Saturday 27 March 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (part 11): Death Dust Extractor "Slay Your Master or Slave in Chains" Ep, 2009

- Death Dust Extractor??? 
- Death Dust Extractor!!! 
- Death Dust Extractooor... 
- Death Dust Extr... 
- Death

Above are the six stages commonly found in patients who have been exposed to excessive amounts of Tsuyama's Death Dust Extractor. After conducting groundbreaking experiments involving thorough observations of unsuspecting crust punks in their natural habitat, scientists around the world have reached a consensus. They came to the conclusion that prolonged listens of DDE (in this case, "prolonged" means any length of time superior to six minutes) led to to high concentrations of DDE's music in your blood stream and could cause fits, dementia, nausea, insomnia, nervous breakdowns and even, in the most extreme cases, a near total loss of hearing. The six above-stated stages stress the steady aggravation of symptoms in tested subjects: firstly, utter surprise; secondly, genuine enthusiasm and appreciation; thirdly, excessive excitement and the progressive loss of control over speech abilities; fourthly, a stark decrease of the basic brain functions; fifthly, the eventual total collapse of the patient and the potential development of the aforementioned sequelae; sixthly (this only concerns people who have listened to the full DDE discography in one sitting) death by noize.

Depending on who you are speaking to, DDE can strike fear or, on the contrary, induce visible animation in your interlocutor. While your mom, your neighbours and your Buzzcocks-loving mates probably experience the greatest misunderstanding and perhaps even display an open hostility towards DDE's "music", the crust pants-wearing sect will often prove to be much more receptive. Contrasting reactions notwithstanding, there is one thing everybody agree upon: DDE were not messing around and were certainly not here to lick stamps, fuck spiders or put socks on caterpillars (Aussie slang is brilliant, isn't it?). Keen on destroying hearing faculties and yet requiring careful attention from the listener for him or her to even grasp what the hell is going on with all that bloody noise, today we are going to take a long hard look at DDE's 2008 Ep Slay Your Master or Slave in Chains.

As with any artists (in the broadest sense of the term, even shite ones), the subjective context of the first encounter always influences and defines the perception one will have of bands. Years may pass, knowledge may accumulate, appreciations of previously cryptic genres may improve, records may seriously reduce and slowly threaten your living space, still the first impression will remain imprinted on your mind. For instance, listening to Sick of it All for the first time, as a young and vastly ignorant lad, just after being mercilessly and repeatedly high-kicked in the "pit" - a word you were not even familiar with - by a jersey-wearing bodybuilder at a hardcore gig you had no idea implied an expertise in martial arts will forever trigger hard feelings about the NYHC genre and its practitioners (not to mention phantom pain in your dignity) and make any sincere attempt at relating to the band impossible. Context and knowledge matter. 

An instant grasp of and liking to DDE's work must imply that you were really (REALLY) into noizy Japanese hardcore, old-school noisecore and crasher crust. Otherwise, DDE must sound either unbearable (unless you work with circular saws and like the sound of them so much that you need to hear it even on your free time), contemptible ("this is preposterous, back in my day we had proper music like Dire Straits or Genesis"), absurd ("is it some kind of avantgarde performance?"), ridiculously funny ("whaaaaat? I mean like laughing emoji") or plainly unintelligible which is of course the healthiest intellectual position ("I don't quite understand what is going one here but, in the name of Chaos UK and Disorder, one day I shall!"). What I mean is that DDE belongs to that category of hardcore bands that requires a solid connoisseurship in punk history, an acute sense of diachroneity and synchronicity and an ear for referentiality beforehand in order to be relatable. Of course, anything can be relatable on a primitive level, which is perfectly fine as punk music is very immediate, but then you don't really need to be reading blogs to do that and just have to click on the "play" button of a youtube video and relish the comments below, you plebeian bastards. 

Like for Morne, I first heard of DDE through the Profane Existence message board. Reminiscing about the years when I would check out - and sometimes contribute to - this board daily, I came to realize that the amount of bands I chanced upon while browsing carefully the many threads was far from negligible. Quite the contrary in fact as many knowledgeable punks, conversant in the arts of obscure hardcore bands - commonly called "nerds" in the real world although this crowd tends to prefer the term "experts" - congregated on the board. And it is now an established fact, oft proved by science, that, where punk nerds gather in unison, discussions about Japanese hardcore is never far out of the picture and heated, and sometimes very uncivil, debates about the merits of Gai and Kuro can erupt at any moments, making the presence of accomlpished moderators necessary. I must have read about DDE around 2008, probably around the time of the release of the Slay Your Master or Slave in Chain Ep that materialized that following year. Were DDE widely known before the late noughties and the band's vinyl productions? I doubt it, although I am sure that copies of their two first demos - both from 2003 but with the first one apparently being a "live demo" that I am not familiar with but has a similar setlist to the studio one - must have circulated clandestinely among those who had Japanese penpals and among the hardcore elite (membership cards were not issued liberally). In any case, the band must have been deemed good, distorted and savage enough for a release on the Crust War, a label I was proudly loyal to with a name which, had I been less of a wimp, I would have scarified on my chest.  

