Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: From the Ashes (How Swede it is, Part 3)

From the Ashes
Mind Vortex
Acoustic Trauma
Grindcore’s Ritalin-ravaged songwriting tenets are not prone to embracing concept albums, something generally reserved to jazz-influenced wankers who feel the urge to jerk off their instruments for an hour or so while pontificating on whatever religion/culture/conspiracy theory they happened to read about that week. Despite that baggage, From the Ashes bravely steeped Mind Vortex in a conceptual broth that ties together lyrics and art to probe the inner recesses of the 1300 grams of meat we call our minds.
The Latin phrase “Terribilis est locus iste” is prominently featured throughout the gold toned art (which is also a welcome change from the traditional blacks, whites and reads you too often find gracing album covers). True to the title Mind Vortex, the album art is full of anatomical sketches of the skull and brain, inverting a lame Christian sentiment about the glories of heaven into a reverence for the awesomeness of human evolution, a far more worthy subject for a concept album, if you ask me.
Unfortunately, the music wasn’t as ambitious as the concept.
Before being swallowed by history a scant six years after forming, From the Ashes demonstrated an competent dexterity with traditional grind, playing a combination of most recent Phobia with upper register Jon Chang screams. While the music is a tad pedestrian, From the Ashes give the tradition of short songs played at wrist shattering speeds another solid punt down the road. Guitarist/vocalist Stefan seems content to ride his shrieking throughout the whole album, but the band brings in Septic Breed’s Timo Kumupumaki for a lower register cameo on “Machines,” providing some needed dynamics.
I don’t know what embers from which From the Ashes arose, but the Swedes never made it too far. Formed in 2002, they released Mind Vortex two years later but shelved the band in 2008. Even their label, Acoustic Trauma, has all but vanished down the memory hole, leaving almost no trace of the short lived grind unit.
The music never ventured far from terra cognita, but From the Ashes did manage to sound the depths of the psyche and pose the occasional dome scratcher question between the obligatory blasts and blustering, injecting some much needed intelligence in grind.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Splitter (How Swede it is Again, Part 2)

Avskrackande Exemplar
Good Pavlovian puppies that you are, you should be thoroughly conditioned to retch when somebody tells you an album draws inspiration from the At the Gates well.
But choke back that gag reflex because unlike all the creativity-challenged American hardcore bands content to reduce, reuse and recycle riffs from Slaughter of the Soul, Swedish grinders Splitter cut their Helvete-isms with a unique undercurrent of With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness’ more restrained melodic sense. Less Anders Bjorler, more Alf Svensson.
Frontman Fredrik Thalberg’s wailing delivery even carries a whiff of Tomas Lindberg about it as he scrapes his throat raw in the higher registers.
But it’s the fleeting glimpses of melody seeping through the blast beat attack that truly set Splitter apart from the hordes of fellow countrymen banging out grindcore noise. “Om Vingar Fanns’” two-note riff bone saws its way under your skull while “Fagelskramman,” “Hemkomst 01:00” and “Dod” slip wraithlike through swirling hints of early At the Gates melody.
And in what may be a first, lead off tune “Totalkvaddad” is a straight edge grindcore song that lacks no potency for its disavowal of debauchery.
To say a band is influenced by At the Gates or Nasum at this point is a groan worthy cliché, but Splitter manage to cross pollinate the two genetic strains, leaving an interesting and unique experiment in their wake.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

G&P review: Birdflesh (How Swede it is Again, Part 1)

As much as I love my grind, I am not gonna even pretend I can hang with the Chephalochromoscope crew’s encyclopedic knowledge of Japanese goodness. Shit, go check their recent and unfuckwithable anthology of obscure Unholy Grave releases. Nope, I can’t keep up with all that’s happening in ol’ Nippon. However, Swedish grind and punk always puts the tingle in my lingonberries. So for the next few weeks I’m going to once again wade through my stack of upstarts and new releases from the country that inexplicably managed to give us both ABBA and Mats Sundin.

