Wednesday 28 February 2024

Adventure in split Ep's! I have no gun but I can split: DYSPNEA / NAKOT "S/t" split Ep, 2007

This is a record I actually bought fairly recently, out of nowhere really, at a local punk gig that had rather melodic bands on the bill. I always check out record stands in case something decent got lost in the midst of all the usual crap (or fast food punk as I wittily call it) and, as the night proved it, you never know what you are going to come across. To find this Ep, 17 years after its release, was unlikely and I imagine it had been sleeping in the box since it came out after a record trade. It might seem curious but then some distros have been sleeping for ages and only see the light day every three years or so and beside the genre that Dyspnea and Nakot engaged in not being really popular in France it is not all that surprising. It has to be said that some of this split's jail mates - some of which had been doing time in the box for well over twenty years - were bound however to remain buried there for eternity. Still you've got to love sleeping distros, they're always a fun, albeit frightening at times, trip into the past that will have you reminisce about bands that should not be reminisced about sometimes. Who needs to remember third rate Ekkaia wannabes?

I vaguely remembered Dyspnea as being "kinda neocrusty" but my memory of Nakot was much more accurate, or rather I remembered accurately quite liking Nakot even though I had not played their split with the brilliant Дажд/Dažd (a cruelly underrated band whose first album I rate very highly) for a while. So when I bumped into this great-looking humble record for a mere three euros, I didn't mess about and grabbed it. I saw surprise but also gratefulness in the eyes of the bloke running this tiny distro. Mind you, this Ep may have traveled more than me. The context of the release of this Ep was quite specific as it showcased two contemporary, modern, young bands from the Balkans which was not so common at the time, especially from my perspective as I still did not know much about the Greek scene (about which I have written extensively) and even less about bands from Yugoslavia. As I recall it, this collaboration between Dyspnea and Nakot excited my curiosity because I had not quite figured out yet that the classic 00's crust/d-beat/scandi sound had reached the Balkans. No, as you can see, I haven't always been the quickest kid on the block.

It strikes me as a little strange that Dyspnea, from Tyrnavos, almost always slips my mind when I reflect upon the Greek crust mythology, an activity I engage in often, deeply and with statuesque intensity. Still, I know I must have come across the name right when the band started through the then active blog scene of the late 00's, quite possibly thanks to Crustcracker or Crust Demos (the latter surviving until 2020), two blogs that were run by punks from Greece that I checked regularly and focused on obscure contemporary international bands of the fast and punishing variety. Those, among others, were great sources of information and inspiration as it reinforced the idea that punk was an unstoppable DIY international movement and that youthful talentless people from all over the world, be they from Chile, Indonesia or Slovenia, could also try to sound like Discharge or Doom and that's the real beauty of punk-rock, what unites us all. 

But to get back at Dyspnea they always stood for that time and the discovery process attached to it in my mind, they epitomised the type of bands that I would get to know through a blog: pretty local, pretty raw and pretty typical of the era (three criteria that are in no way bad things). I used to download a lot of music from these blogs (and I still do download a lot of music) and I loved the fact that they often promoted bands that were local to them. This recording is pretty raw, if not rough, even by 00's standards and if I did not know better (or if I could not read) I would have thought that they had been around in the early 90's rather than the late 00's. In any case Dyspnea cannot be described as being "neocrust", although they do have the odd melodic leads, an intensely dark vibe and a logo that is not dissimilar to Tragedy's (but you get five eagles instead of just one, it's a bargain). The vibe is dark, very dark, anguished even and the low gruff vocals sound pretty desperate indeed. Of course the Greek language works brilliantly with this kind of atmosphere (only the first song "Βολικοί Στη Σιωπή" is sung in Greek though, the other one is in English). The first number unleashes raw, bleak, fast crustcore with a slow-paced metallic break toward the end while the second is a groovy mid-paced one with a filthy tone and a singer sounding like he uses uranium as mouth wash. Beside ace Greek old-school metal crust bands like Ανθρώπινος-Λήθαργος or Βιομηχανική Αυτοκτονία, it reminds me of Czech gruff crust bands like Mass Genocide Process and neo(ish)crust geniuses Leadershit. Dyspnea would appear years later in 2014 on a split Lp with fellow countrymen Unfit Earth, using the same recipe but with a much cleaner and heavier production. It was well executed but did not have the charm of those two songs. 

