Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 3): Riot/Clone "Destroy the myth of musical destruction" Ep, 1982

I first became aware of Riot/Clone in the very early noughties. For me, it was this exciting time when I was hungrily exploring the anarcho and crusty worlds which seemed to hold so much promise, enticed as I was by their black-and-white universe. I was a young idealist, and although I never was a spotty kid, I certainly had the typical arrogance of my age for I endeavoured to know everything there was to know about the British punk scene and nothing could have stopped me in my self-righteous quest. This thirst for knowledge was the one strict rule I lived by, my holy principle, my one-line Hagakure and if it took dilapidating my meager savings on - retrospectively - average UK punk, bothering old-timers tirelessly about taping me Anthrax and Disrupters songs (two bands I had not listened to but - for some unfathomable reason - I was absolutely certain I would love) until the early morning hours or spending whole afternoons in that one good record store listening to dozens of old 80's records without ever buying any (truth be told, the owner was more than used to this kind of behaviours and did not really care), then so be it. I used to make long lists of bands I had to hear and would progressively cross their names whenever I eventually did. And I still do actually. 

But back to Riot/Clone. One of my best mates was just back from London where he had bought randomly a few records from a local distro. He rang me up and asked me if I was up for listening to these novelties with him. Two hours later, I was at his place and we were looking at a mysterious pile of vinyls that just demanded to be played. One of them was Bare faced hypocrisy sells records, that anti-Chumbawamba Ep that was released on Ruptured Ambitions in 1998. Neither of us had really heard Chumba then. What we did know however was that the band had "sold out" terribly and that they had penned the anthem of the French world cup a few years before. I owned the video game so I was well aware of the fact. Despite our relative ignorance of the different issues that surrounded Chumba and completely unaware of the legacy of this formidable band, we completely agreed with the feelings behind the Ep that my friend must have bought originally because it had The Bus Station Loonies on it and he was crazy for them as he had seen them live during his stay in London. I noticed that it also included an Oi Polloi song (which was synonymous with sound politics) and had one band whose name I had written down on one of my lists: Riot/Clone with the song "Chumbawanka". I can still distinctly remember how awed I was upon first hearing that song. The music was alright, good even, energetic punk-rock, but what completely floored me was how angry the vocals sounded. The singer sounded SO pissed. I thought that he must have been mate with Chumbawamba and that the treason felt like a stab in the back to him, something like this. With hindsight, I now realize that it was the commodification of the anarchopunk politics and the resigned acceptance implied in Chumba's selling-out that angered R/C so much. The whole rock'n'roll swindle from one of our own basically. Of course, I have become a massive Chumba fan with the years but I can still remember the thrill of excitement that produced Dave Floyd's vocals when I first heard "Chumbawanka". And to this day, whenever I play it (I eventually bought the Ep), I still sing along to the chorus with an invisible microphone in my bedroom, though I have now learnt to draw the curtains before doing so. Just irresistible.     

Throughout the years, I haven't been the only one to be impressed with Dave's vocal work. I do not remember when or where I first read it (possibly in a zine or on an old message board), but none other than Quorthon (of Bathory) was influenced by R/C (here is the proof). Funnily enough, he thought of the band as "oi/punk" probably because of the song "Bottled oi" that was on the first R/C Ep There's no government like NO government which he owned (but apparently did not read the lyrics to, or could it be that the term used in Sweden to classify second-wave UK punk-rock was "oi/punk"? Both I would assume.). I have always thought of early Bathory as being primarily influenced by GBH (The Exploited and Disorder are also on Quorthon's list, but surprisingly not Discharge if you need to know) but I can understand how the first R/C Ep helped shape the early Bathory sound. It is a primitive, straight-forward, dynamic Ep with simple but catchy punk-rock songs and really upfront vocals with the highly recognizable - and accented - voice of Dave making it impossible to mistake for any other punk bands. Somewhere between an angry snarl and a snotty sneer, it sounds viscerally angry and threatening but also slightly somber and woeful, demented even, as if he were directly talking to you about what pisses him off, how pissed off he is, how angry he is to be that pissed off and how depressing it is to be that angry all the time. It makes sense that Quorthon loved it.      

Destroy the myth of musical destruction was R/C's second record, released in late 1982 on their own label. The band took (and still does) the DIY ethos inherent in anarchopunk very seriously and, not unlike Six Minute War (with whom they actually also shared similarities in terms of sound), they released their first three Ep's (as well as Lost Cherrees' No fighting No war No trouble No more) on their own Riot/Clone Records. This late '82 offering is my favourite one from the band's 80's catalogue. The production is still very much on the raw side of punk-rock but more polished than on its predecessor and the playing as well as the songwriting are also more focused. It contains two mid-paced anthems that would easily get any self-respecting punk's foot tapping and two fast UK82 punk numbers that would have the very same punk reach for a cold can of cider. The dark-toned "Lucrative lies" reminds me of early Rubella Ballet while "H-block" - possibly the Ep's strongest number - has  a delightful The-Epileptics-meets-Six-Minute-War-in-South-London's-Crass-cache vibe. As mentioned, "Sick games" and "Stereotypes" are faster and hard-hitting, a bit like a bland of early Conflict, Subhumans and Disorder. I particularly enjoy how the guitar work corresponds to the different humours present on the record. It thrashes when it must and then switches to moody when required. The bass lines do the job perfectly, they are not particularly articulate but then, and to borrow a phrase from Ian Glasper when he described R/C's sound, the strong point of the band was to write "simple-yet-memorable tunes". And isn't that the key to write a good punk-rock song?

The running topic of Destroy the myth of musical destruction is... punk. Or rather how punk grew to corrupt its own ideals by creating its own rock stars, rigid dress codes and silly attitudes. The short text provided in the foldout is interesting. It argues that punk-rock, just like any youth cult before it, failed by replicating the same systemic mistakes, by reducing its essence to just music and fashion. It does not state that punk is completely useless but that it appears to be a pointless diversion for wannabe revolutionaries: "Punk is a good medium for expressing ideas and provoking thought but unfortunately it will never achieve anything else. Nothing will ever be changed by dressing up. (...) The punk movement is just a diversion. Something to take people's mind off the realities of everyday life by giving them records, gigs and a trend to follow." Harsh but nevertheless true I suppose. Two songs from the Ep deal with this topic, "Lucrative lies" is about the money-grabbing self-appointed leaders of the first wave of punk-rock and "Stereotypes" tackle the social conformity to the system's expectations and although it is not openly directed at the punk scene, the fact that the whole Ep revolves around the issue of punk's relevance indicates that it is not far-fetched to read it as a comment on punk stereotypicality. "Sick games" is a more classic song about power games and social conditioning with top-notch lines such as "If this system's the answer, it must have been a stupid question", while "H-block" is about IRA prisoners who went on hunger strikes during Thatcher's rule. The band thought wise (and it was) to explain the song's polemical motive a bit more and point out that it is about the British government's hypocrisy toward its political prisoners and the story of colonialism in Ireland. Definitely a smart band. 

