Tuesday 31 May 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Terminal Conquest "S/t" demo tape, 2017

Portland. A town that has made young - and not so young - punks dream for decades. I first realized that PDX (that's what cool kids call Portland) was one of the major places to be about twenty years ago, a distant time when I was seriously getting into the d-beat and crust thing. I don't think I could actually locate it on a map. To me, Portland was just that town that apparently hosted a team called "the Blazers" like in the Bulls vs Blazers 1992 video game I owned on Sega Genesis indicated. Good game that though I don't care for basketball. But quickly, "they're from Portland" became a recurring descriptive notice that was often eruditely applied to bands that I liked. "TragedyOh yeah they're based in Portland". "Atrocious Madness? Ace Japanese-styled crasher noize from Portland" "Axiom? To me one of the best crust bands of the 90's to come out of Portland." "Hellshock? If you kids only knew the former classic Portland bands the members used to be play in". I could go on and on. Portland was like a magnet for class bands while Paris felt like a magnet for tasteless wankers. Of course, this caused more than just a little envy but in retrospect, now that I am a wiser, more serene person who have replaced constant self-deprecation with unabated egomania and conceitedness, I am at peace with the fact that PDX has consistently delivered solid punk bands since the birth of punk-rock and we have not.

The stormy emergence of global music streaming and the constant availability of an almost complete catalogue of every punk records may have diminished a bit the glamour that PDX punk used to enjoy and with a much wider - albeit more superficial - knowledge of the world punk history it is not rare to read twenty-something wish they had lived in Osaka in the mid-90's for the Final Noise Attack concerts - a sensible fantasy indeed - or, more much deranged, in France in the early 80's in the Chaos en France era instead of PDX, a clear sign that some marbles have been lost. In the early 00's, I vaguely entertained the dream to one day play in a crust band there, misled into thinking I would be a better musician at the other end of the globe. Let's face it, I would still have been rubbish but in a town where it is constantly pissing rain. 

My always alert crust sense (not unlike an eighth sense or a punk version of the Force, only I don't feel the presence of Earth spirits or associated hippie bollocks but of good crust) has often focused on PDX, by tradition but also because the last few years have been prolific over there. Terminal Conquest is a band that immediately caught my attention, first because the band included - I assume they are no longer active and rather short-lived but I could be mistaken - members involved in other bands (guitar player, Brandon, was in Vastation at that time and former or current members of Krang, Night Nurse and Black September were also invited to the party) some works of which I rate quite high. And second because I am a massive, some would say immoderate, fan of vintage Sacrilege and TC can be described as a definite, unequivocal Sacrilege-loving band, like the brilliant After the Bombs before them or their contemporary Lifeless Dark. 

The worship of Sacrilege can take several shapes. For instance, Boston's Death Evocation and the aformentioned Lifeless Dark, for their unabated love of the Brits, must be considered as other Sacrilege-loving acts. However, DE and LD focus on '85/'87-era Sacrilege (Behind the Realms of Madness, the '86 demos and Within the Prophecy) whereas TC work primarily on the '84/'85 years (the first two demos and Behind the Realms of Madness, aka Sacrilege's undisputed masterpiece). These may seem like hair-splitting details and overfine distinctions but that's what Terminal Sound Nuisance is all about and I am being paid by the word so I do have to fill the pages. I would argue that the raw organic sound of TC's demo tape enhances that early Sacrilege feel which I personal prefer to their more thrash/UK crossover style. Thank fuck no band has tried to copy Turn Back Trilobite yet but let's just keep our collective fingers well crossed and be ready to cancel those who will. The other major influence has to be Montreal's After the Bombs, arguably the first band to go full-on vintage Sacrilege. The comparison makes much sense here as TC do share that epic heavy metal-punk groove, crunchy guitar sound, not to mention the hyperbolic soloing at times, as well as those great reverbed vocals that ATB's were known for. Singer Natanya does a brilliant job at replicating Tam's vocal style and her accentuation, scancion and overall delivery are impressive indeed, especially considering the fact that she is not - I suspect - a British native. I am also reminded of Pink Turds in Space's Greatest Shits in terms of vocal tone, which is clearly another compliment. 

