Saturday 30 January 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (part 3): Lost "Fear-Strach" Lp, 2003

"Do you like Lost?
If you are ever being asked the above question during a dinner party held at normies' (collective gasp of horror), the possibility that they are referring to the once-famous-but-now-antiquated American series is strong indeed. In this particular case, it is highly advisable that you come up with something that will make you look both profound and witty in front of the guests - but not so much as to make them feel intellectually threatened - so that you get reinvited next time around (free food is free food after all). The very least you can do is bleat "They were all dead from the very start, innit?", a weak attempt perhaps but one that should insure that you are allowed to stay at least until dessert. If the very same question is formulated at an open air punk festival by a towering middle-aged crusty, still standing despite it being well past 4am, then it is a safe bet that the inquiry has to do with the early noughties Łódź-based band. If, under such circumstances, it is not, then you should probably avoid this interlocutor as you are about to embark on a lengthy conversation about metaphysical angst and the perpetual feeling of "lostness" or, as is more accurately in sententious academic circles, "Verlorenheit". That or a lunatic speech about survival in inhospitable and unfamiliar arctic forest and how to eat leaves, roots and shit (in that order). Either way, you 'd better head straight to the bar.
A couple of crows apparently no longer talking to one another
Discogs tells me that Lost has been a rather popular band name throughout the years, ranging from UK house techno breakbeat, Portuguese depressive black-metal, Italian eurodance or German gothic metal. Pick your kings. Going for Lost as a name is sound enough of course. Because it evokes powerful images of desolation and conveys an atmosphere of nothingness, it is an ideal moniker if you aim to create dark and oppressive music, a criterion that certainly applies to Polish crust and even more so to Lost, who were probably the heaviest and darkest band around at that time. 
I have already written at length about the Polish school of crust in the past, most notably through the Pulitzer-winning series Polish Tapes Not Police States (with Disgusting Lies, Monoteizm-Co-Existence, Stupor, Earth Movement, Undecided and Bisect) I did in 2018 but other 90's bands like the typical Money Drug, the classic Homomilitia and the mighty Filth of Mankind were also offered the Terminal Sound Nuisance treatment so that the TSN staff is far from unconversant with the Polish crust sound (it is even a job requirement). However, Fear-Strach cannot be sanely described as your typical crust band and, while Lost retained significant classic elements of crust, they were a distinctly different animal, one that did emerge from the same crust habitat but thrived on a different diet. Lost have often been referred to as a post-Homomilitia band, which is both true since Agnes used to sing in Homomilitia before and also something of an understandable distortion since, even though the other members were not part of it, Homomilitia were undeniably Poland's most iconic crust exports in the 90's. 
One meditative Deviated Instinct-ish crow
Lost formed in Łódź in 2000 with a lineup of Agnes on vocals, Jaro on the bass guitar and Marcin on the drums. Apparently Tomek from Filth of Mankind was the first guitar player but was quickly replaced with Simek and then a second guitar player, Jarek, joined in. It was this lineup that recorded the Thoughtless-Bez Zastanowienia Ep in 2001. Frytek then took over the drums and second guitar player Jarek left, thus giving birth to the team that would record one of the strongest crust Lp's of the decade, Fear-Strach. Beside Agnes' connection with Homomilitia, the Lost members were equally busy bees. Guitar player Jarek and drummer Frytek - along with Strzała from Red Corps and Homomilitia - also played between 2000 and 2004 in a band called Disable who, according to sources close to the matter, were quite popular and active at the time and actually toured with Lost. In fact, there was even a first incarnation of Disable in the mid-90's that did not last long and only played the one gig. If you are interested in hearing a sonic rendition of a meeting between Sanctus Iuda and Hellkrusher at a Hiatus gig in 1995 then the Disable cdr from 2003 comes highly recommended and it also gets additional old-school punk points for the use of the Disaster font before the Disaster reissues. Aforementioned Jarek and Frytek also teamed up with guitar player Simek in a rather obscure hardcore band called Hard Life in the early 00's, that never released anything but some videos of live performances can be found if you look hard enough, while Jarek also played in the much mysterious Compos Mentis. Have you been following?
A flying crow
The city of Łódź is often considered to be one of the birthplaces of the black-clad crust genre in Poland, for good reason, (the ace Nausea live Lp in Łódź only adding more to the mystique) and it has been delivering quality crust acts for the past three decades. Still, Lost's Fear-Strach went beyond what one could rightfully expect from a solid Polish crust punk work and proved to be a unique hybrid pervaded with a vibe that had no real equivalent in the crust universe, although it cannot be said to be really breaking new grounds either. I remember getting this record upon its release after reading a review of it in an issue of the Leeds-based Attitude Problem fanzine. I remember the iteration of the word "dark" throughout the short review which only meant that Lost were bound to sound, well, really dark. While I expected and presumed to embrace the music's darkness, I was not quite prepared to such a level of suffocating heaviness. I was aware of, but merely vaguely familiar with, the doom/sludge metal genre and therefore the punishingly massive slowness that make up large portions of Fear-Strach, interpersed with galloping vintage crust punk or mid-paced stenchcore moments, were almost too much to bear at times and would leave me drained and, well, in a really dark mood. I could withstand some slow and heavy music without hyperventilating though and enjoyed bands like Cult of Luna, Facedowninshit or indeed His Hero Is Gone. But Lost were different, nastier, more menacing, more organic, dirtier too, their hopeless anger barely contained, they sounded like I was being grabbed by the collar by a reincarnation of anger and given a right bollocking for no other reason than the world is a depressive and lonely place where illusions of happiness are left to rot and feed the crows. And while I am on the subject of morbid birds, crows, either literally or figuratively as symbols of decay, inform the whole of Fear-Strach. They are on the cover, on the backcover, on both labels, on both sides of the insert and on the introduction to the first song (while the terrifying last song "Słowa" starts with the barks of fighting dogs). I sense that, had it been available, Lost would have been called Crow but then they just had to give up all hope.
The band photoshopped inside a giant crow
As expressed subjectively above, Lost blended metallic old-school crust with sludge and doom metal, resulting patently in a heavy, downtuned and joyless mixture that one could locate on the fringes of the crust sandbox. The most obvious influence is the New York City doom-crust band 13 which Lost cover and even thank on this album, but I guess Grief, for their antipathic aggression, and Eyehategod, for their mean rocking aspect, are worth mentioning too. As far as the sheer display of crust power is concerned, late Nausea also come as an evident inspiration, especially when Lost rock their devastating mid-paced moments, as well as the late 80's heavy versatile and pissed sound of Contropotere and I cannot help but hear some modern version Guttural Breath-era Deviated Instinct at times, but probably out of a similar creative intent rather than design. Counterblast's Balance of Pain is also a work that meaningfully sprang to mind, not because Fear-Strach sounds like it, but because both albums presented something different and hybrid, full of personality, but still completely congruent with the crust orthodoxy with its crunchy and filthy - but precise like the rest of the instruments - guitar sound. The incredible vocals of Agnes emphatically propel the music forward into furious oppressiveness. Never has her voice sounded as harsh and almost possessed with uncontrollable pain, although it has to be said that by the time Homomilitia recorded their second album, she was already experimenting with a throatier and raspier vocal style (akin to Alicia 13 and Mags Excrement of War). She prominently affected the overall vibe and atmosphere of Lost, enhancing the overwhelming intensity and black vibe of the music. Polish crust has had a long tradition of powerful female-fronted bands, from pioneers Homomilitia, Silna Wola, Stradoom Terror, Monoteizm-Co-Existence, Stupor, Insuiciety or current bands like Social Crisis (to name only the crusty bands, there are far more examples in other subgenres) and Lost were potent representatives of that tradition.
A surprisingly crow-free poster
The lyrics of Lost are, well, really dark. Depression, loneliness, inner pain, isolation and of course the obligatory anti-system song, everything that inevitably bury your joy of living deep into the cold ground. The band's Ep, Thougthless-Bez Zastanowienia, from 2001, is also thoroughly enjoyable, though not as heavy and sensibly faster. I would argue that the full album format fits Lost's songwriting, meaningfulness and aesthetic ambitions far better and, with Fear-Strach lasting over 40 minutes, they did cleverly take their time to build the atmosphere they craved for. An atmosphere that is, well, really dark. The Lp was released on Malarie Records, well-known and proficient label from Czech, and Berlin-based Schandmaul Records. 
Really dark indeed. 