But back to the demo. So what about DDE's first studio recording then? Well, it is everything you are entitled to expect from a Japanese crust band who took its name from a Sore Throat song, by which I mean from a burst of noise since "Death dust extractor" was included on Sore Throat's early demo from 1987, Aural Butchery (a very tautological title in the present case). The influences of DDE on this recording could not be more transparent, early Doom, early Extreme Noise Terror and, well, Sore Throat. DDE's attempt at sounding just like Sore Throat was extremely impressive, and, were it not for an additional layer of guitar distortion, one would swear that the recording was in fact a lost tape from Huddersfield's infamous noise-makers. At that point, DDE were to Sore Throat what Disclose were to Discharge. The cover of their demo used Never Mind the Napalm's famous visual with the two buses (I don't need to remind you what the beef was in the late 80's and who it involved) and DDE went as far as covering Shitlickers's "War system" just like Sore Throat, in an act of nodding to the nod, of covering the cover itself. 

Of course, you could very well name some meaningful Japanese bands as early influences too, acts like Abraham Cross (probably the closest to DDE's artistry), Mindsuck, Reality Crisis or Gloom (although they were not as versatile as the Osaka's crasher crust pioneers then) who built on similar premises consisting in working with the utmost seriousness on hyperbolic referentiality and on sound textures, although the latter was not as accomplished as it would eventually become. Because - when I first made the acquaintance of DDE - Doom, Sore Throat, ENT and all the early cavemen crust bands were absolute favourite of mine I quite enjoyed this 9 minute-long demo in spite of - rather than because of - the obvious Sore Throat copying (I was not as sensitive to the poetical arts of absolute worship back then), and because I already had records from Abraham Cross, SDS or Disdomestic Violence I understood, at least partly, what the band was trying to achieve, the nature of their proclamatory intent and how it fitted in the tradition of Japanese crust music. 

I made a mental note to give the upcoming Ep a listen, which I did after its release (there was a cdr version of Slay Your Master so it might have been floating on soulseek before the vinyl version) but, to be honest, I was not particularly impressed by its blown-out chaotic sound and the techno song at the end made me discard the geezer without a second thought. My dislike of electronic music has always run deep and, to this day, I remain largely unimpressed with it. My hasty and ill-informed dismissal of the Ep led me to disregard the band and pretty much forget about it, which feels odd to write now, even as I progressively became more and more interested in the specifics of Japanese crust and impressed with how accurate they were in terms of linkage. And then I came across a second-hand copy of their Chainsaw Mayhem one-sided Ep from 2013 and thought that it sounded much better than I thought it would and quite close to the Sore Throat/Doom worship that I remembered their demo sounding like. The discrepancy between the demo and the first Ep can be easily explained as the lineup changed completely in the meantime and only the singer Shinsuke remained. The 2008 team was made up of Miya, later in Ferocious X an Black Hole, on the bass, Zerotsu, from Laukaus and No Survivors, on the drums and Age, from the mighty Disturd, on the guitar who certainly unleashed his love for noize. On Slay Your Master, the guitar is obviously distorted, but not just in a traditional Japanese crust way, as what makes it sound different to the other DDE's recordings lies in its layered noisiness, dissonant leads and hyperbolic feedbacks that goes further than Gloom and is very close to the Kyushu classic noize hardcore sound of Confuse. 


The legacy of Japanese noizy hardcore punk bands from the 80's (the phrase "noisepunk" would be anachronistic here and, for the sake of clarity, I wish to avoid using "noisecore") is distinct on the Ep which might have been one reason why it did not quite click as I had some artistic issues with this sort of texture then. I appreciated the old-school Japanese noize, out of curiosity mostly (Stuart Schrader's top ten list of Japanese noizy hardcore records came handy and provided context, analysis and even some biting wit) but was not crazy about it. For instance, a band like Lebenden Toten really had to grow on me (but Gloom and even Atrocious Madness were love at first feedback deals, so go figure...). I understood that the Japanese crust crowd rightfully borrowed from that tradition but when one expects to be sore-throated-to-death, one wishes for a more direct, not as strident and shrieking, distorted sound. But one learns. From the old-school noize prism, the combination of the insane-sounding delayed, reverbed and distorted vocals reminiscent of mental asylums at night and hungover bears with the feedback-drenched noizy sound of the guitar actually makes sense. DDE tried to go beyond the strict and studious Peaceville-cavecore worship - although the songwriting and structures are still all about Sore Throat  - through a more demented-sounding carefully-crafted Confuse-like guitar sound, transformed vocals and the addition of an actual techno number at the end. Bands like Exithippies certainly paved the way for such experiments between noisecore and hard techno/dance music and especially Truth of Arize - which I only discovered relatively recently - whose Genocide Massacre Holocaust Lp from 2000 transcended the typical intense Doom/ENT-worship by inserting it in ambient harsh noise music which makes for quite a listening experience (this is definitely not for poser... I mean the faint-hearted). Or perhaps, DDE's artistic stance was yet an additional Sore Throat tribute as the Brits did experiment with noize too, though in a different fashion, with their totally unmusical atmospherical noisecore bursts and under their Saw Throat identity. Maybe it is all of that.