Without question, this 2017 demo does a great job at displaying pure Sacrilege love and, through their focus on the '84/'85 era - clearly metallic but still heavily influenced by DIY hardcore punk and not yet too thrash-metal oriented - I think they may very well be my favourite Sacrilegious band of the decade. Come get your prize you naughty bastards. It has to be pointed out that this recordings is just a demo and while the production is fine, it is quite raw which I very much enjoy, one cannot help wondering what the band could have achieved on a full album with more time and space for the songwriting and narrative possibilities (more ambient moments or instrumental interludes?) and the visuals. But since I don't think the band is still active, such musing will forever remain wishful thinking. In case the listener is not quite sure about the band's artistic stance with the cover depicting a Reaper grimly touching a chained planet Earth, TC wisely added the illuminating Hellbastard reference "PDX Ripper Crust Demo 2017" at the bottom. The tape was released on Primitive Future from Phoenix, a label responsible for records from Cancer Spreading, Stagnation and Nightgaun (it's run by someone from this band I think). Members of TC are still active in bands with Matt doing metal things (Sangre de la Luna, Oppressive Descent, Death Fetishist and other skacore bands) and Mike (he doesn't play on the demo) playing in the brilliant Genogeist and Decomp.

Now let's rip come crust, shall we?            


Terminal Conquest of Portland 

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Mortal War "Gates of Hell" demo tape, 2017

Signs play an important role in punk culture as a whole and even more so in the many subgenres that have consolidated throughout the years. The most obvious example of this process of meaning circulation through signs is the d-beat genre, one that is saturated with visual and sonic references to and signifiers of the signified (you-know-who). In fact, you could rightly claim that without such an intricate relationship between signifier and signified, this genre would simply not exist. It is the very basis of its existence. Just like signifiers like boots, braces and being hard and a bit thick (some would add posing in front of a brick wall with a wage worth of retro clothing) are necessary to oi music.

The same goes for the crust genre and its subdivisions. When dealing with the old-school metallic kind, specific signs are both required - to some extent - and expected. You could very well choose to ignore these tacit meaning-producing rules and challenge them by picking a name that does not echo the crust templates at all through the use of colourful family-friendly artworks for your stenchcore band - as it has been vastly renamed since the 00's revival - but the risk is high and your Lp will probably quietly end up in the two-quid record bin faster than it is supposed to be. Again, we come back to the old debate of punk's conservativeness versus punk's cultural assertion. The distorted crasher style allows a bit more liberty because of its love for chaos, noize and metaphorical dementia so anything can go really (crude drawings of crusty punks are still recommended though) but when it comes to stenchcore, things are much more traditional and, dare I say it, strict. Even Axegrinder took stick because their Lp included a colour photograph of themselves. Posers.

As a band openly embracing the subgenre's codes, Philadelphia's Mortal War displayed strong totemic signifiers of crustness for the faithful to recognize, respond to the call and proudly rally around. Let's take a look at the band's semiotic tropes. First the name Mortal War, beside sounding crustier than thou was taken from an Effigy song appearing on their 2001 split with Äpärät. So that's already a pretty massive clue although you do have to be au fait with 00's Japanese crust. It's a prerequisite for engaging maximally with the music, although, of course, Gates of Hell is perfectly enjoyable without prior crust expertise. Let's move to the title of the tape. One would not be wrong to see a reference to The Mob's famous hit but it might also just be an assemblage of words pointing toward things typically evil often mentioned in crust - and Hell is supposed to be a pretty bad place to find yourself in. So it is probably a two-in-one operation. Or they drew the names from a hat. Who knows. The cover depicts some grim-looking monoliths, an indirect nod to the pagan imagery of Amebix, a very safe interpretation since MW also pull out a cover of "Winter" on the tape. Finally, you can find the traditional Out From the Void-era celtic knot border on the cover for maximum crustness. To top it off, the band stated that the thing was recorded in 2017 "under the crust moon" and, just in case you are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the band contact was warcruster(at)gmail.com. To be fair, the tape can easily attract your average fan of death, thrash or black metal as well - and anyone who likes thunderous renderings of the apocalypse - but I reckon Gates of Hell is primarily one for the initiated.

