4... 3... 2... 1... Ignition. And we're ready to ruck (yes, I did play the Rejects while making meself some lovely Japanese green tea before starting to write, in order to open my chakras or something)!
For this first part of my chronological journey into contemporary crust, I will take Terminal Sound Nuisance to a place it has yet never trodden: Russia, Moscow to be more specific. As I mentioned in the introduction (you know, that piece of writing where my self-important self used fancy academic terms in order to create a semblance of intellectual legitimation), it is difficult to assess the worth of a record when you lack the perspective that the progression of time and repeated listens can provide. It might be too early to be definitive about Fatum's "Время Уходит Во Тьму" as the album is only four-year old and, at that age, you are never quite sure yet if you have birthed a proper genius or if your kid will get thick as soon as he turns thirteen. But still, to this day, I cannot really think of a better crust album released in the 2010's (apart from Misery's "From where the sun never shines" maybe, but then Misery just cannot be matched when they have their mojo). It does not mean that the past 7 years have been scarce in quality crust (although to be honest there are days when I feel like they have) and, fortunately for this series, there are other contemporary works that are very worthy indeed. But "Время Уходит Во Тьму" has that little something that makes it special to my ears.
I first came across Fatum through their "Skverna" demo, some time in early 2011. I remember it to be something of a weird time for old-school crust music as not much was being released and most of the bands of the so-called "stenchcore revival" had either split or taken different paths. It seemed like, apart from Cancer Spreading, Last Legion Alive and Contagium (without mentioning the always reliable, almost immortal Extinction of Mankind), the genre had been suddenly deserted and it was probably the first time that, always the late-blooming naive and candid one, I became really aware of the influence of trends crossing punk since the dawn of time (aka the late 70's). I'm half-lying here, I did remember the downfall of "neocrust" (or "epicrust" or "melocrust" or whatever people fancied calling it) before that but I just wasn't really bothered to be honest. Of course, top-shelf crust from Misery and Πανικός would surface by the end of the year 2011 but I had no clue. So when I first listened to "Skverna", the first recording of an unknown band from Russia, I was pleasantly surprised. Not so much with the origin of Fatum, as I had been aware of Distress since a mate of mine brought back their tape from Russia in 2005 and I was familiar with and quite enjoyed bands like Antimelodix, 4-Scums, Komatoz or Pan Zlobek, so I knew that something interesting and positive was happening in the country in terms of DIY punk, but it was the first time I listened to a Russian band going for the stenchcore sound and, well, I am a sentimental geezer about those things and I promptly proceeded to order the vinyl version of the demo (and to go completely off-topic, it confused me a little, I must admit, since I saw re-issuing one's demo on vinyl a little antithetic to the very notion of a demo, but then, that is exactly what every bands and their mothers seem to have been doing in the 2010's).
Released on Gasmask Records (a Czech label also responsible for tape versions of Lebenden Toten and Blood Spit Nights' records as well as great vinyls from Dazd or FUK), "Skverna" is a flawed but thoroughly enjoyable metal crust work. Arguably, its main quality derives directly from its main flaw: sloppy with that kind of youthful punk urgency that defines a band's early recordings and makes it so good. Deeply rooted in the crust sound of modern 00's bands like Sanctum or Limb From Limb (but, in genuine crust punk tradition, without the technical ability to really pull it off), "Skverna" sounds like a rather typical stench/crust effort from the late 00's, with a strong old-school black and thrash metal influence (I am reminded of early Apocalypse at times) and a generous spoonful of EOM's "Nightmare seconds" (which is a nice call). The production is raw and the songwriting a bit all over the place at times but the demo contains one crucial thing that cannot be faked and made it promising: love. One can argue all night about the relative sonic shambles (to which I would reply that, firstly, it is bloody crust not fucking power-metal, and, secondly, that I have heard far worse first efforts) but you can tell that the lads not only have fun playing crust but also, more importantly, that they enthusiastically believe in what they play. Just listen to the numerous times they gratuitously growl "cruuuust" or "uuuuurghhh" throughout the recordings and to the overall energy of the thing. Of course, some of the metallic leads are a little uncomfortable and the drummer loses it at times, but there are also a lot of good ideas in "Skverna" (like the eerie intro and arpeggio outro of "Back to caves", the overall songwriting of "Razor of reality" and the great gloomy building-up in "Cargo 200") and I'd rather have a punk band with some ambitions - as unachieved as they might be at that moment - than perfectly-executed but trite Bolt Thrower riffing.
