You all know Misery (and if you've ever been dumped during your secondary school years you've experienced misery too). If Prince was the prince of pop music then Misery are the princes of US crust music. Not that Minneapolis is an aristocratic hotspot but you get the idea. Although I am under the impression that they are semi-retired at the time of rambling - oh rage! oh despair! oh age, my enemy! - the band has been the real deal and delivered the crust for 25 years. By the early noughties, the majority of the 90's crust icons had but fallen with varying degrees of heroism on the battlefield of punk. Some, like Hiatus, died standing up still holding a half empty bottle of tripel (though they finally did come back from the grave recently), others like Warcollapse managed to soldier on but had to go on hiatuses on several occasions to survive. Disrupt and Destroy! did not get to live long enough to see 1995 and legendary Japanese pioneers SDS and Gloom barely made it to the next decade. The new millennia had arrived. Once healthy, flourishing sectors of the crust scene were engulfed in flames and overrun with epic emotional guitar leads, baseball hats and bands owning more pedals than own songs. The classic eurocrust style never really got up from this heavy blow, with still some exceptions, and the death certificate was on the table when it transpired that the new wave of 00's crust bands enjoyed wearing Vans and maintaining an acceptable level of cleanliness. Fucking posers.
The metallic brand of apocalyptic crust did survive thanks, notably, to a major revival in the mid-00's and although there is no denying that the popularity of crust music has been declining steadily, dauntless groups of valiant crust survivors managed to carry the original old-school sound and spirit on their shoulders through more than two decades and no one has stood for this admirable resilience better than Minneapolis' finest, Misery. Misery is what can be called a "name band". If you have been into hardcore punk for a decent number of years, you've either at least heard of them at some point or used to have a dodgy roommate who wore a patch of them, often the same fellow who favoured records over rents. There is no exception. Misery is a prerequisite for any entry-level crusty (you can get extra crust points if you identify the reference in the article's title by the way). What is even more remarkable in their case is that they formed as early as 1987 which makes them a first generation US crust band, like Disrupt or their Minneapolis comrades Destroy!, and on the other side of the country Apocalypse, A//Solution and Glycine Max. New York City's Nausea are also often considered as one of the very first crust bands nationally because
they were around since 1985 but they only really started to sound like
crust - as commonly defined by the British Mermaid crust wave of
Hellbastard, Deviated Instinct et al. - when Al, actually Misery's first singer,
joined sometime in 1988. Interestingly, Misery would release
two full Ep's in 1989 before Nausea got to release their own crust
masterpiece Extinction in 1990. But let's stop arsing about, it's all good shit.
Misery were among the first on the starting line, even though in 1987
they were probably just scruffy kids messing about in a studio getting
pissed and making a lot of noise (in that order). Like any other tribe, the North-American Crusties, in order to thrive and eventually reproduce, need strong origin stories. These allow them to find their place and some balance in the sometimes ruthless wider punk world, one that have seen rival tribes prosper in later years. Tales of glorious late 80's crust bands reinforce a sense of belonging to a strong American tradition of soap-dodging Amebix-worshipping individuals and validate a tradition spawning over three decades so that it matters to underline Misery's place in the early crust pantheon.
