There are some familiar faces on this one and on the whole I think it is a really solid, thoroughly enjoyable compilation, but I must admit that it is still slightly out of my comfort zone. I have always had a tumultuous relationship with Japanese punk. There are days when I just cannot stand the unsubtle referentiality of it, and others when I find myself at home with it and wallow unashamedly in its deliciously blatant intertextuality. Don't get me wrong, I like Japanese punk and even love dearly some of its segments, but I sometimes feel uneasy with its spectacular, extravagant dimension. The first Japanese band I got into as a teenager was Discocks (what a terrible name in retrospect) and, even then, I realized that, in order to really get what the band was about, you needed a decent punk background (I remember that they overtly referred to The Ejected and Abrasive Wheels on their Ep). This fan-pleasing aspect was a little unsettling, not in its purpose but in its openness, and more than 15 years later, the feeling still lingers. Besides, I have this foreboding idea that if I get too much into Japanese punk, I would get completely lost in the geek netherworld and would never appear again. Really.
But that's enough cheesy reminiscing already, let's get to it. "Meaningful consolidation" was released in 1994 and was the result of a collaboration between no less than five labels: Blurred Records (a grindcore-oriented label run by a member of Senseless Apocalypse), DIY Records (run by Ryuji from Battle of Disarm), Forest Records (run by a Beyond Description dude), Icons of Crust (Iconoclast's label I guess) and Yasuo Records. The outcome is fairly impressive: seven bands from all over Japan, fifteen songs and a fine-looking booklet to boot. Judging from the line-up and from the well-respected labels involved in "MC" (apparently Datsu, Iconoclast's drummer, was the instigator of the project) I would presume that this compilation was a bit of a landmark at the time. There is quality on all levels and, as I see it, the process behind the record was as important as the record itself: bands and labels working together thus creating a "meaningful consolidation" of the scene. Or something? It would make much sense.
The opening band of the compilation is Iconoclast. Now, they don't make anyone's work easier by choosing such a moniker although, truth be told, I can't see how anyone could confuse this lot with the other punk Iconoclast (unless you have been living under a rock). Iconoclast were from Kanazawa and, as far as I can tell, their existence was fairly brief since they only recorded between 1993 and 1994. The band is probably most famous for the good "Who does the freedom and equality exist for?" Ep and the two songs included on "MC", "Warlike nations" and "Peace and blind", were recorded during the same session. The songs are fast, pummeling, distorted crusty punk, played in that distinctive Japanese fashion. Crasher crust I suppose. The boys were certainly into Gloom, although they don't sound as fuzzy or as noisepunk-oriented. They remind me of Battle of Disarm having a go at "Phonophobia"-era ENT in Confuse's practice room. As usual for the genre, the drumming is stellar (just listen to the rolls) and really upfront in the production (especially the cymbals) and the bass is distorted in a groovy way. I like the spoken part on "Peace and blind" as it gives a nice, comfortable anarcho feel. After the demise of Iconoclast, the singer Aoishi would form the excellent and prolific anarcho band Argue Damnation, while, later on, the font used by the band was recycled by Atrocious Madness from PDX.
Next are Disclose, a band I hardly need to discuss since I already did that when reviewing "Crust and anguished life". Two songs recorded in april 1994 but with two different drummers for some reason. I am not enough of a Disclose buff to be assertive about it, but it looks like the band actually had two different drummers in their early years. To be honest, the variation in terms of playing is underwhelming as they beat the D exactly in the same way (and why should it be otherwise?). The sound is satisfying to my ears and I suppose the two songs aptly deliver what is expected. I tend to prefer the idea of Disclose than Disclose themselves to be honest, as I have always found Kawakami's Discharge orthodoxy absolutely fascinating and honourable. It was all about unconditional love and I certainly can relate to that (I wish I could say the same about Disclose's discography but I am not going to pretend).
The lovable CFDL follow with two songs, a Blitz cover, "45 revolution", and a live track, "Punx rules", both recorded in august 1994. The mood on these is certainly lighter than on the rest of "MC". CFDL were (and still are) a fun-loving bunch who played punk because they truly loved punk and punks if you know what I mean. The two songs see CFDL in defiant boozy punk-rock mode, sloppiness included (I am still struggling to know if it is intentional or not), and while they are definitely not the band's best materials, they work very well here as mood-lighteners. I like it.