On the other side are Nakot from Belgrade, a relatively short-lived band formed in 2005 that is still remembered - as far as I can tell - more for their relevance probably than their music because they stood for a new generation of punks ready to spit in the face of the powers that be in the difficult context of post-war Serbia. I was not aware of many Yugoslavian punk bands at that point in time - I was absolutely clueless about the buoyant scene of the 80's with the Ljubljana hardcore scene and the tons of national postpunk bands - and in fact, apart from Nulla Osta from Pula that played in 2006 in a squat in Paris (a band made even more exotic because they played with two bass guitars, crazy bastards), I would have struggled to name a Yugoslavian punk band. A friend of mine assured me that she had heard Serbian punk tapes so I at least knew the theoretical existence of punk music in that part of the world. But I'm sure a grindcore fan my age would have had a different perspective and vaster knowledge of the scene there because of the sheer number of grind/fastcore bands there. You could say Nakot, along with the aforementioned Dažd and Anaeroba from Slovenia - because their records could be found relatively easily on Western distro tables - opened a few doors on that level and expanded my punk multiverse. 

Nakot were also appealing because, to put it quite simply, they played a style I already liked and wore patches similar to mine (I assumed). They were basically a gruff scandicore band, a familiar genre that was accessible, and used typical - albeit drawn brilliantly - visuals with skulls, desolation, suffering and the good old Crass font. It felt like going to see a Serbian relative on vacation. Even if you had never met him, it was still family. Nakot's music on this split Ep was fairly simple, heavy and direct käng hardcore, a little lacking in terms of power because of the production (their next record largely solved this), but still delivering the goods. Picture Hellkrusher and Dread 101 partying hard while listening to Driller Killer. You can tell the band is genuine and they mention that when they sing about war, it comes from experience and is not "punk fetishism". 

Shortly after the release of this split, the remarkable efforts of some dedicated bloggers allowed me to explore the prolific 90's Yugoslavian DIY hardcore punk scene and discover dozens of tapes (they almost always were tapes) from the likes of Krvavi Mandat, S.m.c, Verbalni Delikt, Fight Back, Bad Justice, Intoxicate, Hoću Neću! or Totalni Promasaj. The continuity between those bands and Nakot ten years after made sense but also highlighted how much of a 00's band - sonically and visually - the latter were. It has to be said that the gloomy screen-printed artwork, expertly done by Doomsday Graphics, is one of the record's strongest points in spite of the rather common themes it depicts (but then that's what we are all looking for, right?).

A modest yet interesting record to be sure released on three Greek labels, Alcoholic Desaster, We don't Fight it! and Scarecrow, now a well-established label and record store, of whom it was the very first release.       

Dyspnea vs Nakot

Saturday 17 February 2024

An adventure in split Ep's! I have no gun but I can split: GLOBAL HOLOCAUST / MASSGRAVE "Revenge" split Ep, 2006

I recently listened to Hard Skin's song "Not messing around", a banger telling the story of a proper skinhead, quite likely a supporter of Millwall FC who is faithful to the traditional way of life. Most of all it's about a simple man who strives to live his better life and if it must include dancing the tango and the foxtrot, drinking whisky instead of bitter, then so be it. Once a bootboy always a bootboy as the saying goes. Inspiring shit indeed. Working-class heroes ain't messing around and if this song doesn't motivate you to get off your fat arse, what will? 