Can Slay Your Master be relevantly described as a harsh-noize cavemen crasher crust band? A bit of a mouthful, right? I read somewhere online that "DDE were the noisiest band that you can still classify as crust" and I think that is just right. They proved that you could pull the punishing crust worship thing while still bringing something new and fresh (if such a word applies to the wall of noise the band offers) in terms of texture and ambiance (the hand of Habi from Gloom in the mix certainly helped achieve this). I don't think such a template could work on a full album, it would just be overwhelming (like on the aforementioned Truth of Arize Lp) and the length of the Ep - 11 minute long - conveys the adequate urgency and does not let the listener get used to being (too) punished by the insanity of noize (assuming it is possible at all). In the end, the merit of DDE's Slay Your Master is threefold: it is a wonderful example of accurate old-school crust worship; it contributes to the Japanese tradition of noize-drenched crasher crust; and it transcends the genre through the addition of a layered feedback-fueled noizy distortion reminiscent of the 80's, demented effect-driven vocals and even some techno music. DDE's Ep deserves a spot in this series because it is both extremely traditional (there have always been many referential Japanese crust bands obsessed with crust explorers like Doom, Sore Throat and the British pack) and very unique. And in the end, that is how a genre survives, through a balance of artistic conservatism and creative twist (a similar noize-crust stance can be found in the resilient Zyanose from Osaka).

The vinyl version of Slay Your Master was released in 2009 on Osaka's Crust War records and the object proved to be rather austere and only an insert was included. A nod to old-school techno music vinyl? Fuck me if I know.  

Now that was a tedious one.     

                                                                    Them buses again...


                DEATH DUST EXTRACTOR!!!                  

Saturday 20 March 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (part 10): Morne "demo 2008" Lp, 2009

If I had to find the most accurate metaphor to locate Morne in the grand crust narrative, one that profoundly resonates with my personal mythology, I would say that Morne were the Ahmed Johnson of the genre. When Ahmed, out of nowhere, ran to the ring and slammed Yokozuna in 1995, I was just like the crowd: flabbergasted. This powerful and, I daresay, legendary slam left me in awe and, as a 12 year-old, confirmed that I wanted to be a wrestler when I grew up. Sadly, reality struck me in the face, and with a physique reminiscent of Harry Potter in the early movies, wrestling quickly became a fantasy that would never come true and my dreams were shattered. My size could have allowed me to become a referee but, as they are often clownishly mistreated, this would have only added to the humiliation. But back to Morne. Just as unexpected as Ahmed's incredible feat of lifting Yoko, the band, it appeared to me, also pretty much slammed crust out of nowhere when I first came across their demo in 2008. 

Now, I realize it is not the first time I have expressed memories of genuine feelings of surprise throughout How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug. Indisputably, the Χειμερία Νάρκη's 2003 album shook me hard and rocked my tiny world. However, this took place in 2003 and, in the subsequent five years, I became a rabid listener and devout follower of crust music and, as patches steadily grew on my sleeveless jackets, I slowly turned into an amateur archaeologist of the genre, reading everything I could find on the subject and saving whatever I could from my meager income to buy crust records (blogs only really kicked off around 2008/09 and the fast and unlimited streaming of music sounded as unlikely as a reality TV star becoming the president of the US of A). I may have been cocky enough at some point in the late 00's to claim boastfully that I had mastered the truth of crust - if the internet never forgets, fortunately people do - but a couple of meaningful revelations taught me (some) humility and that, not only was the quest only just beginning, but that the most important and most fulfilling element of it was the continuous process of realizing your objective, the path of knowledge rather than its completion. If you listen carefully, that's pretty much Yoda's message especially since the Force and the Crust are kinda equivalent at the end of the day. So basically when Morne noisily crashed into my youthful certainties, my knowledgeability of crust was much more solid than it had been five years before. Still, this demo absolutely kicked me up the arse and, well, it was a wonderful feeling which does not happen that often these days. Bloody inspiring, mate.

I first heard of Morne around the time of the release of this first recording in 2008 (in spite of forming in 2005, I don't think many had heard of Morne outside of Boston and probably Poland) through the Profane Existence message board, a platform that acted as a decent source of information about old and new bands from all over the place, hot releases and tales from the past told by heroic old-timers. It was not so dissimilar to Facebook, only the PE board did not display ads, did not spread dodgy theories and was not owned by a multibillion capitalist company. Minor differences really. I think a generous punk posted a download link to the Morne demo and, following the general enthusiasm, my thirst for crust led me to give Morne a chance. Unaware of the band's connection with a definite favourite of mine, I did not really expect anything from it and the gesture had more to do with healthy curiosity than irrepressible excitement. The first listen of the demo instantly proved sufficient to convert me. Bam.

