Monday 27 June 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Hostiliter "A New Dawn for Lost Mankind" cd, 2016

I have already touched upon the topic of how Italy from the mid-00's until the late 10's became one of the hotspots for genuinely solid old-school crust music in Europe - and beyond I would argue - while in the 90's, the decade traditionally associated with the rise of the genre, the country was surprisingly, not to mention sadly, crust-free (with the exceptions of Scum of Society and to some extent Dissciorda). I have never been sure about the reasons of this discrepancy. There certainly was grindcore so speed was not the issue. Did Italian parents choose to abandon their baby crust punks in the local woods? Legends of feral kids howling Doom lyrics at the moon would seem to point in that direction. Did they try to exorcize them? Were foreign crusties prohibited to enter the country by the government? Were the pigs equipped with crust repellent Bat-spray? The idea that Italian punks in the 90's did not enjoy crust music like the rest of the world is just preposterous so I would go personally go for the repellent spray. In any case, this mystery remains a cold case and any theory is a good theory.  

In the 00's, things changed drastically through the impulse of top bands like Campus Sterminii, Dirty Power Games and Kontatto and eventually something close to an Italian stenchcore wave (in punk terminology, a "wave" appears when more than five bands sort of play the same style) emerged by the end of the decade with Cancer Spreading as the last crust standing at the time of writing. These are basic historical facts that anyone can find in the Harvard Encyclopedia of Crust - chapter 7, section 3 - and I am definitely not paid enough for this gig to repeat myself on a sunday so if you need an even deeper exploration on the subject of Italian crust from both a synchronic and diachronic perspective, check the piece about Campus Sterminii's Life is a Nightmarish Struggle I did last year. 

Hostiliter can be said to have been part of that 2010's wave of Italian stenchcore as they were active during the heart of it, between 2010 and 2016 (or 2017?) and even though it is quite hard to gauge how those bands will fare in the future, it is still crucial to investigate and analyze them since, if punk does belong to the punks (and not the businessmen or the cultural establishment and the academia), it also belongs to the punks to write our own history and memory of punk. I must confess that I have absolutely no recollection of my first encounter with Hostiliter but it might have been during one of those nights when I end up scouting for new upcoming crust bands online for hours while I had promised myself I would just check whether Warcollapse did two or three split Ep's in the 90's (they only did two in case you were also wondering but wanted to spare yourself the effort). But anyway, the band was from Viterno, between Roma and Perugia and self-released a five-song demo cd in 2011 entitled Intoxication which will be your cuppa if you are into raw and straight-forward early Cancer Spreading (and clearly you should be). They recorded a remarkable promotape in 2012 (or was it later? The youtube videos says 2015) called Age of Decay that sounded more apocalyptic and metallic, with some great mid-paced moments and even some synth while keeping that fast and raw crust punk approach style. 

By 2015, the band had evolved into a more death-metal oriented crust unit - some would say "deathcrust" but I hate the term - not unlike what Cancer Spreading were doing at that moment too (I am not suggesting that Hostiliter's evolution was necessarily influenced by CS's but the fact is worth mentioning). A New Dawn for Lost Mankind is a modest but effective recording of death-metal influenced stenchcore with a hardcore punk production. The album lacks a little in heaviness but makes up for it thanks to its dynamic and aggressive crusty punk vibe. Bolt Thrower-influenced crust is of course the band's main template and bands like Heallisheaven, Sanctum or Last Legion Alive (and of course Cancer Spreading) come to mind and, while it would be far-fetched to claim Hostiliter were the cream of the crust crop - their sorry lack of vinyl output especially not helping - but they still definitely delivered, were apt specimen of the 10's metal crust subgenre and the cd is very pleasant precisely for its typicality. This is crust that has crows, chaos crosses, skulls, barren wasteland and torn war banners at its core. You already know the menu if you are seated at this table. The lyrics in Italian are definitely a plus and I had fun finding several borrowed bits from classic crust bands (a barely modified Deviated Instinct riff here, a Filth of Mankind break there, some Nausea flow too). The icing on the cake is the top Contropotere cover - "Demoni e dei" from their 1988 album Nessuna Speranza Nessuna Paura - which Hostiliter greatly pulls out. I don't know any other band covering the absolutely magnificent and unique Contropotere so A New Dawn for Lost Mankind is worth hearing if only for that very relevant choice. Great job.

The cd was released on Suoni Oscuri in 2016 and I suppose may still be ordered through the band as it was not well distributed at all. Mind you, I don't even know how many copies were pressed as I was lucky enough to get it when they played in France. Until then, here is the download link. 