Do you know who else are not messing around? Global Holocaust and Massgrave, that's who. While the latter have made a name for themselves since their inception in 2003, the former has largely remained a band that would be best defined, as Mel Brooks put it, as a world-famous band in their home country. Local "legends" I guess. I first heard of GH through the Montreal Crust-Fucks compilation cd. It would have been released in 1999 or 2000 (the band Oppressed Conscience mentioned John Paul 2nd's 2000 speech in which he apologized for the heinous crimes of the Church - it was a bit late for that mate) and I remember ordering it from a distro called React that was active in the 90's and 00's and had a lot of pretty obscure noisy delicacies from all over the world. To be honest, I picked that one because it was cheap, everything seemed to be on this distro, and I was curious about Montreal crust bands - I only knew Hellbound and After the Bombs which I both loved - and the compilation, with its rather transparent title, promised just that. It is a fun record, still crusty but with some diversity, and along with Disagree (the best band here), GH definitely won me over. 

After a quick research I understood GH were pioneers and had been rather crucial in the making of the Montreal crust scene (assuming the very term "scene" is relevant to refer to 30 people). It's fair to say that the name and the vintage crustier-than-thou font give the genre away. They formed as early as 1989 which made them a second-generation crustcore band although they arsed around in the studio for a while because their first recording, the demo tape Hope?, was only released in 1993. From 1995 to 1999 they certainly made up for lost time, or started drinking more reasonablu, and no less than six Ep's, among which four splits with fellow Montreal bands Oppressed Conscience, Obnoxious Race and Urban Trash and another Québec-based band Fierce. 

During the 90's GH enjoyed a stable lineup with Simon, on drums, being a tireless musician (he also played in Préjudice, Disjonction and three of the aforementioned bands GH did splits with) and running Tobacco Shit Records that released most of GH's records and other Canadian bands. Sonically they were in line with the decade had to offer as far as the genre was concerned: gruff crustcore with a thrashing grindcore influence like Destroy! dating Toxic Bonkers at a Fleas & Live gig. One of the strongest points, if not the strongest, was Fred's vocals, instantly recognizable, that able to sound raucous and coarse but also very pissed and discernible, on the verge of dementia. Really good work here. The band then stopped in 1996 after being "banned in the city" whatever that means. I could not find any details about this ban. Did it involve some of rioting that ended up with police forbidding them to play in Montreal? That'd be legendary so I guess we would be able to find stories about it online. Were they just kicked out after a particularly poor gig? If you know the full story, let me know and I'll add the thing here.

The band reformed in 2006 with a new guitar player and let's get real: they did not change much. The grindcore moments were pretty much gone but in terms of production and textures, the two songs on this split Ep could have been recorded in 1996, as if time had had no effect on these thick-skinned crusties. We're still heavily in thrashing crustcore land and I am reminded of Brazilian thrashing hardcore legend Armagedom. Simple and rather good, I think the split Ep format fits the band very well here. GH would released another split Ep with Dehumanizer Earth the same year and a full Ep in 2008 with seven (!) different covers, six of which being (loving) rip-offs of other bands like Antischism, DS-13 or Tragedy. Granted those were very limited pressings but that cracked me up. You've got to love punks with a cheeky sense of humour.

On the other side the listener is treated with three songs from the mighty Massgrave from Vancouver (not to be confused with the short-lived but excellent Japanese Massgrave). I am not sure it would be correct to claim that MG were ever a trendy or a high-profile band (on the punk scale being a high-profile act means to have a queue of at least seven people at the merch table, it's simple maths really) but they have clearly become an established band and even people who are not into crust or grindcore (also known as posers) are at least a little familiar with them (if not with the actual music at least with how much they stand for the genre). They have been one of the very few contemporary bands to be able to totally appeal to both crust and grind crowds. Depending on the size of your town, there may not be a difference between these crowds. Actually in small towns everybody go to "the punk gig" whether they are into metalcore, melodic punk or neocrust because it would be pointless to form silly little scenes. But in bigger places where silliness is key, as far as I can see, a division has grown and solidified between the d-beat/crust audience and the full-on grindcore one. It's the case even in Paris, a town that has never been famous for either genres (that's an understatement, we're infested by oi music) that don't draw many people anyway unless you bring a bigger name. But MS are something of an exception in the sense that they are a solid DIY punk band, first and foremost, playing music that not only appeals to more but also, as an openly political band, avoids the tastelessness and stupidity that too many grindcore bands intentionally embrace. They are basically a good band with a delicately hairy font.