Let's get rid of the elephant in the room right away: Morne is fronted by Milosz, former member of Gdansk-based crust legends Filth of Mankind, who moved to the States in the mid-00's (I guess?). I have no qualms about claiming, loudly as a former post shows, that FOM were one of the best old-school crust bands of their era and the absence of their magnus opus The Final Chapter in this series only has to do with my will not to be (too) redundant but it rightfully deserves a comfy spot in the top crust albums of the noughties. When I learnt about the connection between both bands, Morne's masterly first effort made sense. That this brilliant recording could be categorized as a demo felt a little insulting, as much as I instantly loved it. There was none of the sloppy playing, approximate tuning, non-existent production and naive songwriting that the term "demo" implied to me. Recorded in November, 2007 and March, 2008 at Dead Air Studio by Will Killingsworth, the Morne demo sounded like an incredibly brilliant album rather than a demo tape, which it originally was in 2008 (a cd version also existed). Although the production can be said to be a little raw and dirty - a better description in the context would be organic and cavernous - as opposed to a cleaner sound that the band may have craved for (subsequent events seem to point that way so that intention is of prime importance), I personally believe that it sounds absolutely perfect for a crust album: raw, dark, heavy, brooding and gritty. If the demo of my former band in the noughties had sounded even half as good - inspired and tasteful were not even options - as Morne's demo, I would have been a most unbearably conceited lad to say the least.

As lazy as the comparison might seem, you can certainly recognize Milosz' guitar style in Morne and link it to FOM's riffing and texture, but after all, in their early days, like FOM, Morne played in the metallic crust league and used the classic traits that the genre substantially encompassed. However, where FOM relied on a more aggressively grim sense of imminent threat, Morne sounded far sadder but also deeper and, well, more desolate and beatutiful. You could say that FOM were apocalyptic while Morne's beginnings were post-apocalyptic. Their objectives - let's call it an update of the Amebix/Axegrinder type of crust - might have been similar but the ingredients were different. FOM had both feet loyally planted in the crust tradition while Morne borrowed elements from doom-metal and heavy post-hardcore and as a result sounded more progressive and also much more narrative than a lot of 00's crust bands while still looking at an old-school crust compass to navigate its galloping epic vibe. There are seven songs on the demo for 39 minutes so you can imagine that the band was able to take its sweet time in order to build story-like chapters with proper introductions, endings, climax so that the album sounds like a living cohesive whole with its plot, well set atmosphere and recurring narrative tricks. 

The dominant pace is of the brooding and mid-tempo variety and parallels between Morne's early stage and the heavy doomsday dirges of Axegrinder and Misery, with a torturous Neurosis twist, are relevant. Morne's progressive narrative side also made me think of Skaven's (though they told a very different story) and especially of Balance of Pain-era Counterblast, who were brilliant at playing with moods and ambiance while remaining mean and crushing and proved to be able to speed things up when apposite. The vocals are clever, not forceful or savage, but shouted naturally with a gruff undertone, a bit like Axegrinder, crusty but not growling. Finally, and it certainly contributed to me being so starry-eyed about this recording, Morne were a synth-driven old-school crust band, unfortunately, tragically even, a phrase I cannot write nowhere near often enough. I have always been of the opinion that the addition of a synth transcends the epic gloom that is at the heart of proper crust and Morne used it with dashing maestria. I cannot help but being reminded of the classic Greek crust sound epitomized by early 90's Χαοτικό Τέλος, and quite obviously of Monolith-era Amebix and Axegrinder's Rise of the Serpent Men, and even - perhaps it sounds a bit bold but I am a man who loves danger and I've had more than my fair share of near death experiences, notably when playing badminton - of early Acrostix, and them more than the others maybe. The song "Twilight burns" makes me want to wear cool shades and ride a bike into the sunset, no mean feat considering I tend to be nauseous on motorbikes (anything that has a motor really).

The vinyl reissue of the demo was released in early 2009 with only 330 copies pressed. It had a lovely foldout cover silkscreened with silver ink which is pretty fucking classy indeed. The cover itself is appropriately bleak but not really special (a misty forest), however the lettering of the lyrics was done by Dino Sommese from Dystopia and Asunder and you can definitely recognize his style which I happen to dig (he also did it on the split between Stormcrow and Sanctum). The Lp was released on No Options Records, a busy label on the crust front in the 00's (Stormcrow, Limb From Limb, Phalanx). Following the demo, Morne recruited Jeff from Grief and Disrupt on second guitar (he even appeared on the picture on the back of the vinyl version of the demo, though he doesn't play on it) and this lineup recorded three songs for a split Lp with the excellent Warprayer from Bristol on Alerta Antifascista. The production was much cleaner and Morne's side was certainly monumental, with the sludgy post-hardcore-doom influence significantly more prevalent, still in the metallic crust territory, but very close to the frontier which would be crossed for good on the next record. Untold Wait, released in 2009 on Feral Ward - the band moved really quickly at that point - was basically a re-recording of the demo with a clean and clear production pretty much turning the work into a post-hardcore doom-metal album, which makes one think about the importance of orchestration and artistic intent when it comes to the vibe you are trying to convey. I lost track of the band afterwards - though I did catch them live a second time in 2012 in Paris (I first caught them on their 2009 tour and religiously bought a cheerful shirt) - as they went on to evolve into a more progressive atmospheric doom-metal realm. Not my cuppa but certainly well-executed.

 Can you have training wheels on a motorbike? Just asking for a friend.


