Sunday, July 20, 2014

Devil’s Horns: Exploring Grindcore’s Ongoing Fascination With the Saxophone

“And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods—the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.”— H.P. Lovecraft, “Nyarlathotep”
It’s time we talk about grindcore’s dirty secret.
For 30 years—literally from the very first moment—grind musicians have been cheating on you with the must un-metal of instruments: the saxophone. (Yes, I know, literally, that's it made out of metal. You know what I mean, smart ass!)
Saxophone is that instrument your parents tried to foist on you when they misunderstood what exactly you meant when you told them you wanted to join a band. It’s probably not the instrument you picture yourself shredding on a stage in front of throngs of panty-throwing fans.

However, it’s probably got more of a grindcore pedigree than you’d credit it at first blush. Its reedy wail has been adding an extra frisson to the wonted arsenal of slashing guitars and thumping drums for decades. If nothing else, dabbling in odd instrumentation will probably get you street cred as a serious musician who’s not afraid to test barriers. Also expect lazy reviewers to drop the term “jazzy” a lot when describing your song.
“Any band with a saxophone that doesn't play ska will eventually be described as jazz,” Dead Neanderthals saxophonist Otto said. “I'm really not into traditional jazz but love free jazz. Maybe we're a little jazz in that sense.”
Saxophone grind is still a bit of a novelty, and I’m certainly not advocating making it a full time thing, but maybe it’s time we recognize it’s not as incongruous as it sounds at first blush.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

G&P Review: P.L.F.

Ultimate Whirlwind of Incineration

Growing up in Tornado Alley, storms were a form of entertainment. I remember sitting on the porch with my dad as a kid watching the sky turn a queasy green right before a really ripping front would tear through the town. Black clouds would build over the horizon and we’d sit there as long as possible, waiting to catch a glimpse of a twister touching down before running inside for shelter.
P.L.F.’s Ultimate Whirlwind of Incineration channels some of that onrushing Great Plains thunderstorm vibe as the guitars brew up whirlwind riffs that chart dangerously high on the Fujita scale. “Rejection of Pathos” lashes and snarls with the playful, arbitrary malevolence of a tornado, the way it flays about at random destroyed some neighborhoods and leaving other blocks untouched. Paired with the high winds of guitars, the drums rain hail down in icy, pelting chunks. But once the initial welts fade, the drums will occasionally fade into the murky production, becoming the background patter of a thunderstorm on the roof.
And if Ultimate Whirlwind of Incineration has one flaw (and that’s a rare misstep for a P.L.F. who have consistently delighted), it’s that in nearly 25 minutes, the band doesn’t make room for any variety. Anybody who’s ever hunkered down in a storm cellar to wait out a tornado can tell you that eventually that frisson of danger from the storm sirens fades into a gray monotony as the wind’s unceasingly shrill howl becomes more background noise straining to capture a childhood imagination. A good peal of thunder and a flash of nearby lightning every now and again (the Assuck cover is a good start) would have could have foisted Ultimate Whirlwind of Incineration into storm of the century contention. Instead, it’s just one more good thundershower that spices up a hazy, humid summer and fades like a crack of heat lightning.

[Full disclosure: I received  a download for review.]

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

G&P Review: Dråp

En Naturling Dod
Embrace My Funeral

First off, there’s not much here that you probably didn’t pull out of Anti Cimex’s raped ass 30 years ago. That said, like a high calorie, low nutrition fast food fix, there’s something about Dråp (Manslaughter) that just hits the spot. En Naturling Dod is the Swedish crust punk version of drunkenly plowing through Taco Bell’s drive through window for a quesarito at 2 a.m.
Unlike a lot of their crusty contemporaries, Dråp aren’t appropriating death metal tropes to bulk up and refurbish their punk rawk. They closest these heavily bearded Viking punks come to extra-genre exploration is a nod to thrashtastic chug-a-lug and the occasional squealy guitar solo. So everything barrels along at a more or less consistent head banging nod that makes En Naturling Dod a pretty good driving record. From the black and white artwork straight through the familiarity of the music of itself, Dråp will live and die by how well they can get one more good go-round out of a style that doesn’t lend itself to musical innovation.
With that in mind, the 10 songs on En Naturling Dod are uniformly tight and uniformly ... uniform. (In a rare nod to variety, “Horstmorker” slows down and probably drags out more than is needed.) Dråp have a solid foundation to work with and injecting some solid hooks and a more commanding vocal style could have them nipping at Victims’ heels. What Dråp may lack (or simply not give a fuck about) in originality, they make up for with energy and brevity, pounding through 10 songs in under 25 minutes, playing like the world might end before they finish. It makes En Naturling Dod a head rush of a record and one that can flipped back over for repeated spins. And if you’re asking for more than that from your crust punk records, you’re probably doing it wrong.