The Farmers’ Wrath
With each new Birdflesh album as the songs get stranger and the themes skew more bizarre, I’m convinced this smirking Swedish trio has the makings of a truly demented children’s show in them. Like Captain Kangaroo re-envisioned by David Lynch.
The repetitive sing along goodness that is “External Wounds of Vagina Power,” “Funny Ice-Dwarf” and the Metallica-tweaking “Some Kind of Mongo” will have the potty mouthed toddler in your life blissfully belting them out at the top of their lungs at the most inappropriate of times – probably a grandmother’s funeral. Hell, the title track’s bouncy horns easily could be the theme for some anodyne children’s show brimming with cheap morality plays about cooperation and sharing.
Birdflesh are one of the smartest and wittiest practitioners of feel good grindcore (as counterintuitive as that may be) and being ear-raped never felt as good as on The Farmers’ Wrath, which further spelunks the recesses of the Swedish kill crew’s damp, festering id.
Mere song titles haven’t made me smile this much since Population Reduction, and fuck it all if Birdflesh can’t deliver musically as well. Whatever imp of the perverse is riding shotgun on their reptilian brains struck comedic imagery gold on “Wheelchair Impaler,” “Leprosy on Jeopardy” and “AC/Deicide.”
Be cautioned though, like fellow joke metallers Crom the ratio of actual songs to absurdist noise is sliding in the wrong direction. Also, your appreciation of their rather one note shtick will be directly proportional to your appreciation for cretanic humor.
As for me, I believe the children are the future. Teach them well and watch the perversity grow.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Cyness

Loony Planet/Industreality
Sound Pollution
Apply German engineering principles to grindcore and you’re bound to come back with these Berliner lugnuts. The Germans are so damn efficient at everything they do Cyness conveniently included the words “grindcore” underneath their logo to avoid any confusion on debut long player Looney Planet/Industreality, a 20 minute tutorial in lock tight Napalm Death with a drafting degree grind.
And like that band, Cyness set these 22 songs to tape during two sessions between 2001 and 2003 with all the requisite line up instability. For all of that, though, both halves seamlessly fuse Voltron-like to form a single Nazi-stomping, God fucking, nationalist smearing engine of anger.
“Godkiller” boasts a hooked bit of guitar noodling that could have graced a later period Amebix tune. And given the cyclical nature of human stupidity, “Holy War,” a pissed little ditty about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still just as relevant today. Cyness could also run a clinic on the tried and true grind tic of ominously rumbly opener giving way to eyebrow singeing grind on “Mangla Son Agg” (with a bonus lesson in gang shoutalongs for no additional cost). The band even spatulas in those frigid black metal gone grind riffs at which northern Europeans seem to excel on “Bush – Krieger,” which called Dubya’s removal (by force if necessary) for the safety of the whole world.
While I doubt Cyness will be penning any paeans to Obama in the near future, I hope the Germans don’t beat their grindcore bayonets into plowshares just yet. Because Looney Planet/Industreality and 2006 followup Our Funeral Oration for the Human Race should vault Cyness into the realm of grind elite.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Bodies in the Gears of the Apparatus

Bodies in the Gears of the Apparatus
Simian Hybrid Prototype
The Spew
Thanks to Brutalex for encouraging me to dust off this spazz grind doozy by posting about post-Bodies in the Gears of the Apparatus project Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky (both of which are unwieldy names, even in acronymed form) a while back.
Florida seems more famous for sweatpantsed death metal denizens and liverspotted retirees but America’s wang does have a toehold on grindcore greatness as well, courtesy of the mighty Assuck. After that band hung up its collective cleats, though, things get fairly grim until Bodies in the Gears of the Apparatus stalked on to the scene, dismembered hooker in tow.
Unlike the XXX Maniacs and fourth gen Anal Cunt Xeroxes who think stringing together a few dirty words constitutes some new extreme in transgression, frontman Joshua Vitale’s descriptive lyrics contained the kind of smart details and offhand evil that make Acid Bath and Pig Destroyer so psychologically rich on songs like “Fuck Her Like You Paid For It” and “Last Words Can Be So Cliché.”
BitGotA also get the blue ribbon for penning a ditty praising Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall’s cinematic masterpiece Mannequin (“Love Affair With a Mannequin”) years before fellow freakazoids Cretin hit on the same idea (“Mannequin”).
Throw in Scott Hull production, Paul Romano artwork as bonus points -- what more do you need?
I always thought Bodies were on the verge of unleashing something truly extraordinary during their abbreviated life span (a split with Despised Icon on Relapse pretty much rounds out the discography), but the band just couldn’t seem to hold it together. Vitale would forge a one album partnership with fellow Floridian bean curd grinders Khann before exiting stage left while much of the musical muscle behind BitGotA would find a new home in Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky.

Friday, March 13, 2009

G&P review: P.L.F.

