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. 



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