Friday, 19 February 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (part 6): Stormcrow "Enslaved into Darkness" Lp, 2005

We are now deep into the middle of How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug, an as per usual tortuous retrospective series aimed at showing how crust music survived in the noughties after it gloriously peaked during the previous decade. The first five entries dealt with bands whose conception predated the so-called "stenchcore revival" - although Effigy often get associated with the trend, out of their split with Hellshock and of their open intertextuality - arguably the most spectacular crust-centered boom of the 00's and what that decade would be significantly remembered for afterwards. In truth, some would claim that the much more massive, not mention popular, "neocrust" wave is what really characterized the noughties crust sound and, as far as sheer proportions go, this claim cannot be said to be wrong. Still, do we really need terms like "epicrust" or "tragicrust" to be emblazoned forever on the forehead of 00's crust? Do we even want such terms to go down in punk History and be remembered at all? Exactly, we don't. And if someone must volunteer to undertake a radical revisionism of 00's punk and attempt to erase neocrust from History books and the comrades' collective memories and deny that cheap-looking xeroxed fanzines promoting brooding epic crust bands with melodies and, at least, four words in their name ever existed, then, for the sake of future generations, I'll be willing to take on that ungrateful role, even though the truth might resurface one day and, in a Planet of the Apes moment, a young hardcore kid will find an Ekkaia Lp half buried in the sand and thus uncover the conspiracy. It was all for your own good, Comrade.

So the 00's stenchcore revival it is then. Undeniably, the most iconic representatives and initiators of this trend were Portland's Hellshock, a well-known and respected band that I have already laurelled in the past and whose magnum opus Only the Dead Know the End of the War could be rightfully considered as one of the true great old-school crust classics of all time and all places, quite a feat when one keeps in mind that Hellshock was originally pretty much a humble side-project between mates who were keen on nicking Sacrilege and Bolt Thrower riffs, but the music ended being too good to be just that (which must feel lovely as it is generally the other way round). Accurately, if unwillingly, Hellshock also set up a new protocol for knowledgeably building on the original crusty stenchcore bands' sound and aesthetics while still rocking like a much more focused and self-conscious band of the early 00's (a different context of creation and a will to "play crust" that sometimes hindered creativity). Beside the evident sonic reliance on the canonical crust gospels, Hellshock deftly invited Mid from Deviated Instinct to draw the cover art for their first two Lp's and exert his not inconsiderable skills in (re)creating a typical crust visual, one utilizing saturated crust signifiers. The presence of an artist who originally defined the aesthetics of crust and the request from him to "draw crust" of course points to a referential stance and a message clearly delivered, that it's '87 in '03 - although it has to be said that Hellshock's experienced musicianship was undeniably superior to that of the original crust bands (without mentioning that Mid's craftsman ship and techniques vastly improved during this lapse of 15 years). Interestingly, the second bigger name of the stenchcore revival - which was at first distinctly located in North America - also asked talented stenchcore-architect Mid to "draw crust" for the cover art of their debut album, Enslaved into Darkness, and with the band's being name directly taken from a Deviated Instinct anthem - probably my favourite DI number at the time - I guess it would have been impossible to answer in the negative to Stormcrow.

I discovered Stormcrow through their connection with No Options Records, a label run by Will from Born/Dead that had released two records I owned and enjoyed (Endrophobia and Phalanx, the latter of which I still actually play) and whose moves I was monitoring closely. I must have hyperventilated upon reading the Deviated Instinct-inspired name Stormcrow on some message board, as any sane person normally would in the mid-00's, and then proceed the hunt the fucker which I eventually did... on Interpunk. Now be merciful with me and know that my using this provider is the source of no little embarrassment today but, to be fair, at that time, it distributed Prank, Hardcore Holocaust, Havoc, Tribal War and many other DIY hardcore labels. I bought my first Nausea and Antischism records from that website. Out of curiosity, I peeked at Interpunk a few hours ago - I was not even sure it was still standing - and even the most furtive look could not protect my innocence against the abominations proudly displayed on the website's front page, hellish visions capable of leaving your average crusty scarred for life. I'm sure they sell shoegaze over there. But anyway, shortly after its release in late 2005, I ordered the cd version of Enslaved into Darkness (I only upgraded to the vinyl version when I finally transitioned into adulthood in my early 30's), played it, was left astounded and in awe at the ferocity of their filthy metallic crust power, played it again, cavorted and headbang hard about my room for a bit, played it for the third time, swiftly ordered the shirt and prepared to boast about it to my mates the next weekend.

Stormcrow formed in Oakland in 2003 and was made up of members of local hardcore acts In the Wake of the Plague (that also had Will No Option) and Exit-Wound, PDX grindcore band Bent Over Backwards and sludgecore monsters Brainoil, beside which guitar player Nathan had also played in Destroy! and Code 13 while in Minneapolis.  Of course, I was completely unaware of such resumes at the time but remember reading that Stormcrow was made up of people who had been playing in bands for a long time, known faces so to speak, though not by me. The band's association and ties with older Oakland crust outfits should not be left unexamined. Enslaved into Darkness was recorded and produced by Salvador Raya, who played in doom-metal band Asunder alongside former members of the mighty Skaven (with whom Stormcrow would eventually share an outstanding split Ep). Alongside Greg from Brainoil, aforementioned Raya is a sound engineer at Earhammer studios, where Stormcrow's debut, and many other Oakland punk records since, was recorded. Stormcrow were also mates with the people from Dystopia and, if it would be far-fetched and questionable to claim that both bands sound alike (who can even claim to sound like Dystopia anyway?), I like to think that their sound and creative intent arose from older metallic crust acts like Dystopia, Confrontation, Carcinogen and of course the oft overlooked Skaven as well as the heavier sludgy doom-influenced bands that followed. All bands must bloom out of some preexisting context, there is always an initial spark lit by predecessors and, from such perspective, Stormcrow can be seen as both a prominent band of the 00's metal crust revival and heirs to the Oakland crust tradition of the 90's. 