[Full disclosure: I received a review copy.]

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Namesake Series: “War Pig(s)”

I’ve mentioned before that it takes some serious confidence to jack a Black Sabbath song title because the inevitable comparison will probably not redound to your honor. Swedish noisecore dervishes Breach tried it before with Black Sabbath’s namesake song. But they’re not the only ones to give in to the temptation. But here we go again.

“War Pigs” is inarguably one of Black Sabbath’s greatest songs. You love it. I love it. It’s a doomy, moody, apocalyptic masterpiece. Its hastily rewritten lyrics (it was originally called “Walpurgis”) straddle Sabbath’s twin obsessions with the occult and the fucked up state of modern society, blending black magic and the Vietnam War into a single tale of a society tumbling on the verge of satanic anarchy.

So of course repetitive Japanese mash monsters Zeni Geva singularized the song as “War Pig” and flayed it into a seven minute slog of a riff that smashes against your brain like a bunker buster of noise rock. K.K. Null is the most accomplished master of entrancing repetition this side of Michael Gira and “War Pig” is a relentless Godzilla rampage of stomping drums and multiheaded King Ghidorah string strangling. All in all, Zeni Geva hold their own against the undisputed masters of metal misery.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blast(beat) from the Past: Defecation

Purity Dilution
Nuclear Blast

Defecation is Mitch Harris’ personal Tiktaalik. It’s a transitional fossil that unites the malformed punk of his earliest efforts in Righteous Pigs and the death-grind hybridization of Napalm Death. Harris closed out the ’80s by roping in his brother by another mother, drummer Mick Harris, and the duo churned out Purity Dilution, a tidy little half hour from an era when two and three minute blast fests were not unheard of.
Purity Dilution was a huge step forward for guitar Harris’ songwriting after Righteous Pigs and he has a palpable chemistry with drum Harris (amazing what a drummer who can actually keep the beat will do for you). Given their simpatico and the way Defecation blended their two prior bands, it must have been a real shock for music fans the next year when Napalm Death went full on death metal on Harmony Corruption.
That anomaly aside, Purity Dilution was a distilled dose of Harris’ songwriting sensibilities. There are the familiar riffs that would populate Napalm Death’s third wave albums once Harris and Jesse Pintado settled into the riff duties. “Scrutiny” is one Barney growl away from slotting without notice on Utopia Banished. Even the pastiche  artwork evokes Napalm Death’s sensibilities. Produced by Danny Lilker, Purity Dilution’s warm, low slung chug sounds like a Napalm Death album put through a Bolt Thrower filter.
Mitch Harris played all of the instruments on a second Defecation album in 2003, but part of Purity Dilution’s charm is hearing two Napalm Death conspirators rip out a fun album that has a strong core without the baggage of their bigger band’s name hovering over the project. There’s a looseness and a freedom to the first Defecation record that makes it a charming artifact of a bygone era.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Into the Throat of Berserk

My "GridLink broke up" face.

Extreme metal vocals are largely just another blunt instrument – one more unintelligible weapon in a band’s arsenal of noise. For the most part, that’s all they really need to be, another tool in the mix. There’s not exactly a lot of down time in grind songs. So when the band gets rolling, singers are left to try and keep pace and fight for space in the mix.
But occasionally savvy musicians will know when and how to pull back. Putting the vocals forefront and providing a moment of clarity can really punctuate a song both lyrically and musically. Slamming the music to a halt to let the vocals stand on their own is a great attention grabber when done right.
Here’s a handful of ways it’s been put to good use.

You Scream, I Scream

Southern crust punkers Antischism were pissed off. They wanted to scream. They wanted you to know that they wanted to scream. So on the song “Scream” they built in space for vocalist Lyz to make that point readily apparent. The result is a musical pause that gives Lyz the space to “SCREAM!” She’s screaming about the need to scream which is all kinds of cathartic and meta at the same time.