Following this Ep, R/C released the Blood on your hands? Ep about animal rights in 1984. They reformed in the 90's, stronger and angrier than ever and recorded the massive 1995 double Lp Still no government like NO government (which contained re-recordings of all R/C's early sings), then the To find a little bluebird Lp in 1997, a cracking album with a horrible cover, Do you want fries with that? in 1997 and Success in 2007, which, despite a song about the Chelsea FC (about the gentrification of football really), was actually a solid effort. And R/C are back since you can expect a new Ep very soon. And the best thing is that, after all those years, Dave still sounds as pissed off as he did in 1982, 1995 or 2007. Only now I know it is not all Chumbawamba's fault. 

Fun facts about this record. "Dave Floyd is god" has been etched on the A side, while B has "She's got it well suss'd cos all we want is peace". I am not sure what it is supposed to mean (a go at Thatcher? Dave Floyd being a descendent of Jesus Christ? Drunken private jokes?) but there you go. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 2): Soldiers of Fortune "Waiting for World War III" Lp, 1981

Pretty sure no one could have seen that one coming, right? 

The year 1981 was definitely ripe with top-shelf punk records in Britain and the second generation of anarchopunk bands was steadily growing. The No doves fly here, Demystification, Demolition War and Neu Smell Ep's were all released in 1981 and many crucial bands were forming and learning how to play (or how not to play) their instruments and how to paint a banner with peace and anok symbols. I suppose I could have picked any one of these classic records and go for it. But I thought (kinda) long and (a little) hard and decided to select a little-known record from an obscure band that is almost never discussed and that I know virtually nothing about. Again, that is my idea of fun. 

And let's introduce the subject with a very bold statement that only a pretentious twat like myself can genuinely believe in: had it been released on a London label, Waiting for World War III would be deemed an absolute classic record nowadays and you would see vintage anarcho fanatics wear Soldiers of Fortune shirts and have massive buttons on their vegan leather jacket. There, I said it and this is the gospel truth. Here is the thing though, SOF were not technically a British band in 1981. The band was indeed made up of three English punks but was based in Berlin where the lads squatted between 1980 and 1982, a fact that inevitably reminds one of B-Movie. I must admit that I pondered over the relevance of including a Berlin band in a series about British anarchopunk but the particular history of Soldiers of Fortune, especially the post-1982 period, is totally coherent with the context of the UK anarchopunk narrative without mentioning the fact that the members were punk squatters in one of the most politically and musically exciting cities in the eighties. Besides, after writing about a non-anarchist anarchopunk band with 6 Minute War, why not rave about an English anarchopunk bands from Berlin?

SOF was a trio that originated from Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, a declining and reactionary resort town notorious for being the first one to have suffered an aerial bombardment in the UK during WWI (it was also severely bombed during the Blitz) and for the collapse of a bridge in 1845 that caused the death of 79 kids. Although its name sounds a bit funny (c'mon, let's face it, it does), Yarmouth looks like a pretty grim place to grow up in and the song "Small town sunday" is there to remind you of the reason why the band fucked off to Berlin when they had the chance. SOF lived in Squatting Heaven for two years, where they recorded this album in 1981 and the Stars/Autonomia Ep the following year, just before they moved back to England, London to be specific, where they went on squatting and got heavily involved in the anarchopunk scene. They notably played at the Zig Zag squat in late 1982 along with The Mob, The Apostles, Flux of Pink Indians and Omega Tribe. 

To give you an idea of where the band stood in the grand story of British punk and of how active they were, here is a comment that was published on the excellent blog Nuzz Prowling Wolf, in a post about SOF's Ep (you can read it here):

"Actually the Soldiers were originally from Great Yarmouth, and consisted of two brothers, Ingmar on guitar and vo, and Roger on bass plus Trevor on drums. They moved to Berlin in 1980, and to London in '82 and helped set up the Kafe Kollaps squat bar in West Hampstead along with the Burn It Down collective, who then opened the Burn It Down Ballroom on Finchley Road in 1983 (Crass played the first gig, the Soldiers also played; The Mob were regulars) and the Glasshouse in Camden in 1984. The Burn It Downs also put on the first ever Class War benefit gig in 1984 (in what used to be the Camden Council housing offices just off Finchley Road) which was headlined by Poison Girls, helped set up the Ambulance Station in the Old Kent Road, supplied PA's for lots of squat gigs and joined with CopyArt in 1985. The Soldiers became a kind of Cult-lite in 1986, moved back to Berlin and stopped playing music."

(The person who commented was anonymous but, judging from the precision of the account, was clearly involved in that specific part of the London scene at the time. Who knows, perhaps someone close to "The Soldiers"?)

Anyway, in spite of the band's obvious commitment to the anarcho scene during their London years, they largely remain one of the best, as well as one of the most unknown, bands of the early 80's. One could venture that since their records had been released on small Berlin labels, they were not widely available in England, but apparently the Ep could still be found at SOF gigs after they came back from their Eastern stay. It is a bit of a mystery to me how that good a band never had the chance of a British pressing, or even just a tape version. Perhaps as a band, they were not really interested in doing so and preferred to focus on the present and on making things happen rather than on their past recordings? This would certainly be honourable but still deprived many local punks of their musical greatness. Because if Waiting for World War III had been released on Xcentric Crass Records or even on Bluurg Tapes, let me tell you that it would have drowned under an endless shower of praises. 

I cannot remember exactly when I first bumped into SOF but it was definitely through a music blog (those things from a distant past). I liked the cover and decided to give it a go, expecting typical early German punk-rock or postpunk. First listening to the opening song was like a mystical moment, something akin to an epiphany, not unlike when I first heard Pro Patria Mori or when I first learnt how to snap my fingers a kid (the latter got me in detention at school but that's a completely different story). Not only was I in awe at the brilliance of the melody, but I was also astounded that such a great band playing exactly the kind of tuneful and melancholy Britpunk that I am so in love with could have escaped me. It was so good that it almost upset me. Why didn't anyone tell me about SOF? Where are my mates when I most need them? Needless to say that after that incident many a phone number was deleted from my repertoire. 

SOF were certainly not your typically Crass-sounding snotty anarcho band. Actually, if you listened to the Lp without knowing SOF (and without paying much too much attention to the lyrics), you could think that the songs are taken from some unreleased session from a '77 band. The late 70's influence is strong in SOF and bands like The Adverts or The Boys (without the rocky vibe) do come to mind. I am also reminded of Ulster bands like Rudi or The Outcasts, of the punkier band of the mod revival even, and with several reggae-tinged songs, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ruts and even The Clash are not far off either (I am generally not one to toy with reggae or ska too much but when the songs are moody and if there ain't too many of them, I can be up for it). However, if SOF had that amazing tunefulness and sense of melody associated with the school of '77, they also had a distinctly moody vibe running through the album, which is most obvious in the band's postpunk and goth moments (like on the tribal "Totem" and the über-catchy trance-like "Voice of the Mysterons") but permeates the whole work, so that in the end the band was closer in terms of textures and intent to The Wall and Demob or - in the anarcho realms - to Naked and even Omega Tribe. A (post)punky re-adaptation of '77 tonalities if you will. 

