Friday 27 August 2021

The Empire Crusts Back - the OC Crust years (part 1): Apocalypse "Earth" Ep, 1989

Alright then, there's crust to be done. After a relatively long break this summer due to my annual meditation retreat in Stoke-on-Trent, I decided to tackle a topic that had been seductively floating around on the edges of my consciousness for a while. An immense task that no one dared to accomplish, that would secure Terminal Sound Nuisance a comfy spot in the Crust Hall of Fame. I could already picture myself being applauded by my peers as I walked to the stage in order to deliver my poignant speech (I guess I will have to thank my parents though my dad has always vehemently disapproved of Extreme Noise Terror for some reason) and lift the award for my lifetime achivements, a small but refined golden statue of a crust punk passed out in a pool of special brew. I would relish this moment of glory. But before this dream comes true, I have to push myself to the limit, yet again, and wrestle with a scene that has been particularly close to my heart for a while now: the venerable OC crust scene. 

The notion and concept of "OC crust" will be explored and discussed throughout this short series so that my desire to crush you with a three pages long essay straight away will have to be contained. However, some basic knowledge about the term "OC crust" and what it has come to mean and imply do seem necessary. Strictly speaking, it refers to the first wave of crust that emerged in South California, notably in the specific area of Orange County in the late 80's, making it one of the original crust waves in the States and beyond. It goes without saying that those early bands were deeply influenced by the early UK "Peaceville" crust bands and also by fast hardcore punk, anarchopunk (at least lyrically and ethically) and extreme metal, the three roots from which the original British stenchcore tree also grew. It should be pointed out that, while I am sure those OC crust bands were into the classic British anarcho and hardcore bands - like Discharge, Antisect and so on - they must have been stimulated by the local bands who had been or were then flying flags similarly adorned with doves, peace symbols and the archetypal antiwar lexical field: the so-called peacepunk wave. Local SoCal mid-80's noise-makers like Against, Body Count or Diatribe must have been inspirations while their peacepunk contemporaries Another Destructive System, Holocaust and Media Children evolved in the same galaxy but with different artistic intents on the scale of aural bollocking.  Now let's proceed.   

As my honourable sensei used to say to me whenever I felt blue back in the day: "Don't worry and focus on your life goals. If you pay enough attention, you will notice that the singing of the birds sounds just like Cock Sparrer's chorus on "Take'em all". Believe yourself and just wait patiently for the apocalypse". Of course, I was just a wee lad back then and I was not quite sure what to make of my master's cryptic pieces of wisdom and, in frustration, I would punch walls and spit on the floor like I thought a proper hard member of the barmy army would and draw cocks on my dad's car with spray paint. Good times. Little did I know that sensei was actually referring to the band Apocalypse and not the biblical punishment and purification - a myth that happens to have been one of the main, if not the only one, influence on crust lyrics to this day. I remember the pride in the eyes of my punk sensei when I used to tell him that, when I grew up, I wanted to front a crust band called Apocalypse. Even then I could notice a soft cloud of sadness on his face as he encouraged to pursue my dreams and get the crust pants-making technique right. Realizing that there was already a crust band with the Apocalypse moniker broke my heart and shattered my self-confidence. Had my master not overdosed on dodgy shoegaze music some years prior, I would have shouted "Why why, whywhywhyyyy" to him. I think he was just trying to protect me.


I first came across Apocalypse sometime in the mid-00's through their 1998 discography cd Coldbringer. I remember picking it from the now defunct Crimes Against Humanity Records distro after reading the eloquent notice describing Apocalypse as an old-school metallic crust band from the late 80's resembling Antisect (there had to be a mention to Antisect for me to hyperventilate that much). Now such an introduction to an unknown band pushed all the right buttons and I immediately and authoritatively ordered the cd. I was already quite well versed in the arcane world of 80's UK crust by then, but I was all but completely unaware of the early crust scene of Southern California (I was unclear about where Mindrot stood exactly in this seemingly impenetrable equation as I had read somewhere that they used to do crust). While I knew that Misery, Disrupt, Nausea or Destroy belonged to the early U$ crust canon and greatly enjoyed the seminal SoCal political hardcore punk bands Final Conflict and Iconoclast, I did not really envision a proper crust scene in California, which, of course, sounds preposterous because that part of the world has had top representatives of every punk subgenres since the 70's (well, us French still rule over the sloppy-minimalistic-punk-with-a-drum-machine genre but no one really covets that spot to be fair). So upon reading about a SoCal stenchcore team, my mind immediately went wild and I quickly took to interrogate old-timers about a potential early crust scene over there, for, as the old punk saying goes "even if there is just the one bottle of brew, there are always more than one crust punk fighting for it", meaning that, because of crust's peculiar reproductive molecular structure, there was bound to be more bands in that style.

The reason why CAH Records had freshly received copies of Coldbringer is somewhat mysterious as it was released almost ten years prior, so by 2006 or 2007 (I think I got it around that time), it was no longer something new. Perhaps the record label behind it, Half-Life Records from Hacienda Heights, found some additional copies of the cd in the attic and offered them to CAH as it used to carry a lot of grindcore bands on the distro and Half-Life was precisely a grindcore label so it could make sense (the connection between Apocalypse and Half-Life was certainly more personal than musical, I guess they were mates and the latter offered to release a discography for them). Whatever the reason was, it looked like a sign from the gods of crust and although I am not the superstitious type and tend to disregard such beliefs, that the cd found itself in my path was not a coincidence. I had been chosen. It was a prophecy. And I also had some money in my pocket for the prophecy to happen but let's not dwell on such trivial, mundane details. 


