Monday, 26 September 2022

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Wojna / Social Crisis "S/t" split Ep, 2018

Poland: its beautiful forrest inhabited by easily irritable bears, its delicious - albeit treacherous - Soplica orzech laskowy vodka, its grandiose punk history and its bloody unpronounceable nouns. Seriously, just try to utter such words as "źdźbło" or "bezwzględny" and you might twist your tongue so hard that you should check where is the closest hospital before even trying. Or just "żółć", meaning "bile", a culturally relevant word that could actually come handy and also proves that the Polish language can kill the game in just four letters that are unsurprisingly exclusive to the language. And of course "szczęście" means "happiness", an incongruity that poetically and metaphorically suggests that such a metaphysical state and mindframe is hard to attain indeed. Or even pronounce for that matter.

But enough linguistic silliness, you are probably not here to actually educate yourself about the richness of the world's languages but about scruffy-looking people with a dodgy hygiene screaming in a microphone and playing as fast as they can in front of an audience made up of mostly scruffy-looking people with a dodgy hygiene expecting to be seriously bollocked. That is how the fragile crust ecosystem works. 

I have consistently written about Polish crust in the past, especially the 90's wave, since Poland was without a doubt one of crust's hotspots during that portentous decade and has produced a significant number of classic bands, some of which have enjoyed class reissues in later years like Enough!, Hostility and Disable, a largely underrated band outside of their home turf (alright, this lot mostly played in the early 00's but they were clearly rooted in the 90's). Therefore, briefly stated, the Polish DIY punk scene has a strong history of good, solid crust music. This implies that the genre is well established and popular there, that there is a large body of work to rely on and be inspired with, more so than in many European countries. Not that crust exists in a vacuum over there, there are many outside influences (from the UK, Sweden, Belgium...) that have helped shape Polish crust - like any other scene, it goes without saying it is a global circular process - but it can relevantly be said there is such a thing as a classic Polish crust style, not necessarily radically different to others, but different enough to be distinctive, like Japanese noizecrust or Swedish käng. Like French oi music too but without the endless embarrassment. 

This is not without consequence. If you are a local punk kid, the amount of quality material in terms of Polish crust (and hardcore and anarchopunk) is a powerful enough legacy to be deeply inspired by it and be able to build on it easily and seamlessly, through emulation, without being self-aware. This strong historical basis ensures that the genre persisted tenaciously. To be very bold, I'd rather have had bands like Homomilitia, Post-Regiment, Infekcja or Sanctus Iuda to be inspired with as a youth (and I am only mentioning 90's bands because of my own age and because 80's punk looked too far away when I was a wee lad) than most of the painful French bands that unsurprisingly never inspired the already demanding punk aesthete that I was, let alone inspiring anyone else outside of the country. Thank fuck punk is an international movement.

It is thus not unnatural for a Polish band to play heavy crust, whichever flavour one craves to give it, because there were dozens of such bands before and there probably will be dozens more after. Simple math that indicates that the 2010's were also rich in crustness. I would not have time, energy and coffee enough to thoroughly examine what went on crust-wise in this part of Europe - in spite of very reliable informers - because of the scope of the task and because many bands remain rather local acts, a situation that the current relative unpopularity of the crust subgenre, generally speaking, only exacerbates. Basically, since the scene and the genre are not exactly hyped and fashionable, one often has to actually look for the information instead of being passively reached by the information. This is so 2009. But as self-sustainable as one might argue the Polish DIY punk scene is, it remains important to try to take a closer look at it in a series called Live by The Crust, Die by the Crust aiming at providing subjectively some sort of global picture about where crust music bloomed in the past decade. 

So here are a couple of recommendations I can offer for those who cannot be arsed to do their own research or suffer from an early Alzheimer syndrome (or both): Huff Raid from Warsaw (solid, groovy Swedish crust-styled), Hellisheaven and Ceaseless Desolation from Lublin (nasty stenchy metal crust and thrashing blackened crust respectively), Holy Extermination from Nowy Sącz (evil stench-thrash crust), Death Crusade from Gdansk (classic heavy dark crustcore), Chorygen from Łódź (angry crusty hardcore)... There are many more, it is by no means exhaustive, and feel free to add other bands in the comment section, but those are the bands that actually bribed me financially to appear in this post and with the rise of the cost of living and my champagne life style, choices have to be made (I do accept Western Union transfers for those interested). If anything it might provide the uninitiated listener with some sort of starting kit.   

So why choose this humble split Ep between Wojna and Social Crisis? After all, it cannot really be said to be the top Polish crust record of the decade, although I personally rate it quite high. But I like this split Ep because, first, in the long DIY hardcore punk tradition, they have always been a meaningful collaborative way to discover new bands, and second both bands are quite young, very energetic and intense and offer a dynamic, authentic, powerful image of the genre which felt quite refreshing for some reason. Let's start with Wojna (it means "war" in case you want to write a d-beat haiku in Polish one day). They come from Poznan and started playing in 2015 with members also playing in Deszcz (blackened neocrust), Fight Them All (old-school Us hardcore) or Fausto Coppi among others I presume. The four songs they contribute to this split were recorded in 2018 and followed a first recording from 2016 entitled Pod Gruzami, first released as a tape and then as a proper Ep.