More crows

Friday 22 January 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (Part 2): Consume "Forked Tongue" Ep, 2003

Serious talk. Modern society has grown to be ruled by an endless cycle of frustrations temporarily relieved with virtual gratifications quickly spoiled and cut short witg new frustrations and so on. Our culture of instantaneity hasn't just significantly reduced our attention span - as it was being jeopardized for a long time and its eventual sacrifice to the ogreish youtube should surprise only the most inanely deluded - it has also, in the same movement, greatly shortened the lifespan of every cultural items and artifacts produced in this new age, be it movies, fashion, music or even food. Punk music, by which I mean all genres, subgenres and subgenres' subgenres, has too fallen prey to such a mode of relating and engaging to the art produced by our collective culture. This could hardly be called groundbreaking news and our social behaviours have been made much more conspicuous online than they ever were but, unless we pause to look at ourselves carefully, we sometimes do not realize it, or rather, we are aware of it but choose to store it in the denial facility of our brain and only comment upon it in an ironic and detached postmodern fashion. Cheap marketing techniques applied to the DIY punk economy make us endlessly and feverishly jump from band to band, so eager not to miss on the latest hype of a hot label that will be replaced with yet another hyped band in three months. Perhaps it was always like this and the new technological tools only made the vanity fair more visible and although I am no cunning university scholar with a PhD in sociology and an inflated air of self-importance (I am just innately pompous), I still know the punk basics and it pains to see how wrong Infa-Riot were. Five minute fashions are very much here to stay.
Those solemn thoughts crossed my mind upon watching some early 90's wrestling match involving the legendary André "the Giant". It was not a great one as he was already barely able to wrestle properly but it reminded me of that hipsterish brand shamelessly using André's face that many a trendy wanker craved for some years ago: Obey. At some point, their bloody logo could be seen in every fashionable and supposedly "edgy" gentrified neighbourhoods of the capital and I remember feeling the burning desire to inflict surgical German suplexes to all the knobheads who defiled the great André. The name of the brand also illustrated the eloquent paradox of modernity since all those people ironically wearing the injunction to obey in order to assert their dislike of "the mainstream" were in fact displaying their obedience to the herd mentality inherent in fashion and a desperate will to fit in with the cool crowd. The unique taste of millions indeed. At least the Obey brand could be used as a highly efficient hipster detector and that's still something, right? Of course the name "obey" referred to John Carpenter's cult subversive movie They Live, starred by the magnificent Rowdy Roddy Piper so that the brand managed to be insulting to two iconic wrestlers (you could definitely add a figure-four leg lock to the aforementioned suplex). And then by a strange association of ideas, I started to think about the band Consume, another reference to They Live, but one that, stemming from a DIY political crust punk band, made far more sense and was absolutely deprived of cheap and smug irony. So I played their records, some had not seen my turntable for quite some time, really enjoyed them and started to think about a new series with only 00's crust bands that deserve to be held in the highest regard and be said to be, with firmness, the dog's bollocks.