From "Skverna" on, I kept following what Fatum were up to and got their next record, the split Ep with Saint Petersburg D-beat heroes Distress, released in mid-2012. Recorded just a few months after the "Skverna" session during the summer of 2010, it is quite similar to the demo in terms of direction but a more coherent production and mix (it gives the two songs a great early Mindrot vibe) provided the listener with a clearer picture of the band's potential. The artwork was also far more convincing. Gone was the common "blackened crust" aesthetics of "Skverna", giving room to some genuinely referential sloppy crust art reminiscent of high-school Deviated Instinct (yes, that is a compliment, but I still cannot read what's written in the top-right corner...). As a golden bonus, the second song of Fatum on this split is an instrumental one entitled "Wanker" and has the following subtext "Instrumental for 4 eye elitist wankers". Punk, innit? The next recording session for Fatum occurred in the autumn of 2011 but the two songs resulting from it were only released in 2014 as a split with Cancer Spreading. So although the aforementioned split saw the light of day after "Время Уходит Во Тьму", it was still recorded before the album so it feels relevant to talk briefly about it. The two songs included showed Fatum becoming groovier, in a crunchy Hellbastard way, and more articulate influences from Antisect, Axegrinder and Sacrilege were emerging. Because of the chronological dislocation, the first time I heard the Ep, I must admit I was slightly disappointed because it was not as impressive as the album, but unbeknown to me was the fact that the recording was actually anterior (granted, I should have read the recording dates properly). However, listening to the songs as a progression leading to "Время Уходит Во Тьму" makes sense and that is probably how they should be approached.
One day (it was in April of 2013 if you must know) my good friend Paco - with whom I have been trading crust secrets for a good few years - sent me a link out of the blue to download Fatum's "Время Уходит Во Тьму", an album whose release, to my greatest embarrassment, had completely escaped me. I almost fell off my chair the first time I played it. I did expect good in the same way you do when you have a pint of your favourite but regular brand of beer. You know it is going to be enjoyable, soothing even, but also predictable. You know how it is going to taste. That was my initial state of mind. I honestly could not believe how GOOD Fatum had got, not only musically (after all, strict musical progression can appear to be logical), but also in terms of songwriting, of conception, of scope. I cannot think of anything that I would change on this one. Fatum could have picked the easier "metal path" for a first album, they could have tried to just sound unsubtly heavier and louder by adding obvious death-metal elements (which is not something that is easy to do well in crust), and honestly I wouldn't even have blamed them. "Время Уходит Во Тьму" (translating as "Time passes to the dark" in English) took me by surprise, undeniably.
It is a flower. One that has been locked in the dark, in a room where Antisect, Sacrilege, Axegrinder and Amebix were constantly playing. Little by little, in the absence of sunlight and water, the plant started to feed from these sounds and to incorporate them organically, naturally, in an act of sonosynthesis. When the flower finally bloomed, it certainly looked like what it had been listening to and the whiffs it gave off was reminiscent of what it had absorbed, but it nevertheless had its own roots, colourfulness and vitality.
As you can see, I am utterly clueless about gardening (or nature really, let's get real) but the metaphor is relevant. "Время Уходит Во Тьму" is essentially a synthesis of foundational crust music, an act of syncretism not meant to mourn the dead but rather vibrantly revive their artistic relevance. Fatum's main achievement here is that it never sounds contrived or forceful, the album just flows effortlessly, paradoxically so, since you can tell that they worked hard on the songwriting. Even though the influences are purposefully obvious, in plain sight, the album does not feel like a tediously sectioned vintage crust catalogue but, on the contrary, like a whole organism whose cells vividly echo with one another. The songs do work very well when taken on their own, as discrete units, but I would argue that the web of interactions that they create as one cohesive narrative work makes them shine even more. In other terms, Fatum really wrote a crust novel, not just a compilation of short stories, (which is no mean feat considering how difficult it is to write a genuinely good crust album) and the fact that they tie the songs together (through synth or the sound of wind for instance) gives the Lp a sense of storytelling entity.
