Saturday 18 May 2024

An adventure in split Ep's! I have no gun but I can split: ANTHRAX / BURNT CROSS "The Beg Society / Anathema" split Ep, 2014

As logical as it might seem, on the surface, to approach this Ep through the prism of the short but meaningful late 00's/early 10's revival of the vintage anarcho sound of bands like Surrender, Vivid Sekt or OK?, it would not be relevant. The latter was mostly an American phenomenon (1981 being a crucial exception) that must be seen in the broader context of a limited renewed interest in the British punk-rock sound, including so-called UK82 and oi, permeating a new generation of punks in North America. Arguably, the bands paying tribute to the "classic sound" at that point in time were referring to a set of specific bands that had been picked to stand for a typical, if not generic, sound. Not that this was bad in itself, on the contrary, I love typical bands like Alternative, Flux or indeed Anthrax and when you heard of a band that was said to be influenced by old-school anarchopunk you expected some a number of similar elements in terms of songwriting and tones. And visuals obviously. You've got to have at least 6 doves in order to be a proper anarcho band. 

I suppose the work of Lance Hahn (tragically his book Let the Tribes Increase never saw the light of day) and Ian Glasper meaningfully contributed to rekindle the interest in the old anarchopunk bands and bring attention to many obscure ones as well (who had really heard of Reality Control, The Sears or Lack of Knowledge outside of the old-timers?). I would venture that the creative drive of the previously mentioned bands (and of others later on) could be located at the metting point of these dynamics, between a sonic trend and exhaustive documentation of the scenes, not to mention the internet that allowed all of this to circulate easily. I will probably do a series about such bands at some point.

Anthrax were always an interesting case to me. They could not be said to belong in the "obscure bands" category (they did have an Ep on Crass Records) but they were not part of the "famous bands" category either (no one could really identify my Anthrax shirt when I first bought one in the mid-00's which made me feel special and even smugger than usual). In fact, I remember asking many an old local punk when I first heard of their existence and no one really knew who I was talking about (or at least they pretended not to, probably because I was very annoying and obstinate, or it may have had to do with the fact that we have a poor punk culture in France). I was finally able to get hold of a cheap cdr discography for a couple of quids and instantly loved them but still they had that mid-table feel, maybe because they did not have a chance to record a full album then (many did not). 

It was also around that time, in the early 10's, that many old anarcho bands started to reform - not always for the best I hate to admit. It is pretty obvious that the renewed interest prompted bands that thad been dead for decades to give it another go. I mean, if people suddenly started raving about my old shite bands I would probably consider getting the band back. This time around we might actually get petrol money at gigs. Anthrax undeniably stood as one of the best and most genuine bands in that category. I was enthralled when in 2007, out of nowhere as far as I could tell, a cd discography was released, with a much better sound than the crappy cdr I had (a vinyl version would appear in 2009), that made me think that few bands could claim to be able to sound as snotty and tuneful at the same time as Anthrax. I suppose the reissue was another step toward the proper reformation of the band that materialized with the One Last Drop Ep released in 2011 as a benefit for the mighty 1 in 12 Club in Bradford. The fact that the discography and the new record had the same title and cover (that looks ace and I love how it connects visually and topically with Capitalism is Cannibalism) was a bit confusing but it was a very strong come-back of old-school punk-rock with political lyrics. The band finally released their first album in 2012 entitled All For the Cause which was the first release of the new label Grow Your Own Records run by Gary from Anthrax that epitomises what autonomous DIY punk really means and has become quite prolific with records from anarcho-boomers as well as younger bands and overall a very positive and constructive energy. I don't like everything the label puts out but there are some genuine gems.

By the mid 10's we all understood that Anthrax were here to stay and the surprise of the reformation had somehow faded, allowing one to be more objective. I love the song "The beg society", a reference to Tory Cameron's concept of Big Society that already seems far away in 2024 given all the shits the UK went through in the past ten years. It has everything you want and expect from an anthemic punk song, one you'll be humming all day, whether in the bathroom, at work or, more worryingly, in your sleep. Many reformed bands try to get a clean, polished, well-produced sound for their new recordings because they never had the chance to in the first place whereas the "fans" who often discovered the bands through the internet precisely crave for the original cheaper sound as if the bands had been stored in a freezer for 30 years ready to be resurrected, untouched like mammoths although not as hairy. Anthrax find the perfect balance between their old punk sound and a more powerful production. As I said, the song is perfect: catchy singalong chorus, angry vocals that manage to carry tunes and emotions, a classic punk-rock riff enhanced with a moody, darker lead with the song guitar, lyrics anchored in their time. It's a great show of snotty punk with an angry melody and not everyone can pull it out that well. I am reminded of the moodier numbers of The System, Red Flag 77 or 90's Riot/Clone, this kind of well-written distinctly British old-school punk. A definite win.