I know I overuse the words "tuneful" and "catchy" and the whole lexical field of melody far too much but honestly, and without the shadow of a doubt, SOF were one of the most inventive tune-oriented anarchopunk bands of their generation. Just listen to the bittersweet chorus of "Small town sunday", to the arrangements of "Sound and the fury" (the "Glory boys" break in this song is just fantastic and they only - and wisely - use it once), to the Killing Jokesque beats of "Totem", to the dark groove of "War drums", to the emotional simplicity of the reggae song "For the unknown soldiers"... The production is ace for the genre, not overdone and quite clear, all the songs being well-written enough not to need too fancy a sound. Although Waiting for World War III can be described as an old-school punk-rock album sonically (which it is), there is enough variety thanks to the addition of goth-punk and reggae to make it stand out, not only as a great collection of songs, but as a cohesive entity. Basically, a proper punk album in the noblest sense of the term with two underlying motives: an incomparable sense of a good tune and a bellicose melancholy.    

There was no lyric sheet in my copy (Discogs says there was one though so a scan would be welcome) but since the boys actually sing (and they do good job at it, I wish more anarcho bands dared to sing these days...) you can understand all the words. Songs about boredom and unemployment in small-town England, Cold War paranoia, work and, of course, war and imperialism. My copy of the record has clearly seen better days (which means that it was played often, which is good, or that it was not properly stored, which is a fucking shame and should be severely punished, public hanging might be a little too harsh but flogging would be fine) and there are some loud crackles, especially on the reggae song now that I think about it. As mentioned, SOF also released an Ep in 1982, that is more postpunk-oriented but equally great and clearly deserves its entry in the much coveted 80's anarcho-goth canon.

The one thing I hate about this record is that, not only does the side A runs on 33rpm while side B runs on 45rpm, but they mixed up the labels so that it is always a bit of a mess to play... 

This is the best British anarchopunk band you have never heard of. 

You're welcome.

The labels of Hell

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 1): Six Minute War "75p" Ep, 1980

After a well-deserved break that coincided with yours truly finding a part-time job (sigh), let's get Terminal Sound Nuisance going again. 

This new series is guaranteed crust-free. Not that I have suddenly taken a dislike to the genre though. At this point in my life there's no going back from it and I leave the odious crime of crust betrayal to posers, scene tourists and modern post-hardcore enthusiasts. But after 23 posts dealing with crust music, I understandably need to think about something more tuneful than the usual cavemen choir, something that Time itself (yes, with a capital "T") has validated, something that makes my heart beat like a spotty teenager with a crush on his PE teacher (it is Physical Education, not Profane Existence, though they are not mutually exclusive I suppose): British anarchopunk from the eighties. In order to make things more challenging for me (as the famous French saying goes: "why should you make it easy when you can make it difficult?"), I decided to pick ten records, each of them corresponding to one of the ten successive years that made up the decade. There is no profound reason for this other than it provides me with a fun frame to work with. I guess my definition of "fun" is a bit twisted but there you go.

The first entry will be about a record that was first released in 1980, on April fools' day to be accurate, the irony of which, judging from the overall sloppiness of the work, is not lost on me: Six Minute War's first Ep. There is not that much information about the band's story but here is what I managed to dig out. There were actually four different versions of this Ep. Apparently, the original pressing was the one with the WWI soldier on the cover but I do not know when exactly my copy was released compared to the other versions (I don't think any of them saw the light of day after 1981 but I could be wrong). Anyway, the record was either successful enough to warrant subsequent rereleases or they were such small pressings that the band had to make new ones. I would venture that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Because SMW were such a devout DIY band, I suppose they could not afford large pressings to begin with, but then, their music was also unique enough to garner meaningful attention form the punk-buying public. The title of the Ep is technically 75p which is a bit of a shit name, though it does not fail to point out a crucial selling argument, namely the cheap price (if you look at the cover, it even says "Only 75p" at the bottom, in case the unbeatable price escaped you the first time). The first pressing also indicated the actual length of the record ("14 minute EP") which is another top selling point for punks, but the band apparently thought that it was too reminiscent of value-for-money grocery talk and they switched to the "33.3RPM" notice on later versions (it still gives you a good idea about how good a deal it is though). 

Hailing from Raynes Park in London and cheekily called after the infamous Six-Day War, Six Minute War are possibly the most staunchly DIY punk band I am aware of from the early 80's. The cut'n'paste cover is just a folded xeroxed A4 sheet and, if you look very closely, you can notice that the white labels are in fact not blank but that they intriguingly look like labels from another record that were reused on Six Minute War's! You can still make out some words from the original record they may have belonged to: Hazel O'Connor with the song "White room". Now, I have no idea who Hazel O'Connor is (is my ignorance for the best?) but I like to think the SMW boys, in a genuine act of proletarian autonomy, nicked her records from a chain store so as to use bits of them for their own. Punk is assuredly a romantic endeavour. 

The band kept this radical and minimal DIY spirit for their two next Ep's, the poetically-named More short songs and Slightly longer songs Ep's which demonstrated a certain sense of humour and some funny literalism. In terms of musical content, Six Minute War were as DIY, minimalistic, amateurish and uncompromising as they looked. 75p contained no less than eleven songs, some of them less than a minute long, which was clearly a rarity in 1980 (even Discharge didn't have songs as short and Peni's first Ep only came out the following year). The rather original format (almost proto hardcore) of SMW's songs was completely relevant to their very direct, angry punk music however. Keeping in mind that it was recorded at a transitional time between the two major British punk waves, you could say that the music was not unlike an angrier, more primitive, more straight-forward version of 77 punk-rock that, to some extent, prefigured the second wave of punk-rock (be it of the UK82 or anarcho variety). Simply put, describing Six Minute War as a gloriously sloppy blend of Crass and Crisis with a hearty spoonful of The Epileptics and Wire (turned raw) is actually not far-fetched. You have got the typical energetic crassy tribal drumming as well as mid-paced, darkly catchy songs with vocals ranging from deliciously snotty, protest punk shouts to sterner spoken tones reminiscent of the crisisy elocution. 

