Tuesday 31 January 2023

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: ExtinctExist "Cursed Earth" Lp, 2016

I don't know if you have noticed but the end is nigh. The last summer in Paris was excruciatingly hot and, as we don't love anything quite as much as endlessly complain, you can imagine that the whole outraged nation engaged in a whining marathon with some people being sincerely scandalized that climate change would affect a people as civilised and clever as us. So while temperatures escalated deliriously, which was not that pleasant indeed as I had to shower a bit, we had the perfect excuse for some intense complaining sessions and generally acting like insufferable bastards which even the most ardent dullards took part in. You have to make the most of every situations, don't you? 

I am not too bad with heat if I'm being honest. Of course, I insist on complaining as much as humanly possible but I can deal with intense heat. Last year was harsh though as the sun even melted the constellations of dog turds that grace every Parisian streets and you must know that those are particularly tough shits. Who said romance was dead? Usually the coming of summer always signals the arrival of large amounts of blokeish wankers on the streets, too keen on exhibiting chest hair and fond of cat whistling and honking, the sort of elite twats who seem to think that excessive hair gel and pungent perfume are somewhat going to get them laid. Last year though, there were fewer of them because the heat made behaving like an obnoxious pig much harder, which was something of a relief for the local skirt-wearing population and for common decency altogether. So you see, the end of the world also has a good side to it. Besides, who really needs trees? Sure, they come handy when you really need a wee and your bandmates won't stop the van because you, supposedly, should not have drunk all those beers, especially since we are still four hours away from the venue. But they make really convincing plastic ones these days.

But let's get a little serious here because today we are dealing with a very serious band indeed: ExtinctExist. I am a pretty serious fellow myself and I agree that the self-destructive Anthropocene, fueled by capitalism, predatory postcolonial economic strategies, the overproduction of goods doomed to obsolescence and first-world brainless overconsumption is probably not an ideal situation as it might take everyone and everything along in its collapse but not before we slowly choked on our own pollution. But hey, we still have Netflix and social media, which, I'd like to remind you, still are the best way to determine your position on the sexual marketplace and loathe people who have dismal profile and blurry pictures of disturbingly ugly children. So that's still something. But I am happy that there are bands like ExtinctExist who see music (and solid hardcore punk music in this case) as a medium to talk about crucial ecological issues in creative ways. It is still a punk-rock record and not a political rally so it's not like you are going to join the struggle after the last song (especially since it ends on a very gloomy atmospheric note) but still, as thoroughly enjoyable as I find some of the metatextual, overly referential, metacrust bands, I also love politically motivated crust bands and I think both are necessary for a healthy scene and my own well-being (I had to sell my crystal collection a long time ago).  

So what do we have here? EE are from Melbourne and if you have been following what has been going on in this part of the world during the past decade, you'll know there have been a lot of good bands there like Enzyme, Lai/Jalang, Execution, Sistema En Decadencia, Scab Eater and so on. The members of EE are not exactly newcomers to "da punk scene" as Danish singer Jeppe used to play in Nuclear Death Terror and the magnificent Uro; drummer Tim also plays in Jalang and used to be part of neocrust act Schifosi (they were one of the good ones to be fair); bass player Erle was involved in bands I have no clue about and guitar player Ramez purveyed riffs in the oft overlooked Drunkard (not the best name arguably). And this wealth of experience does shine through as Cursed Earth is a really tight album with a massive sound. There is no room for sloppiness. It is not overproduced but it is clear that the band wanted the work to be relentlessly heavy and dark (I love how punishing the drums sound). 

Yeah, someone sat on my copy

EE play crust metal but cannot be said to fall entirely under the stenchcore umbrella as you won't find the strict typical stench mimics here (let's say if EE were a person you would fit half of the body under said umbrella). Instead you are offered a beefy blend of furious scandicrust and thrashy death metal. Conceptually, they are not quite unlike Agnosy actually when I think of it, metal crust but not stenchcore. At their dis-crustiest, the band definitely brings to mind Nuclear Death Terror as well as that brand of mid-00's American crustcore, like a darker, more metallic version of Another Oppressive System or Consume and epic European bands like Cop On Fire. When they go metal, in addition to vintage mean death-metal, I can hear distinct nods to old-school crust acts like Hellshock and Extinction of Mankind, which all in all is more than enough to get a good grade on my homemade crust detector. This Lp stands as one of the most convincing examples of anarcho scandi metal-crust around. 