What about the music then? The demo kicks in with an Amebix-ish synth sound followed by the gloomy rings of bells - Sacrilege style - before unleashing a crushing Bolt Thrower moment as an opening to the first song, itself a heavy and dark mid-paced slice of stenchcrust like early-Stormcrow-meets-early-Hellshock. It ticks all the right boxes with tastes as the sound is intense, very heavy with an organic vibe and a singer who sounds like he has just been exhumed from the grave and is pretty pissed off about it. MW loved to play with atmospheres and narration as the songwriting cleverly includes darkly evocative introductions and conclusions (such as the aforementioned synth, the sound of wind, some soft and eerie guitar moments) thus enhancing the angry atmosphere of impending doom. The second number is an unstoppable mosh-compatible epic metal crust anthem, quite reminiscent of Stormcrow again (the title of "Slave to darkness" does echo Enslaved in Darkness afterall), that will have you headbang restlessly and possibly injure yourself in the process. Mosh safe. 

Because of the narrative meaningfulness of the aforementioned sections framing the body of the songs, making the overarching story progress and improve, I chose to leave the first three songs - "Intro", "Slave to darkness" and "The battle's end" - on one single track. "The final war", far from being an Axegrinder cover, is a dissonant and bleak interlude about the madness of, well, war and it reminds me of Mindrot's "Hidden people" on their 1990 demo, not because they completely sound the same - they are still both spoken words with a black dissonant guitar and bear-like vocals - but because they both serve the purpose of introducing and further contextualizing a very serious meal, in MW's case a brilliant cover of "Winter", madness before death. Amebix, for their unique sound, is not an easy band to cover at all and I think the Philadelphians did very well in this perilous exercise, fortunately for them as the opposite would have implied a digital walk of shame and the Crust Council would have immediately banned them and required them to leave their crust pants and bullet belts at the door. The band's version of this classic manages to keep its trance-inducing quality and occult atmosphere but also make it heavier without falling in the obvious metal trap of putting double-bass drum everywhere and singing too gutturally. No ones wants to hear a constipated version of "Winter". The vocals sound very anguished and macabre indeed and the perfect production of the recording - heavy, groovy and dark but not too clear - allows the band to do an excellent Amebix cover, in fact one of the best I know. 

As I mentioned in the Pollen post, many great bands arose from the Philadelphia punk scene in the 2010's (members also played in distorted raw punk act Aseptic, the not so dissimilar stenchcore unit Weald, d-beat fanboys Mania For Conquest and Pollen) and MW was one of my favourites, if not my favourite. I think the band started to record an album but things apparently fell through, too bad since I sense that it could have been a major crust work. Gates of Hell remains one of the strongest stenchcore efforts of the decade and if you are into the bigger names of the 00's apocalyptic crust revival like Hellshock or Stormcrow, MW will absolutely delight you.  


Mortal gates of war hell           

Saturday 21 May 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Keretik "Terra Mater" Lp, 2017

The formidable abundance of readily available punk music, online just as much as in physical formats (which we used to call, in the old days, "a record" or "a tape" or even, for the embarrassingly unfashionable ones among us " a cd") can be rather vicious. On the one hand every single new recording - even the shite ones it has to be said - can be streamed, digested, stored in a corner of the brain and digested instantly, on the other, well, it has become impossible to even give a chance to many potentially worthy bands. Just listening to the first song of every new d-beat recording in a month would take you a whole afternoon, and I'm only talking about 90 second long bursts of noise. Imagine what doom metal fans and their eight minute long songs must go through because of the sheer profusion of new music, the endless flux of novelty. Poor bastards. 

Even I struggle to give a go to bands playing subgenres that I hold close to my heart even though I do spend a lot of time clearing my personal soundscape from pretentious egg punk and shoegaze abominations. Tragically, despite my Sauron-like capacity to spot good crust from miles away, some top bands do escape my awesome attention and die trying in the luxurious mountains of Mordor while terrible hobbity postpunk acts manage to crawl through the epicenter of the Crustdom. I almost did not notice Helsinki's Keretik and only gave them a listen because the Lp had been released on Urinal Vinyl, an old-school UK anarchopunk label that I always keep an eye on, and I can't praise the Dark Lord enough since Terra Mater is an unsung jewel of gloomy metallic crust. And you know what? By which I mean you probably don't but are about to because I am going to tell you what you don't know, yet, but will be happy and surprised to and possibly thinking, aloud or not, "fuck me". In fact, you probably know Keretik under another name, Viimeinen Kolonna. 