Despite obvious limitations in terms of production and musicianship, 75p had something that so many other punk-rock records lacked: an aggressive tunefulness. The riffs are very simple, the sound trebly and the song structures very basic, we are in the "minimal snot-punk" category here. But it works. It just does. The contagious passion, the spontaneity, the bursting urgency permeating the songs are unstoppable, the guitar sound is cheap - almost out of tune - but perfectly fits precisely because it reflects what the band's statement is all about. In fact, this Ep probably has some of the best two-chord punk songs ever written. For all the thinness and the instability (one can definitely picture the boys struggling on their instrument), the sincerity that the band conveys, visually, sonically and politically and their undeniably great ear for good, simple, catchy but aggressive tunes make Six Minute War stand out. 

Perhaps ironically considering the templates of this series, SMW were not exactly an "anarchopunk" band. Or, perhaps more accurately, they were a non-anarchist anarchopunk band. They wrote songs (like the fantastically catchy "Camera" on 75p) that openly questioned and challenged the vision of a peaceful stateless society promoted by Crass that they judged middle-class and unlikely to come true because of our nasty tendencies and even made fun of the pseudo-revolutionary teens that followed and imitated Crass ("Marker pens"). Instead, they believed in social disorder to express and reach personal freedom. However, like Crass, they radically embraced the DIY ethics (more than a lot of anarcho bands of the time to be fair) and played with bands like Flux of Pink Indians, The Sinyx, Anthrax or Hagar The Womb. Similarly, their lyrics were clearly of a political nature, with songs about attacking the capitalist system through strikes, the danger of nuclear power, animal rights, the justice system, the idea of progress or social conformity. SMW's words are, like the music and visuals, of a direct nature, written from the working-class perspective of a youth and with some biting sarcasm. 

Following 75p, Six Minute War self-released (as they always did) their second Ep, More short songs, a slightly better produced, heavier effort that was not quite as catchy but still contained the absolute hit "Sell out" about the first wave of punk bands and the genuinely hilarious song "Guitarist" about their guitarist completely losing it during the session (you can even hear the banter). Punk, innit? The next Ep, Slightly longer songs, saw the band toy with postpunk unconvincingly and they split right after. Some members (rumoured to be the most musically proficient) joined bands like 400 Blows and Concrete, but Rob and Charlie formed the brilliant Fallout and switched back to their brand of sloppy but tuneful, intense punk-rock. Still with a foot firmly rooted in the anarchopunk scene, despite not being technically an "anarcho band", Fallout released two magnificent Ep's and two solid albums of angry, abrasive UK punk music with postpunk ovetones that sound like the logical evolution to Six Minute War, more polished and diverse but with the same minimal vibe, DIY statement, social anger and aggressive tunefulness. Quite amazingly, there has never been a Fallout discography and at a time when reissues flourish like never before, it is definitely a mysterious oddity... Are we really growing that tasteless? 

Thanks to Hazel O'Connor

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (final round): Asmodeus "Life?" demo tape, 2016

Anyone who has ever been in a band (even a virtual one that never practiced and remained stuck at the "idea stage" like so many) will tell you the same thing: finding a decent moniker can be a nightmarish task. It is arguably harder in 2017, now that you can check on Discogs if the name was already used at some point by another band and realize that all the cool names have already been picked. How painful and depressing. 

Judging from the number of bands called "Asmodeus", it is unlikely that this Japanese band really cared about the existence of similarly-named acts, which shows an admirable strength conviction and a fearlessness about being sued. Apparently, Asmodeus is a king of demons and he specializes in twisting people's sexual desires. I am clueless about demons to be honest but this information immediately made me ponder about two things. First, that I really should get back to watching Supernatural because it is a fun show with hot main characters (especially Dean), and second, that there must be dozens of black-metal bands with the name Asmodeus. After a quick search on Discogs, I discovered that there had been indeed quite a few of them and one in particular, from Austria, caught my attention since their page indicated that Azazel and Desdemon played in the band during the early noughties. I always find it deeply inspiring when old-school biblical demons like them remain invested in the evil scene and strive to use fresh, modern media in order to spread pain and suffering to a new crowd. Much respect.

As mentioned, our Asmodeus are from Japan, Tokyo to be accurate, and although no incarnation of evil actually plays in the band (sadly), they are certainly one of the most solid crust bands that Japan has produced in the 2010's. I originally wanted to select twelve bands for this series, each one of them from a different country. But then, I really could not decide between Disturd and Asmodeus so I gave up and picked both bands. The presence of this specific Asmodeus recording can be seen as being somewhat erroneous since Life? was originally recorded and released in 2010 and the idea behind the series was to focus on crust works that are no older than five year old. However, it was properly rereleased on tape last year on Black Konflik Records, with one additional song, and I feel that this demo did not really receive enough attention the first time around. Well, certainly not from yours truly anyway. Before the reissue, I vaguely remembered seeing them mentioned on a message board, then hearing the demo (through soulseek probably), rather liking it but not quite enough to arouse my interest. Fast-forward to the summer 2016 and the news that a tape version of Life? was roaming in Malaysia. I promptly played it again and could not believe how good it sounded. Well, "good" reads inappropriate here for it would be more correct to write "how much to my liking" it was. Asmodeus' demo contained everything I love about crust music and, to my dismay, I still have not figured out why I was left unimpressed upon first bumping into it. I mean, they use the bloody Antisect font and the title of the demo is a direct reference to "Hallo there... how's life?", and normally this type of things guarantee unconditional, unequivocal love and support from myself. I felt like a traitor, probably just like a hardcore dude who's just broken his edge for half a pint of cheap lager. So from now on, I shall pursue the path of penance and flagellation to atone for my sins. Please, do not revoke my Crust Elite membership card.

For a mere demo (but demos these days often sound as solid as Lp's), Life? is a brilliant work and releasing it again for a wider audience was the sensible thing to do. Apparently, Asmodeus was not the first band of the four members, as they all played in bands like Varaus SS (no need to tell you what this one was going for, right?), Stench Mass Genocide (called after a Sore Throat song, need I say more?), Babeldöm (great dark and fast crusty hardcore) and Buck-Teeekka (alright, that one is completely obscure but judging from a 10 year old youtube video with a shite sound, they were Confusish). Being an "ex-member of" is by no means synonymous with quality but in this case, you can tell that, even for a young band, they all focused closely on what they intended to create sonically. The band is often described as sounding like "Antisect, Axegrinder, Hellbastard and Deviated Instinct" and, while these particular references are far from irrelevant, they can be a little misleading. I would locate Life?'s creative matrix (I have not heard the 2015 Lp and therefore unable to pronounce on it) deep in a specific region of the SDS soundscape, namely In to the void. I am aware that the SDS comparison sounds a little lazy when dealing with a Japanese crust band but I cannot think of a more meaningful one. Asmodeus' overt referentiality to Antisect cannot fail to remind one of SDS' during their 90/92 era. Beside the font and the demo title, the front cover also includes plants with curves reminiscent of In darkness and the song title "Change tomorrow" is deeply rooted in the antisectish mythology in that context (without mentioning the many riffs of course). But rather than being straight references to Antisect (like Anti Authorize used), I would tend to think that they should be read as references to references to Antisect created by SDS. In other terms, they refer to antisectish referentiality and therefore substantially to SDS more than they do directly to Antisect. Know what I mean?