Sunday 14 March 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (part 9): After the Bombs "Relentless Onslaught" Lp, 2008

Could crust punk's obsession with war, skulls, destruction and Discharge be akin to a sort of pathological condition? It is common knowledge that this fixation has often been the source of mockery and subjected to derision throughout the genre's history but, like the unstoppable and omnipotent war machine, like the endless bombraids maiming civilians, it seems that one cannot escape the inevitability of such topics in any band proven guilty of beating the proverbial D. Although punk's war imagery and morbid representations can be said to almost always aim at denouncing the madness of armed conflicts and the need to proverbially protest and survive, as opposed to extreme metal's fascination with death, gore and weaponry, there is no denying that the obsession with war, even out of disgust and outrage, prevails in the stenchcore underworld and among the crust reprobates. I have wished for a crust version of Hard Skin for a long time, but a humorous take on the genre, in spite of its acute sense of self-awareness, does not seem likely to emerge any time soon (ironically, the closest band to offer such a bantering perspective was one of the genre's initiators, Sore Throat). 
You could say that noughties crust, globally, was marked by a growing tendency toward a more forthright referentiality, perhaps through the impulse and influence of Japanese crust that was made possible with file-sharing, but mainly because almost 15 years after the genre was born, the elements - be they musical, visual or olfactible - that defined crust as crust had already been fixed and sedimented. The path had already been trod for enough time to justify and legitimize crust as an actual genre, therefore crowning its characteristics as immanent, leaving many 00's crust acts to play with formerly established traits inherent to the genre. This not to say that the 00's were totally deprived of unique crust bands bringing something new to the genre (Lost can attest to it), but, for the most part, the decade was defined by a will to pay tribute to the ancients and maintain the crust tradition and not really change it, although it could be argued that the strengthening of this conservative stance can be seen as a meaningful evolutionary shift in itself.

Enter After the Bombs, one of the bigger names of the 00's stenchcore revival. Not unlike Nuclear Death Terror (previously tackled here), and perhaps even more actually, the band's unabated passion for crust's lexicology pervaded every dimension of this Montreal-based unit. To be quite honest with you all, my loyal readers, children of the Night and comrades in the battle for crust supremacy over shoegazing, I have always had reservations about the band's moniker and never really enjoyed it. Did such a petty qualm keep me from boasting an After the Bombs shirt? Of course, it did not. However, I have always felt that the name would have been more appropriate for an orthodox d-beat band. The name still nodded in right and numerous directions: from the top of my head Doom's "After the bomb", Dischange's "After the war scars", Iconoclast's "After the massacre", Disclose's "After an air attack", Hellbstard and Discard's "Death from above" or Bolt Thrower's "Attack in the aftermath", just far too many combinations of the words above and paraphrases to mention here. Does "After the Bombs" work for a stenchcore band? Yes and no. Claiming that it bears no relevance to classic crust would be a gross exaggeration as it does evoke the aftermath of war and surviving the apocalypse, two pillars of crust's philosophy, but on the other hand it seems a little lacklustre for what really was a top band (or perhaps it was meant to be a cliché in an act of postmodernist irony).
ATB formed in January, 2004, in Montreal, and the band can be rightfully considered as the continuation of the magnificent - not to mention better-named - Hellbound with singer Janick and the two guitar players Stian and Jason all formerly part of the latter. Hellbound could also count on experienced people previously involved with Montreal 90's crust stalwarts Global Holocaust - a rather prolific band that had stopped playing in 1996 - and were a force to reckon with in the early 00's. Although cruelly overlooked today, HB recorded a minor crust masterpiece in the guise of their side of the 2002 split Lp with Despite, a fantastic example of old-school metallic dual-vocal filthy crustcore delivered with brute force and power (truth be told, it followed a rather messy split Ep with Scorned in 2000). Twenty years after its release, I cannot think of many bands working with a similar pattern who came close to that recording session (the followup, a split cd with Waves from Japan, was not quite as potent despite a convincing cover of Anti-System). I really toyed with the idea of covering HB instead of ATB but, after some seriously exigent fasting - also called going for six hours without food in the first world - and days of intellectually challenging hesitation, I opted for the more recent and more iconic of the two, but do pay some attention to HB if you are into CRUST. 
ATB's first move was an Ep entitled Terminal Filth Stench Bastard in 2005, released on Oslo-based Sjakk Matt Plater, a label run by a bloke from Dishonorable Discharge, probably thanks to Norwegian guitarist Stian's connections. I remember getting this Ep from Profane Existence while vaguely aware of the band's past connections. The description included references to classic crust bands like Sacrilege, Antisect and Deviated Instinct which always triggered - and in fact still do - uncontrollable buying impulses that just cannot be interfered with because of my tendency to bite when frustrated. The Ep was entitled Terminal Filth Stench Bastard, a deliciously silly name, in retrospect, but one that shamelessly and unambiguously revealed where the band stood on the crust thermometer. I suppose you could say that ATB was an early but quintessential example of a stenchcore revival band, with an opening effort named after Deviated Instinct's pivotal demo Terminal Filth Stenchcore and an additional nod to Hellbastard, just to be safe, doubting their position on the subject was unwise and a potentially mortal peril. ATB carried a wartorn banner stating "this is proper crust for proper crusties" and, by openly embracing the stenchcore tag, signaled that the listeners should come prepared for an old-school metallic crust assault which the band conducted excellently on the first Ep. Four songs of mostly fast and hard-hitting heavy thrashing crust with plenty of crunchy Sacrilege-like moments and the ferocity of Antisect combined with appropriately übercrust artwork displaying, on the cover, a winged skull pierced by a sword while wearing a necklace made of missiles, while the backcover (courtesy of Chany from Inepsy) revealed three impaled skulls with charged hair above a torn war banner. Just another day at the crust office. The production is quite raw and dirty but very powerful which makes it sound like a collection of stenchcore songs played through a raw punk filter. Pummeling and filthy crust with ferocious reverbed female vocals which was quite unusual in 2005. These days, everyone and their mother entangled in the distorted d-beat raw punk race use reverbed vocals but I don't remember it being the case at all at the time and I recall being quite astonished but in a good way as the vocals sounded different and firmly conveyed an old-school 80's vibe to the songs.