Name Dropper

A Napalm Death play in one act:

“Gee, Barney, what’s the name of the next song?”


“Thanks for clearing that up.”

Mother Goose vs. the Grindfather

Drugs of Faith mastermind Richard Johnson made potent use of the musical pause on Corroded’s ode to rationality over religion “Age of Reason.” To punctuate his point about the value of freethinking, the song holds its breath long enough for him to scream out his intention to live “WITHOUT. THE. FAIRY. TALES.” From there, the song chooses to slowly spool out, as though all of the rush had built up to that single, powerful moment and then gave up in exhaustion. It makes the point that much more powerful.

You’re Hot Then You’re Cold

Jesus’ favorite grinders Rehumanize turn the book of Revelation’s tale of the lukewarm church at Laodecia into a grinding nightmare of vengeance and dismay on the song “Planet Loadecia.” While the song doesn’t come to a full stop, clearly its centerpiece is the relatively clean middle section where the band, personifying God, announce that “I WILL SPIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH.” Taken as a tale of divine retribution, that’s the moment when the implacable deity has passed judgment and only doom will follow. There can be no appeal and no reparations. Justice from that point on is swift and merciless.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bodies in the Gears of the Apparatus: How Assück’s Anticapital Defines Grindcore Imagery

I submit to you that Assück’s Anticapital is the greatest album cover in grindcore. There may be images that are more iconic, more striking and more artistic. But Anticapital manages to perfectly embody and define everything that grindcore’s first and second waves stood for.
Anticapital boasts a deceptively simple image for a no-frills band that believed in the power of grindcore’s to the point aggression.
First, the 1991 album’s black and white aesthetic is a throwback and nod to the crust punk that birthed and defined the earliest grindcore practitioners. It harkens back to Crass, Discharge and a whole wave of Scandinavian imitators who wore sketchy lo-fi, DIY visuals as a badge of honor. It’s also a refinement of Napalm Death and Siege’s aesthetic, adding a compositional balance and refinement to grindcore’s earliest visual cut and paste, home sketched lexicon.
The image is also conceptually weighty; it’s got the artistic and intellectual chops to stand next to Assück’s lyrical bile. The man lashed to a gear, slave to the industrial processes that dominated the 20th Century and its rush to prosperity, is also a metaphor for how the common man feels in the face of those faceless, implacable, unrelenting forces. Industrialization lifted much of the world’s population up from nothing and gave them a prosperity they could never previously attain. However, it also threatened that existence as processes became more refined and automated. Humanity saw itself become obsolete as more jobs were taken out of its hands and transferred to machinery.
Whether intentional or not, the image also calls to mind Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times as workers try to keep up with the insatiable demands of the industrial line. Eventually, their very bodies are sucked into the machinery, human grease for the wheels of progress.

That unease would only grow throughout the late 20th and early 21st Centuries as modernization and globalization meant that not only machines but cheap labor a globe away could snatch back that very same prosperity they proffered. It’s the uneasy relationship between man and the means of production that give him the life he craves that makes the visual work. Like good political dissidents, Assück's art turns Marxist agitprop on its head, questioning the value of the very same industry that promised the workers a new life of ease.
Revolutionary firebrands that they were, Assück’s imagery also evokes ’60s political activist Mario Savio’s famous “gears of the machine” speech where he exhorted student protestors to stand in the way of the forces that were arrayed against them. Students’ very bodies needed be the protest that called faceless power to account for its actions.

All of those associations feed into the rage that fueled Assück. It’s an image that not only perfectly encapsulates what made Anticapital amazing; it also strikes a visual tone that embodies the spirit that motivated grindcore’s progenitors. It’s an image that perfectly assembled and balanced all of the elements that were in play at the time, creating a striking amalgam. Grindcore is full of indelible imagery, from The Inalienable Dreamless’ stunning seascape and Drop Dead’s skulls to Reek of Putrefaction’s meat collages and Sounds of the Animal Kingdom’s man-beast hybrid. Each image is the first portal into the music within. But very few images, such as the Anticapital art, so precisely define not only an album but a whole wave of musical innovators.