Life? conveys a great early SDS vibe, especially their mid-paced crunchy songs and the opening of "An abortion" is a wonderful instance of that with its super tight beats and its cold, dark metallic riffs that sound simple and yet just right. However, Asmodeus' guitar sound and riffing also points to later periods of SDS (Ameber and Digital evil) and to AGE in terms of texture and in its aggressively deranged and deformed thrashy sound. The band do not overuse it but whenever they do, it works marvelously. But what makes Asmodeus particularly stand out is not just their mastery of the "SDS sound" but also how they surprise the listener with unexpected breaks and changes of mood. The chorus to "An abortion" is surprisingly moody, the guitar takes on a melancholy tone and the bass line gets subtler and more complex, which strongly reminds me of Skaven's gloomy songwriting here. Did I see it coming? Absolutely not. But this inventiveness is Asmodeus' strong point as they achieve to blend other ingredients in their SDS crust pot. The song "闇" still builds on early SDS but this time with a mean and dirty Coitus-ish grinning chorus (how I wish more contemporary crust bands borrowed from the crusty squat crust of Coitus... but let's not digress) and vintage Deviated Instinct crunchy übercrust riffs. The following number, "虐待の連鎖", is faster and more rocking, not quite unlike Coitus at their beefiest again and even GISM (not a band I often find myself mentioning but there you go), with vocals that for some reason bring to mind Global Holocaust's for their hoarseness. "Change tomorrow" sees Asmodeus diving deep into Antisect/Axegrinder-worship with a riff respectfully borrowed from "New dark ages" and updated with SDS vibrance. It is a HEAVY song with a groovy, almost sensual hypnotic metal quality, and lovely additions of more evil-sounding backup vocals and a doom-metal break toward the end, making it almost reminiscent of Instinct of Survival at times. The last song on the tape, "生の渦" I believe, was not originally included on Life? but appeared on the Dfer cd compilation in 2012. The production is a little different, thrashier probably, but the songwriting has not changed in its conceptualization. The song starts like an Hellbastard riff fest with a heavy thrash vibe and then bursts into fast and somber Effigy-ish metal crust. This makes for quite a ride into Darkness.

Overall the production on Life? is top notch and the balance between the instruments is exactly as it should be when you aim for classic Japanese crust. As I mentioned the guitar sound bridges the gap between SDS' main periods with a proud dexterousness while the sound of the bass is deceptively simple, without effects, not unlike Axegrinder and Effigy's actually, and delivers the compulsory groove to the whole. I am fine with the vocals, they are not overdone and at times the singer tries different things by tackling several crust repertoire. He does not necessarily nail it all the time but I appreciate the effort (I'm really being captious here). This delightful tape was released on Black Konflik, from Malaysia, a (mostly) tape label that has been focusing on (re)releasing top-shelf raw hardcore and crust for more than 15 years and is worthy of your support. I sadly have not got to listen to the Asmodeus Lp that was released on Strong Mind Japan yet (kind souls may leave a link in the comment) but I am crossing my finger well hard right now.

Terminal Sound Nuisance will be done with crust for a while since I need (for my sanity) to focus on things more tuneful in the immediate future. I am not sure what it will be yet. But there will possibly be another crust series with more good contemporary crust some time in the next twelve months.    



Thursday, 25 May 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 12): Cancer Spreading "Ghastly visions" Lp, 2016

Just a few weeks ago, Cock Sparrer released a new album, modestly entitled Forever, and, being a modern man on a budget, I have been listening to it constantly on my portable music device. The new Lp works especially well while walking the streets with your head up high as you're heading up to the pub to meet up with the lads and have a right laugh (although you are just really making some errands and queuing at the local store). I suppose a most adequate description of Cock Sparrer would be "local conversations between middle-aged men, overheard at your local pub and put into music with all the best random tunes you have been casually whistling in the shower". Perhaps that's where the secret of the band's legendary tunefulness lies, contrary to us mere mortals, Cock Sparrer are actually able to remember all the great melodies they come up with while showering, they may even bring a water-proof guitar with them, just in case a solid tune needs to be tested on the spot before it vanishes. 

There is no similarity between Cock Sparrer and Cancer Spreading I can think of other than their initials. However, when I think about the former, the song "Where are they now?" immediately comes to mind and if you were to ask this question about the latter, I would point to Ghastly visions (an album that proves to be much more difficult to whistle to while showering), and then probably quote the song "Still pist" from The Pist to further develop. How fun would that be to have a full conversation using only the names of punk songs! Right? Right?? RIGHT??? 

Okay then, let's cut the crap and get to the penultimate round of this series about contemporary crust with the new album of Cancer Spreading, whom I will refer to from now on as CS (like Cock Sparrer, Civilised Society or Concrete Sox). I already wrote quite extensively about this Modena band exactly three years ago with a review of their 2011 Suffering Ep which also saw me discuss the implications of the term "stenchcore" both diachronically and synchronically and enjoy using these two lovely adverbs in the process. Incidentally, CS did not release anything for a few years and the two-year gap between the 2014 split Ep with Fatum and last year's Ghastly visions felt somewhat unusual for a band that had been so impressively prolific in the past (one album, two split Lp's, one full Ep and five split Ep's in six years). If you look closer at CS' recording session - a perspective that often proves to be more enlightening than release dates - you will notice that they did not record for almost three years, since their July 2012 session during which they immortalized the songs that would end up on the 2013 split Lp with Last Legion Alive and the aforementioned split with Fatum. It is not far-fetched to assume that the band must have decided to take more time to write new songs, think about where to take CS next in terms of musical direction and sound and allow some space for self-reflexivity. This makes all the more sense if you consider the self-defining project that inherently encompasses CS: the persistence to play stenchcore.

Whether you like the band (or the genre for that matter, both of them being so intertwined in 2017) or not, in an epoch when a band's lifespan is increasingly and even intentionally short, sometimes to the cynical point of anecdotage, the fact that CS resolvedly stuck to their guns for more than 11 years now is quite remarkable. They started off as a sloppy punky crust band and grew progressively, improving and polishing their take on the genre with time. In that sense, they are a "real" band and not just a short-lived side-project. CS is a band that you follow, record after record, and enjoy noticing the development of. Their previous records (the 2012 session) were fairly impressive - the song "Insomnia" being a genuine highpoint and I would bet my collection of Antisect shirts that the band will be particularly remembered for that one when we are all old and grumpy in our studded wheelchairs - and I was really wondering what they would do next. An easy way out would have been to do a classic "more of the same" new album, but the risk of having jadedness settle in cannot be taken lightly. They also could have gone for something significantly different in terms of genre and turned into a full on sludge-metal band overnight, but then it would have run contrary to the core stenchcore identity of the band. The crucial point was to be inclined to change without losing essence. There is no obvious solution to this equation and different bands will come up with different answers (as Instinct of Survival's move can attest). In CS' case, it was death-metal.