On the other side you've got two songs from Burnt Cross, a band, or rather a studio project, done by two brothers that proved to be extremely prolific during their 10 year tenure, possibly too much for me as I have had trouble to catch up with all the records they released. The band seemingly crashed into the scene out of nowhere, taking anarchopunk devotees by storm. I remember listening to their Carcass of Humanity cd almost expecting it to be... well, a bit shit. It was described by a friend as "anarchopunk with a drum machine" and, let's face it, beside the amazing Cress, almost no band has been able to deliver properly with such a concept. We have a strong relationship with drum machines in punk bands in France (I would personally rather call it a trauma or a vile addiction) and, in fact, before all the oi revival (also known as The Fall) France was a place known for its drum machines. I have seen a lot of cheap drum machine punk bands in my youth and let me tell you that I'm still scarred so whenever I hear of a drum machine in a band, it triggers my defense mechanism immediately. I was not therefore expecting much from Burnt Cross. And of course, my narrow-mindedness and prejudices were quickly proven wrong and wept away upon listening to the thing, a minimalistic anarcho sound that blended Conflict and Cress but miraculously worked. On paper, it should not and some songs on the first recordings do walk on the thin edge between the boring and tedious category and the angry and catchy one, but there was always a hook, a tune, a chorus, something that made them great against all odds.

The band significantly improved with each release and recorded a number of incredible anarchopunk songs that were just so unique at the time (The Next World did use a drum machine but their creative intent was totally different) and still are to a large extent. No one, beside Cress, really did that specific style of simple but energetic punk with that furious half-spoken half-shouted vocal delivery conveying a sense of (out)rage and threat and cracking melodies to keep things memorable. In Burnt Cross' case, less was certainly more and the fact the songwriting was just a two person entreprise probably helped in making the whole coherent and very focused (there was no half-demented bass player begging to do a solo for instance). The two numbers on this one, "Anathema" and "The inner revolutionist" clearly belonged to the top shelf works of the band. The first one has guest vocals from Maureen which gives the song the delicious classic male/female vocals touch that defines anarchopunk. Here I am reminded of The Mad Are Sane or Conflict, of course, but 90's US anarcho bands like Mankind? or Resist and Exist are certainly not far away. The second song is a darker mid-paced one reminiscent of Icons of Filth or Exit-Stance with brilliant, almost postpunk, guitar leads demonstrating the band's seemingly effortless sense of tune. Angry songs and bitter words. Cracking stuff from a band that existed outside of trends and delivered referential anarchopunk music (all the elements that made the style distinct are present) that was genuine and not prompted by a trend.

This split can be said to be a minor anarchopunk classic and I cannot think of a superior split in this category in the last decade. It was co-released in 2014 by 15 (!) DIY labels and there were 1000 copies of the thing so you can probably find a copy if you bother to look.   


Saturday 4 May 2024

An adventure in split Ep's! I have no gun but I can split: HELLKRUSHER / BULLET RIDDEN "Air Attack / Stricken From the Records" split Ep, 2012

Ten years ago, back when the blog was still vaguely respectable but did not make any money and I could not afford a butler, I reviewed Hellkrusher's "Dying for who" Ep from 1992 and reading it again today, I realized I was going to write pretty much the same thing about this seemingly immortal band even though they did not send me a free shirt after the first eloquent review. But I am not one to hold grudges, thankfully for me, and today's Ep was released exactly 20 years after Dying for Who which will probably make everyone involved feel old but is still a testament to the band's tenacity and inflexibility. Punk-rock trends - and there have been a lot of them since 1992 - have never seemed to affect Hellkrusher's sound or approach to punk in the least. In fact, I am sure that everyone could be playing skacore tomorrow and the band would still keep delivering their classic brand of d-beat thrash unperturbed and oblivious to the cool hardcore kids suddenly wearing porkpie hats and doing Madness covers but with mosh parts. But then that's something most of us would wish to be able to ignore.