Although the band did not change direction between both, we are still in dark and heavy crustcore territory indeed, the sound on the present Ep is more intense and hard-hitting and I particularly love how thick and punishing the drums sound. Wojna's music sounds fucking unstoppable, like a freight train drunk on the strongest, beefiest brew of käng crust and high on that hard-hitting brand of stenchcore-loving eurocrust or like a triple threat match between Enough!, Nuclear Death Terror and Man the Conveyors with Warcollapse as a special referee. The very gruff harsh vocals, reminiscent of an angry living dead, certainly point in the third wave of stenchcore direction, but in spite of some obvious metal riffs, some typical metalhead transitions, the dark and heavy production and the fact that the Wojna guys probably have Hellshock and Filth of Mankind Lp's hidden under the bed, it would be far-fetched to impose that tag upon the band. Let's settle for "straight-forward-charging-buffalo type of metallic crustcore band that packs a serious punch". The prosody, scansion and tonalities specific to the Polish language give the music that peculiar vibe and rhythm that characterize the idiosyncratic version of the crust genre there and root Wojna in a specific soundscape. Four songs in less than six minute of solid crustcore, modern but heavily influenced by 90's and 00's metallic crust.     

On the other side are Social Crisis (which means, wait for it, "social crisis") from Biała Podlaska, close to the Belarus border, a band that you are more likely to have heard of than Wojna since Social Crisis have released one full album, three split Lp's and three split Ep's since 2014 and whose records you are therefore more likely to bump into on a distro table, the place where all great minds meet, or even see them pop up online if the records don't physically reach you. Simple math again. They even played in France! This creative prolificacy does show that SC really mean business but it also entails that some recordings - be it for matters of songwriting or production - are, subjectively or objectively, better than others. I would like to thank my old pal Captain Obvious for that brilliant theory. I have always liked the idea of SC a lot, fast käng-crust with dual female vocals, but sometimes felt that some of the earlier records lacked the necessary intensity to really pull it out - a criticism that can logically be made about many bands of course. The cultural practice of dual vocal crust is one that finds its roots in the late 80's and, almost 30 years later, it is not so easy to find, let alone offer, a convincing version of that well-established if rarefying punk tradition. It is not unlike replicating your grandmother's soup. As cognizant of recipe you might be, will you be able to do it properly or will your mates pretend it is good not to hurt your feelings while it is merely "alright" and would painfully get two stars on Trip Advisor? The world can be a cruel place.

But those five SC songs - in less than six minutes - can clearly be described as a tasty traditional crust soup. Not many bands use two female singers to unleash the fury (you had the Swedish pioneers Society Gang Rape in the 90's or Scousers After the Massacre in the 00's) and I am a massive sucker for female-fronted crust punk so the band was bound to have a comfortable place in my mental crust database. This side of the split Ep is pretty much an ideal example of dual-vocal crustcore. Compared to Wojna's crushing power, SC's production here is much rawer and punkier, which fits their style well as it gives the songs a direct angry edge. The primitive unpolished sound of the drums (they are very up front in the mix) reminds me quite a bit of Frigöra's and - unintentionally? - confers a raw 80's käng feel to the music. In terms of style, SC's influences are evident and to the point given the subgenre's template. All-time classic bands like State of Fear and 3-Way Cum are the obvious points of references and along the 90's Polish crust powerhouse Silna Wola, notably in the way the Polish language's scansion and flow are concerned. The vocals are brilliant, coarse and raspy on one side and gruff and deep on the other, and both very aggressive, following the traditional "lower-pitched having a massive fight with higher-pitched". The singers can clearly be said to belong to that long tradition of strong and mean punk female vocalists that is a characteristic of Polish crust and hardcore. The disposition of the vocals, their placement, is exactly as it should be. If you were to start with SC, this split Ep would be the perfect starting point. 

The sonorities of the Polish language, especially applied to punk music, convey a feeling of anger, outrage and threat and obviously crust music need such elements to flourish. The lyrics of both Wojna and Social Crisis are serious and political. The bands tackle the rise of fascism and homophobia, the electoral farce, the rape culture, modern alienation and social media. There are definitely enough to be angry about these days. The split Ep was the result of a collaboration between several labels: Dingleberry from Germany, Up the Punx and NIC from Poland, the Berlin-based DIY Koło, In My Heart Empire from Spain and Svoboda from fucking France. 

Direct, sincere and hard-hitting crustcore, the way it should sound.   

Social Wojna