Now, from the vantage viewpoint of the Terminal Sound Nuisance's ivory towers (I've recently got meself a comfy chaise longue on the rooftop if you must know), I have often admonished crust bands that treaded too heavily in death-metal territory, not because I find the idea preposterous or unworthy, but because, more often than not, they ended sounding like a heterogenous mix of crust and death-metal that did not really fit with one another and felt like a tedious series of disconnected elements. Some bands did it quite well (like Limb From Limb), others still do (like Putrefaction), but on the whole, upon hearing death-metal and crust in the same phrase (I will not gratify the calamitous term "deathcrust" with anything more than a posh scoff), I tend to wield my punk shield as a derisory repellent. But basically, it all depends. The death-metal influence in CS has been more and more pregnant from their 2011 recording session on but I would argue that they wisely picked elements that actually blended well with old-school crust and therefore kept away from the variegated clumsiness that I often associated with such endeavours. If Ghastly visions can be seen as some sort of death-metal hybridization, it is not because it contains more death-metal songwriting bits as such (although it does), but because it certainly relies more meaningfully on old-school death-metal sound, textures and vibes.

Let's compare Ghastly visions with the first album of CS, 2011's Age of desolation, a record that is seldom discussed in the band's discography (truth be told, it was released on cd only). The latter was clearly a classically modern (understand 00's) stenchcore album in terms of production and intent, with death-metal touches of course - and even a Bolt Thrower cover - but not to the point of informing the whole work like in its successor's case. Ghastly visions uses the down-tuned heaviness and aggression of old-school Swedish metal (I'm hardly the expert but think early Dismember, demo-era Entombed or Carnage), along with some of its typical riff and vocal structures, and then crustifies it, making it rawer, less technical and more direct. The record does not fall in the much-dreaded "double-bass drum overdose" and "lengthy tremolo pickings fest" trappings and walks - or rather crawls heavily like an agonizing beast - the thin line between crust and death-metal, blurring it with focus and determination (the only song where I feel it does not work is the too rocking "Sinners shall weep"). The guitars are low-tuned and I like how they work together, one doing the heavy chugs when the other is carefully piercing your ears. As is crucial with the genre, the bass playing is top notch and there is old-school crusty groove at work here (I'm always a sucker for that). As for the vocals, you can tell that the singer has really studied the old-school death-metal repertoire with Genital Deformities peaking above his shoulder as you are invited to an orgy of mean guttural growls, savage roars and postmortem demented screams. Your gran probably won't like it too much.

Upon first listening to the Lp, I must admit that I was a little taken aback by the permeating death atmosphere of it. And then, after repeated listens, the classic crust elements became apparent, like the early Axegrinder moment on "Putrid angel", the early Deviated Instinct beat on "Fragment of filth" or the nod to Antisect on the macabre "Hanged corpse", and of course Ghastly visions contains just enough fast cavemen crust moments (à la Nuclear Death Terror or Accion Mutante) to remind you of where the band essentially stands. The core influences of CS (Bolt Thrower, Genital Deformities, Stormcrow...) are not gone but have been reworked through a different lens, one through which you usually observe Dismember or Coffins. It is a bit like that one time I switched from soy milk to rice milk. The cereals taste different but you know they are the same. And at the end of the day, they are still crunchy and familiar and that's all that matters.

The object in itself is stunning. The cover and backcover - drawn by Stiv VOW and Skinny respectively - are reminiscent of old-school death-metal imagery (the Dismember demo comes to mind) and referential, a little cheesy but tasteful. You also have a large booklet with the lyrics and a cracking Rudi Peni-esque drawing of a bat and a brilliant "hanged corpse" drawing on the inner sleeve that looks like the missing link between Crass and Hellhammer (both of them done by Klaudiusz Witczak). The lyrics are mostly dealing with despair, madness, alienation and negativity (did you really expect songs about cycling or vegan cookies?) and quite well-written for the genre, you can tell there has been a genuine effort to convey meaning and evoke powerful images while remaining gritty and carnal.

There's even a bloody poster! yolo

The record was released last year - and is thus still available - on Neanderthal Stench (one of the most exciting labels in terms of crust right now), Back on Tracks (from Brazil) and Heavy Metal Vomit Party (from Slovakia) and the vinyl's actual colour is "beer with black splatter" if you still need an excuse to get it.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 11): Disturd "Dark" cd, 2015

Any punk elder (or wannabe elder really, since they are basically the same thing, age being a bourgeois social construct and all that) will tell you - even if you didn't request his opinion (it is often a "he") on the matter - that it is unwise to break some sacred rules when brainstorming for a band name. As History has often proven, picking the wrong moniker may eventually condemn your top band to obscurity and make your shirt highly difficult to sell. When it comes to names with a Dis prefix, one has to be even more careful as the frontier between an acceptable Disname and an embarrassing one is tenuous indeed. 

Here is a short guideline to help you through the Dis-picking process (this is a strictly linguistic enquiry and does not take the band's quality into consideration):

- Great Disnames: they are referential, relevant to the Discharge worldview and actually mean something (Disaster, Disaffect, Distemper...).

- Decent Disnames: still referential and meaningful but tend to stray away from the Discharge signifying web (Disclose, Discard, Dislike...).

- Fantasy Disnames: neologisms relying solely on referentiality with still some kind of sense (Disfear, Dischange, Dissystema...).

- Tasteless Disnames: Dis-based neologisms that sound corny and on the dark side of humour (Disbeer, Disfornicate, Dishit...).  

Unfortunately, and as much as I like the band, Disturd fall into the last category. When I first read about them about ten years ago, I ignorantly scoffed and mentally discarded them as a "comedy Dis-band" unworthy of my royal attention. Even though Disturd were often mentioned in the same breath as Effigy, AGE or SDS, I was not going to waste my princely time and money on a band that had "turd" in its name (the only exception I was then willing to make applied to Pink Turds in Space). It took a short review of the Isolation Ep which compared them to Antisect (it really is that easy if you want to make me buy a record, just say casually that they sound like Antisect) for me to, first, order it and then realize how mistaken I had been. Of course, I could blame my past foolishness on the arrogance of youth or on the troubled relationship I had always had with Japanese punk. But I will try - for once - to acknowledge my errors with dignity and take it on the chin. If I have to be slapped in the face as many times as I mocked the Disturd name, so be it. And well, at least they did not go for Hellturd or Turdgrinder.

