 offering is an intense and crushing album that sounds genuinely passionate and heartfelt. The album benefits greatly from the perfectly tuned teamwork between the two guitar players - serpentine melodic leads answering to dark and heavy crusty käng riffs - and from the addition of a new singer, Carin, whose rough and hoarse vocal style would make one think she had just swallowed a box of nails and can be compared to such great crustesses as Mags from Excrement of War or Agnes from Homomilitia. Her voice fits the stylistic progression perfectly, reinforces the brutal crust edge of the music and takes Kontrovers into the canonical realms of polyvocal crust music, a tradition that, sadly, barely survived the mid-00's. The very dynamic vocal arrangements sometimes work in the classic time-tested trade-off style but also in more tone-related ways (one vocalist will take care of one particular musical phase), a versatile and manic structure that, combined with the extreme furious singing styles, is possibly what I enjoy the best from the album nowadays.   

The aural punishment as conveyed by the polyphonic crust horde behind the mikes in Kontrovers, though very aptly executed, was not exactly new in 2002. Kontrovers' first album can be said to firmly belong to the 00's crust wave because of its diversity of paces, its overall narrative moodiness and, of course, its dark melodic guitar leads (the first song actually opens on such a trope). On the whole, the album's core remains the traditional and obsessive scandicrust bulldozing of State of Fear, Skitsystem or 3-Way Cum, but Kontrovers infused a variety of paces and narrative styles to tell a poignant punk story of anger and love, from heavy and slow desperate-sounding post-hardcore moments, to relentless mangel-type d-beats, proper grindcore blast beats and the use of political samples over instrumental songs for the anarcho touch. And then of course, you've got the melodic leads over usually down-tuned heavy riffs, probably the most typical and clichéd trait of 00's neocrust, along with the emotional mid-paced break with high-pitched screamed vocals. To be quite honest, although Kontrovers did not overuse the Tragic guitar melodies (like certainly some did), in retrospect some perfectly good and effective brutal crustcore moments on the album get a little spoiled by that mood-changing technique. But then, I suppose that, if there had only been a couple of bands doing it then, it would have been quite alright, but our perception of music is a process conditioned through time and place and listening to this album with hindsight is a very different experience. I think it has definitely stood the test of time and, for all the neocrust leanings, there are enough devastating songs of brutal crustcore with brilliant male/female vocals to keep it afloat all along.            

Not unlike the of Easter Island statues', world experts are not completely sure of the origins of "the dark and epic melodic leads" invasion of the crust scene in the 00's but there is a growing consensus that the reptilians had nothing to do with it. Though the truth, after all, could be elsewhere, I would still humbly venture that its birth is threefold. The first point of entry would be essentially Swedish in style with Wolfpack's frequent use of cold yet melodic guitar leads that took their roots in classic Swedish death metal sound and I don't have to tell you how influential Wolfpack were in the mid/late 90's. Second, of course, you've got His Hero Is Gone and Tragedy, two rather different but highly inspiring animals, with the same down-tuned guitar players obsessed with the epic guitar leads of Burning Spirit Japanese hardcore bands. The third thread could be pulled from the heavy and monumental moody post-hardcore terrain laid down by Neurosis throughout the 90's and sometimes borrowed by From Ashes Rise. And besides it's not like melodic hardcore never happened anyway. To get back to Kontrovers, there is little doubt that what inspired their dark tunes was locally bred (just take a listen to Wolfbrigade's 2001 Progression/Regression if you want catch the mood of the times). As I said above, despite the obvious 00's markers, Kontrovers showed enough personality and passion to remain quite unique and I can happily listen to the 20 songs in 35 minutes. It sounds like Scumbrigade, His Hero Is gone, Disrupt and Wolfbrigade rioting and howling in a snow globe.