Although Consume did not play for that long, they left a significant mark on the crust-oriented punks in the early and mid-00's and whenever you mention their name, the general consensus appears to be, by and large, that Consume were great on records and savage on stage. Regrettably, I missed them on their European tour with Hellshock in 2003 because I was living in Manchester at the time and, like an unperceptive nincompoop, I imagined that I would just catch them the next time and did not bother coming home for the occasion. But you can't cheat karma and Hellshock never played in Paris again and, to this day, I feel a gnawing jealousy toward my undeserving friends who were actually at the gig. Following this tour, it seemed that every crusty and their dogs had Consume patches or shirts which only made it more damaging for the morale. Reflecting on this, it is both quite amusing and revealing to notice how the display of a given patch indicated one's presence at a particular gig, acting as a dependable crust radiocarbon dating. Perhaps that, in the future, head-scratching archaeologists will struggle to date with accuracy the mummified crusties they found under derelict distro tables but, future Professor Grants, if they do have Consume patches on their bumbags, their involvement in the scene in the early 00's is a safe estimate (that academic researchers have any access to Terminal Sound Nuisance after the apocalypse is another question entirely). A couple of years later the same phenomenon could be observed with another band whose name bloomed on many a pair of crust pants and sleeveless jacket as well, Pisschrïst, and like Consume, the band was a powerhouses live (one I never had the chance to witness...), a description that even punks generally unconcerned about d-beat hardcore agreed to. 

Based in Seattle, Consume's relative popularity also originated from the reliable pedigree of its members: Jay had played in the mighty State of Fear back in Minneapolis and, of course, the legendary Disrupt, Jim had been a member of Shitlist, of the rather underrated Decrepit (alongside drummer Jon) and of Whorehouse of Representatives, while Ryan had done time in the grinding Cephlatripe. This lineage certainly informed not only Consume's sound but also their reputation, and, to an extent, people's esteem for them. This said, they were probably too good to even need to rely on their 90's punk adventures anyway. Although I missed them, my mates had not therefore would occasionally burst into dithyrambs on Consume's merits. The band's records were on heavy rotation and, because they provided a brilliant template for feral-yet-rocking crust hardcore with pissed lyrics, they were a major influence on us. We also relished the faster more Mob 47-inspired take of State of Fear and Disrupt's mid-90's uncontainable fury, of course, and Consume appeared to blend both with dramatic ease. Despite their relatively brief run, Consume released many records, although they only did two recording sessions, one in February, 2003, at Seattle's Mount Analogue, when they recorded 17 songs that would appear on split Ep's with rising stenchcore heavyweights Hellshock and Resolve (a Minneapolis team with former members of Detestation, State of Fear and Scorned among others), this Forked Tongue Ep, the Who's the Real Monster Ep (with an angry white shark on the cover like External Menace on their split with Recharge) and a mysterious compilation Ep on Spiral Records that was never released. Insane Society then issued a self-titled cd in 2004 including all the songs from that first session. In August, 2003, Consume came back to the same studio to put nine new songs to tape for a split Lp with Born/Dead on Yellow Dog Records. That makes 26 songs in a single year, which might suggest that the band had devised some kind of käng riff machine that no one knows about. 

