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.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! Saw them back in the days and it was awesome.
    In my opinion it was a split release by Power It Up Rec. (hats up to Tom) and Skuld Rec. (R.I.P. Kleister).
    Maximum Voice Production (someone remember André Sieg) released a 7" called "Μοναξιά/Loneliness" in 2000. 😉
    Beside this, this a very good band!