A new crust for lost mankind

Monday 20 June 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Deviated Instinct / Summon the Crows "S/t" split Ep, 2012

Earlier this month, Deviated Instinct's Terminal Filth Stenchcore demo was reissued on vinyl. 35 years after its original tape release, back when no one had a bad back in the band yet and receding hairlines were but a distant if dreadful prospect associated with adulthood and mortgages, this absolute classic, genre-defining recording of raw and gruff metallic anarcho hardcore punk is available once again. This formidable event can be said to be the crust equivalent of the Queen's jubilee if you need a scale of importance. The vinyl was renamed Terminal Filth Stench-Core for the occasion, a hyphenated discrepancy that I feel the need to underline metaphorically and literally. I haven't been able to consult my usual crust oracles about this one (they have been busy evaluating the potential crustness of Hellshock's coming record for weeks now) so I cannot state with certitude that this change in spelling will change our perspective on the whole crust movement but it might. Still, don't hold your guttural breath.

Needless to say I have been one merry lad since I learnt about the materialisation of this reissue (a rather long process actually) released on Terminal Filth (the band's own label, that's DIY for you) and Italy's Agipunk who, after reissuing Hellbastard's Ripper Crust 2009, made another crucial signing on the crust mercato. In order to win the crust Grand Slam, they just need to deal with Axegrinder's Grind the Enemy by 2035.

As you must know, the band reformed in 2007 for a couple of gigs only but ended up putting out three new records, this split Ep with Olso's Summon the Crows and Liberty Crawls... to the Sanctuary of Slaves in 2012 and Husk in 2018 and are still very much going. I remember, fondly, rushing to see them at their second, and advertised as the last one ever I believe, gig in 2008 at the 1in12 Club in Bradford because I did not want to miss the unique opportunity to see one of my favourite bands live. In the end I saw the band several times afterwards but am still waiting for the full refund of my 2008 trip to Bradford because of the fake advertising (and the shite weather). I also rushed to buy this split Ep when it came out and I remember that genuine excitement and the usual circumspection were the two major feelings among the "punk community". On the one hand, so many reformed 80's punk bands had put out, objectively and subjectively, horrendous and disappointing records that it was quite reasonable to be at least a little suspicious. But on the other hand our collective conservativeness sometimes prevents us from enjoying a band's progression and desire to try something new or just understanding the fact that, 20 years after, they don't want to sound just like it's still the mid-80's and haven't changed, listened to anything new or even bathed since their legendary 1984 demo tape. I remember people being disappointed that the members of DI did not look the exact same. But who still wore wellies in 2012?

I don't want to name anyone because I am the ultimate positive punk, and I cannot afford to have yet another punk band sue me, but it is undeniable that some old reformed bands often have offered embarrassing new works. But DI do not belong to the category of disappointing-and-tragically-disconnected-old-farts-trying-to-relive-their-youth. They were brilliant live when I saw them and their newer records are all solid and make sense. They sound like DI but also offer a logical evolution. Something different and familiar if you will. It does not mean that one has to love the new material as much as the old one as we all are sentimental with such things and if you lost your virginity to Welcome to the Orgy it is perfectly understandable that no record will be able to top that one. I think that DI's return was successful because they were not a parody of their old selves and some members had still been active in the extreme music world long after the original demise of the band so that when they played their old material it sounded like a very natural and fluid reworking (arguably some of the old songs have never sounded better), rather than a painful re-enactment or a crust cosplay. 

"End times" definitely sounds like a DI song - like, well, dark heavy crust - or rather like a relevant update of the classic DI sound. Some transitions are reminiscent of more modern metallic sludgecore (I am reminded of bands like Damad or 13 actually) but the backbone is still gruff Frost-influenced groovy cavemen old-school crust with that classic slimy metallic guitar sound, maybe not unlike 90's Genital Deformities or a grimmer, bleaker version of Coitus, or even some Stormcrow which shows that they kept in touch with their own stenchcrow legacy. Leggo's hoarse vocals are absolutely ferocious and threatening, like what he did with Filthkick, and they are undeniably one of the band's strongest points. Finally, and this might be the band's wisest choice, they did not go for too clean a production. Often, reformed bands tend to be overproduced mistakenly thinking that an updated version of their material is synonymous with a clean, modern production, while what people really liked in their old songs is precisely the raw and aggressive sound. Therefore the choice to record those 6 songs in 2012 at the 1in12 Club with Bri Doom at the wheel was the best possible one for a returning DI as it couldn't alienate the anticipating anxious fans soundwise. 