We are, as a social species, a bit odd and inhabited with rather morbid fascinations. People never like you more than when you are dead. Absence makes one great or, at least, greater, as if death somehow casts a glow of grandeur and produces a feeling of admiration and instant nostalgia. A statement that is as true for bands as it is for people. It sometimes looks like in order to become a "punk legend", you first have to die. Just think about the deificiation and hero worship of short-lived 80's bands while long-running bands are taken for granted and don't get the credit they deserve. I am personally always favourably impressed with bands who keep flying the flag undeterred, which does not mean I like all of them - some should objectively have been stopped a long time ago - but I like the quixotic romanticism and determination of playing in a punk band for decades. As a wise man might have said once - probably my role model Fat Bob but I could totally be making that up - "we're still bollocks but we're still here". Misery kept going through many trends, seemingly undisturbed, just being Misery. Of course, their sound changed a lot and the opposite would be almost worrying. Born, Fed... Slaughtered sounds very different to From the Seeds that we have Sown, but, in spite of the significant changes, the band's music has remained meaningfully recognizable because of the strong identity they managed to build throughout the years. You cannot really mistake Misery for any other crust band, an impressive feat considering the influence they have had on the global crust universe. One thing that characterizes the Misery sound is how punky it actually sounds and feels like. They have always been, first and foremost, a punk-rock band with several proper punk-rock-tinged songs in their repertoire (granted, these are much heavier than your ordinary punk-rock numbers) which, given the emphatic Bolt-Throwerization of the metallic crust sound from the 00's on, is quite remarkable and something that I, coming from a UK punk background and not a metal one, enjoy thoroughly. And of course, Misery's artwork and lyrics are punk-as-fuck, just taking a look at the drawings on Blindead - which includes drunk zombie punx with spiky hair, barely readable handwriting, a method for a beer bong game and a massive gratuitous "FUCK OFF" - has even the most unperceptive punk notice that the lads were listening to Disorder and charged punk just as much as Axegrinder, all in a boozy fashion.
But enough arse-licking, let's get to the core of the write-up. I chose to address three Misery records, all recorded in the crusty decade of the 1990's: Children of War because it unarguably stands as one of Misery's strongest records, Your Leaders were Lying because it showcases a live performance from a band that, according to reliable and sober enough witnesses, was brilliant on stage and the split with Assrash because it highlights the band's punkier worldview (a bit of an understatement in this case as we will see in due time). Let's start with the Children of War Ep, released in 1991 on Grind 'Til Total Perfection Records, an albatross of a name for what was a one-off sublabel of the then young Relapse Records (the record was also distributed as indicated by MCR Records from Kyoto). This was Misery's third Ep, after their deliciously raw debut Born Fed Slaughtered released in April, 1989 (a second version with a new mix and an additional song saw the light of the day the year after) and Blindead released in July, 1989 but recorded during the same session as the first Ep. Busy bees indeed since they also found the time to record a full Lp during the summer of 1990, Production Thru Destruction, released the following year on the French label (yes!) Intellectual Convulsion. They kept this rather incredible productivity (born out of destruction?) with their third Ep Children of War, recorded only five months after the Lp and eight months before their side of the split Lp with SDS a legendary 90's record and one of the most potent collisions in the memory of crustkind, possibly the best crust split record ever that can also be used as a spell to get your ex back and find the perfect job or as a talisman that can repel malevolent beings (like your neighbours, but play it really loud).
But let's get back to Children of War. If you happen to have a friend who is unfamiliar with the work of Misery or if you just happen to have a friend at all, this Ep is an ideal introduction. The first two might be a little too raw and grinding for the uninitiated and a full Lp could be hard to stomach on a first date. My own initial introduction to Misery was through the Who's the Fool Lp, a recording which saw the band at its apex so that diving into it proved to be easy enough, although grasping properly what they were intending to create sonically can be said to be a more arduous task. Forget all the slandering and libeling about 90's crust punk and how all of it is supposedly generic, bland and redundant, Misery have always been the real deal, an innovative and creative band. Uneducated judgements such as these are always uttered by people wearing non-black shirts from trendy and "edgy" or "freaky" hardcore bands and secretly dreaming of drinking IPA on a Brooklyn rooftop instead of special brew in a rat-infested Leipzig Wagenplatz on a rainy October night. Beside, at least 10% of the 90's crust production was a bit original. At least. On Children of War, Misery's music was really falling into place and you could hear the different elements blending seamlessly together to shape the sound the band was known for in that decade. The Ep kicks off with the eponymous anthem "Children of war", one of their most famous and strongest early number. Mid- paced, anthemic and organically heavy Amebixian song with a strong '88-Axegrinder-meets-'87-Deviated-Instinct vibe. What made this song a proper "Misery song" was, first, the interaction between the two guitars, and, second, the bulldozing sound of the bass guitar. Not many, old-school metallic crust band played with two guitars as having two geezers rocking the same heavy apocalyptic riff all the time is a bit pointless. One of the guitars in Misery's music often concentrates on leads, eerie or epic tunes that help create a foreboding soundscape and draw the song to a particular mood that will define or herald what follows. The introduction of "Children of war" perfectly exemplifies this: miserable and atmospheric at first and then apocalyptic and seemingly unstoppable but interdependent. The bass sound also plays a crucial part in this shift. Misery were always very bass-driven, probably more so than any crust band of that era. During the introduction of the song, the bass is rather clear, very Monolith-like and then, when the guitars kick in, it turns into a lava-like, distorted monster with a terrific steamrolling groove. Undisputedly this bass sound is one of the band's clear trademarks which is unusual for a crust band.
