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                        

1 comment:

  1. Always a fan of the meandering preamble and the random tangents, I'll get to the end of the article eventually!