And one can understand that a band craves for an elaborate production that they, maybe frustratingly, could not afford in the 80's back when they had a £30 recording budget with a sound engineer who was into prog-rock. So there is often a discrepancy of expectation here and this often results in reformed bands sounding like modern overproduced hardcore bands and often lose the intensity and urgency in the process. DI kept that heavy organic dirty production that fits their songs so well although it has to be said that they clearly sound like they are more comfortable and knowledgeable in the studio both in terms of playing and overall balance. I think that the very same song with a clean modern production would not have worked as well. "End times" was recorded in 2012 during the same sessions as Liberty Crawls... DI took their time afterwards since Husk was only release in late 2018.

On the other side are two songs from Oslo's Summon the Crows. I have been raving a lot about DI, as usual I guess, but the presence of STC on the Ep was a further sign that it may well become a classic. STC is a band I followed from the start when I bought their first eponymous Ep in 2004 just because I thought the cover looked brilliant. Ironically, I had no idea that the artist behind the artwork was Mid from Deviated Instinct but if I were superstitious or in any way spiritual I would say it was a premonition from Destiny knocking at my door. But seeing that I am not in the least let's just say I have impeccable tastes. STC is one of those bands that I know I mostly enjoy but do not play often enough probably because their second album, 2011's One More to the Gallows, was something of a let-down. Their earlier endeavours however were solid works of crusty dark hardcore thrash, not deprived of some of 00's crust's major flaws like the epic melodic guitar leads, but the songwriting was versatile and brutal enough, with distinct nods towards black-metal and thrash, to make STC sound quite original and genuinely anguished in a sea of often derivative neocrust. They are clearly metallic and crusty but cannot be described as a stenchcore revival band, although stenchcore fans are probably into STC and their music would not have been out of place on a 4-way split with Sanctum, Cancer Spreading and Warcollapse. 

When One More to the Gallows came out, I was surprised since the band had not released anything since 2006 and I basically thought they had split up. While the aforementioned Lp did not really win me over the two songs included on this split Ep - the last release of the band - were much better and more akin to what STC had achieved with their first records, an interesting blend of käng hardcore and old-school extreme metal. I read reviews describing STC as blackened crust and while it is not wrong from a literal perspective, I don't think it is relevant to associate their particular sound to what the term "blackened crust" has come to qualify. What makes STC stand out, beside their punishing black/thrash crust sound, is the unpredictability of the guitar riffs and the originality of the song structures. And in a subgenre that is more than crowded with average bands, and even though it would be far-fetched to claim they are reinventing hardcore or metal or whatever, to stand out even a little is not nothing. STC reminds me of bands like The Black Hand, Legion 666 or Order of the Vulture  - and early Martyrdöd of course, the most obvious name in that category - not because those bands sound alike - they share similarities but are not similar - but because they all, quite successfully so, blended hard-hitting raw hardcore punk with primitive extreme metal of the black, proto-death or thrash varieties. I guess that if you soak Warcollapse, Martyrdöd, early Sepultura and Sodom in a bathtub filled with 00's crust, you'd get something close to those two STC songs. Contrary to the previous clean-sounding Lp, the production on those works well, it sounds aggressive and powerful but keeps a certain rawness. 

This split Ep can be said to be a solid relevant pairing, not spectacular enough to be a crust classic but still something very much worth having in your collection, especially if you don't want to be suspected of being a poser. The artwork on the Ep was done by Mid, not exactly a surprise, with a gloomy drawing depicting crows - there had to be crows because of the Norwegians I guess - defending human skulls agains two tiny shagging flies nailed together and a massive one who appears to be sleeping. Of course I like it but would my mum hang it on her bedroom wall? Yes, exactly. On the backcover, there are more flies and bits of skulls with Mid's usual visual virtuosity. This split Ep was released on the Oslo-based label Nakkeskudd Platter, mostly active in the 00's. Kjetil from STC would later form the great Akrasia (who've already been included on this series) while Stig got to play in Knuste Ruter and Razorbats.    