I had originally thought of including a Disturd Ep in the "Japanese crust against the world" series but decided against it since the band had just released Dark in late 2015 which qualified them for this crust series instead (quite a fascinating TSN anecdote, innit?). Perhaps because of their bold moniker, Disturd are seldom seriously discussed when the burning topic of Japanese crust inevitably pops up, be it at a dinner party or while you are at the gym with your mates. This discrepancy, which has nothing to do with the music since Disturd certainly deliver the goods, can be partly explained with the band's unusual history. Because of the rather recent span of their prolificity (from 2012 to 2016), they are sometimes thought to be a late 00's/early 10's band. But Disturd must have actually formed in the late 90's as the existence of an early demo (with no actual date) seems to suggest. However the songs of the aforementioned demo being apparently - I haven't heard it - in a UK82/pogopunk vein (which might explain the silly name of the band if you know what I mean), I will not take this mysterious recording in consideration. In 2002, Disturd released a two-song demo, Fight back/Life, one song of which, "Fight back", ended up on a MCR compilation the same year. In 2003, they also appeared on the quietly seminal The Darkest 4 alongside Effigy, Zoe and Acrostix. If by 2003, Effigy were already a confirmed crust band (arguably one of the very best of the period), Acrostix and Zoe were, just like Disturd, in their infancy and had not had a vinyl release yet. But whereas the former quickly went on to have their own record out, the latter waited until 2011 to do so. 

It does not mean that the band was snoozing, since they self-released a tape, entitled Darkness... Faint gleam... in 2007 and Discogs lists a couple of other undated as well tapes, about which I was unable to find sufficient information (Disturd are actually little documented on da internet). In 2011, Black Water released the Isolation Ep, then one year later the Collapse Ep came out on ヤシマレコード, and, in 2014, Hardcore Survives unleashed the new Disturd incarnation with the Inside Ep. At some point between the last two Ep's, Disturd frontman Age relocated from Tsuyama to Kobe, bringing with him the full band's repertoire. My knowledge in Japanese culture being fairly limited, I do not know the specifics of Tsuyama, but from I have read, it looks like a pretty quiet town, so quiet in fact that Disturd were the first punk band to ever emerge from the location, an impressive, if anecdotal, fact when one considers the number of Japanese punk bands in the past four decades. Age reformed the band in Kobe with a new line-up, with Kakuda (formerly in Effigy and Axewield) on the drums and Nassan (Sex Messiah's singer) on the bass. The Dark cd was recorded with this new-look outfit.

Calling Dark a new album (in the sense of novelty) is actually open to discussion. It is undeniably a full length record with a collection of Disturd songs but none of them are technically new. Indeed, all of them had already appeared in different versions on previous recordings. As a consequence, it would not be irrelevant to see Dark as a compilation of re-recorded Disturd songs (some of them written in the early 00's). It does not mean, however, that it is a lazy work or one that you should ignore assuming that you are already familiar with the band's Ep's. If you are not acquainted with Disturd, then Dark is clearly a great starting point, but even if you are, the band has developed a slightly but significantly different sound with the new line-up and it is always an interesting exercise to compare different recordings of the same songs and try to notice the discrepancies in terms of texture, production and vibe (as you can imagine, afternoons with me can be really fun). Despite having a rather limited stock of them, Disturd's songs, from one recording to another, can sound really raw and distorted, or totally triumphant in a Japanese hardcore way, or totally epic like a classic old-school crust anthem... Variety in details if you like.  

A friend of mine called Disturd "the ghost of SDS" and, even after thinking long and hard about it, I cannot really think of a better phrase to characterize them (and of course, I love the high degree of nerdery of the remark, since SDS referred to themselves as "the ghost of Anti-Sect"). If you blended all the different eras of SDS into one tight, cohesive unit, the end result would sound something like Disturd. They have the heaviness, the intensity, the referential but clever songwriting, the Antisect-worship to a tee, the chugging riffs, the shredding ones and they even nod directly and respectfully toward the national crust pioneers with the song "Scum system fear". Significant dissimilarities do exist between both bands as Disturd are globally more metallic in terms of songwriting and the production is unlike any of SDS'. The band fearlessly went for some glorious UK crust moments and I cannot think of many bands able to recreate the dark vibe of "Out from the void"-era Antisect as well as Disturd (who did not think twice about borrowing a couple of riffs and vocal parts in the process). Add to this some heavy, filthy early Hellbastard riffing and mid-paced thrashy moments reminiscent of Sacrilege's flair and you will get a sonic picture of the band's backbone. As I previously pointed out, SDS remain the main compass but I would argue that their overarching influence is as structural as it is literal since it also provides the band with a creative template for the seamless incorporation of classic UK crust elements into the Japanese crust sound. They make it sound easy but it clearly isn't. Contrary to SDS who mostly and contextually worked on the UK sound, Disturd also largely build upon the national brand of metallic crust and I distinctively hear some influences from AGE in the overall triumphant groove and from Effigy, not only in the drumming (the peculiar but brilliant double-bass parts evidently come to mind) but also in the arrangements and the balance between the three instruments. 

Disturd do not really bring anything new to the table but they are remarkable in the way they keep that specific school of Japanese crust alive, without pretension but with an unrivaled conviction, especially when one considers that Age has been playing these songs for almost 15 years. The tempos are diverse, ranging from the fast and pummeling dischargy beat to the mid-paced crunchy metal specimen and the slow, moody epic trek. The sound production is perfect for this kind of sound, it has a definite rawness and urgency but still maintains a degree of crispiness so that it feels organic and not the product of a fancy engineer (truth be told, it also works because they are a tight trio). The distorted bass sound is truly to die for, groovy, brooding and thick, it cements the heaviness into the composition and leaves enough space for the guitar to thrash. The vocals are very upfront, which I like, naturally pissed and harsh, with a some variety in the tones (from caveman growls to angry shouts). 

The artwork is pretty simple, darkly suggestive and looks a lot like the Inside Ep's, so that it ties both records aesthetically (perhaps too much so). Dark was self-released by the band on cd only (for now anyway) and is still available if you care to look for it, but then it might take more efforts than just clicking twice on youtube.            

Monday, 8 May 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 10): Ruinebell "Embers' grave" 12'', 2015

When I started to think about a possible roster for this series, I was confronted with a dilemma. Not the kind to keep me awake at night in a pool of sweat and tears, but one that still needed thoughtful consideration and inner investigation (if that helps, just picture me thinking hard while the sun is setting on a postindustrial landscape). The scope of Terminal Sound Nuisance has changed significantly throughout the years and even if I like to think that I managed to maintain some sort of recurring narrative motif for its contents to hold together cohesively, the idea to write about novelty - possibly our epoch's main shibboleth - raised a few issues in terms of the perspective to adopt. Not being particularly prone to rave purposelessly about the latest releases whose cool factor is often too transient to trust ("don't believe the hype" as they say), the relevant trope to be used in this particular case was uncertain. I knew it had to be different because of the novelty element of the works but it wouldn't have made much sense if I only focused on the excitement induced by discovery. There is nothing quite like hearing a cracking unknown recording for the first time but the feeling is not the same if the band is contemporary, especially since we fatally lack perspective about our current present context. How well will 2010's crust hold in 10 years time? And flowing from this interrogation, one also needs to ask: how unperceptive may these words eventually become? And where are my prescription pills?