I first heard about them when a good friend of mine ages ago, far more into grindcore than I ever will be, mentioned that Stormcrow would appear on a split Lp with Massgrave to be released soon on Agipunk. Not being aware of the existence of said band, I proceeded to ask about their identity. He described them as "kinda like Disrupt or State of Fear but more manic and with more blast beats, even " and he was quite right. He then added that "even someone with shit tastes like you should enjoy it" which somehow negatively impacted the discovery. Oh well. By 2006 MG had already released two albums, a split cd with Neckbeerd (that involved a member of MG) and a strong full album entitled ...People are the Problem, and four Ep's, three of them being, in true DIY grindcore fashion split records with Warfair?, Pretty Little Flowers and Poser Disposer (I like the name of that one and the spoof Anti Cimex cover). The three songs on the present split are vintage 00's Massgrave, absolutely furious and relentless grinding cavemen crustcore with dual tradeoff vocals reminiscent of late Disrupt, 3-Way Cum or Deformed Conscience. The band sounds absolutely unstoppable and ferocious here, the production is amazing, powerful in that it relies on the energy and aggression of the songwriting to create that vibe of brutal and angry hardcore punk savagery and still provide significant changes of pace. They were at the top of their early game and this is one of my favourite recordings from the band. Short and sweet to be sure and with a limited amount of blast beats which suits me well. What a slap in the face. 

The vocalists are perfectly complementary and manage to recreate an argument between angry cavemen about who did not watch the fire properly. The riffs are top notch too and show that Sweden was certainly a country that the guitar player looked up to while the very sound and tone of the guitar is quite specific and makes the band easy to recognize. Back when the band started the traditional dual vocals crustcore style was slowly vanishing and it would soon go out of fashion after the mid-00's (Visions of War standing as the immortal heroes of the (sub)subgenre). I would venture that the fact that MG was significantly connected with the grindcore scene (most of their collaborations were with grind bands) that value brutality somehow made it easier for them to develop their specific grinding crust attack and build momentum. I had the opportunity to see them twice (I put on the second gig myself) and I had a blast. 

This record was released on Unrest Records when the label was still in its infancy. Little by little it would become a well-respected label responsible for records from the likes of Disrupt (well, that one made sense), The Accüsed, Driller Killer and even Morus. The main flaw of this Ep is the cover, a little confusing visually and without any reference to the bands included, unless you know the record beforehand, it's not one you would necessarily want to check on the distro table. Let's call this a punk tradition.

Global Grave    

Wednesday 7 February 2024

An adventure in split Ep's! I have no gun but I can split: AGAINST EMPIRE / HOLOKAUST "Threat to Existence / S/t" split Ep, 2004

This Ep is so quintessentially from the noughties that playing it again after some time was a bit like time traveling to a different era altogether when the internet was not completely taken for granted yet and still felt new. At the time being on Myspace was an issue in the scene which shows how far we've gone. This Ep made me realize how much I am, too, from the 00's and how I grew, as a punk and a vaguely promising young man, throughout this decade. In 2000, streetpunk seemed to me like the ultimate way of life, a happy land where you could be happy just by drinking beer "with the boyz", walking a lot on the streets, wearing too many studs and giving the fingers to "the system" and by 2009 I had formed a semiological critique of neocrust and its use of Nature as a personification of purity and of a paradise soon-to-be-lost to man-made industrialism, very much like 19th century romantics used to do (yes I was already a sad bastard) and I was patronizing enough to look down on people who had no knowledge of Philippine punk too. An exhilarating bildungsroman and a potentially ace biopic indeed. I should talk to my mate Thimotée Chalamet about it, he'd make a smashing me.