Taken individually, the songs from "Время Уходит Во Тьму" do not really bring anything new to the crust banquet. Don't get me wrong, they are indeed all top-shelf crust numbers, but I would not say they necessarily innovate content-wise (though there are some details and arrangements that do). The undeniable force and indeed originality of the Lp derive from its incredible synthesizing, coalescing quality, which accounts for the fact that it sounds both familiar in content and yet creative in intent. Late Antisect could arguably be the main influence on the album, their lurking ghost informing its mood, and there are bits of drumming highly reminiscent of Polly's style and crunchy guitar riffs that would have fit easily on "Out from the void". But then, you also have these very specific tribally heavy Amebix/Killing Joke beats as well, and the omnipresent driving force of the bass lines cannot fail to bring Amebix to mind. But what about these cracking metallic Sacrilege parts? Or the eerie, monumental, apocalyptic Axegrinder moments? And didn't some of the vocal work definitely remind me of Misery too? And what about that lead? It did have something of the intensity of SDS, didn't it? All and none of the above?
The production on "Время Уходит Во Тьму" is brilliant. It is very clear and let the instruments and the songwriting induce heaviness in an organic fashion rather than forcing it through cheap tricks. The musicianship is not exactly flawless but I would argue that this is precisely how the genre is meant to be played. I particularly love all the beat variations in the drumming (the whole crusty range is aptly represented), never redundant and very energetic without drowning the compositions in double-bass, and similarly I really enjoy how you can actually hear all the details thanks to the crispness of the bass sound and its clever lines which give a groovy bottom to the whole. The guitar sound is ace as well, slimy and aggressive but not overbearing nor peremptory and the two guitars work together perfectly and with a sense of purpose. It sounds as if the band knew the songs were good enough to speak for themselves and didn't aim for loudness at all cost but, rather, for a meaningful balance. The summary would be cruelly incomplete if I did not mention the vocal work. The main vocalist has a very hoarse and gruff voice that makes him sound threatening and really quite pissed but with also some epic undertones, while the second vocalist has a more nasal and "melodic" (well, it doesn't sound as much like an agonizing bear) voice and his timely interventions definitely bring some crusty depth and variety. The fact that they "sing" in Russian is an undeniable asset as I think that it is a language that fits the crust genre perfectly and confers an intensity and a sense of a narratively construed impending doom that is remarkably impressive. Of course, crust is an international language and I am all for punx singing in their mother tongue (how ironic is that statement coming from a Frenchman writing in English), but I also think that some languages go with some punk genres better than others (and I know what I am talking about, crust in French fucking sucks). The only low point that I can think of about Fatum's language is that now I also fantasize about learning Russian as well as Greek and Italian. Dammit...
Thematically, "Время Уходит Во Тьму" revolves around the idea that mankind, because of its self-destructive instincts, has always been incapable to use time in a positive way and irremediably turns to war, greed, hatred and other joys of life. This recurring motif in the album is defined in the lyrics to the eponymous song (well, in the first part of it, since, in an intertextual move, like Antisect in "Out from the void", Fatum wittily wrote a two-part song) which can be seen as a tribute to "In darkness"-era Antisect as it is a dischargy-paced number with a long spoken word and the whole Antisectish bags of sonic tricks for good measure. The mood is decidedly dark and desperate on this Lp, with a strong emphasis on people's lack of empathy, social alienation and estrangement. Time is not passing to the dark in a temporal sense: it is in the very essence of mankind's misuse of time that it fatally, inexorably passes to the dark. The cover of the album is not so far from the post-1985 Antisect aesthetics either and I do like the Dantean atmosphere of bleak madness and macabre sorrow it exhales.
The cd version of "Время Уходит Во Тьму" was released in December of 2012 on local label Drunk With Power records but a vinyl version saw the light of day last year thanks to Insane Society (long-running Czech label) and Neanderthal Stench (a rather recent one that is becoming a reference if you like your crust to be generous with metal) with some new artwork and a lovely poster. Fatum released their second album "Life dungeons" in 2015 with a different line-up, but that's a story for another time. And on a different note, I also strongly recommend another excellent crust band from Russia called Repression Attack. Top stuff from them so far.