In terms of style, Consume could be found at the intersection between the familiar riff-driven 90's käng path and the well-trodden 90's crustcore one. An explosive recipe indeed. Totally free from the pomposity of neocrust (or epicrust), Consume proved to be able to pull out all the variations and paces of d-beat with apparent ease. From the slower hard-hitting one (aka dad's d-beat), to the more traditionally framed (trad d-beat) or the frantic mangel (c-beat), the six songs that make up Forked Tongue encompass the whole range of d-beat. Variety in D major, so to speak. Another strength of Consume lied in the actual songwriting. The riffs are always accurate, impactful and groovy and thanks to a great rough dual vocal work, all the songs become quite memorable. Although I had not played the Ep for a long time, I still remembered every hooks and arrangements and it has held up very well in my opinion. Consume's rocking vibe never impaired their ability to sound seriously aggressive and incisive like a friendly but intense melee between Disrupt, Tolshock, React, State of Fear and Uncurbed. Happiness and glee do not exactly emanate from Consume's lyrics which tackle in an in-your-face fashion our disconnect with nature, pollution, The United States' outrageous treatment of Native Americans throughout the ages (hence the visuals on the covers and the Ep's title) or the dark recesses depression with the song "Rise", their better and most poignant words on the record. 
Forked Tongue was released on Portland's Dissonant Sound Industries, a short-lived early 00's label that also put out records from Protest Stagnation (the label owner played in the band) and Poland's Antichrist. I think that drummer Jon stayed in Europe (Barcelona, I think) after the end of the tour and formed the excellent crust punk tornado Cop On Fire with members of Ekkaia. The remaining members of Consume would form Deathraid in 2007, a band that is still gloriously running and that I see as the logical continuation of the sound and mentality that Consume embraced at the beginning of the noughties. A very fine band with members that have been flying the filthy flag of hardcore crust with dedication and heart for a long time.    


Monday 18 January 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (part 1): Χειμερία Νάρκη "Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης" Lp, 2003

Let's all welcome 2021 and cheer happily for Terminal Sound Nuisance's brand new series: How Crust Survived the New Millennium. As its title unequivocally suggests, from my usual refined diachronic perspective, the series will deal with crust music recorded between 2000 and 2009 and how, as a genre, it evolved stylistically and quantitatively after what can be rightly regarded as the apex of crust music, namely the 90's. The tried and tested analytical recipe, really. But, for your greatest enjoyment, the prism will also be synchronic as fuck as I selected twelve records that, beside telling something meaningful and relevant about the evolutionary state of crust, also showcases what the decade had best to offer, records that, their creative context notwithstanding, can be considered both as classic 00's crust works and timeless crust classics. Serviceable stuff. I suppose the twattish saying "go big or go home" would apply to this incredibly ambitious undertaking but then, we are all pretty  much home because of the pandemics anyway. 
The conception of a selection aimed at providing the masses, especially the unwashed ones, with "the best of 00's crust music" is a tricky endeavour indeed and one is faced with a number of serious problems (even when, it pains me to say, one is as intellectually gifted as me). First of course, I have already written about noughties crust music on several occasions and there seems to be little point in repeating myself, for all our sakes. Some previously tackled crucial and influential 00's crust bands had to be removed from the list as a consequence, like Acrostix, Hellshock or Filth of Mankind, although you could very well argue that the two latter bands did release some of the most potent crust albums of the decade. Another issue you have to think of is the objective worth of a given crust work. There are some records that I found breathtakingly tremendous and certainly overplayed when they came out in 2006, works that I claimed to anyone who would listen (basically two or three friends) were bound to become undisputed classics but that, with the benefit of hindsight, are just solid, perhaps very good even, but cannot be deemed as classics, although more often than not they were very much classic, knowhatimean? Finally, my customary open-mindedness led me to choose records that illustrate the variety of crust in terms of style and origins. I could very easily have only picked bands from the so-called stenchcore revival - undoubtedly that decade's glorious pivotal moment for the genre - but decided against it for the sake of diversity and because I could not imagine myself writing five articles about American bands trying hard to apply a d-beat to Bolt Thrower songs (not that there is anything wrong with such a programme in essence). It also made sense to select bands from different countries or regions so as to be able to emphasize local crust idiosyncrasies. Twelve bands seems like a good enough number of bands and we will see how I manage to get on with it what with my nine children and my thriving wrestling career to cope with.
And let's start right away with an album that could conceivably be considered as the best crust album of the 00's: Χειμερία Νάρκη's Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης. Since most of us are not Greek speakers (although I did take some highly unsuccessful classes in Ancient Greek when I was in middle school), the record I am alluding to is Into the Silence of Eternal Sorrow by Hibernation. It does not take a genius to notice that I am a massive fan of Greek crust as I have reviewed records pertaining to the genre on several occasions and even compiled a Greek crust anthology (Ελληνική κρούστα's apocalyptic crust epics) which, even for a constantly smug bastard like myself, I am especially proud of. If you ask me, the long-running Greek crust school still does not really get all the credit and recognition it deserves and, not unlike a modern day Sisyphus, with less athleticism but a similar determination and far more Discharge shirts, I shall fight until my dying breath to right this wrong and make rectitude triumph.     

Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης is the best Greek crust album of the 00's, by which I mean that it is both the best crust album coming from Greece and the best album of "Greek crust" to be understood as a proper branch of the crust genre and not just a geographical indication. If you have never come across the notion of "Greek crust", my first instinctive reaction would be to slap you in the face and yell "Sort your life out!" but since I am a peaceful person with anarchistic tendencies, a strong believer in mutual aid, always keen on sharing knowledge, not to mention neither good at fighting nor running, I suppose the pedagogical way sounds far more reasonable. By 2003, Greek crust was certainly not a new ecosystem and it makes sense to see Χειμερία Νάρκη's Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης as a continuation of all the magnificent works of the 90's rather than the coming of a new generation. Hot on the trail of the original British wave, Greek crust initially started in the late 80's under the impulse of old-school crust bands like Ξεχασμένη Προφητεία (Forgotten Prophecy), Χαοτικό Τέλος (Chaotic End) or Βιομηχανική Αυτοκτονία (Industrial Suicide) and also of thrashing metallic punk units like Ναυτία (Nausea), Χαοτική Απειλή (Chaotic Threat) or Πανικός (Panikos) and the genre steadily expanded throughout the 90's. It could be argued that Greek punks understood the essence and aesthetics of the original old-school UK crust wave better than most (at least as well as the OC crusties) and tended to its sound and spirit with raging love and bellicose desperation. I don't really know why the sound of Amebix, Antisect or Axegrinder had such a massive influence over there but it definitely struck a chord. But there is something more epic and melancholy to the traditional Greek crust sound, so that, even though one can easily detect influences from the UK canon, Greek bands never sounded derivative or too referential as they turned the traditional style into something unique, shaping their own distinct, unmistakable take on the crust genre, with a lot of heavy and mournful synth-driven mid-tempo metallic crust ballads which have grown to become a trademark of the genre. The systematic use of the very crust-compatible Greek language with its peculiar prosodics also played an important role in distinguishing Greek crust from the rest, but in my opinion, even sung in English, you can recognize the Greek style as building on the foundations of the early sound and acting as a continuation and even as an improvement of it, becoming a style of its own. 
In 2003, Χειμερία Νάρκη from Athens was not the first punk band from Greece I came across as I already owned a tape from ΑΛΤ TC. The band had a split Lp with 20 Minutes de Chaos from France so I suppose they must have sent their previous work to French distros. I am not sure where I ordered Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης (of course I got the cd version as it had the second Ep as a bonus so it sounded like a right bargain) but I do recall the raving review in Slug and Lettuce. Phrases like "brooding metallic crust" or "remind me of Nausea" were written (or similarly intended ones) so that, in addition to the recommendations of Chris being always judicious, I went for the geezer straight away. I vividly remember playing the cd for the first time and being gobsmacked at the ferocity and the level of intensity of the recording. Even a crust novice like myself could realize that it was a mature, thought-out and carefully crafted crust album that could not have been birthed by young'uns and I started to wonder cautiously whether there were other crust bands in Greece. The answer to this existential question was gradual and I had to wait a few years until I was able to really formulate the postulate of Greek crust as a genre. But in 2003, I was clueless about Greek crust and innocently indulged in overplaying Hibernation and although my mates were all impressed with the cd, the band's origin and name did raise a few circumspect eyebrows. 
Χειμερία Νάρκη in 2003 was not exactly a beginners' band indeed with the guitar player and singer Αλέκος being an ex-member of Χαοτικό Τέλος (Chaotic End) and Ξεχασμένη Προφητεία (Forgotten Prophecy) - Χειμερία Νάρκη actually covered both bands in their early days - and drummer and singer Γιάννα playing in Πυρηνικός Χειμώνας (Nuclear Winter). The band had originally emerged in 1996 with Αλέκος and two members of the excellent dark hardcore punk band Νεκρική Σιγή (Dead Silence) and can therefore be seen as a 90's band carrying the crust torch in the following decade although, on the whole, most of the classic Greek crust bands had sadly split by the early noughties and even Hibernation stopped playing for a couple of years after the release of the Lp. The absence of touring to support it may account for its relative lack of international recognition at the time, which the success of the stenchcore revival that was precisely kicking in made all the more paradoxical. Χειμερία Νάρκη released their first self-titled Ep in 1997 on Malarie Records from Czech Republic and it was, as expected, a brilliant slab of gruff, groovy and thick traditional Greek crust (reminiscent of the mighty Ψύχωση (Psychosis)) with the antisectish plant logo on the cover that makes the ole heart beat. With a new lineup, in 2000 on the German-based Maximum Voice Production (although it says Power It Up on the backcover), they recorded the Μοναξιά Ep, a more atmospheric but just as intense dark metallic crust effort with added Χαοτικό Τέλος-styled synthesizer for good eerie measure and the first appearance of Γιάννα on vocals on the two songs of the side B, prefiguring the formidable dual vocal crust attack that would prevail on the album.