The cd version comes in a lovely digisleeve (that means it's made of cardboard you dimwit) and a proper booklet with the lyrics, drawings and short explanations in English. Bass player Simon took care of the visual aspect of the album and it looks great, not far from outsider art with a genuine organic feel. Certainly, there was an effort to get away from all the visual stereotypes attached to the crust aesthetics and, compared to the visuals from the first parts of Wesh to Sweden (or even to the band's previous Ep's), you would be entitled to think Kontrovers played a totally different style of music. The lyrics tackle a vast array of political and personal topics, ranging from the usual anarcho rants about the police, sexism or materialism, to critiques of the use of gory imagery or of the constant boozing in hardcore punk or more intimate subjects like depression and helplessness. Not necessarily original but the whole thing looks, sounds and feels sincere and passionate and during this current gloomy period, sometimes that's all a punk may need. 
This album was released on Putrid Filth Conspiracy in 2002, the rather excellent label run by Rodrigo from Satanic Surfers (and quite paradoxically the only Swedish label involved in the records reviewed in this series) that put out records from Acursed, Sayyadina, Sanctum or Skitkids. After the demise of Kontrovers, Mattias and Simon teamed up with Rodrigo (from PFC and Satanic Surfers) and two Oskars from Project Hopeless to form the crust hardcore band Ursut. 


Kontrovers 2002               

Friday 4 December 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 5): Diskonto "Silenced by Oppression" Ep, 1996

As I mentioned in the first part of Wesh to Sweden - a series that is also the cheapest way to visit Sweden in our plague-ridden postmodernity - the realization that there was such a thing as "Swedish hardcore", that it was a valid concept, one that did not point at bandana-wearing Swedish nationals trying to be Agnostic Front or Minor Threat but referred to a hardcore punk subgenre that was recognizable, definable and specific to Sweden, came through a local radio show. The show was called Ça Rend Sourd (which translates as "it is deafening") and was broadcast every other sunday on the French Anarchist Federation's radio station, Radio Libertaire. Even as an innocent, not to mention rather thick, "streetpunk-oriented" teenager, I had heard many praises about the radio show which had genuine activist punk voices behind the microphones and played all kind of DIY punk music. It was only a matter of time before I started to listen religiously to Ça Rend Sourd, first out of sheer curiosity and then as a positive way to expand my punk horizons. I must admit that a lot of what they played was lost on young me and while I would love to tell you that, thanks to my incredible open-mindedness and my outstanding genetic background, I was hooked instantly to the sound of crust punk, the truth was much less flattering and I would often scoff at faster bands for their ridiculous vocals and the shortness of their songs while wondering why on Earth they only played bands I had never heard about. Still, I remember fondly chain smoking in my tiny bedroom and taping the shows so that I could play them again and write down the names of the songs and bands that I did like (in my pre-internet world, it was never an easy task, especially with the much dreaded combination of international band names and heavy French accents on a cheap boom box). 

As time passed, my highly perceptive self started to notice that the playlist always included bands described by the presenters as "d-beat" or "Swedish hardcore" and I became familiar with those terms and was able to roughly identify those genres. I distinctly remember a show of theirs when they played Mob 47 several times (could it have been some sort of Mob 47 special?) and other similar raw scandicore bands among which were Diskonto. For some reason, I recall being particularly impressed with that Diskonto song, with how raw, and yet energetic, it sounded like and thankfully the name "diskonto" was quite easy to catch and spell. The song was a short sharp shock of hardcore punk and I was in awe. From that point on, my tiny mind closely associated Diskonto with classy traditional Swedish hardcore, they became synonymous with the concept, genuine paragons of this furious hardcore subgenre that I was starting to discern with more and more ease, and I became healthily obsessed with them. This snotty raw hardcore edge coming from a modern band who tried to sound like an 80's one conferred an aura of mystery to them and symbolized a new underground world to me. I managed to tape their 1994 Ep, A Shattered Society, from a mate of mine who had acquired it on my ever persuasive recommendation. The fact that it was released on Profane Existence - a label I would have trusted with my own life at the time - taught me that the band was strongly politically-motivated and only confirmed what I already knew: Diskonto were for fucking real.