Crushing Fury of Bastardization
Power It Up
Pretty Little Flower.
Yep, I checked. That’s actually what P.L.F. stands for. But dispel any fears of some lame ass hippy shit or obnoxiously unfunny joke grind because these Texans have spent the last decade honing their concussive, abrasive, abusive grind chops to a rusty scalpel edge.
So moniker issues aside, somebody tell me how I’ve previously overlooked this intriguing addition to the growing Gulf Coast Grindcore family, which already boasts scene elite Kill the Client and the late, great Insect Warfare. In fact, the hook here is the presence of former Insect Warfare drummer Frank Faerman, who blasted the beats during the Endless Execution Thru Violent Restitution incarnation of that band.
And while P.L.F.’s second full length, released way back in September and collecting a handful of splits and live tracks for bonus goodness, slots neatly next to the I.W. catalogue, guitarist Dave (no last name necessary) is not a Beau Beasley clone. Instead his grind is shaken and not stirred with a delicious undercurrent of double picking sharkbite that would leave Gary Holt grinning like a Cheshire cat. That speedy sense of groove undergirds the duo/occasional trio’s gurgle-growling and blastbeatdowns, elevating tunes like “Ironic Curse of Possession” (a prayerful wish the rapture comes soon – and violently) from the strata of just another grind work out.
Where their fellow GCXGC types tend to be dour mopes pontificating about the world’s ills and harshing your buzz, P.L.F. mix the same diatribes with some much needed levity uncommon to the hurricane ravaged region. “Point of Impact” even makes room for a pre-Seinfeld/racist rant sample of Michael Richards from the Weird Al vanity vehicle U.H.F.
Throw in a handful of live tracks, a couple of covers (Denak, Doom) and a riff admittedly lifted from Unseen Terror all played with crusty abandon and a refreshing lack of production pretention and you may just fill that Insect Warfare shaped hole in your heart.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

G&P review: Lebenden Toten

Lebenden Toten
Near Dark
Feral Ward
For a name I’ve always heard connected with the Portland crust punk scene, this is certainly not what I would have expected. With visions of Tragedy dancing in my head (Feral Ward is Yannick from His Hero is Gone’s label, after all) and band photos that look straight out of central casting for a Rancid video, I was at first confuzzled then pleasantly surprised when Lebenden Toten stripped away my stereo speakers one rust scraped layer at a time with a Brill-O pad of abrasive noise.
The spawn of a hitherto clandestine love connection between Merzbow’s Masami Akita and Melt-Banana’s Yasuko Onuki, Lebenden Toten (“living dead” for all you Anglophones) will occasionally give you a splinter of something vaguely recognizable as a song amid the electronic squall and canary in a coal mine vocals. Snippets of drum patterns or a fragmented guitar line breach like whales through the harsh static and tortured FX boxes. From off in the distance you’ll also occasionally grasp a chirped vocal line like a song bird alighting at the premiere of Cthulhu’s long awaited power saw concerto.
To even attempt to describe the band’s quicksand layers of punk and noise in the sense of conventional songwriting would be futile and, unfortunately, like their forerunners in HHIG, they seem to be averse to leaving any sort of internet presence where I can direct you to try for yourself. But those with open minds and a broad definition of hardcore will likely find a lot to enjoy here if they give it a chance.

Monday, March 9, 2009

G&P review: Extreme Noise Terror

Extreme Noise Terror
Law of Retaliation
According to Metal Archives, 21 people have cycled through Extreme Noise Terror since 1985 (including a couple of slumming Napalm Deathers during snits with their day jobs) in a merry go round of musicians that would give Spinal Tap pause. But it was the addition one man – beloved frontman Phil Vane returned to the fold – that seems to have single handedly revived the English band with the Engrish name from its recent doldrums.
Free of the death metal malaise that came with the ill-advised swapping of vocalists with Napalm Death, these hardcore suicide bombers kickstart a holocaust in your head with a refreshing brickbat of grind on Law of Retaliation. It’s the sound of a band putting aside past differences and rediscovering the common love of acceleration that united them initially.
A searing diatribe against the ills of the world – particularly religion. By “Spit on Your Dreams,” the third song in, Vane et al take a cue from The Exorcist and advocate using a crucifix as a makeshift sex toy. While more restrained, “Religion is Fear” and “Believe What I Say” are not much kinder to worshippers’ imaginary friends.
When Vane and fellow barker Dean Jones aren’t spitting bile over the world, ENT is kicking out the jams with filthy, crusty grind that could have been recorded any time in the last 20 years.
Just as tenacious as their nation’s bulldog mascot, these grubby English gentlemen, along with countrymen Napalm Death, dispel and notion that the U.K.’s old grind guard is somehow slouching toward its dotage.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Change We Can’t Believe In: Whither Grindcore in an Era of Hope?