Cursed Earth is an album that packs a serious punch and grows on you. I am not always a sucker for this kind of production in my crust (too clean at times) but it works well here and I enjoy the different changes of pace, influences and moods displayed by the band which allow them to tell a good story (EE clearly wants to convey a sense of storytelling with this album). This Lp has a lot of power and an epic quality, just listen to how "Scourge Amazonia" kicks in and tell me you don't want to go feral, paint your face green and tie yourself to a tree in an endangered rain forrest (pack some mosquito spray if you are actually going to do that). The lyrics deal with Fukushima, the Plague, the pagan relation to nature and life, the ecological damage that meat-eating implies for Amazonia and other such joyful topics. The lyrics are well-written and, if they all deal with natural abuse, rather diverse. Each song (almost poems at times) comes with a text in prose illustrating the issue at stake in a literary fashion which is a good idea and both formats do complement each other. The explanatory text to "Scourge Amazonie" tells of a fancy Parisian restaurant where toffs have pricy steaks which made me giggle a bit. 

The Lp comes with a thick booklet, the old-school way, and overall the finely crafted artwork reflects what the band is about. The Lp was recorded in 2014 but only came out in 2016 on the always reliable Ruin Nation Records. You can still find this one so you know what to do and support the scene.

Cursed Existence  

Thursday 26 January 2023

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Metachrist "Fall Into Bloody Carnage" Lp, 2021

Fan service has become a massive part of our overconsumption of cultural goods. You could say that fan service - by which I mean the tendency to create art intrinsically aimed at satisfying subculture junkies by using predictable and typical discursive elements meant to indulge specific never-ending cravings - plays an essential role in how we use the internet. You could argue that's what it is really for actually. Let's face it, after an alienating at work, during which you've taken as many toilet breaks as possible to avoid achieving your brainless tasks without looking suspiciously lazy or disgustingly sick - and thus undatable - one does not really dream of blasting an experimental jazzcore band or reading about Holocaust literature when getting home. You are looking for something that is sure to alleviate the existential pain and lovingly reflect your tastes, confirm that they are legitimate, that what you love, and by extension yourself, as we often over-identify ourselves, in an almost military fashion, with what we proudly and loyally love, is valid, loveable and worth loving. And not just because it is also loved by many others with a sort of communal drive, but because what you love is expressly created out of love for you and by those who love religiously the same thing and are looking to receive the same love they are giving you. Fuck me, that is a lot of love and I am starting to sound like an unctuous pop singer for senior citizens cruises. The orgy metaphor might have worked better.

Fan service can take all shapes. Niche cosplay done by overweight thirty-something with an excruciating attention to details that make NASA engineers look like teens with attention span deficiencies; doom-scroll elite makeup videos that will make you feel ugly and old the minute you turn off your phone; loquacious nutters who violate the sanctity of basic science claiming like you that the Earth is flat and that pineapples are actually a Jewish vaccine; message boards aimed at providing a space for record-collecting incels to argue harshly about the worth of the hottest new American hardcore bands or absolutely unoriginal just-like-Discharge d-beat bands that just put out a one-sided flexi which will feed your wildest fantasies. I have to say I am not insensitive to fan service and, to be quite honest, am a very easy target. Just form a band with a singer who can vaguely imitate 89' Doom's and you can easily blag a tenner from me and I will take any criticism of this trait of character as a disgraceful affront to my identity. Fan service is like homeopathy. It will neither solve the dull meaninglessness of your mundane existence where the most exotic thing you've done all week is going to the chip shop on a Tuesday night nor will it slow down your own inevitable mental decrepitude but it will comfort you and make you forget about the lifelock and what happens "after the gig". And about that time teenagers made fun of you for no reason (I guess?). Life really.    

