I know, I know, how predictable. Bloody Effigy. Again!
For those who have been unblessed enough to avoid reading my delusional ramblings, I have already written, loquaciously, about Effigy, on the Christmas Eve of 2015. Sometimes I fell like I am the internet equivalent of the bus station loonie - every bus station has one, it is common knowledge - who constantly harasses innocent and unwilling travelers about politics, the economy or the state of public services, except I would rave about Antisect worship instead of dodgy conspiracies. Be warned though that, if you ever witness someone standing on a box on your street corner and yelling feverishly about the apocalypse, it might just be me offering my expert insights into the band Apocalypse as part of a world tour of Terminal Sound Nuisance IRL.
Rereading the piece I did on Effigy's 1999 Evil Fragments 12'' Ep, I spotted unusual imprecision and a couple of blatant inaccuracies that could have me revoked from the crust society so I encourage the more discerning readers to gently disregard some parts of it. My core theory then was that Effigy, as a band and unit, bridged the gap between the second generation of Japanese crust and the third one. In an uncharacteristically pedagogical attempt, I will summarily resign myself to some defining.
The overarching hypothesis was that Effigy's works between 1999 and 2002 acted as a metaphorical tie between the second and the third crust wave. To put it succinctly, the second wave took place in the first part of the 90's with Osaka's Final Noise Attack scene, better embodied and violently kindled by the illustrious Gloom, generating bands like Defiance, War Cry or Condemned and the Tokyo crusties' club that included Battle of Disarm, Collapse Society, Abraham Cross or Crocodileskink; the third wave of crust took the early 00's by storm through the impetus of Acrostix, Zoe (two of the Darkest 4), Contrast Attitude, Deceiving Society or Defector (though some of these bands may have been as old as Effigy is not the point). Of course, Japanese crust is very much a fluid continuum and an analytical frame focusing only on discrete time periods or decades may not always be relevant or enlightening, although it can prove helpful to some extent. From such a perspective it makes sense to see Effigy in the same light as AGE, as a band carrying the sonic torch and perpetuating the metal crust tradition in the late 90's and early 00's. What I did not realize however was that Effigy's roots - not unlike AGE's with Hakuchi - were actually older as singer and bass player Masuda played in the metallic thrash-punk band COSA (cryptically standing for Cache Of Strategic Arms) between 1989 and 1995. It has to be pointed out that COSA had very different sonic intents to Effigy's (COSA sounded more like traditional 90's metallic Japanese hardcore) so that the conflation of the two bands is only partly pertinent in so far as it indicates that Effigy's songwriter - Masuda, I presume - was already experienced although not in the crust department.
Does all of this matter?
From a diachronic perspective, the coming and going of crust waves is always revealing, in spite of the inevitable instability of their stylistic and chronological boundaries and the inherent uncertainty of the notion of "wave" itself. I like to think that, because of their transitional place, Effigy can be seen as a - at least symbolical - link between the 90's and 00's, bringing not only bagfuls of the old-school metallic crust sound into the new decade, but also the high degree of sonic referentiality and visual intertextuality of SDS with them (without mentioning some new crust fanatics). From a synchronic position, you could very well make the sensible argument that From Hell is the best crust Ep of the first half of the noughties. Records like Hellshock's 2003 S/t Ep, Defector's Punk System Destroy or After the Bombs' Terminal Filth Stench Bastard would be definite contenders but From Hell remains the safest horse to bet on (but you know, what with taste being subjective and everything). But then, even trying hard not to fall into the trap of retroactive imposition here, the notion that Effigy's earlier records may have had an influence in kick-starting the 00's stenchcore revival is not completely preposterous.
Their split Ep's with Äpärät in 2001 and Häväistys in 2002 (I am not going to revisit Evil Fragments) openly and reverently built on the classic crust sound and visuals and nods to the crust canons were distributed prodigally. The former was a brilliantly crunchy and filthy, not to mention heavy as fuck, example of late-Antisect/vintage-Sacrilege infuenced metallic crust with a touch of cavemen doom/death-metal, while the latter, unfortunately a bit thinly produced, relied significantly on the rocking Japanese crust savagery of SDS, Carnage and Anti-Authorize (the locally-sourced original reworking of the Antisect sound if you will), with a spoonful of Hellbastard for added tastefulness. Could such potent records have prompted some PDX punks to also play referential old-school metallic crust, or stenchcore? After all, the split with Häväistys was released on Portland's Whisper in Darkness and there is little doubt that the members of Hellshock were suckers for the old-school crusty Peaceville sound to start with so would it be that far-fetched to venture that the early Effigy records and their creative intents, namely the unabated open tribute to the visual and sonic aesthetics of the crust canon, could have encouraged and facilitated the sonic formation of Hellshock? Or was a stenchcore revival just floating in the air at the time? After all, the idea behind Atrocious Madness was largely to emulate Gloom's revolutionary stance and Tragedy have always been notably influenced by the triumphant sound of 90's Burning Spirits hardcore, so that the artistic connections between Japan and Portland was certainly nothing new by the early 00's. It is also worth wondering whether the early Effigy records portended the band's tour de force, From Hell. In retrospect, it is far too easy to reply smugly in the affirmative. The first three records signaled potential but I have no idea how well-received they were upon their release and how high were the subsequent expectations.