The second song, "Thanksgiving day", illustrated another, punkier side of Misery. Typical old-school UK anarchopunk riffs played with the doomsday Misery vibe. Like a crustier version of '84 Antisect and Icons of Filth. On that level, the band has often reminded me of their London contemporaries Coitus who also added a dirty and groovy punky vibe to the classic heavy Antisect sound and one could advance that Misery did the same with the Amebix/Axegrinder sound. Does that make sense? The Minneapolis bunch love classic punk music and it shows, the last song of the Ep, the faster "Dragged off to war" is reminiscent of GBH and Broken Bones drinking malt liquor around a bonfire in a scrapyard. I always tend to associate Misery's vibe with an urban and desolate industrial atmosphere, atavistic anger or derelict factories while a band like Amebix evokes in me a bleak moor, a strong land connection and the potentiality of praying to pagan gods in the nude, probably not something you can do in Minneapolis, although I could be wrong. The third song of Children of War, "Morbid reality", is not dissimilar to "Children of war" in terms of songwriting, classic old-school metallic crust with death-metal-ish vocals, a shitload of mosh power and something of a Prophecy of Doom touch. The lads in Misery liberally shared vocal duties which brought some variety to their already diverse bag of crust tricks and offered different possibilities in terms of vocal textures. The singers complement each other perfectly and have recognizable voices and prosody - gruff, hoarse and pissed lower-pitched shouts answering to snottier, punker in-your-face vocals, not unlike GBH and Concrete Sox at times. This element, I think, has significantly contributed to the identity of the band throughout time and along with the distinctive guitar plays and massive bass sound. As for the cover, it is an iconic piece of crust history, a little confusing at first but I like the many details and the profusion.
Misery is possibly the one crust band I wish I saw live but never did. Don't get me wrong, I wish I had been at the Mermaid in the mid/late 80's obviously, but Misery were still very much active when I first fell for them in the early 00's so the prospect of seeing them one day was not completely unreasonable and even plausible (I was blissfully unaware of the logistics of touring at the time so that, in my youthful mind, any active band was likely to play in Paris at some point. Little did I know that most bands actually avoided playing in my hometown but that is a whining session I shall develop another time). Of course, Misery never toured Europe in my punktime and never will, something I have done my best to be as placid as possible about for a decade. So posting a live Ep sounded like the thing to do to exorcize some of the pain, especially since Misery, I have been told, were a live powerhouse. Not exactly surprising given the unique sound they managed to create in the studio but it is still comforting, and in this case also painful, to know that a favourite band of yours which you never got to sing along to while properly wankered in a live environment was a great live band. Your Leaders were Lying was recorded during a gig in New York City in 1993 and released the same year on Squat or Rot, a label close to the local squatters' movement run by Ralphie Boy from Jesus Chrust and Disassociate.