I was certainly not late to the party as far as Against Empire and Holokaust were concerned. What I especially liked about those two bands was that, not only were they both relatively new by the time I heard about them, but they were also the members' first bands as far as I knew (let's be kind and not count the Rage Against the Machine cover bands that they probably did in high school). New, fresh and clearly for my generation. I was enthusiastic and had no idea that 20 years later I would be sitting in front of a computer screen reflecting upon the subjective and objective significance of the record. Actually, at the time I had no idea that there would even be a "20 years later" with me in it. I see both AE and Holokaust as being particularly representative of Bush-era anarcho and crust punk, although the latter kept going in the 2010's and are still more or less active as I have seen recent gig poster promoting them. It's true that the rule of Bush Jr covered almost all the decade so that it is tempting to associate 00's bands as Bush-era bands but whenever I hear a 00's political punk bands from the States, the very production reminds me of the president. 

How many bands had radical and highly detailed anti Bush lyrics at that time? It seemed like all the bands had a song directly against the Bush administration, the Patriot Act or the war in Iraq. That thick as shit man was seen as a danger for humanity and to be honest a lot of what is still tragically going in the Middle East are consequences of the man's work. He was the Reagan to our 00's, he outreaganed Reagan, even as a Frenchman I felt like it was my duty to hate the idiot and wish for his beheading, and no one thought that the US would ever get a worse a president. Time proved that punks were not exactly the most clairvoyant bunch, sadly. Paradoxically I cannot really think of an anti-Trump punk song, I am sure there are some but he is clearly not as inspiring in spite of being even more hatable. Let's not depair, I am sure he is going to start new cool American wars by 2025 that will give us the opportunity to write antiwar anthems again. But then, to be quite honest, maybe it's not such a bad thing that there are not too many anti-Trump songs. The bastard is already everywhere (even outside the US of A) so I can understand why US bands would choose to keep his name out of our music. 

I liked AE a lot at the time. I loved the name, I loved the imagery, I loved the lyrics and I kinda wished I had a band like that if you know what I mean. I first heard them through their The One Who Strikes the Blow Forgets... The One Who Bears the Scar Remembers album from 2005 but I  got hold of this split Ep shortly afterwards. I definitely played the Lp a lot when it came out so that I still know all the songs. They have not all aged well and some parts do sound quite dated (or typical of the era if you want to put it nicely) but I don't really mind since, after all, to sound dated is to sound like your time, like you were part of your time and some dated things are very enjoyable. I loved their brand of passionate anarcho metal-crust, they did not belong to the stenchcore revival but still appealed to that crowd and their more melodic, melancholy riffing made them listenable to the then booming neocrust population. I remember people saying that the Lp was overproduced (a criticism usually coming from people used to 90's production or people who collect Japanese records) but compared to a lot of contemporary bands, it is actually a rather direct record and this Ep, the band's first vinyl appearance, is even rawer but just as angry. 