Enslaved into Darkness is a devastatingly heavy and crushing crust behemoth whose raw and filthy metallic production never impairs its impact. In fact, few crust records are able to conjure up both power and rawness as potently as Stormcrow's first born. The two guitar attack confers to the recording a rare heaviness that is almost overwhelming at times in the thrashing department. This Lp is the sonic representation of the four Horsemen galloping through a barren wasteland with a nuclear sunrise in the background while being chased after by a malign horde of punk zombies. But let's not get lost in verboseness and useless convolutions, Enslaved into Darkness contains five long songs of colossal old-school metallic crust with a mean and dirty doom-metal vibe running through it. If Stormcrow do not hesitate to speed up the pace and inflict a deliciously thrashing guitar-driven punishment, this Lp is mostly slow-to-mid-paced and still proved to be their fastest work. I remember thinking that the album felt a bit short with a running time of 27 minutes but, by today's standards, it is actually the perfect length for this genre of crust. The organic, almost rotten, if not putrid, metallic sound of the down-tuned guitars are to die for, like the metaphorical shovels that will bury your skinny but still muscular body, and the relative lack of tightness in places even adds to the savage funeral mood of the whole. The vocals were also a massive selling point for me when it came out. I was never a metalhead and only became familiar with the extreme metal world through crust and therefore was quite inexperienced in the dark arcane arts of living dead growls, cries of excruciating pain and the whole assortment of gratuitous bellows meant to replicate the screams of possessed tortured souls. So when I heard the level of threatening gruffness of Stormcrow, it really sounded like I had availed myself with a direct line to the underworld. As mentioned, Stormcrow did have a sludgy Asunder-like doom-laden side, but at that time the band navigated clearly in old-school crust territories. Bolt Thrower teaming up with early Paradise Lost to cover Antisect and Deviated Instinct after smoking too much weed would be a relevant description, or, to stay local to California, perhaps Mindrot and Carcinogen aggressively jamming in Skaven's back garden. I'm sure you get the idea. 

The length of the songs - more than seven minutes for two of them - really helps the band install a specific atmosphere, one that reeks of pain and despair, rather than the sadness one associates with doom metal, but also of threat as Stormcrow sound like they are ready to bite back and spread rabies if need be, as punks playing metal healthily should, and the lyrics typically deal in allegories about destructive capitalism, alienation and state terror. The joys of our modern age. Like captain Obvious indicated at the beginning of this wordy sojourn, the cover art was drawn by Mid and represents - in his lovingly recognizable apocalyptic, morbid, organic style that came to define the classic crust aesthetics (though I would like to point out that the man is certainly not a one-trick crust poney) - mother Earth emerging angrily from a plague-ridden soil because of humankind's selfishness and greed. As much as I love Mid's art, I still have to admit that the focal point of this artwork, and as a result of my Stormcrow shirt, is the rather large pair of tits of Mother Nature. And I guess it makes sense that she would be big-breasted, what with her feeding the world and everything and, although seldom represented in crust art, there is nothing intrinsically ludicrous in having breasts on the cover of a crust record, it all depends on the artistic intent. Nonetheless, I still struggle to perambulate up and down the streets basically boasting monstrous tits right in the middle of my chest which certainly attracted more than a few frowns of puzzled consternation throughout the years. It's not as bad as my Genital Deformities artifact but still not a piece of garment I chose to wear at my great-aunt's birthday bash. However as a crust record cover, it works much better and I cannot really blame my lack of vestimentary insight on anyone but and I should probably have picked the other design. Oh well.

Hours spent overplaying Enslaved into Darkness converted me into a staunchly devout Stormcrow fanboy so that when I learnt that a split Lp with Sanctum - another stenchcore revival band I was really into - was planned, I exhilaratingly started to hassle everyone I knew about it - including the Sanctum lads when they played in France - and scouted the internet for any piece of intelligence about the Lp. This search came to an end in late 2006 thanks to No Options Records again and it proved to be an excellent effort and certainly one of the best crust split records of the decade with a cracking artwork, done by Dino from Dystopia, that is something to see if you are into Warhammer or Lord of the Rings-inspired fantasy battles (a recurring visual trope of the often very orc-oriented 00's crust scene). Stormcrow loved split records - and so do I to be honest - and 2008 saw the release of an absolutely classic split Ep with Skaven and a split Lp with Canada's prime grinding cavecrust unit on the always solid Agipunk from Italy with Stormcrow starting to display an even sludgier and doomier sound. The band's last two split Lp's (again!) with Laudanum in 2009 and Coffins in 2010 confirmed the band's development, which unfortunately was not my predilect cuppa tea, and my progressive loss of interest.

After the demise of the band in 2010, Brian and Tony formed Femacoffin, an excellent metallic crust act in the vein of Stormcrow's early years the review of which you can read here. I have to admit I quite miss the apocalyptic doomy stenchcore power of Stormcrow, which I actually got to see live in Tucson in 2009 (don't ask) and the guitars were so loud that they almost buried the drums and vocals. Well class.



Enslaved into Crustness 


  1. I really like this can subscribe to it? Sorry for my English.

    1. Thanks! I think you have a "follow" option somewhere? Or there is also a facebook page.