After such a convincing Ep, one would have thought that ATB were going to use the momentum to unleash an even better followup quickly but at least two years passed - more likely around three, I seem to remember getting the Lp in 2008 although Discogs indicates 2007 as the year of release - before the band reappeared on the crust radar. However long and, in my case, morose the wait might have felt, ATB came back in style to say the least since they released no less than one album and two Ep's in one single year which exemplified an "all or nothing" approach that might not have been the soundest choice. The band can at least pride themselves to have produced a classic old-school crust Lp which is more than most could claim. Relentless Onslaught was recorded from April, 2006 to May, 2007, a unusually long period which accounted for the delay. With five songs under its belt (at the time the Lp felt a bit short, like Stormcrow's first album, but with hindsight and age-induced hearing loss, it is just fine), the album proved to be a better produced affair which, given the format, was for the best as rawer productions fit shorter works better. The improvement in terms of sound felt like a logical step ahead and was coherent with the story told by the album. The specifications were very similar to Terminal Stench Filth Bastard - namely Sacrilege jamming with Antisect in 1986 - this time with an Axegrinder-meets-Misery influence more prevalent on the slow apocalyptic moments and a thrashier Nausea vibe when ATB take the fast crust option (the balance between pounding speed and apocalyptic galloping slowness is just perfect) and I would also love to include the magnificent, and sadly unknown, Jesusexercise in the "influence column" but it might be wishful thinking. The Lp even starts with an eerie synth sound as a delicious nod to the old-school UK crust tradition. It has to be stated that few bands - if any - pulled out the Sacrilege-worship with as much gusto and taste as ATB (even the overabundance of cheesy guitar solo should be read from that perspective). You could claim that there is too much reverb on the vocals (or that the line "The shade of your own shadow" is a literary failure) but, in the light of the recent evolution of crust and the generalization of reverbed vocals, ATB can appear as unintentional precursors that are not to be confused with the subsequent pack, not unlike Invasion/Destino Final although they worked a different field. I personally do not mind the effect and am quite able to recognize its synchronic value.

The rather impressive artwork was done by Marald, a Dutch artist that has specialized, among other things, in the visual side of crust and hardcore for the past 20 years (he drew for State of Fear, Destroy!, Vitamin X or Wolfbrigade). In the noughties, many crust bands entrusted the Dutch artist with the task of giving life to decidedly grim and macabre figures as ornaments to their records and crustness certificates. In ATB's case, the cover depicts the four horsemen attacking a city, while the inside of the gatefold is graced with a reworking of the band's logo from their first Ep, this time with added putrefied heads holding a missile on their tongue (!) on both sides, a bullet belt, some barbed wires, a crow eating at a massgrave in the bottom-right corner and a city in ruins in the bottom-left. I you don't realize this is a crust Lp when holding the record in your hands, then there is something really wrong you; or you might be going blind and need to go see an ophthalmologist; or you are just in denial for the sake of it and are the kind of man who believes in flat earth theories. Relentless Onslaught was released on Total End Records (the label run by people from, wait for it genius, Total End/Diallo among others) and Vex Records based in Connecticut and responsible for some solid records from Man the Conveyors and Bomb Blast Men among others. The same year, two other ATB records got released, the Spoils of War Ep on Total End and the Bloody Aftermath / Black Horse of Famine Ep on Distort Reality. There is no recording details about those two but they sound like they were taken from the same session. With three new numbers exactly in the same vein and two covers (Bathory and Onslaught, which was a great choice) I suppose it would have worked better as a split Lp with another band because the Ep's sounded a little contrived compared to the top quality album. Don't get me wrong, they still did enough to deliver the goods, but just enough and I cannot help but think there is something off with the band's timing and chronology. 
ATB sadly split up in 2008 and I wish they hadn't because they had the potential for more crust goodness. I definitely can imagine them in a totally epic Axegrinder mode with synth and a more narrative songwriting. Oh well. Singer Janick went on to front Truncheons and Parasytes, Jason played in Ilegal and Kontempt and Matt also did Truncheons and No War. 
EDIT: Jannick also played in Fractured, Jason also played in Pura Mania and Spectres, Clint did a stint in Kozmar, Matt played in Sexface, Stian did Dishonourable Discharge and Josh played in Sporadic and Skraeling. Thanks to Josh for the resumes!