It is a pretty straight-forward affair illustrating what AE were good at: a balanced mix of US-styled anarchopunk and crustcore. At first, the opening song "Empire against environment" sounds like it would be very much at ease with 90's anarchopunk bands like Aus-Rotten and Deprived with its fast-paced angry vocal flow and a blatant Antisect-loving riff but then the band uses a full-on neocrust emotional riff on the chorus which I had completely forgotten (although there were some indeed on the album). I don't think it works that well and I would have wished for a simpler hardcore riff but then such endeavours were common in 2004. The second number is a traditional US crustcore monster with super gruff cavemen vocals (a little too forced maybe?) that owed a lot to bands like Disrupt (of course) or React and also Swedish classics like 3-Way Cum or Warcollapse. A Very good cavecrust effort with a brilliant scandicrust riff. The following AE record would be the aforementioned Lp blending metallic gruff crust with 90's US anarchopunk and some "epicrust" (or something?). A split Lp with Iskra in 2007 followed that saw the band with a different lineup include black-metal influences which did not really impress me (the whole record did not to be honest) and the year after the rather good Destructive Systems Collapse came out with a more dynamic and direct production and a solid 00's crustcore style (the band must have listened to Consume a lot). At that point I started to loose interest in AE for some reason and did not grab the split Ep with Auktion (I did get to see them on their European tour in late 2009 and they were quite good). By the time the second Lp Thieves and Leeches was out in 2011 I was surprised they were still going and I don't think I listened the Lp in its entirety.

Holokaust, from Moreno Valley close to Riverside, is a three-piece orchestra that I listen to more regularly than AE and some of their records I still rate quite highly. I am going to use the present tense as I think the band is more or less active and does play the odd benefit gig and festival. In retrospect the choice of their moniker feels a little odd. If anything, Holokaust is the modern band that epitomizes what Discharge-influenced peacepunk was all about. As a Southern Californian band, they are the direct heirs of this specific 80's tradition and sound popularized by brilliant bands like Diatribe, Body Count and obviously The Iconoclast. I cannot think of many bands that kept that sound alive (intentionally or not, this is not the point) after the 80's beside the mighty Resist and Exist (especially their late 90's period) and the cruelly underrated Armistice, a band I love that I will be writing about in a more or less distant future, both of which were actually already around when the OC crust scene was kicking in. As a recent incarnation of peacepunk, which is pretty specific, you would have thought that Holokaust would have heard of Holocaust, a band from Los Angeles that was around between 1989 and 1992 (we already talked about them here because of their inclusion on the SI One compilation Ep), was highly influenced by Crucifix or Final Conflict and very much part of the late 80's/early 90's peacepunk and peacecrust wave. Holocaust were by no means a high profile act so it was clearly coincidental but it is strange that they were not told by an elder that "it's already taken boys". But then, maybe they were told indeed and just though "fuck it, we'll just replace the "c" with a "k"".

Like AE, I got into Holokaust since the band's inception with their self-titled Ep from 2002, a record that I instantly got into and still love. It is the perfect blend of UK-styled Discharge-loving hardcore punk like '83 Antisect, Anti-System and early Hellkrusher and of traditional Californian peacepunk like The Iconoclast or Diatribe. Great stuff with a very pure old-school production that sounds very natural and not self-aware. Just good old-school pre d-beat Discharge-loving hardcore. The Ep was released on After The Bomb Records the label run by Adam from Masskontroll and Deathcharge (which makes sense). A split with Dissystema followed in 2003 (with a brilliant cover of Anti-System's "Dying in agony") which was poorly distributed in Europe and that I never grabbed and then our present 2004 split record. The basis are similar here with "Holy wars" starting with a metallic Final Conflict-like introduction before offering a classic Anti-System-style (they do love that band a lot and the vocals are quite alike) and "Genocide factor" and "Famine" being stellar early Discharge-loving hardcore like Varukers, The Iconoclast, Antisect, before d-beat was a structured thing. You know what I mean. The production is raw and powerful and I love how impactful the very pure d-beat drumming is in the mix as it confers a proper old-school feel. Holokaust's style sounds very spontaneous as they go for a classic sound in a way that few can achieve. The band went on to record a full Lp, that was unfortunately not as good, and three split Ep's with Wörhorse (not sure when this one came out actually, it could have been before AE's), Rattus and Armistice (that was an obvious one). A fairly quiet but delicious peacepunk band.

This was released on Threat To Existence which I think was a label run by an Against Empire member.  

Against Holokaust