The band closing the first part of "MC" is Anti Authorize from Kyoto and they are probably the band I am the least familiar with. As a rule of thumb, bands choosing a name with the prefix "anti" at least get my attention, so let's give this one a good listen... Well, it does sound a lot like SDS' fast songs to be honest. The production is significantly different, beefier as it doesn't have that dry-yet-groovy, thick sound that only SDS can pull out, but in terms of composition, the intent is close. I can't help noticing a Nausea influence in the riffs as well. If you are into fast and gritty Japanese crust, these two songs, "Greed and deceit" and "The past meaning" will make your day. I love the specific vocal works here, from the gratuitous shouts and screams to the singalong, first-raising chorus on "Greed and deceit", they confer a dynamic Japanese hardcore atmosphere that is welcome. Anti Authorize used aesthetics deeply rooted in anarchopunk on this one, and from what I can recall, there was some Antisect-worship on their Ep. I should definitely check it out again.
Let's get to the second Ep then, opening with one long song (well, it is technically an intro and a song) from Defiance. Just like Iconoclast, they don't make things easy for the punks, but then, Defiance PDX had really just started in 1994 so it is only retrospectively confusing, and honestly, it is a great name for a punk band. Defiance were from Osaka and remain a slightly, unfairly obscure footnote in the Grand Book of Crust, in spite of the Gloom connection (Jhonio and Habi played in the mighty Gloom and later in Defector, while guitarist Okamoto used to play in the rather noisy Asphyxia along with Jacky Crust War/Framtid... A small world Osaka is). Defiance's music is interesting in itself though, and not just because the members make for a great punk trivia. The intro reveals an old-school, metallic crust sound that was not common at the time in Japan and that could indicate two things. First, that the influence of SDS on the Japanese scene cannot be underestimated, as hard as it can be to assess things from the outside, and second, that Defiance significantly predated bands like AGE or Effigy but might have contributed to water the seeds that would bloom into that sound, although their songs on "MC" are definitely at odds with the rest of their work, which is much more Gloomy. It is not an all out old-school crust attack though, as when the song actually kicks in after the filthy metal intro, it is with a pummeling, heavy D-beat, with still a witty nod to Sacrilege in the guitar riff. The vocals are certainly not as gruff or forceful as well, more akin to 90's Swedish D-beat than Japanese crust actually. A fascinating song.
Next are Abraham Cross, who were probably the best example of a great band with a poor name. Now, AC are definitely my pint of cider: crust pants turned into music. Quite literally as well. Hailing from Tokyo, AC formed in 1992 and seemed to have been more or less active until the late 00's. The bass player, Ao, was also part of crasher-crust pioneer Collapse Society, while the stand-in guitar player for the "MC" recording session (the original one, Maki, doesn't play on this one) is actually Yutaka from Life. Chronology is a troubled notion with Abraham Cross, as their excellent "Peace can't combine" 12'' (with yet another guitarist, Itokin, although Yutaka is also credited) was released in 2002 on Crust War, but was recorded during two sessions in 1994 and 1995. Oh well, at least they did not rush it like new bands do these days. I remember reading a review of "Peace can't combine" in an issue of the sadly missed Punk Shocker fanzine, from Newcastle, that has stuck in my memory to this day. Andy wrote that "Abraham Cross sound more like Doom than Doom do". And, to some extent, he was completely right. Obviously, the sound is much more distorted, fuzzy and blown-out than on early Peaceville records, the mastery is just not the same, but, as the two songs "Bad circulate" and "In there" attest, AC are probably the best early Doom/ENT/Sore Throat-worshipping band ever. The vocals are totally over-the-top, so gruff and aggressive, the riffs are simple and effective, and the drummer even mimics Stick's playing. In terms of aesthetics, the band keeps nodding heavily to the Brummies with that lovely dark clouds (the Antisect plant design on the back of the 12'' was a definite success as well) and the lyrics mostly revolve around animal welfare.
The last four songs are live tracks from the mighty SDS, that were recorded in 1994 at Huck Finn, in Nagoya (the CFDL live song was also recorded there). I have raved about SDS on two occasion for TSN so you pretty much know what to expect. By 1994, the band was undertaking a transition from their old Antisecty crusty metal sound to the fast, relentless, rocking Japcrust madness of their later years. On that level alone, the live recording is enlightening since the band played differently two songs from their first Ep, "Distort hope" (which would be reworked on "Scum system kill") and "Hell storm", and another early one from the 1991 "I will take no orders from anyone" compilation Lp, "False freedom". The shift from old to new is still underway but you can definitely tell that SDS were in a transitional stage. The energy and the intensity of the live songs are hard to believe and the crowd appears to go nuts, which is perfectly reasonable. I left the four songs on the same track to that effect. Visually SDS was still very much in an Antisect mood as the title of their art piece, "Bloody dark century 21", suggests, although the additional "Punk is spilitual music" at the bottom could mean that they were going wiser or, likelier, weirder. "MC" also includes one of my favourite thank list ever: "Mega we love: Discharge, Anti-Sectt, Amebix, Varukers, Anti-System, Sacrilege, English Dogs, Dirt, Flux of Pink Indians and.... CROW".
Mega I love SDS.