From Hell was my first encounter with Effigy. I got the Ep when it came out in late 2003, at a time when I was obsessively and deeply immersed in the industrious exploration of crust music. Effigy's From Hell might have been the first Japanese crust record I really connected and closely listened to and I can distinctly remember the excitement and anticipation when I first looked at the cover which, it seemed to me, looked like a grandiose masterpiece, and, although in 2021 it may not look as impressive, the cover remains the iconic visual that Effigy would be known for until the end of time. I played this Ep a lot, with an almost religious fervour that comforted the prospective crusty in my heart, and along with Hellshock's Only the Dead Know the End of the War cd (which sounds exactly how it looks like), those immensely gratifying records gave me the belief that something was up, that a storm was coming. Out of sheer luck, the prediction proved to be true and "stenchcore" would be revived indeed but it proved to be the last time I was right about a punk trend ever (I remember betting in the early 10's that "postpunk" would be gone in a matter of months and look where we are now).
So what about the Ep then? It was released on Osaka's Crust War Records, run by Jackie Framtid, in 2003 and it was the label's twenty-first record, right between Defector's パンクシステムデストロイ and Gloom's 撲殺精神破綻者, which was not a bad spot. From Hell was made up of two long songs - "Stark moon" was 4:40 long and "From Hell (summer devil)" 5:11 - which already pointed to the template of epic old-school metallic crust territory. "Stark moon" opens on an eerie and dark guitar introduction that unsurprisingly bursts into an epic slow-paced metallic moment, all strongly reminiscent of Axegrinder, before going for a tortured and fast-paced Antisect/Carnage-like beat with rough possessed-sounding dual vocals, then a crusty thrashing Out From the Void-break, and back to the speedy darkness for the conclusion. "From Hell" starts with a bass line that is yet another nod to the axegrinding philosophy before unleashing a savage, primitive SDS-fueled metallic crust riff morphing into mid-paced thrashing crust inferno in the manner of late Antisect. For some reason, it was this very song, "From Hell (summer devil)", and particularly the riff, that made me realize - I was always the unperceptive one - that I was definitely not insensitive to the metallic variety of the crust genre.
The songwriting is certainly meticulous and the two numbers are perfect in their classical conception and purposefully stripped-down, approach. The production has a dark and raw, almost atavistic, quality that makes From Hell stand out, even for an Effigy record. Although the guitar sounds carefully primitive, gloomy and threatening, it is never lacking in the heaviness department, and I also especially enjoy the texture of the vocals, really hoarse and sepulchral but crushing nonetheless. There is an almost evil, lugubrious, tranced atmosphere running through the record, not unlike early black metal stuff, and I can easily imagine it being quite compatible with pagan bonfires (which I tend to avoid because of mosquitoes and bugs in general). Effigy sound like an evil thrashing crust band from the Palaeolithic and I suppose the mastering from Jhonio and Habi contributed to the uchronic impression. The artwork is aptly dismal and highly referential as Effigy respectfully borrowed Axegrinder's font and parts of one of their logos (and fair enough, they have some of the best of both) and Antisect-ish interlace - an intertextual artistic take that they most certainly inherited from the earlier Japanese crust school. Actually, and here comes another of my wild guesses, I would argue that the record's subtitle, namely Grinding Metal Massacre, is itself a reference. Of course, Effigy not being a grindcore band at all, the choice of the "grinding" qualifyer might seem odd at first, however I posit that it would be a mistake to connect it with the grindcore genre. Rather, I hypothesize that "grinding" refers to the descriptive vocabulary and terminology used, in late-80's and early-90's fanzines for instance, to define the sound of early crust bands. In those cases, before the sedimentation of subgenres and their attached lexicon, the term "grinding", in its literal sense, was not unusual.
From Hell proved to be, rather sadly, Effigy's climax and defining moment. A little after the release of the Ep, I read that a split record with Hellshock was in the works, an annoucement that had me compulsively check distros and labels' websites and send anxious emails all around. On paper, a collaboration between Hellshock and Effigy should have produced the ultimate crust record of the decade but, if Hellshock rather did the job, Effigy's side was disappointing, a little uninspired, and paled in comparison to From Hell. Still, the band managed to create a genuine crust classic so there is little point in inconsiderate judgements now. After the split of Effigy, Kakuda and Masuda formed Axewield in the late 00's along with Ujita and then Masuda and Ujita started Ulcer in the mid-10's, both bands sharing significant artistic similarities with Effigy although I don't think any of those bands could ever touch the crust magic of From Hell.