There are three songs on this wonderful Ep, two classic Misery numbers on the first side, "Filth of mankind" and "Fear to change", that appear respectively on the 1992 split Lp with SDS and the 1994 Who's the Fool Lp. Brilliant songs epitomizing the sheer power of Misery. The band is tight, the sound is surprisingly good and balanced for a live recording. Heavy, rocking, dark polyphonic metallic crust and the perfect soundtrack to the apocalypse. At the time of this recording Misery were possibly the best band around doing this type of crust so that there is little point using points of comparison. Misery just sounded like Misery and sounding like oneself is quite an achievement (metaphysical shit for you). These two songs are energetic and rather fast ones with "Fear to change" showing that the band could pull the fast and furious brand of crust, with ease. The other side includes an Amebix cover, "Nobody's driving", which they pull brilliantly, with the skillful drummer even bringing some variations of his own. Needless to say that, Amebix being the band's primary influence, covering an anthem from Monolith must have been an easy enough decision to make. Misery seemed to have been a band that loved playing covers as, beside "Nobody's driving", they did Sacrilege's "Life line", Icons of Filth's "Fucked up state" (the best one of the lot according to me), New Model Army's "The hunt" and Amebix again with "ICBM". The band was apparently made up of cheeky bastards prone to terrorize innocent law-abiding citizens. There is a copy of a letter from angry neighbours living close to what I assume is "the Misery house" complaining about the noise, the raucous partying, the obscene behaviours and language although they claimed to have nothing against people "generally maintaining an appearance and lifestyle different from others". Punx will be punx. Misery was not insensitive to childish, puerile, scatological jokes either as the cover is basically a picture from the loos' venue while the backcover of the Ep shows a bare arse with the caption "Nobody's wiping". I did find it funny which says a lot I suppose.
The third Ep we are going to talk about today is the split with Assrash, another Minneapolis band with a common fondness for arse-related topics. This Ep was a picture disc, a format I have never cared for and I don't think I own more than ten records of this kind (I am similarly completely indifferent to coloured vinyl, my Discharge vision only seeing things in black and white). However, this one is pretty funny. This Ep might be one of the punkest-looking records I own - and I still have my old Casualties collection so that's saying something. A picture of the lads getting heavily pissed on one side, and one with them standing in line back to the camera with their hands against a brickwall as if about to being searched by the police. Typical punk posing I have to say but the so-called US streetpunk wave was emerging back then so perhaps the "pissed, punk and proud on the street" was in the air. In any case, while I would not listen to a band whose sole quality is their fashion statement, Misery waving the punker-than-you flag is fine with me. And well, in the light of the current alienating fashion worship and popularity contest on Instagram, the pictures on the split look almost tame in 2021. I am not sure when the songs were recorded exactly but the split was released in 1996 so I am guessing in 1995, perhaps during the same recording session as the Next Time Ep. "Bitter end" and "12 years of hell" see the band still in their unabated old-school crust mode, with maybe a less prevalent Amebix/Axegrinder influence. "Bitter end" has that classic guitar play and bass groove as usual and the songwriting reminds me of a crustier Celtic Frost, not unlike Coitus again (now that I think of it a Misery/Coitus split would have been magnificent and an endless source of top puns, just think about it) while "12 years of hell" is a quality fast and thrashing crust punk numbers. Both songs have that "90's Misery sound" but it was to be the last record to really display Misery at their crustiest. The following record, the split Lp with Extinction of Mankind from 2001, saw the band incorporating other, new influences into their crust recipe to great effect (their songs on this Lp are among the very best they ever wrote). On the other side of this 1996 split, Assrash delivered their typical brand of raucous, obnoxious, two fingers in the air punk-rock with singalongs, not unlike late 80's Chaos UK, The Restarts or Suicidal Supermarket Trolleys. Energetic and snotty, the three songs work pretty well on the Ep and should get you properly prepared for a pogo session or a night out on the piss. The Ep was released on Clean Plate Records, the label run by Will from Orchid, and it is without a doubt the punkest record he ever put out.
That's enough Misery for today. This band deserve all the praises in the world for keeping the old-school crust sound alive and making it evolve for such a long time. Our shorter attention span, the availability of everything everywhere and our modern consumption of punk music makes us addicted to a constant flow of new bands and records often using marketing techniques and vocabulary to sell their product and turn a six-month old band into hardcore pioneers so that bands like Misery are less likely to keep running and flourish in our current context. Love and support your older crust bands.