Alright then, this is the last part of The Empire Crusts Back (rolling out with laughter, right?), my short and humble series about the so-called OC crust bands of the late 80's. As usual, it was a fucking pleasure to be able to school the great unwashed about so crucial a subject if one seeks to understand how the world works and to make sure as to what trendy crust shirts to wear this winter 2021 (in case you haven't heard, OC crust fashion is making a massive comeback so you'd better take my word for it). If you missed out on the first three instalments of the series, I recommend you take a bit of your precious time to take a look at them since it will provide some important musical context from a diachronic perspective and a definition of what is meant through the term "OC crust" at that particular time. As I moaned about previously, the peacepunk and crust bands of this era and area unfortunately remain largely undocumented although Jang from Resist and Exist has interviewed some bands that were part of that wave - along with classic bands from the UK, current anarcho bands and videos about political activism - and uploaded some rare recordings and live performances for his youtube channel. Check it out punk as it is truly a work of passion and dedication that could not be further from the online posing contests that punk-rock sadly too often engages in nowadays.
But enough grumbling as I am not here to act like a middle-of-the-road gammon and today we are going to talk about arguably the most famous of the OC crust bands, the brilliantly-named Mindrot (which I have already tackled here with their top notch 1991 Endeavor Ep so I will try to keep it short). Although Mindrot can be said to be something of a respected and recognized band in the extreme metal world, they are rarely connected nowadays to the hardcore punk and crust music scene from which they originally emerged. Just knock on your neighbour's door and ask the geezer about Mindrot. He is very likely to reply "The doom metal band from the mid-90's" rather than "The early OC stenchcore from the early 90's". Or he might just let his staffies out. He'll probably do that actually so let's just pretend you knock on his door. So Mindrot are basically the biggest name of the original OC crust and yet are largely seldom identified as such, although things might be different in California and punk old-timers, who knew of Mindrot before the mid-90's Relapse period, might say otherwise and link the band to the hardcore world so it could be a generational thing.
I mentioned in the review of A//Solution's mastercrust Ep that I first heard of them thanks to the Mindrot's thank list included on their Dawning album, a cd (of course it was the cd version) I bought after reading, or being told, that they used to be a crust band. But then, I tried hard to remember where I might have read such confidential intel or which gentle soul guided my virginal self through my discovery of OC crust. Could I have made that story up or do I actually have imaginary friends? Who cares. Probably both. Perhaps the cd looked enticing enough, with the Relapse label being vaguely associated with hardcore in my tiny mind, and spotting Final Conflict, Total Chaos and Chaos UK on the list - it was second-hand so I could open the case - was enough to convince me that Mindrot was possibly a band that I should know about. That sounds like a much more plausible story actually. Anyway, Dawning is a doom-metal album and at the time the genre was about as alien to me as disco polo so to say that I was disappointed and above all completely out of my comfort zone is an understatement. I did not play the cd much - although I did try to be honest - but I often consulted the thank list and did my best to get information on the bands graced with a punk-sounding name that were included on it. Thank lists are dead, long live thank lists. This grail-like manuscript from 1995 illustrated significantly the position that Mindrot occupied: the space between Orange County's flourishing extreme metal scene and the peacepunk/crust world. With them rubbing shoulders with Morgion, Nausea LA and Fear Factory just as casually as they did with Armistice, Total Chaos or Final Conflict, early Mindrot can be approached as the definitive bridge between both worlds as their sound could appeal to metalheads addicted to doom and death metal as well as crusty punks craving for mean and heavy metallic hardcore music. But then, maybe it was a case of "too metal for the punx, and too punk for the metalheads", an argument that can sometimes be said to be something of a poor excuse used by terrible bands to justify their lack of recognition from either world.
But back to my personal conquest for crust. Because I was unimpressed with Dawning (which I used to call Yawning), I did not really bother researching the earlier Mindrot material and focused instead on bands like A//Solution, Glycine Max or Carcinogen, and of course Apocalypse. When I realized that some Apocalypse songs listed as belonging to the Terror Tapes on the discography cd had actually been released as a split Ep with Mindrot, I immediately got curious and decided to investigate the band's early years further. Fortunately for me, I was able to obtain a copy of the Endeavor Ep from some Profane Existence sales, which proved to be a thoroughly convincing and solid slice of old-school crust metal, and I did manage to find alright mp3 files of the split with Apocalypse, a top record and a genuine crust classic that I rate as one of the greatest crust split Ep's of all time (although it looks absolutely shit, a real shame when you see what both bands were able to offer visually). But the best was yet to come when I finally managed to go back in time and listen to this 1990 demo, an astounding recording that left me in awe.