But let's cut the crap and serve the fans. Metachrist is the ultimate crust fan service. I first came across the band while randomly losing my time on bandcamp drinking coffee in the harsh light of the early afternoon and bumped into the Final Bloody Master recording. I instantly woke up and proceeded to turn on my sleepy braincells. The influences of Metachrist were very obvious from the start in a heart-warming way. The music made me think, fondly, of someone owning a very similar record collection to mine exhibiting his or her most precious pieces like a kid displaying favourite toys (although in this case I really couldn't be bothered to pretend I care). Granted, the songs sounded a little rushed but I made a mental note to follow the band closely as it had a very promising potential. 

A mere two months later, a new demo was posted, this time entitled Banished to the Dark. Now that was surprising. Punks are not exactly known for their speediness but since it was as good as the first one, I shrugged off this peculiarity and decided that the songs had probably been recorded during the same session. And then a third demo, Conquered and Divided, came out just two months after. I was glad and excited, of course, and felt like a teen who just found a fiver on the street for the third consecutive time in just a week. Very lucky but still pretty uncanny. I started to worry that there could a crust band held in captivity somewhere in a Canadian studio, blackmailed into delivering old-school crust rippers. I cannot fathom what the object of such a treacherous plan could be, perhaps the evil mastermind behind the punknapping threatened them to rip apart all the patches from their jackets or divulge that one of them actually owned recent Mighty Mighty Bosstones records. I called Interpol but they unsurprisingly told me to piss off like that one time I called them because I thought I had lost my vintage SDS shirt. And then it hit me: Metachrist is a one-man solo project.

The band is the creation of an Ottawa punk, self-proclaimed metal-punk geek and part-time spandex model, who is involved with about a dozen such musical projects (yeah, really). The man can play all the instruments, which clearly helps, and set out to create an 80's styled metallic crust punk monster aimed at pleasing the most loyal fans. Needless to say that when a proper vinyl Lp came out in late 2021, I was about as hysterically excited and unbearable to be around as a man who just spotted the yeti. One-man projects are tricky. If you are doing something wrong and are having funny ideas that will eventually prove to be tasteless, no one is going to warn you that you are losing the plot and that playing the flute on a stenchcore song may not be a wise artistic choice. On the contrary, solo projects allow you to be in total control of the songs so that the work totally reflects the vision of the "artist". It is a double-edged sword and now that I think about it there are not many solo crust projects. There are d-beat ones but no old-school crust ones as far I know. 

As I mentioned, Metachrist (which I read as a nod, possibly unintentional, to Nausea's "Cyber God") can be defined as an absolute fan service session  or, as the creator calls it, "crust porn" but I am too much of a prude to think of it that way. The first thing that strikes the listener upon hearing Fall Into Blood Carnage is how epic it sounds. From the typical synth moments to the emphatic victorious thrashing heavy metal transitions and the dark filthy riffs, you are in head-banging heaven and it makes the album a very, very fun listen. In fact, it is the most fun, in a way that is both serious and cheeky, crust recording of the past ten years. The nods, the exaggerated tribute, the hyperbolic referentiality are so obvious, self-conscious, proudly worn that the music turns into a warm and loving, respectful homage to all the greats. Bitter bastards might call it predictable or even corny and sentimental, but for its affirmation of classic UK crust music, I think that it is a beautiful tribute. It is like a crust cover band but with its own songs, if you know what I mean. The other strength of the Lp is that, even if you are not that familiar with the crust canon, its energy, passion and overall punk triumphant catchiness make it easy to relate to and I believe old-school metal fans would dig it as well.

So let's take a look at some songs. The introduction is basically a synth-driven eerie reworking of a tune from The Mob and the first number, one of my favourite, is a wonderful Amebix/Axegrinder type anthem with dark chorus that remind me of Coitus; "No horizon" is a full-on Cimex-ified fast and glorious Onslaught-like metal punk song; "Dominion soaked in blood" has one of the cheesiest, most epic introduction to a crust song I have ever heard, we're almost in heavy metal territory, though the core of the song is delicious late-Antisect-snogging-Amebix worship; "Erected in your death" takes us a back with a bang to the best of the crusty UK crossover sound like English Dogs and Sacrilege. And that is just the first side, I could go on since Fall Into Bloody Carnage is a proper full length album that takes its sweet time to tell the great story of crust. It is like Where's Wally? with the beloved vintage British bands. If you are looking for innovative crust music, Metachrist will not be for you, however if you are in need of a perfect tribute structured around a knowledgeable template, it is tailor-made. In the end Metachrist is metacrust and the unintentional paronomasia is revealing. It is crust music about crust music, it says something about the genre itself, with ease and seamlessly, like a mise en abyme. It is fan service as much as it is genre service in some respect. And it bloody rocks. 