There is little point in telling you how excited I was (and still am) about Apocalypse. They played exactly the style of crust that I loved and, like every old-school records included, there was a short but substantial thank list mentioning other bands I had never heard about, it was like a starting point for an archeological expedition as I was ready to embark into a quest for OC crust. The internet has made it possible, in a extremely short amount of time, to acquire some knowledge - albeit often superficial but it is beside the point - about any punk subgenres, even the most obscure. However, so-called OC crust (that has come to designate bands that were actually from Orange County but also from neighbouring localities), which was really an outgrowth of the strong SoCal peacepunk scene (as the thank list highlights with the presence of Another Destructive System or Media Children for example) rather than a scene of its own, remains something of an hidden treasure. I have already extensively written about the 80's Californian peacepunk scene and touched upon OC crust on two occasions when glorifying Mindrot and Glycine Max but this time I am going to do things properly and write passionately about four top records from that era.

So what about Apocalypse then? They were from Walnut (yes, like a walnut), formed in 1986 and disbanded in 1990. They got to release a fantastic demo tape and three Ep's (the present record Earth as well as splits with the mighty Mindrot and Transgression) and did the Earth Grind Tour around the country with Confrontation (a split Ep between both bands was announced for the tour but it did not materialize). And did I mention they picked the crustiest name for a band? So obvious and self-evident if not corny that it is brilliant (and I am not saying this just because I still envy them). The Earth Ep was recorded in 1988 and 1989 with a lineup that exemplifies the rather incestuous ties that existed among crust bands there: drummer Mark also hit things for Glycine Max then, bass player Al also drummed for Mindrot, while guitar player Rich and singer Ralph were literally brothers. One may justly infer that the OC crust phenomena might have been rather small, a specific and ultimately genre-defining moment that was part of a wider political hardcore punk metal scene in the 80's. 


Earth technically contains four songs but the first two "Mother..." and "Earth!" are actually tied to one another so that the former feels like a long dark metallic crust instrumental introduction rather than a separate track which gives it more of a narrative dimension to both. These two numbers make up the first side of the Ep and work perfectly together to create a brilliant and memorable crust epic with variations, from eerie moments to chugging and apocalyptic ones, there is a story being told here. Early Axegrinder, Deviated Instinct and Hellbastard come to mind (it is no coincidence that you can spot posters of the latter two pinned on the wall of the band's practice space, I'm assuming, that was used as a picture for the backcover), as this mid-paced track is groovy, raw and heavy, the perfect way to start the Ep especially since it provides depth and a distinct, sombre sense of doom, settling an atmosphere of grief and pain that would turn into anger in the following song "Earth!". Basically what a crust atmosphere is supposed to sound like and convey. Apocalypse's next song starts off with the canonical heavy-and-slow stenchcore beat before morphing into some mean metallic hardcore, not so far from the crossover style of the time albeit in a much darker version. I am hardly an expert in Californian crossover hardcore but  you get the gist. The great Final Conflict - undoubtedly a major influence on Apocalypse, Ron Martinez even produced the band's '88 demo - and Diatribe also come into the equation, especially in the vocals, which I think work well here, and I would add a spoonful of Concrete Sox as well. Top notch and pretty flawless first serving of proper crust. The other side kicks off with the Hellbastard-meet-Electro-Hippies-under-the-Californian-sun "Heart of man", a song that has a magnificent old-school vibe and ends with a typical US hardcore riff that probably had the whole audience run around in the pit (if they were still able to walk properly, the crawling version being far less impressive). The final song "Wimp-core" is a nine second blast of grinding hardcore, pretty puerile and anecdotal, but it acts here as a loving nod to the likes of Napalm Death, Sore Throat and Electro Hippies who had all previously engaged dealt in such primitive amusical bouts. I am into referentiality so that works for me. The production on the Ep is exemplary for this brand of old-school raw and heavy mean metallic hardcore as it gives a genuine punk edge to the songs and it makes sense that the engineer David Kory also worked with Infest, Final Conflict or even Hirax, exemplifying the ties that existed between the hardcore punk and the extreme metal worlds at the time.  


The cover is quite cryptic and a little too simplistic perhaps, although I suppose the conceptual idea was to offer an evocation of Earth and its beauty - a recurring theme in Apocalypse's lyrics - by offering a contemplative peaceful picture of flamingos - they are flamingos, aren't they? - and avoid skulls, nuclear explosions or decaying zombie punks. The poetry does not last long, on the backcover, as previously mentioned, there is a picture taken in the band's rehearsal space (I can only presume) showing faux model but real punk Matt Fisher probably in the nude - though the socks are still on for extra glamour - hiding his parts with a massive sign that says "Smash the skulls of vivisectors - It's your turn next". I can't disagree with this sentiment. The inside includes the lyrics as well as a thank list that adequately illustrates the mood of the time and the DIY network from which the band emerged (the list on the Coldbringer cd is even more eloquent on that level). There is also a text about swastikas (now that is much more uncommon) and how they originally symbolized balance and the Earth power instead of Poland-invading murderers. Still a little daring to sport one and some malign bands and people have been playing with this historical ambiguities for nasty purposes. 

Earth was released in 1989 on Crust Records, the label run by Ben from Dropdead - with the simplest and most desired name in the game - responsible for some classic Disrupt, Dropdead or Totalitär records. Apocalypse would then release two more Ep's, a split with crossover hardcore band Transgression from Indiana and another split, this time with crust neighbours Mindrot before splitting up in 1991. They reformed in the late 2010's and recorded a very convincing split Ep with Extinction of Mankind. 

The whole series is humbly dedicated to Matt Fisher, former member of Confrontation and Mindrot, who sadly passed away in October, 2020.