The creation of a truly grand crust album can be a tricky journey that many bands have proved to be unable to successfully complete. It is not enough to just write ten solid crust songs, you need to have a meaningful and potent story to tell through their assemblage. It has to be a narrative effort and, thanks to its epic and atmospheric nature, Greek crust is a genre that allows for brilliant storytelling and narration. Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης sounds like a very cohesive whole and, if all the songs make sense, can be listened to and appreciated separately as distinct units and stories, I feel that their true power shine when they are taken as interrelated sonic parts of one strong crust narrative. This first Χειμερία Νάρκη album hits hard indeed, as they are a faster, more relentless band, if less monumental, band than Χαοτικό Τέλος. There is a distinct plot on an album that, of course, starts with a crushing introduction and then grabs the listener by the (sore) throat and inflict upon him or her all the scope of crust emotions, anger, melancholy, doom, gloom, terror, despair and awe before the power of nature (a recurring theme on the Lp). The album cannot really be said to be "synth-driven", as there is no omnipresence like in late Amebix or early Χαοτικό Τέλος for instance. However, whenever the synth comes into play, which is often, it always genuinely benefits and adds to the meaning and impact of the song, providing a touch of sadness or of hope or some eeriness, like on the opening track. A very clever use of it that I wish had inspired more bands.

By the early 00's, the members of Χειμερία Νάρκη were experienced enough not to really claim outside influences on the songwriting. They fit the Greek crust style perfectly and were undeniably the most potent ambassadors of that school for the generation that got into crust in the early noughties. If I were to describe it properly - and I suppose I am - I would redundantly, the connections being so obvious, namedrop some classic local crust classics like Ψύχωση, Χαοτικό Τέλος or Ξεχασμένη Προφητεία, but also invite to the table the dark aggressive power of canonical UK (proto)crust bands like early Axegrinder or Antisect, invoke the metallic fury of Nausea, summon the eurocrust groove of Hiatus and probably allude to Disaffect's legendary dual vocal arrangement. But it does not mean Χειμερία Νάρκη specifically intended to emulate those bands or made such an insecure list since they belonged to that early crust generation as well and therefore shared common recipes. I like to consider Χειμερία Νάρκη's sound as post-Antisect, in the same way Coitus or Extinction of Mankind were, the reliance on the classic Antisect sound and worldview acting as a strong foundation to build on, rework and create something different but still meaningfully connected. 

You could very well see Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης as an album written in the 90's but recorded in the 00's. The production is perfect for this style of crust, the vocals are very upfront so that you can feel the whole spectrum of emotions (quite possibly the best male/female dual vocal work in that decade), the sound of the drums is a bit distracting at first but I personally really like it as it gives you the impression of being relentlessly trampled by a herd of feral horses (and I am not just saying that because I have a strong dislike for the equids), the guitar sounds heavy and crunchy and the riffs are everything an elite crusty is entitled to expect, simple in their construction but always purposeful and appropriate. Visually, the cover does not look like your average crust band album's - no skulls or mushroom clouds fly here - and the tortured and melting bodies of Dante's inferno are probably more reminiscent of doom-metal visually. The thick booklet provided with the album is even more surprising as it includes pictures of rocks, mountains, volcanoes, trees, giving a very primal and elemental vibe that goes perfectly with the epic crust music. I must say I was a little baffled by the visuals when I originally bought Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης upon its release as I craved for more typical and self-evident imagery but I grew to appreciate the conceptual pictures of nature, though I still struggle a little with the Lp cover itself (would the surrealist drawing of a three-headed social monster on the booklet's cover have been a wiser choice?). In the end, such aesthetics might have repelled the less curious chapter of the crusties' federation at a time when you could not instantly stream the thing. Lyrically, Χειμερία Νάρκη are an angry bunch with deep political lyrics about alienation, paranoia, oppression, our inner struggles and also the power of a nature as symbolizing a possible liberation from the chains of the system. Heartfelt words to be sure and the delivery cannot fool anyone into believing anything else.

Στη Σιωπή Της Αιώνιας Θλίψης was released in 2003 on Power It Up and Skuld Releases (certainly one of the best Lp's Skuld ever put out) and, well, it is actually still available from Ruin Nation right here. Following the Lp Χειμερία Νάρκη went into hibernation (yes, I couldn't help pulling out this top pun) and their next work, a split Ep with grindcore band Slavebreed, saw the light of day in 2012. Finally, in 2018 they released their second album, Στα Χρόνια Της Ερήμωσης (In the Years of Desolation), yet another crust masterpiece but that will be for a different time.

Friday 1 January 2021

Käng of the North! A Swedish Odyssey (1992-1999)

Don't act so surprised, you could have seen this one coming from miles away. It was high time I dealt properly with the Swedish fury that came out of the 1990's and as a result, thanks to the utmost seriousness and humility that characterize me, I proved to be, as per usual, amazingly successful. But let's get to the customarily lengthy introduction first. 


It is true that I have already touched upon the 90's wave of Dis-inspired hardcore punk that swept across Sweden in the two classic series about D-beat and Discharge love, namely The Chronicles of Dis and Sonatas in D Major, and with the glorious compilation The Beat to End All Beats. Besides, Sweden's crustcore heroes like Warcollapse or 3-Way Cum have already been reviewed at length on Terminal Sound Nuisance and even invited to the famous Christmas celebration A Crustmas Carol. So what I mean to say is that there is little point in rephrasing what has been thoroughly developed before. However, the scope of Käng of the North (I mean, lol, right?) is quite different. Indeed, it aims at covering all the different branches of Dis-centric punk schools that bloomed vigorously in Sweden while the previous series about the specific conception and evolution of d-beat and crust had an international focus, although Swedish bands obviously played an important part in both. Therefore, the inclusion of Meanwhile or Warcollapse on Käng of the North has to be seen from the synchronic perspective of the national explosion of käng-inspired hardcore and crust music in the 90's. 