The album was a pain in the arse to get in Europe but it was worth it (my banker would possibly disagree with that). The album is everything you can expect from the genre and you are treated to two posters. It was released on a Florida-based label called Hamask records that deals in old-school metal.

Play loud and enjoy the fun.

Fall Into Crusty Carnage          


Friday 20 January 2023

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: LIFE / Judas Krust "Polluted water drainage wreck of culture / Genosida populasi" split Ep, 2017

I still use an Ipod nano to listen to music when I'm out. Yes, the device still works fine and its relatively short storage space allows me to actually choose and select what I really want to listen to carefully instead of being drowned in an overwhelming ocean of available music. Endless listening options make the very notion of choice meaningless as one just jumps from one song to another according to an ever-changing erratic mood that can nowadays change all the time as we cannot stand being frustrated. By limiting myself to a specific number of works - often new ones I wish to pay closer attention to - I like to think that I am more focused and prone to engage with them. Sure, I could just stream the things but, let's face it, I could change my mind after two minutes and just browse or doom scroll indefinitely. On the contrary, when I am at home in my Disclose pajamas (I have already mentioned them but it is just reminder that I am a class act) and am faced with endless possibilities, the mind sometimes gets distracted. It is hard enough not to get lost in this gigantic maze of punk bands and I personally need to draw boundaries and create a delimited field of expertise that I will explore. I suppose infinite choice does not quite work for me and or least not when I want to integrate and absorb a band's music into my repertoire of knowledge. I am like an older robot that needs to compute.     

So the other day, I was riding the underground on my way to work while blasting some Meanwhile on my Ipod nano - I affectionately call it Captain Pod - because in the morning you need softer music in order to wake up progressively. I noticed a teenager with pinkish hair and weird pricy trainers staring at me. I don't enjoy being stared at and I suppose no one does. And she kept staring, looking vacant and chewing a gum. That made me quite uncomfortable and self-conscious. Was she judging me for something? A disgraceful, shocking cowlick? An open fly? A rebellious bogey? Was my State of Fear enamel pin somewhat misplaced? Or worse, had Antisect been cancelled and no one told me because I am not on Insta? And she just got off and stared her way to the nearest exit. Of course, like every teenager, she was wearing airpods, the kind that people never really seem to ever take off (I read that some where actually water proof so that you can keep listening to Billie Eilish, inspiring fitness podcasts or vocoder contests while in the shower) and I wondered what music she was listening to and what was the soundtrack to her staring at the world like a stoned tortoise. Maybe I will soon be an object of mockery on some viral Tiktok video. Let me know please. 

To fight this early uneasiness I looked at the bands I had on my loyal Captain Pod and settled for a life-saving act by which I mean LIFE because if there is one band that I often play to cheer me up, boost my spirit, make me smile like a buffoon or prepare myself to be relentlessly bullied by middle-class customers, well, it has to be LIFE. Yes, LIFE is life, just like in that Opus song. It would have been unprofessional not to include a LIFE record in Live by the Crust, Die bv Crust. This band certainly live by the crust and just like Crux claimed that they would die with their boots on when they 16 (while they stopped wearing any by 1985), LIFE will probably die with they crust pants on. Much more romantic if you ask me.

It would be a little pointless to tell the full story of this legendary Tokyo band that has been going since 1991 and has logically released a lot of records. In a world of status-obsessed wankers, LIFE have always been a breath of fresh air. They are politically-motivated, sincere, positive and stand for everything that is good in the DIY punk scene. Beside, live they play hard like their bums are on fire. Their latest records have been particularly good and I cannot recommend enough their new album Ossification of Corral. I am aware that it would make me look much cooler if I said that I much prefer their first demos, or even better their first rehearsals, and that they lost it as soon as more than 20 people knew about them (I mean, it is in the Elite Punk-rock for Dummies guidebook) but I do believe it is among their best works. This split with Zudas Krust from Indonesia was originally released on tape in 2015 on Doombringer records and the vinyl version came out two years after thanks to a collaboration between the aforementioned Indonesian label, Phobia Records, Crust War, Headnoise Records and Not Enough Records (many great labels that would make a brilliant team at Survivor Series). 