I remember getting the Silence by Oppression Ep and There is no Tomorrow album (on cd as usual) at about the same time and, while the former delighted me and delivered exactly what I was craving for, the latter had a much cleaner production that - I decided after as much deliberation I could muster - did not fit the songwriting and was missing that raw punk edge that, to me, represented what made Diskonto stand out from the rest. After this deep trauma, I never could listen to any 00's Diskonto (I am not familiar with most of their post-Their is no Tomorrow materials actually) and I have staunchly, if not defiantly, remained loyal to 90's Diskonto, as if a side had to be chosen. And I would not reasonably call myself a raw hardcore bigot incapable of enjoying any recording that doesn't sound like it was done on a rusty four-track, with out of tune instruments and paint tins for drums, as I have been known for a long time - and the most respectable witnesses can testify to that - to be a rather balanced individual quite capable to listen to overproduced hardcore when the situation justifies it. The thing with Diskonto, in my personal soundscape, is that they stood for that raw, cheap and direct punk sound that characterized what I loved in 80's punk music, and I didn't know that many contemporary Swedish bands at the time that went for a similar raw sound, on the contrary, by the late 90's/early 00's, most bands were looking for heavier, tighter and cleaner production (some would says more metal actually) so that Diskonto felt a bit unique. Of course Totalitär were raw but they sounded like they knew what they were doing and, unlike Diskonto, were tight as fuck, while Rajoitus - whose discography cd on Hardcore Holocaust was on heavy rotation - were very punk and very raw indeed but were much more Finnish hardcore-oriented and I was sadly unaware of Frigöra at the time (who were to Mob 47 what Disclose were to Discharge). If I wanted raw käng music played by an active band, Diskonto were the logical option and Silenced by Oppression certainly lived up to my raw punk expectations. The Silenced by Oppression Ep is a deeply gratifying experience if you know what you are in for: 10 songs and about as many minutes of raw käng.

Diskonto formed in 1992 in Uppsala, a town near Stockholm that had a vibrant, if rather incestuous hardcore crust scene in the 90's. In fact, Diskonto's singer Steffe and guitar hero Martin also played in Time Square Preachers and the same Steffe was also behind the mike in Zionide alongside Diskonto's drummer Malmen. A dozen of musicians for as many bands but then hasn't it always been the case since the 90's? If your innate sense of curiosity leads you to take a legitimate interest in the Uppsala käng scene of the early/mid 90's, I strongly suggest the Uppsala Crust compilation Ep from 1996 which will get you acquainted with wonderfully furious and raw scandicore bands like Dismachine, Abuse (who did a split 10'' with Diskonto in 1997) and Aparat. Diskonto appeared to have been very active in the mid-90's as they did no less than four different recording sessions with the same lineup between December, 1994 and late 1995, all in the ADM Studio in Uppsala. These logically resulted in quite a few releases with 1995's A Shattered Society Ep on Profane Existence, 1996's Silenced by Oppression on Clean Plate, the 1996 split Ep with mangel mongers Frigöra from Japan on Blurred Records (arguably the early lineup's most potent recording), 1996's More Power to the Cops... is Less Power for the People Ep on Malarie Records and a split Ep with Distjej for Crust Records in 1997. The band kept recording at a steady pace afterwards with a new lineup - Daniel (from Dellamorte) and Jonas (from Dismachine) replacing Kaj and Malmen - and the 90's saw Diskonto further release a full album, the Destroy! Rebuild! Lp in 1996 for Reiterate Records, a split 10'' with their fellow Uppsala-based Abuse on Consume, Be Silent, Die (a jovial label if there ever was one) in 1997, the Diyanarchohardcorepunk Ep in 1998 for Retard Records and finally a second Lp, Freedom is Out of Sight on Crust as Fuck Records in 1998, followed two years later by There is No Tomorrow which I mentioned earlier. And of course, that's without mentioning eight appearances on various compilations. Diskonto were undeniably strongly motivated and prolific, busy bees with a passion for stripped down classic Swedish hardcore and radical anarcho politics. If quantity sometimes prevailed over quality during their first decade (I would argue that the Lp format did not really suit their basic raw style and were bound to include some fillers), I still believe that on Ep they were a formidable unit if you have more than a passing liking to käng. By which I mean, basically, if you are not a poser. 