Even a well-meaning and open-minded individual untrained to the subtleties of the D-related subgenres would probably feel a little lost with this cryptic compilation and think that he or she has just been cruelly subjected to 75 minutes of the exact same song in a row played by 58 bands and, well, it cannot be denied that Käng of the North can turn into a rather confusing experience, albeit a potentially very pleasing, if not epiphanic, one. The primary purpose of the selection is not, however, to demonstrate that 90's Swedish discore was redundant and generic, although to an extent it was deliberately repetitive indeed, but to illustrate the subtleties and the very significant variations in terms of sound, pace, musicianship, vocal tones (and of course the degree of Discharge love) there were between the different subgenres. Käng of the North is as much about similarities as it is about differences and both can be very enjoyable. After all, isn't the devil in the d-tails? 

The whole range of Swedish brutality is represented in Käng of the North, from the contemporary gruff 90's eurocrust style of Holocrust or Genocide SS, to the raw mangel mania of Krigshot or Dismachine, the "just like Discharge" style of Meanwhile or Discard, the raw retro punky käng style of Diskonto or Aparat, the massive and nasty rocking sound of Driller Killer or Wolfpack, the shitlicking chaos of Discontrol or Fucking Chaos (!), the rather clean and precise sound hardcore sound of Svart Snö or Sunday Morning Einsteins, the death-metallic vibe of Skitsystem, the pub-friendly cruising d-beat of Fleshrevels and Avskum, the anarchocrust vibe of Scumbrigade and ENS or the unbeatable riff-driven raw and raspy catchiness of scandicore's references Totalitär and No Security. 80's Swedish hardcore and its historic Discharge roots are, in varying degrees, the cultural and creative ties between all these bands and you will notice that, while some bands went for very clean and heavy "modern" production, others were quite content to keep a rough and ready sound, both takes of course making for distinct styles of hardcore but also conveying different intents and subjective tastes, although the bands could be equally influenced by Anti-Cimex, Doom or Svart Parad. 

Undeniably, Sweden was a unique case in the DIY international punk scene in the 90's - and it still is even if many scenes have copied the käng style outside Sweden from the 90's on - and its number of Dis-oriented bands is particularly impressive (in fact, from a French point of view, it even looks insultingly superior). There could be many reasons for the development of this trend: the country's own specific hardcore background with its unlimited passion for Discharge, Mob 47 and Anti-Cimex combined with a couple of genuinely excellent and recognized driving local bands; the worldwide crust and extreme metal explosion in the early 90's; a strong rock culture nationwide; an easy access to practice space and instrument and nothing better to do in the winter. Or perhaps there was something in the water or, even more plausible, after misunderstanding the lyrics of Discharge, some benevolent punk pilots just dropped hundreds of copies of Why and Hear Nothing - literally dis, dis from abooooove - on Sweden's major cities.    

We either live in strange times or punk's intellectual laziness is just more visible today. Whereas the overwhelming quantity of music instantly available is staggering, in parallel, most critical receptions of old and new punk works have been paradoxically reduced to monosyllabic comments on social media or youtube (when it's not just casually "liked") while internet's vicious equalizing process has caused the decontextualization of punk music. As a result, very different-sounding Dis bands are often being dumped in vague, ill-defined "crust" or "d-beat" categories, that are meant to stand for any band that plays faster and harder than Black Flag or GBH. Hopefully, the compilation will emphasize the sometimes subtle, but nonetheless real, crucial differences that define and distinguish Dispense from Dissober. As I pointed out, all the bands are essentially Dis-centric entities building on 80's käng in order to revive, rework, develop, replicate, toughen up, crustify or dischargify the legacy and I left out the US-influenced Swedish bands, the slower crust units, as well as the melodic hardcore, the 90's anarchopunk and the grindcore acts. I tried to be as exhaustive as possible but some 90's Swedish bands fitting in with my analytical postulate of research may very well have escaped my accurate panoptic vision, so feel free to add any band that I unluckily missed in the comment section. Or better even, send me the lossless files with the full bio will you?

I would like to thank Zeno for the rips he sent me a while back and proved to be very helpful in the making of Käng of the North. Thanks mate.