These two songs from LIFE are not a bad start at all if you have never really taken the time to dig into them. They incorporate the essence of proper Japanese crust, the heaviness, the relentless intensity, the distortedness, the angry raw aggression. LIFE just sound unstoppable here. I have left the two songs "Polluted water drainage wreck of culture" and "River of filth" on the same track to emphasize the ferocity. Both have groovy stench filthcrust parts that remind me of Effigy or After the Bombs and give them a genuine epic feel, further enhanced through epic guitar leads, before exploding into their classic brand of punishing blownout Japanese-style crasher scandi peacecrust. It is like SDS and Frigöra teaming up at Gloom's place to write a ruthless record for Distortion Records. The lyrics are decidedly about ecology and nuclear power. The five minutes fly fast and will leave you craving for more (I usually combine this split and the one with Instinct of Survival and I can guarantee you will be ready to rip the head of your smug boss upon arrival). 

Zudas Krust formed as early as 2008 and have been pretty prolific since which make them a leading hardcore punk band in Jakarta. I first became aware of them in the late 00's back when there were a plethora of blogs dealing in d-beat and crust (15 years later and I sometimes feel like the boomer equivalent of punk bloggers) that were a brilliant way to get to know old and contemporary bands from places I was bit clueless about. I remember downloading quite a few punk bands from the very dynamic Indonesian scene (beside them, Kontrasosial and Peace of Annihiliation are two solid bands that immediately spring to mind when I think this genre in this locality). I was favourably impressed with the raw Swedish-flavoured hardcore punk sound of ZK and made a mental note to, one day, get a record from them. Unfortunately, tapes and records from that part of the world can be quite difficult to get in Europe so that a split Ep with both LIFE and ZK was a perfect opportunity.

On that 2014 recording, ZK definitely took their influence from the raw attack of Japanese crusty crasher scandicore bands and closing your eyes, for its the raw production, I could definitely imagine them belonging to the booming 90's scene of the Final Noise Attack and Punk and Destroy gigs. Three punishing songs, two of them with lyrics in their mother language, reminiscent of early Framtid, Collapse Society and Crocodileskink that would definitely delight devotees of the genre. This band should get more attention and I am sure that if they were from Tokyo, Stockholm or New York, they probably would. Both sides of the Ep were mastered at the infamous Noise Room, which accounts for their power, textures and dynamics, although the ZK songs are not as loud and less produced. I don't think this Ep should be too hard to find so make yourself a favour and support the scene. 


Thursday 12 January 2023

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Skunk / Existench "S/t" split Ep, 2015

It is odd how much a name can affect the way one relates to a given band. If you come across a band called Terminal Nuclear Krusher or Deviated Filthshit, before even listening, your already damaged ears will prepare themselves to be willingly subjected to some gruff apocalyptic stenchcore, your bleary eyes will soon be adjusting to visions of skeletons in pain, barren wastelands, bum-looking crusty punks and Celtic knot frame and your neck will warm up for the coming moderate moshing (no one is getting any younger, let's be real, and sometimes one does feel about as energetic as an agonizing sloth). And you would be absolutely right to do that, there is no need to sprain a muscle. Appropriate preparedness allows for the right state of mind before the mental and physical absorption of a dose of music. It is not unlike the opening of chakras during a yoga session without the martial farting. That is what we do, we have expectations when presented with works of art (broadly speaking), especially ones belonging to schools or genres that we feel we are already familiar with. You don't approach a band called The Skarambas the same way you do one called Street Squad 84, atlthough in both cases you should save yourself the tedium and elope as fast as your biker boots permit. 