Summon the stormcrows              

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Absurd Society "不条理な社会" Ep, 2013

Society. Whatever we mean with this term, punks absolutely hate its conformity, its alienation, its cruelty. Sometimes, a teenage punk yelling "fuck society" signifies that he is proper pissed with his mum for not letting him wear massively oversized tartan bondage trousers at school, not the least sensible of advice in retrospect considering the aforementioned spotty but undeterred lad ended up in a wheelie bin the last time he did. True story that. For other, more experienced and articulate, punks, society has been shaped by years of cultural bigotry, religious teachings and class exploitation (kindly provided by capitalism or state socialism) and thus can be used as a relevant political synecdoche to make your brilliant anarchist propaganda more accessible to the masses (also known as "people who did not go to uni to study sociology"), asserting your intellectual superiority over your mates in the process. Society is very much like "the system" in punk's collective psyche, it can be difficult to actually define it but you know you have to resist, protest and fight it. I mean, that's what our shirts say so we, at the very least, should write a very angry post on Insta.

But society does suck of course. Menace thought it was insane, Special Duties violent, Chaotic Youth sad. The prophets Discharge were victims of society, Mau Maus its rejects, while some wondered if it was civilised indeed or inevitably headed towards the collapse. The band we are dealing with today thought that society was absurd - enough to literally call themselves "Absurd Society" - an idea that surely rings true everywhere but nowhere quite as strongly as in Japan, the country of absolute contrasts where extremely conventional salarymen can rub shoulders with people dressed exactly like the thugs in Clockwork Orange. Neither outfits look really comfortable actually.

Absurd Society were from Sapporo, up North, and were around from 2009 to 2013 which makes them part of the oldest bands that I will tackle in Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust. Of course the Japanese punk scene has been renowned for its amazing and unique crust bands for years and a specifically Japanese crust sound, with several connected but distinct branches and its own visual, musical, textual and referential tropes, has emerged so that even a casual listener of crust should be able to spot even an average specimen with relative ease. Beside they cemented the culture of the crust pants, a future candidate for inclusion in Unesco's intangible world heritage (intangible but very odoriferous it has to be pointed out). 

AS were never the most popular name but I still see them as being solid and very representative of the typical Japanese crust sound. The band recorded two demos, a tape and then a cdr (well, it was the late 00's/early 10's you still could get away with cdr's and Japanese punks never had the snobbishness to give up the format) that would be reissued on a tape entitled Demo's Album in 2012 on Noise For Mobbish (!) from Malaysia. Just in case you had any doubt about the crustness of the band, the tape's visuals included the classic celtic knots, a crow, a crustier-than-thou font and a cartoonish crasher-styled drawing of the band. The first demo offered four songs of raw and crunchy metallic crust not far from crust masters SDS' early period or a more crustcore-oritented Effigy while the superior second one was a much more powerful and relentless effort of harsh thrashing stenchcrust not far from SDS' mid-90's sound (everything should be measured on an SDS scale methinks) seasoned with Defector's manic versatility and Stormcrow's apocalyptic cavemen stench before being drenched in distortion. Clearly not for the weak of the heart or posers. 

I have no idea whether many people knew of those demos outside of Japan, or indeed outside of the close crust circle of the archipelago, as I only found out about the band with their 不条理な社会 Ep from 2013 and got to own the tape a few years after the band's demise. This late Ep has everything one is entitled to expect both from a metallic stenchcrust band and from a Japanese crust band in general. The sound is more compact and not as harsh as on the second demo but AS built from the same material. Classic '96/'98 SDS, early Effigy and 00's stenchcore songwriting like Cancer Spreading with a blownout crashercrust texture, aggressive evil vocals, punishing fast galloping crust and heavy filthy mid-paced moments and old-school thrashing crust riffs. The second song "Refusal of the change" is the real hit here with its magnificent metalcrust crescendo that would have a deadman mosh. 

AS are not reinventing the wheel I for one do not believe that they will be hailed as "a classic band" in ten years. However it is a record that does a solid job at providing quality traditional Japanese stenchcore and, let's get really, we just cannot have enough of that right? It is a shame the band split up shortly after the release of the Ep in 2013 (though it was recorded in 2010 apparently) and I haven't been able to tell if the members kept the crust going in other bands. 不条理な社会 was released on Tokyo-based Strong Mind Japan, an active label responsible for records from acts such as Attack SS, System Fucker, Asmodeus and even fucking Disorder! The Ep looks brilliant with a cover artfully drawn by Mid from Deviated Instinct which pretty much insures you get the maximum amount of crust cred as well as class gas masks and skulls (the band used to have a DI-inspired logo too) although it does not visually look like typical Japanese crust artwork which is to the band's credit. This said there is still a neat red obi so that you cannot really mistake AS for a Polish band anyway. 

This one is for the "stench metal crust" maniacs, the cream of the crop.

Society's absurd