VK have been around since the early 00's and have released quite a few records on Agipunk, Hardcore Holocaust and of course Fight Records (who also have a hand in Terra Mater) so you have probably at least bumped into their name. I suppose the change of name - and the symbolical burial it implies -  signified the band's intent to try new things musically as Keretik has much more of an old-school crust feel than what VK's were famous for, that is to say thick, fast relentless thrashing Finnish hardcore. To be honest, and I am not trying to boast needlessly here, the first time I heard Keretik I thought that it was the new project of VK's singer as he has always had easily recognizable vocals. In fact, you could describe him as sounding like a crazy drunk on the street chasing you while aggressively yelling insults as loud as possible. But in a good, Finnish hardcore styled way, a genre renowned for its extremely hostile and pissed vocal aesthetics. The three members making up Keretik are not exactly novices in hard-hitting punk music as they previously made some noise in Rythmihäiriö, Agenda or the grossly underappreciated Amen. So they definitely have bad backs. 

Keretik play raw, dark and direct old-school metallic crust with mean dual vocals - gruff and hoarse shouts versus evil and desperate yells - reminiscent of the Finnish hardcore tradition but that also has a lot to do with the language itself and its particular prosodics. Along with the genuinely torturous and aggressively punk dual vocals (one of the record's strongest point, they sound like a massive bollocking of biblical proportions, a "you're being grounded, no Discharge for two weeks" kind of punishment). Finnish does confer an original vibe to the music as few old-school crust bands sang in Finnish, apart from the aforementioned mighty Amen and proto-crust legends Painajainen. Keretik did not try to go for a massive crushing sound and kept it raw and primitive which fits with the record's rather short length for the genre, seven songs in eighteen minutes. The music could be described as primal and there is a certain Amebix influence in the songwriting. There are other elements brought to the table as gloomy pagan crust punk acts like Dazd also comes to mind (especially in some creepy melodies), as well Coitus for the dark and rocking thrashing squat-crust mosh-inducing riffs and the dual vocal post-stenchcore sound of A//Solution could easily be invoked too. The record itself is a little disappointing as there is no insert included and the visual does not really appeal to me. It was released on three labels, Urinal Vinyls, Psychedelica Records and, unsurprisingly the immortal Fight Records. And as a testament of the old-school DIY punk spirit the band decided to add a patch with the record. Thanks for that.  

Keretik have another recording under their bullet belts entitled Tomorrow's Worst Enemy. It was recorded in 2021 and I am not afraid to say it pretty much stands as one of the best crust works of the past few years. Building on their raw and primitive metal punk vibe, thanks to a better sound and more articulate songwriting, Keretik have added a sense of crust epics and atmospherics without giving up on the aggression. Beside the aforementioned culprits I am reminded of Axegrinder and Misery as well. Top drawer old-school crust that I cannot believe went unnoticed. In fact, if I had not done some research about Keretik for this post, I probably would not have even known about the existence of Tomorrow's Worst Enemy while it is right up my stenchcrust alley. There is tape version of it, but the band is looking for a label for a vinyl release. You know what to do: support the band. 

Terra Mater  

Friday 13 May 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Braincëll / Zikade "S/t" split Ep, 2019

There we go again after a short break during which I went on tour with one of my bands. In addition to being a world renowned crust reporter, recipient of five Stench of the Year awards, I also happen to entertain wild punk crowds of about 30 to 40 people on weekdays and up to 80 on saturday nights if the weather is alright. Arena punk-rock if you like. This assortment of human qualities never ceases to amaze my friends and family and even I have trouble realizing how much of a genius I am in the eyes of many (apart from my boss for reasons that probably have to do with me wearing my Genital Deformities shirt at work although I never asked the tasteless twat). I mean, we did draw 43 people on a cloudy wednesday night. But all good things come to an end and here I stand before my computer screen trying to decide if the description "horrendous terminal filth stench crustcore" coined by Osaka's marvelous Revenge Records - run by Jacky Framtid/Crust War - is actually relevant to qualify Zikade's artistic endeavours or if the "terminal filth" might not be considered as something of a deliciously purposeful but still a little misguiding stretch. I am back to philosophizing. 