So when you have a split Ep between Skunk and Existench and you do not know the bands like a miserable poser, things can get a little confusing. The name "Existench" gives all the necessary clues. The cross between "existence" and "stench" implies that life is sometimes a toilet indeed and conveys the sense of an impending noise battering. I am sure many a crust band wished they had thought of it first as it is undeniably a great name. But then, you have a band called "Skunk" on the other side and if you haven't seen the slimy crusty font, what will you expect? If you are a confirmed pothead, Skunk would definitely get your attention. Similarly, if you believe that a "skunk" indicates the validity of the fusion between a punk and a skinhead (as if Gogeta the fusion between Goku and Vegeta wasn't bad enough), it might also interest you, although why you would consider such an inane cross identity desirable is upsetting at best. In both cases, you would be very wrong and, assuming you give this Skunk a chance, face major disappointment.

A close friend of mine first told me about the Winnipeg Skunk a while ago, saying that the band was basically Archagathus' crust side-project. I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed with the name, as there used to be a ska punk band called Skunk in France in the late 90's. Checking Discogs now, I realize that there are no less than 41 inventoried entries under the name Skunk, among which a Russian nu metal one, a New Jersey indie rock band and an Italian rapper. Pick your king. But my mate was adamant that I was going to love that band so I did check their first demo online (that would have been about 10 years ago I guess). And fuck me, wasn't he right. My initial circumspection made me feel like a gormless wanker as Skunk play a sort of crust that is an endangered species, one that has tragically all but vanished from the face of an ungrateful and tasteless Earth: dual vocal cavemen crust. Class demo. Then, the band did not really release anything else and Skunk remained a delicious footnote in my crust-addicted brain, although I have to confess that I often remembered them as that "brilliant Archagathus crust project" instead of Skunk.

And then Skunk started releasing many Ep's in the mid-10's with splits with Warvictims, Existench, Restricted Rights and Devastation of Life and the full Ep Failed World as well as a split Lp with Lycanthropy, Bloody Phoenix and Disturbance Project. Most of the material was thoroughly enjoyable, and indeed enjoyed, and I proceeded to buy my favourite ones, the split with Restricted Rights and our present one the split with fellow Canadians Existench. What I did not realize about Skunk is that Dan and Joe, also in Archagathus, used to play in Skeleton in the mid/late 00's, a fine raw d-beat crusty käng band very much from the studded brigade school of thought (like Decontrol meeting Crude SS at Beshöven's place) that actually appeared on a split Ep with Svaveldioxid in 2019 so they might have resurrected the band after all. But then I think these two nerds have been and are still involved in countless bands. 


If you have never heard Skunk the five songs that make up the first side are a perfect introduction and according to me their best recording so far. I put all the songs on one single track as feedbacks and noise tie them together anyway and it further stresses the relentlessness of the vibe. The production is raw and definitely cavernous, this is cavemen crustcore for the initiated. The very growled vocal tones borrow to the old-school grindcore tradition but the dual vocal placement and structure is clearly crust-oriented. Musically their brand of fast and raw neanderthal crustcore is very close to the extreme crust terror philosophy as embodied by early Disrupt, late 3-Way Cum, a cavemen crust version of State of Fear or a more primitive Massgrave. I love the organic chaotic feel of the production as well as the gruffness but it has to be pointed out that the riffs are very strong and dynamic too (again, not unlike Disrupt's). 

After this manic aggression on the sense, the listener has to withstand 5 minutes of Existench-ial grindcore. Hailing from Halifax, this lot has been going for ages, especially if you consider that Existench was itself the followup to Disabuse, a band that was already active in 1990. I know that the two founding members that are still in the band were also involved at some point in the other seemingly immortal old-school grinding act System Shit and, while I cannot and won't claim to be an expert in North American grindcore, the band's stories are intertwined. Looking in my massive record collection (I need a speedy golf car to go from letter A to Z) I realized that I owned a couple of Existench records from their vast discography. I don't play them much to be honest but I always think they are quite alright when I do. On this split Ep, what with all the "songs" having been recorded on a 4-track during an afternoon, you should not expect some fancy technical grindcore but a pure explosion of old-school noise-oriented but energetic rough grindcore with harsh vocals (well of course they are). There is one minute of short bursts of insane noisecore at the end of their side which shows that there is also a sensitive side to their music. I would not listen to them all day but I think it works well on this specific record. 