I saw Hellkrusher live a couple of times, notably in 2012 supporting Antisect at the 1 in 12 Club in Bradford, and they were always solid. We all know first times tend to be biased and prone to sentimentalism but my favourite memory of them was the first with their performance at the Scum Fest in London in 2007, which was actually their reformation gig (they had not played since 2001). It was a brilliant one I remember very fondly and everyone was up for it. Since then, Hellkrusher is the kind of band I buy all the records of without really thinking much about it. I am never overexcited about a new record of theirs but I'll always get it nonetheless. It is just something I do almost instinctively. The existence of such a long-running band is almost reassuring. I know what to expect from them and I would say they also know what people expect from them. "Just do you!" as the corniest beauty influencers would say to the band. Just do Hellkrusher. 

After such profound and thought-provoking words of wisdom, what's exactly on this record? With the Doomsday Hour Lp (arguably still the band's shining moment and an absolute classic 90's Discharge-inspired record that I played a lot), the Geordies created their own brand of metal-tinged d-beat thrash with gruff vocals that they have built upon since and has become instantly recognizable. The arrival of Scoot on second guitar certainly gave the band's a heavier, more metallic, darker sound but they never covered their "We <3 DISCHARGE" tattoos. Their songwriting reflects how orthodox British-style d-beat and raw metallic hardcore can blend harmoniously. The result is positively predictable because it has to be, it is the very essence of the genre, a constant barrage of discore, a nightmare that continues. I like the fact that the band always kept it raw and never went for a cleaner production so that you instantly know that you are dealing with a proper punk band and not American hardcore jocks or pompous Slayer fans who rate guitar solos on a scale from 1 to 666. 

Hellkrusher have that distinct dirty Northern hardcore/crust feel and you can tell that they emerged from the vibrant scene that gave birth to many classic UK bands. They are basically keeping it old-school in a world where everyone is trying to imitate the old-school sound. The two songs on this split Ep are classic Hellkrusher and would work well if you were to introduce the band to an ignoramus who does not know them. Expert Discharge-loving metallic hardcore inviting Anti-System and Nausea to their casual gritty Northern crust pub. Classic d-beat riffs, gruff aggressive vocals with that typical British scansion and a vintage reverb (just the right amount). Job done.

On the other side you have three songs of Bristol's Bulletridden, a band that unfortunately did not get much recognition outside of England. It is clearly a shame as I have personally always rated the band which, in the music world, is often considered as a very high honour and the punk equivalent of being complimented by Dwayne Johnson about being in great shape (not that it is likely to happen to me). As a staunch fan of the cruelly overlooked Gurkha, I closely followed the artistic career (well) of singer Martin and of his rather unique diction, style of growls and hoarse, almost strange vocal tone and caustic, dark lyrics. One of the few punk singers to growl narratively, so to speak, with words you can understand (to some extent). 

I remember being in the audience when The Reckoning played at Scum Fest although I don't actually remember The Reckoning, a short-lived project from which Warprayer and the present Bulletridden emerged, in 2010 for latter. Despite very blurry recollections, I knew deep down or pretended to myself that the gig had been brilliant and therefore closely followed the aforementioned bands' evolutions. I did see and liked them both live but I think Bulletridden were more convincing on record. They had that wicked, dirty and crunchy metallic - but inherently punk - guitar sound (courtesy of ex Bomb Blast Men Chris) that I am such a sucker for, with direct riffs. Apparently, the idea behind the band was to do something like "The Accused meets Coitus" and "heavy but not metal" (let's thank Ian Glasper's The Scene that Would Not Die for the wisdom). I can certainly can hear some of the dirty groove of Coitus' crusty metal-punk sound (both bands would eventually release a split Lp in 2018) but also Genital Deformities's oft forgotten 90's era where you can find that similar snotty, punky delivery and I would add some of the heavy aggression of stenchcore revival bands like Limb From Limb or Sanctum. Listening to these songs again, I realized I had forgotten a little how good the band was and the greater appeal it could have had because they brought something different (punkier maybe?) to the metal-crust banner behind which Orcs like to gather and trade pieces of advice about sewing techniques.

The band also made the wrong and almost naive choice to release cd's when the format ceased to be relevant in the eyes of "the scene" and was becoming about as sexy as a David Cameron mask at an orgy. Too bad. If the first album Songs Written Before Jumping out of an Eight Storey Window illustrated well what the band wanted to achieve, it was a little too long for a first attempt, the second one Upbeat Noise for Downtrodden People's enjoyed a better, heavier production. During their decent run of six years (they split up in 2016), the band was rather prolific and in a fair world you would see the few remaining crusties in your town wearing cider-stained Bulletridden shirts on Sundays. 

This split Ep is the perfect record if you want to both taste something familiar (Hellkrusher) and also be introduced to a lesser known band (Bulletridden). It was released in 2012 on Antisociety and is not too hard to find (it was a very ambitious pressing of 1000 copies).