After the crust       

Monday 8 March 2021

How Crust Survived the Millennium Bug (part 8): Nuclear Death Terror "S/t" Lp, 2006

To an outsider, a non-member of the coterie, crust - as a genre - can look quite cryptic. Think about it for a second. Crust has always been a very confidential affair and you could very well argue that its believers even thrive on this sense of secrecy, on the conviction that crust's cultic nature set them apart, make them special and grant them the superpower to withstand the whole Zyanose discography in one sitting (the exact number of casualties after such a spectacular and testing, even if willful, torment remains sadly unknown). That crust appears to be an enigma is logical. After all, no crust band has ever achieved proper mainstream success, even if Extreme Noise Terror and Doom (the highly successful Napalm Death moved too quickly from crust to really qualify) can be said to be well-respected acts in the extreme metal community, although one should probably point out that their respective careers leading them to such honorable recognition have been quite different indeed. And let's face it, the metal world is the only place where ambitious crust bands can even hope to approach, not to mention attain, some semblance of respectability, not to mention commercial success, probably thanks to similarities and connections with the above-named Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower rather than a genuine appreciative knowledge of the genre. But then, does any current crust band even want to achieve what the doxa sanctions as success, even in the only relatively important extreme metal sandpit? Flogging the 500 copies of their latest record to the patched flock must already be enough, innit?

Like any punk subgenre (or punk subsubgenre), in order to properly understand and interpret a crust artifact (like any split Ep from 1995, a pair of crust pants or a rusty Amebix badge), one has to be familiar with the rules and conventions governing the music, with the ideas displayed and even the shower-free lifestyle. Like many artistic entities, crust and its subcategories have their own fantasies of themselves and always engage in self-representation. Crust basically "does crust" in an act of referentiality and performativity. Of course, the split Lp between Zygome and Kaltbruching Acideath can be enjoyed on a sensory level by anyone (well, maybe not anyone, some predispositions toward the appreciation of gratuitous sonic brutality and human imitations of wild boars fighting are generally required). However, important elements such as the band's intent, their context of production, their position in the grand crust narrative, the meaningful abundance - or, on the contrary, the purposeful scarcity - of referential visual and sonic clues will be lost. To decipher and unravel the inner workings and contextual dimension of a crust curio can be a captivating task casting light and knowledge on a specific human experience. But it can also sound like a tedious ordeal and unnecessary convolutedness. As your average punter might say, as long as it gets the feet tapping, why bother with futile verbiage.

I suppose you know where I stand on the issue and today's piece must be read with crust's self-reflectivity in mind, and possibly a few cans of cider, as Nuclear Death Terror's self-titled album is a prime example of such a process, beside standing as one of the best crust Lp's that the noughties had to offer. The puzzling nature of the very name of the band has oft been verified and it might cause some deep concern among your eldest relatives if you happen to wear a NDT shirt at a funeral, even if black. And, well, if you read it literally it obviously means the extreme fear of a nuclear-related death like being reduced to ashes by the bomb blast, being burnt alive, vomiting to death because of radiation sickness in the aftermath and other Discharge lyrics. Why, why, why indeed. However, if you are already even remotely familiar with the codes of crust, you will instantly know that the three terms making up the moniker can be described as genuine clichés, but not only that, you will also make the assumption that the members were well aware of the trite derivativeness of the association and that, precisely, in act of conscious self-awareness, choosing such a name is a knowing and knowledgeable wink to the initiated, a purposefully cheesy and loaded name meant to indicate that the band understood the codes of the genre and decided to play with them in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. It is like a pact between listener and listenee. We know how crust is redundant, you know we know and we know you know we know. NDT implied a certain knowledge on the audience's part in order to be understood on a diachronic level, not unlike "just like" d-beat bands perhaps. Of course, NDT were also a very good band with a serious political message and commitment to DIY ethics that could be enjoyed, influence and inspire one on a synchronic level without one having ever heard of Extreme Noise Terror, Mortal Terror, Societic Death Slaughter, Final Warning, Final Massakre and crust's obsession with war - often of the imaginary nuclear variety - and eternal synonymy. 

I first heard of NDT through two punks from K-town - meaning both Copenhagen and the yearly DIY punk festival that took place there and still does - who were traveling through Europe and had brought demo tapes of the band with them (a useful talisman to protect oneself against both dodgy wankers and hygiene). The tale behind NDT's conception was just as good as the band itself, if not better. Apparently, the members had written all the crust-compatible clichéd substantives and qualifiers they could think of on distinct pieces of paper and they then drew three of them at random and the winners eventually were "nuclear", "death" and "terror". I suppose they could just as well have ended up calling themselves Final Doom Massacre, Slaughter Grave of Mankind or Napalm Hell Fear (Extreme Napalm Terror was already taken), but Nuclear Death Terror can be rightly considered as a very fine and lucky pick. I am not sure that the story is true but its veracity does not really matter. First, it makes for a great story to tell and second, and more interestingly, it illustrates crust's traditional self-reflexivity, the conscious decision to "play crust", to "do the crust", to "perform crust" and to establish this pact based on a shared subcultural context with the audience that partly implies some sort of suspension of disbelief. But isn't such a pact part and parcel of a relation with any artistic creation? All this blathering notwithstanding, the phrase "nuclear death terror" sounds too good to be true, fraudulent and I think they cheated and the game was rigged. 