Both bands have short political lyrics so none of that goofy shite and this Ep was released in 2015 through a handful of labels in true DIY tradition: Blastbeat Worship Tapes from Hungary, Suburgatory Records, the sadly defunct Scull Crasher Records from Greece, Rex Manor and Outrageous Defecation from Québec (you just have to have a label with a name like this for a grindcore record, right?). It would be far-fetched to call this a classic or a landmark of 2010's crust but if you are looking for a piece that illustrates the fruitful potential of the liminal frontier between crustcore and grindcore, it does make for an interesting and pleasant listen. 



Wednesday 4 January 2023

Live by the Crust, Die by the Crust: Sow Threat "Hate & Love" Lp, 2019

If you hit the bottle too hard the weekend past (after all, New Year's Eve is still fresh), then I would not recommend trying to listen to Hate & Love right away. You might still feel a little damaged and nauseous from the night, especially if you are not exactly getting any younger but still wants to prove you can drink as much as when you were in your twenties and a hangover never lasted more than a couple of hours. The thing is that, with such an album, you need to keep focused on the job, straight and alert so that if your head is pounding as if there was a deranged pack of dogs running around inside it, you will probably end up vomiting (again). It is not just that Sow Threat are trying to crust the shit out of you despite your headache, that would already be bad enough as you are slowly remembering that you did dance the macarena stark-bollock-naked at 5AM in order to impress your very embarrassed mates. You don't really need to blast this rough Doom-loving Japanese cavecrust sound during such a process that does requires you to be a bit clever or at least not as thick as you proved you could be. But why grandmaster Crust, I hear you think, would one need all his or her mental capacities on the deck to be able to comprehend, never mind enjoy, this humble album. Well, that is what we are going to explore.

First, I would like to wish you a happy new year, by which I mean one that will not be as shit as 2022. As far as crust music was concerned, 2022 proved to be an excellent year with many brilliant recordings (from Terminal Filth, Cimiterium, Repression Attack, Warkrusher, Slavery, Tormentum, Flower, Decomp, and these are just from the top of my able head, only Hellshock proved to be a relative let-down) to prove that this subgenre is alive and kicking and Cancer Spreading and Swordwielder will release records in 2023 so that the new year will not be a total catastrophe. In fact 2022 was a pretty good year for punk in general. But if we get out of the hardcore punk ghetto, stop browsing Discogs for a minute and take a look at the world, needless to say that there was no shortage of shit parades. On a personal level - and for once I will drop the persona and reveal my true, sensible, vulnerable self that sometimes listen to Terrible Feelings - one of my closest friends passed away, not a totally unexpected death since he was ill, but he was like a mentor to me and was responsible for a lot of what I think of as "my punk education" without which I might have become a smug SUV-driving yuppie with a premium subscription to a men's lifestyle magazine and an addiction to selfies. Worst, I could be listening to shoegaze. What a ghastly perspective. Let's just say that the past months have not been the cheeriest. 

With a new job starting up in March and my joining the Maximum Rocknroll review team, I vowed to myself that I will try to be more concise in 2023, which is precisely what I have not been doing in the first two paragraphs. Quality analysis and cheeky banter will still be my focal points but there be less arsing around. I think. So let's get to Sow Threat.

Sow Threat are from Okinawa and formed in 2010 which makes this album recorded in 2018 the careful and thought-out work, the premeditated murder-through-noise of an experienced band. From the start, ST can be said to work in a typically Japanese field of expertise: gruff Doom-worshipping crust. I have often been writing about the absolutely endless, obsessive love that Japanese punks have expressed for the Brummies' early Peaceville years for the past three decades. Doom's primitive music, riffing and vocals (especially) along with the stark imagery and aesthetics have deeply informed the Japanese crust style and Doom-style cavecrust can be considered as a national staple along with its evil twins crasher noize crust and Antisect-ish metal stenchcrust. What a happy family. Right from the very name "Sow Threat", a not so subtle pun on Sore Throat whose legacy could be just as strong in Japan and closely tied to Doom's, the listener with even a half-functioning brain will know that the three-piece is going for the classic late 80's worship gruff crust like their illustrious national predecessors Abraham Cross, Battle of Disarm, Mindsuck/early Reality Crisis, Disdomestic Violence and the original Doom worshippers, the mighty Macrofarge who pioneered that type of crust music in the late 80's. The first demo of ST from 2013 is quite good and everything you can expect from a traditional band working on such a highly specific basis and does not want to stray away from that sacred path. 