When working on this review in my office (meaning in my Disclose pajamas), I have been thinking about the perception of Diskonto in the 90's by older punks who were already into Swedish hardcore. The 90's were saturated by Discharge-influenced hardcore bands. Whether they came from the d-beat/d-takt, käng, crust or mangel persuasion did not matter, they all believed in the same god. In the midst of all the Swedish heavyweights building on the Discharge mythology and its 80's Swedish children, Diskonto were completely of their time, their dis prefix acting as a relevant tribal sign ("diskonto" actually means "discount" in Swedish, a moniker that gets the band a mere C+ on the Swedish government's official Disnames Rating Scale - a barely passing grade) and there were many references to Anti-Cimex or Mob 47 (not only did they cover "War machine" but the sound engineers were nicknamed Anders Cimex and Nicke 47). Yet, Diskonto, at the apex of the Swedish 90's wave, were also quite different in the sense that they never attempted to rely on a heavy production like Driller Killer or Wolfpack, never incorporated metal or crust influences like Skitsystem or Warcollapse, never strove to be perfect dischargists like Dischange or Disfear. Indeed, the band's original drive was simply to play primitively raw, fast and aggressive, traditional 80's käng and I think that they succeeded in doing so. 

Silenced by Oppression could be likened to a stripped-down version of Anti-Cimex' Raped Ass-era (the solos especially point in that direction), but I am also hearing some Moderat Likvidation in the fast-paced shouted snotty vocals (undoubtedly one of the band's most easily recognizable feature) and raw punk-as-fuck käng acts like Kvoteringen or Rövsvett but driven with more Discharge-inspired riffs. The ten songs are unsurprisingly fast, juvenile and energetic, so to speak, käng-paced (a notch faster than the traditional d-beat), and they are all pretty much the same musically with similar song structures as the band enthusiastically goes directly to the point, the sloppy bits being the collateral damages of the angry hardcore attack. If you like your scandicore with a crushing production and scorching guitars, this won't probably be your thing, however if you in the mood for ten minutes summarising the quintessential raw energy of hardcore punk, this Ep will do perfectly. Just pure and unadulterated Swedish hardcore that is both strictly tied to a specific creative sphere of the 90's - one of replication and referentiality - and yet quite timeless because of its classicism. It is, in a very noble sense, typical raw käng. As such, it was a wonderful introduction to the 80's greats for me, one that prompted me to dig deeper into the world of obscure Swedish hardcore, and for that I will be forever grateful to Diskonto and to this Ep in particular. Silenced by Oppression was recorded in December, 1994, during the same session as A Shattered Society (although I like the song selection on Silenced by Oppression better) except for the Anti-Cimex cover, recorded in March, 1995, during the session that will give birth to the split with Frigöra and More Power to the Cops. 

The angry and direct confrontational lyrical content ranges from anti-capitalism, the glory of Finnish hardcore, the conformity of PC punk, alienation through fashion, war profiteers and a person whose name was pronounced "Käng" in Swedish which, indeed, is pretty funny. A note on the foldout reveals that the Ep was supposed to be released on the French-based Minstrel Records (that released a Zionide cd) and then on Eugene Records but it did not happen so Clean Plate (label of Will Killingsworth from Orchid that put out materials from From Ashes Rise, Detestation or Misery) stepped up and agreed to release it with that extra cover song. There is also a political anti-capitalist statement entitled Silenced by Oppression - Tied by the Ropes of Democracy that sums up the band's position about modern democracies and their inherent support of the Capital. Relevant sentiments, to be sure. Ironically, Diskonto were not that cheap in the end. 
This humble review is dedicated to the memory of Steffe, singer of Diskonto, Time Square Preachers, Zionide among other projects, who sadly passed away in 2018. I have never met the guy and this is really not much, but here is my tribute to a man who has, since 1992, sung several hundreds traditional Swedish hardcore songs in his life and, in a world based on shallowness, fashionability and instantaneity, such dedication and passion are admirable. May he rest in punk. 

It's the red version (obviously)
Silenced by Diskonto          

 *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.