The Mindrot demo is undoubtedly an old-school crust classic. The term "demo" might be more than a little misleading in this case. When you read about a demo recording from an early crust band, you are entitled to expect something quite rough around the edges, an enjoyable if rather raw and primitive work that, more often than not, is characterized by dodgy musicianship and a certain ineptitude in the studio, a punk-as-fuck sound which is precisely why people love them so much. The Mindrot demo does not correspond to that definition at all. The boys were already quite accomplished musicians and knew exactly what they wanted to achieve. In fact, it sounded far more like a proper debut album - it is a thirty-minute long sonic behemoth - than a demo as it easily outclassed, not just in terms of production but also very much in terms of creative intent, of cohesion, of focus, of what the band aimed at creating, most crust demos of the era and beyond.
Mindrot were undeniably the most metal-tinged band of the OC crust wave. In fact, you would not be wrong to describe them as "doom crust" or "crusty death-doom" but the recording still retains enough of this chugging and filthy threatening crust edge for it to rightly belong in the crust canon, though I would understand that others disagree (not a common sentiment on my part, let me tell you). When I first heard the demo, I was strongly reminded of a blast beat-free Prophecy of Doom, or a doomier, more mournful Bolt Thrower or a death metal act trying to be sound like Axegrinder on antidepressants. Know what I mean? The music is mostly slow, heavy, suffocating almost and very fucking dark though songs like "Lifeless beauty" and "Impurity" have faster moments. The atmosphere of despair, rage and pain that Mindrot try to create is meaningfully enhanced by the amazing sense of storytelling and narration permeating the demo. From the first song till the last one, a whole story is being told, unravels and the listener can spot classic elements of a narrative plot: the demo starts with an instrumental introduction; "Dying breed" and "Hidden people" are eerie spoken poems interspersed between songs; "Demoniac death metallers (from the satanic realm)" is a Sore Throat-like comic relief; and of course, the absolute hit "Darkened existence" halfway through the tape can be considered as the ultimate stenchcore ballad of the OC crust wave. I particularly enjoy recordings that tell a good story and reflect a creative process from the band. They are not just a collection of songs - as great as they might sound individually sound like - as they act as coherent, self-reflexive wholes that engage the listener through music as a narrative. For that reason, I much prefer the 1990 demo to Mindrot's 1991 Ep's as, I feel, the band was more comfortable with a longer format that allowed them to really weave their punishing stenchdoom vibe.
The tape was originally released on Wild Rags records (a label that was responsible for releases from Nausea LA, Pungent Stench or Benediction) and I have no idea why this fantastic demo was never reissued especially when one considers how good and coherent it sounds. And it looks brilliant too, with an iconic cover and proper cut'n'paste DIY visuals. The absence of reissue is basically criminal, especially when one looks at the amount of very average demos from totally anecdotal UK82 bands being rereleased. As was customary with early crust/grind and extreme metal bands, a seemingly endless thank list is included where the accomplished punk maniac will be able to notice the usual OC crustpects but also UK's Sacrilege and Hellbastard, local anarchos Media Children and even Lance Hahn from Cringer. Small world, punks of all scenes unite and fight. Following this demo, Mindrot released the aforementioned Ep's in 1991, and then a live demo on Life Is Abuse (guitar player Matt's then brand new label) in 1992 that saw them going in an even more doom/death metal direction and they eventually recorded Dawning in 1995. As indicated previously in previous reviews, Matt Fisher (RIP) played the bass in Mindrot in parallel with his singing duties with Confrontation and his modelling career with Apocalypse, while Mindrot's guitar players Dan and Matt (although the latter had left by the time of the album) formed the legendary Dystopia in 1991 along with Dino from Carcinogen and Todd from Confrontation, which can be seen as something as the OC crust equivalent of the 1992 Dream Team.
Crucial piece of crust history here. All crusties should be required to own at least one '90/'91 era Mindrot patch.