The subsequent record was a self-titled Ep released in 2014 on the solid Imminent Destruction Records and confirmed what the band intended to create on the first side (the focus on Sore Throat is significantly stronger on this one, very close to early Asocial Terror Fabrication too), but with the other side made up of just one song reminiscent of 00's epic neocrust. A little surprising. But then ST is a band that, despite their very classic take, manages to surprise, which sounds paradoxical at first but eventually makes sense. Their following work was a cd called Why? (it somehow reminds me of something but I cannot quite put my finger on it) that would exemplify the band's evolution with the addition of noisy techno songs (from one DJ Soft Kill) and sonorities into their thick crust sound. I am not big on electronic music and if you are not conversant in Japanese crust you might find the cross astonishing. But then, just think about the harsh techno influence in Death Dust Extractor, about the Tokyo Sound System compilation that included classic bands like Abraham Cross or Disdomestic Violence, but also super harsh noise "music" and noisecore acts like Bakteria, and also dark electro/techno music and Exithippies, the uniquely noisy - to the point of the intentionally unlistenable - band that, from a crasher noize crust basis, also works on noisecore, harsh noise and techno. And before that let's not forget Truth of Arise's extreme harsh noise cavecrust album. So basically, Japanese crusties are not afraid to experiment with other types of noise while remaining faithful to the source material at the same time. 

Hate & Love is something of a marmite album as you will either love it or won't really care for it. The simple and direct songwriting is unchanged as we are still both feet deep into muddy and fuzzy Sore Throat and Doom worship with a distinct nod to early Extreme Noise Terror and a firm Abraham Cross worldview. However the chaotic intro to the album was recorded by the aforementioned Exithippies which gives an idea of what is to come. The production from DJ Soft Kill can be considered as the possible bone of contention as it gives a deliberately blurry texture to the sound which creates a certain organic rawness and emphasizes the conceptual fuzziness of the whole. It is still undoubtedly Japanese-style cavecrust but its point is not merely to punish and pummel you to dust and bury you under grizzly growls. I see it more as an atmosphere-creating ambient crustcore work, not in the sense of Neurosis-inspired dark and heavy epic metallic crust, but because Hate & Love has to be listened to in its entirety in order to get the right vibe of the music and get used to its textures and aggressive fuzziness. You have to feel the groove and the mood of these "extreme brutality stench thrash punks" baby. 

It sounds both like an old tape that you just excavated from a forgotten box that had laid dormant in your damp attic since 1993 and like a smartly crafted and elaborately noisy mean tribute to the tradition of Doom-loving sore filth noizecrust. I personally love the very old-school sounding atmosphere and the distinct cavemen vocals that certainly bring back to the UK greats but with more rawness-inducing fuzz. It almost sounds like your roommate is blasting the Lp in his room while you are hoovering yours. Something crusty in the air. The icing on the cake is the cover of Salon Music's "Spending silent night", which ST turns into "Spending silent nightmare". Confuse had already covered this rather odd pop hit with "Spending loud night" and I am not sure why Japanese punks are so keen to slaughter this charming song. In any case it brings a different pace and note as a conclusion to the album which works well. 

The Lp cover reflects the mood of the record with a bunch of kawai-like punks wearing Sore Throat, Confuse and G-Anx having a laugh and drinking next to a bloody pile of bodies with a statement saying "Don't forget your present lives are made of their sacrifices". Pretty grim. I am not too sure whose sacrifice they are talking about though (the lyrics are in Japanese). On Hate & Love, ST had Kiku from Assfort and Conquest For Death standing on the drums and the album was originally released on cd with a different artwork on Reallife Recordings and Straight Up Records (more traditional Japanese hardcore labels). The vinyl version was released on SPHC, a well-established hardcore labels that does like noisy treats (like the Wankys, Detësto or the terrifying Shitnoise Bastards) and works with a lot of "foreign bands" (the term US punks use when they talk about non-US bands). Following this Lp, the band recorded a couple of songs for a split tape with Portland's Suss Law with whom they toured the States in 2019.

Sadly the guitar player and singer Yasumoto Tamura passed away in 2020 so this humble silly review is dedicated to him, his family and friends. Rest in punk.

Sow Threat