In any case, following the band's enthralling origin story and the very high praises of the crust-loving Danes, I ended up with a copy of NDT's 2005 demo tape. I hadn't played the fucker for a long time (almost forgot I even owned it to be fair) before this post and had forgotten how deliciously raw and angry it sounded and how extreme and gruff the vocals were (although they are sometimes quite difficult to distinguish, which is my only real reservation about this recording). If you need a relevant description, let's say it sounds like raw metallic cavemen scandicrust with dual vocals (State of Fear and 3-Way Cum battling with Hellshock in a squat to keep it brief). The recording really has the direct feel of a demo tape to it which feels a little dumb and tautological to point out (this demo really sounds like a demo) but the quality of recording and production has so dramatically improved during the past decade, even for demos, that to formulate such an impression is not so irrelevant today. NDT's first effort is a demo-sounding demo tape in the best way possible. It was released in June, 2005, on local label Plague Bearer (that also put out the excellent first Skitkids' recording on vinyl, Martyrdöd's debut and the magnificent album of Uro, Requiem) who made 600 copies of the tape, a large number indeed by today's standards for a demo. 

The album that followed was a massive improvement sound-wise and can be rightly considered as an 00's crust classics. If the demo's rawness can be thought to link somewhat the first recording to the 90's crust wave (and to some wild animals fighting in a crate), its successor was firmly rooted in the 00's. Recorded in nearby Malmö by Rodrigo (from Putrid Filth Conspiracy) at The Bombshelter studio, it was again released on Plague Bearer and, without losing its menacing sense of aggression and its spitting directness, the album offered a more intense, not to mention tighter, lesson in emphatic, insistent crustcore with a dark metallic vibe. This said, it should be pointed out that NDT did not sound like a metal band on this Lp for the sound and the production were definitely on the punk side of crust. Some songs certainly contained their fair share of proudly epic mid-paced metallic moments and there are enough shredding guitar leads borrowing lovingly to the metal tradition not to be mistaken on the goods delivered here, but the dominant gene of the album is savage crustcore for the punx. This skull-laden work delivers tastefully pounding crustcore with hoarse dual vocals that sounds just as angry, tornadic  and brutally relentless as scandicrust masters 3-Way Cum and State of Fear (there is a fair amount of Swedish riffing in NDT) but with a heavier stenchcore influence reminiscent of Hellshock's first opus that clearly roots the band in the mid-noughties old-school crust revival. As a bonus to the crust as fuck bollocking, there is a hidden song on the vinyl with an ace cover of "just like Discharge" d-beat pioneers Disaster's "Inferno" that, considering that, considering that the Lp was recorded in early 2006 before War Cry's cd reissue, indicacte that NDT knew their shit indeed. 

The visual aesthetics of Copenhagen's crust heroes strongly reinforce the referential web already woven through the moniker and their Disrupt-meets-Sacrilege-in-a-haunted-Swedish-forest music. Like Hellshock and Stormcrow, NDT assigned Mid, original crust artist extraordinaire, to "draw crust" or rather to include as many elements of the templates of crust imagery as possible in one single drawing. Rows of cracked skulls, dead babies, ruins of an alienating metropolis, deathly fumes, massgrave, gas mask wearing survivors carrying corpses, desolate-looking frame, almost all the boxes are ticked and act like a massive sign saying "crust ahead" (you might want to hang the poster on your wall to precisely achieve such effect). The crust for crust's sake stance is further reasserted on the backcover with a drawing done by Stiv of War that covers the few boxes that were not checked yet: a peace sign made of scythes, a zombified punk and a torn war banner. For some reason, the album appears to be devoid of any nuclear explosion but then I suppose there just was not enough room.  Rather unsurprisingly given the metallic progression of the band, NDT's following ep, Ceaseless Desolation, recorded and released in 2008 on Plague Bearer again, was an even heavier and tighter effort emphasizing the band's mutation into a more openly Frost-metal crust act. Objectively a better record than the Lp, I still think that it wasn't as fun and "crust and proud" as the album, which is the reason why I selected the latter. Afterwards, I remember there were rumours of a four-way split Lp between NDT, Guided Cradle, Instinct of Survival and Visions of War (bound to become an absolute classic) but it never came to fruition. The three songs NDT recorded for this project belonged to the same session as the precedent Ep and were subsequently released as a new Ep in 2009, called Total Annihilation. Guitar player, singer and lyricist Cormy, originally from Dublin, relocated in Melbourne and formed a new version of NDT with a lineup made up of members of Schifosi, Pisschrist or ABC Weapons. They recorded the Chaos Reigns cd for Southern Lord in 2012 but, to be honest, it did not particularly grab my attention. Cormy later on played in the very convincing noizy hardcore machines Krömosom and Geld.

Enjoy this slice of CRUST.


Nuclear Crust Terror