But to get back on point, the "Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST" odyssey is, because of its transversality, a fun opportunity to be enthusiastic about new records, focus on the priceless element of surprise and take responsibility for its impermanence. Which brings me to Ruinebell, because it is a band that I did not see coming at all and that I became acquainted with considerably later than I feel is appropriate considering the quality of their music. The fact that no one told me about them before is preposterous and, were we living under the French Ancien Régime, I would have thought of writing a nasty pamphlet and possibly settled things via a couple of bloody - but honourable - duels. But since it is 2017, I am just writing a new post entry, though rest assured that I hit the keys with bitterness in my heart right now.

I do not even remember how or when I first heard of Ruinebell but my first two reactions are still vivid. It was first "OMG this is absolutely excellent! Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?" and second "and a what lovely name they picked!". Obviously, the immediate lexical meaning of "Ruinebell" is "the bell of ruin", which aptly reflects the music's spectral mournfulness and fits with the metal/crust lexical field. But what about the "e" then? It is Ruinebell and not Ruinbell. In a short interview for Terrorizer (that you can read here), multi-instrumentalist Lasse explains that "ruine" is the French word for "ruin" and that they ended up using the former for their moniker because it looked better graphically. However, such a choice also created a rather pleasant double entendre as "ruinebell" is almost similar to "ruine belle", a phrase that translates as "beautiful ruin" and which meaning also coheres with the band's music. So even before I actually listened to the songs, I was already taken in linguistically though, to be fair, I am not sure the band really did that on purpose.

More than an actual band, Ruinebell can probably be best described as a studio project, which implies that we are not likely to ever see them play (which kinda sucks). It is a trio made up of two Finns - Pekka on the drums and Lasse on the guitar, bass and synth - and one Spaniard on vocals, so you can imagine that band practices must be few and far between. This said, the boys have solid experience in playing in bands indeed since Lasse and Pekka play together in Hooded Menace (and before that in Vacant Coffin and respectively in many other acts as well) while Dopi was the drummer/singer of long-running grindcore band Machetazo and has also played in such projects as Dishammer or Mutilated Veterans throughout the years. So not exactly an amateurish lineup and it certainly shows.

The initial idea behind Ruinebell was to write Amebix/Axegrinder-influenced metallic crust music with an industrial touch and heavy Voivod riffs without sounding too referential. Honestly, I could almost stop writing right there since they absolutely nailed the sound they were reaching for and their music speaks for itself, but as we all know, I won't. Their first Ep, Demise in grace, recorded as a duo (with Dopi playing the drums as well as singing) and released in 2011 on Czech DIY metal label Doomentia Records, is a coup de maître that demonstrates how brilliant axegrinding mid-paced doomy crust can sound thanks to concerted songwriting and proper ideas. The Amebixian vibe is strong and potent and yet it never feels old or literal, rather it is used as a binder to make new additions hold together. As they use the basic ingredients of old-school crust, they also update them. Ruinebell sound both old-school and modern and on that level they do remind me conceptually of early Morne. I am not going to dwell too much on the Ep (that, for reasons that may have to do with the unfamiliar label that released it and my own ignorance about the underground metal scene, completely passed me by until recently) but it has everything a crust-loving person can hope for. And yes, that includes apocalyptic moody synth parts and terrific bass-lines.

Embers' grace can be relevantly seen as Demise from grace's sequel, meaning that it is not just a follow-up but also a genuine progression. Assuredly, Ruinebell built on similar grounds for the 12'' and the amegrinder scripture still stands as the music's backbone but it is a more versatile and diverse work with a slightly different mood, not as mournful and more ominously mechanical. I suppose Ruinebell could have picked the easier path and write a full Lp that would have sounded just like a longer Demise in grace - and honestly, I would still have been thrilled - because their musical ability and their sense of clever songwriting would have allowed it, but they went for something a little different, globally more rhythmic and colder, the industrial influence more upfront. And it works. While crust has often been openly infused with black, death or doom-metal in recent years (with varying results, truth be told), I cannot think of many crust bands that have ventured into industrial sonorities since the 90's. The opening song, "Inexistence", epitomizes this shift, with heavy chugging riffs and cold, steely beats cloaked around the classic mid-tempo crust structure. Quite the perfect meeting point between Sonic Violence, Depressor, 13 and Axegrinder. The following track - "The hermit" - is a more orthodox locomotive old-school crust anthem, with a monumental driving synth, some wicked gloomy guitar arpeggios and even a progressive feel on one riff. Clearly an epic number that brings to mind vintage Greek crust, early Morne and mid-90's Counterblast for its inventive recreation of canonical crust elements. On the flipside, "Temple of isolation" is even more indus-influenced with its stark martial beats, super heavy bass sound and dark incantatory guitar riffs, not unlike a combination of early Godflesh, Killing Joke at their heaviest, the mighty Depressor and of course Amebix. Finally, "Flesh bone catacomb" is a galloping Amebix/Axegrinder song with a desperate doom feel concluded with an eerie spoken part that nods heavily toward vintage crust. Quite a ride in twenty minutes.

The production on Embers' grace sounds very clear, almost surgical, in the bleakest sense of the term, so it confers a literal metallic quality to the songs. This kind of production seldom works with the crust genre because it can make the music sound too clean and lose its filthy groovy edge, but in this case I feel it connects adequately with the band's songwriting intent. Because of the mid-paced 80's crust style of Ruinebell, one might think that going for this very cold modern production would have impaired and deprived the songs of their darkly threatening power, but thanks to a clever use of the synth as a texturing agent and a focus on heavy, precise, cold industrial rhythms, Ruinebell manage to offer a new relevant perspective on the genre, keeping it heavy but in a different sepulchral way. The musical abilities of the participants are obvious but always serve the general direction and help create a meaningful oppressive atmosphere that feels tense and sorrowful. I haven't talked about the vocals yet but they clearly demonstrate an awareness and a knowledge of the rules of the genre that are impressive. I can hear some Japanese crust influence in the harsh gruff tone, especially since the singer uses an effect on his voice, but also Steve from Neurosis if he tried to impersonate an entombed humanoid entity (the sorrowful lyrics also point in that direction actually). In any case, it shows that one does not have to squeal like a grossly constipated boar to deliver proper crust vocals and that, in the end, clever vocal placement is the key.

Embers' grace was released in September, 2015 on Doomentia Records (I still have not figured out how to correctly pronounce "doomentia" and probably never will) and I am pretty sure it is still available. The only reservation I can voice about this wonderful 12'' has to do with the artwork that does not really reflect the music (the cover looks more like a doom-metal one) and only partly illustrates the mood. Oh well, great records also have flaws I suppose.