Here are the culprits that are bound to lighten up your New Year's Eve lockdown party, all tracks were recorded between 1992 and 1999 and I did my best to offer quality rips as usual:

01. Asocial « Rebound reality » from Distortion to Hell compilation cd, 1994
02. Meanwhile « Above our heads » from Remaining Right: Silence cd, 1995
03. Cumbrage « Forced to destroy » from Worlds Burning cd, 1997
04. Svårsmält « Apatiskt liv » from Distortion to Hell…And Back Vol.3 compilation cd, 1995
05. Time Square Preachers « Ain’t smiling » from Don’t Be Numb!!! Ep, 1994
06. Abuse « Var verklighet » from I Guds Namn? Ep, 1996
07. Greenscab « Människan É Sjuk » from Swedish HC Comp. cd, 1997
08. Sauna « Money » from People Killing People split Lp with Disrupt, 1994
09. Dissober « America did this » from Sober Life… No Way cd, 1994
10. Discard « Stand up and fight back » from Four Minutes Past Midnight Lp, 1994
11. Driller Killer « Who? » from Brutalize cd, 1994
12. Visions « Middle East » from Swedish HC Comp. cd, 1997
13. Aparat « Samhällets Bottensats » from S/t split Ep with Totuus, 1997
14. Dismachine « Morotsprofeten » from S/t split Ep with Cumbrage, 1995
15. Sunday Morning Einsteins « Sånger som den här » from Swedish Hardcore Must Die Lp, 1999
16. Atomvinter « Kravall » from S/t 10’’ with Start Snö, 1996
17. Victims « My revolution » from S/t split Ep with Acursed, 1999
18. Slaganfall « Words to regard » from S/t split 10’’ with Scumbrigade, 1998
19. Mörder « Lås Din Dorr » from Really Fast Volume 10 compilation 2xcd, 1999
20. Genocide SS « A new wave of hatred » from Hail the New Storm cd, 1997
21. Totalitär » Nytta, nytta, nytta » from S/t split Lp with Dismachine, 1995
22. Diskonto « Truismer » from Silenced by Oppression Ep, 1996
23. Disfear « Min elegi » from S/t Ep, 1992
24. Tolshock « Moraliskt horeri » from The Heritage of Violence Ep, 1999
25. 3-Way Cum « Poisoned by your greed » from Battle of Opinions Ep, 1993
26. Holocrust « Holocrust » from Arrogant State unreleased Ep, 1995
27. Dishonest « Mania for drugs » from Swedish HC Comp. compilation cd, 1997
28. ENS « Sexist scum » from Swedish HC Comp. compilation cd, 1997
29. Society Gang Rape « Regardless massacre » from S/t split Ep with Uncurbed, 1996
30. Scumbrigade « Being in a band is no excuse for being an asshole » from Really Fast Volume 10 compilation 2xcd, 1999
31. No Security « Med vilken rätt » from S/T split Ep with Crocodileskink, 1995
32. Dispense « When will it stop » from Nothing But the Truth Ep, 1993
33. Uncurbed « System sting » from Peacelovepunklife…Andotherstories Lp, 1998
34. Acursed « Liberate » from A Fascist State…In Disguise cd, 1998
35. Disregard « Chaos » from Distortion to Hell…And Back compilation cd, 1995
36. Avskum « Karma cruz » from From Vision to Nightmare Ep, 1998
37. Masslakt « Snut as » from S/t Ep, 1997
38. Fucking Chaos « Krossade… skallar » from Really Fast Volume 10 compilation 2xcd, 1999
39. Discontrol « Mental overload » from Neanderthal Crust: the Primitive Way split Ep with Demisor, 1999
40. Unarmed « Feeding the death » from S/t split Ep with How Long?, 1997
41. Wolfpack « No neo bastards » from Allday Hell Lp, 1999
42. Hall Keft « Den ömsesinnigt garanterade förintelsen » from Iron Columns compilation 2xLp, 1999
43. Dischange « Image of welfare » from Seeing Feeling Bleeding cd, 1993
44. No Admission « Depraved »  from Distortion to Hell Again!! Vol.2 (the Demo Series) compilation cd, 1995
45. Snifter « Shades of your god » from Distortion to Hell Again!! Vol.2 (the Demo Series) compilation cd, 1995
46. Final Holocaust « Male oppression » from Your Own Holocaust Ep, 1997
47. Krigshot « Krigshot (Mob 47 cover) » from Iron Columns compilation 2xLp,1999
48. Kontrovers « Den sanna lyckan » from Skendedemokrati Ep, 1999
49. Bombraid « Life path » from Elegies from a Closed Chapter Ep, 1994
50. Skitsystem « Dödsmaskin » from Ondskans Ansikte 10’’, 1996
51. The Perukers « Spräckta snutskallar / Cracked copskulls (Shitlickers cover) » from GBG 1992 Ep, 1993
52. Harass « Religion spiller blod » from Swedish HC Comp. compilation cd, 1997
53. Disfornicate « Doomsday art » from …And the Darkman Smiles split Ep with Disregard, 1995
54. Zionide « Starved and disfigured » from Newsflash cd, 1995
55. Warcollapse « Bleakness over battlefields » from Indoctri-Nation Ep, 1993
56. Svart Snö « Ett väl utvecklat vansinne » from S/t split 10’’ with Atomvinter, 1996
57. Fleshrevels « I prefer lager » from Stoned and Out cd, 1995
58. Anti-Cimex « Scandinavian jawbreaker part I » from Scandinavian Jawbreaker Lp 1993 


Käng of the North