This Ep is the second split record of the Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust series after the NIS/Warpath Ep. I have always loved split record as they epitomize the idea of collaboration, togetherness and friendship that DIY punk is supposed to be about. While the first split Ep can be said to be an accurate illustration of the early 2010's Italian crust scene and is therefore rooted locally, the Braincëll/Zikade Ep is an international initiative. Both types of split records are equally relevant and part of the traditional fabric of punk music: the local dimension is as meaningful as the international one. You can call me a naive romantic fool - although not to my face as I am hypersensitive when it comes to subjects tied to crust split Ep's - but I love the idea of breaking down barriers and, even if it is just a humble punk record, it is also, and I would argue primarily so, the network of friends in action. 

Because I am a shameless Japanese crust nerd - admittedly an acquired taste as it took me some time to properly relate to its inner dynamics - my attention was immediately set in motion the first time Zikade was mentioned to me and when I saw that they borrowed the Sacrilege font for their own name, like Sacrifice before them, my senses were on full alert. I was ready to jump on my prey like a graceful tiger awaiting for its meal or more realistically like a drooping smug geek staring at rubbish and mushy live videos of Zikade on youtube. In the end, I did get to listen to Zikade properly and they delivered exactly what I expected and wanted them to: Japanese-styled old-school Mermaid cavemen crust. I did not want to be disconcerted or challenged in the least. My thirst for crust needed to be assuaged and this record more than made up for it. But let's start with the first side and Braincëll.

I was familiar with this Kuala Lumpur crust unit since their Mindlock tape Ep in 2016 and although I did not scout for the vinyl version of the recording, it did stick as a solid 90's käng crust effort which was very pleasing as this type of sound is sadly not as widespread and popular as it used to be (because of indie punk and shit). Unsurprisingly the members of Braincëll are old-timers of the Malaysian hardcore punk scene who have been involved in bands like Antiprotokol or Appäratus since the early/mid 00's. You can tell they know what they are doing that is to say, as they proudly state on their bandcamp page, "90's crust up your arse!". And who doesn't want that? The three songs on the Zikade split were mastered by Bri Doom and have that 90's Distortion Records crust käng vibe that I am a sucker for, with a pummeling dis-beat that is at the forefront of the mix. This is direct and brutal crustcore done with mastery and super gruff vocals, a bit like a Distortion-era blend of Phonophobia era Extreme Noise Terror, the mighty 3-Way Cum and mid-90's Doom, with an added flavour of early Driller Killer. Nothing new per se but in those dire times, I will go along Braincëll's 90's trip any day. Undeniably one of the best bands in the Swedish käng crust style. 

On the flip side Zikade, from Ashikaga, provides two songs with a dirtier, rawer production that meaningfully belongs to the extended crust family but is part of a particular branch that religiously reveres crust pants. Zikade don't offer anything new and proudly place themselves in the grand Japanese crust tradition of utter unabated Doom/Sore Throat-love, a sentiment that started with Macrofarge and peaked with Abraham Cross and early Reality Crisis in the 90's. Zikade do have a more old-school metallic crust to their sound, especially the guitar that is not unlike '87 Deviated Instinct, '86 Antisect and, I cannot help thinking, an SDS influence as well, not in terms of tones - at all - but in the songwriting, and whether is is intentional or just unavoidable, since SDS stands as this ultimate Japanese crust classic, remains an open question that won't probably make anyone lose sleep although I did struggle for at least five minutes yesterday night. If you are into that type of crust sound that glorifies emphatic early cavemen crust gruff vocals then Zikade will definitely be your dodgy-looking bottle of smelly homebrew that will have you sleep in the gutter of crust in no time. Prior to this Ep, the band has released two demo cdr's in 2016 and 2017, the first of which sounds like a rough primitive version of their sound, you have been warned. Singer Sadakichi also played in Pokkoider, a rather - intentionally? - unlistenable noisecore-drenched dual vocal cavemen crust band that I can only recommend for well-trained listeners of crust as a beginner might possibly go irremediably mad. It can also be used to repel rodents. 

This split Ep cannot be said to be a classic, however it is a very solid slice of tasty brutal crust representing two different but complementary schools, the käng-influenced 90's crustcore sound for Braincëll and the traditional Japanese Doom-loving stench crusher take of Zikade. It was released in 2019 on Hardcore Victim, a top-notch Melbourne label active since 2008 that has been putting out class records from the likes of Zyanose, Enzyme or Sistema en Decadencia to name some of the most recent ones. What could possibly have gone wrong?