Like any other sane person here in the magic kingdom of DeeCee, I celebrated Barack Obama’s historic inauguration by staying the fuck out of the city.
It’s not that I wasn’t feeling the hope or the change or the changing hope or the hoping change or whatever it was we were celebrating. Hell, despite my reservations about Biden and the most egregious aspects of the drug war he authored, I voted for Obama. (That’s partly thanks to the Greens and Libertarians coughing up two candidates who were so completely antithetical to each party’s stated philosophy that I had no choice but to vote for a major party candidate for the first time in my life.) And if he accomplishes nothing else I’ll raise a toast to Obama for fucking over those goddamned Baby Boomers who have ruined every election in my adult life by turning it into a pointless circle jerk about who did what way back in the ’60s rather than actually leading the country.
No, my reason for skipping the downtown festivities was far more practical. I didn’t feel like being hassled by the Capitol Police when I inevitably kicked some fat Midwestern tourist in a fanny pack and a souvenir FBI shirt down the stairs for violating the Metro’s escalator rules.
So spending a frigid Tuesday watching the inauguration from the warmth and comfort of my couch left me plenty of time to ponder the new era in Washington. Actually, I spent a good bit of time considering that hoary punk and metal truism that Republican administrations make for the best musical inspiration. Even a cursory survey of my music shelf reminded me of the difficulty even some top flight bands had adjusting to the post-Reagan/Thatcher/Cold War era when easy enemies were scarce.
So I started asking some of my favorite political grind frontmen whether they have any concerns about their job security in this new era of hope.
“I don't think it makes much difference,” Bloody Phoenix/ex-Excruciating Terror guitarist Jerry Flores said. “Doesn't matter what party is in office. Look at the Clinton years: plenty of angry bands surfaced during that era. Republicans just make easier targets. Poverty, corruption, etc. It fuels the fire. It's not going to go away. Our problems haven't gone away.”
While Richard Johnson has generally shied away from being overtly political with Drugs of Faith (though they did slap Dubya’s mug on their self-titled EP, a trend I am glad to see peter out),he penned some classic diatribes with drum machine progenitors Enemy Soil back when Bush Sr. was the one leading the ill-conceived Middle East excursions.
And though he may be relieved Sarah Palin is not one geriatric heartbeat away from starting all out nuclear war with Paraguay, Johnson said he will not be letting the ascendant Democrats off the hook so easily either.
“I think the left is resting on its laurels now and it's a grave mistake,” he said. “We are not in a post-race world. And while it is a huge change having Obama in the White House in some areas, and I'm very happy about those aspects of his presidency (global gag rule, fuel economy, Guantanamo, talks with Iran, et cetera), in other areas, nothing has changed at all.”The kind of change Johnson said Obama doesn’t seem to believe in: Bush and Cheney in orange jumpsuits at Leavenworth for shitting on the Constitution, an immediate end to America’s entanglements in foreign wars – including Afghanistan – and Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid pulling their noses out of the latest Rasmussen poll and spontaneously developing functioning vertebrae.
“While I'm ecstatic that McCain didn't get in, I didn't vote for Obama,” Johnson said. “I voted for Nader. As a matter of fact, I voted independent or green only from president down to local school board.”
Which raises a good point: even if you skip the presidential side show, vote your local races. Seriously, that’s where the worst shit that will fuck up your life goes down and since turnout and participation are historically so low for local races, a small, concerted group (*cough* whackjob godbotherers *cough*) can easily sway the vote and before you know it your school kids are being led in unconstitutional school prayer and being taught that unsubstantiated bullshit like intelligent design is just as valid as the theory of evolution.
“Corruption never sleeps,” Kill the Client’s Champ Morgan said. And if you worry changing the drapes in the West Wing means Texas’ finest’s will lack for inspiration, rest easy. Morgan’s libertarian leanings leave him equally dissatisfied with both the conventional left and right.
“Things here are fucked up,” Morgan said. “You cut off the head of the hydra and two more appear. The once greatest country in the world is up to our eyeballs in debt, education and health care barely exist, and we take another goose step towards the police state every day.”
Cynically confident in the fallibility of human nature, Kill the Client will not starve for inspiration regardless of how squeaky clean the current POTUS seems.
“Until the government is dismantled and control is put back in the hands of the people, we will not be truly free,” Morgan said. “There will always be material and inspiration out there. You just may have to dig past the surface to see it.”
Now that’s no change we can believe in.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

G&P review: Drugs of Faith

Drugs of Faith
2008 Demo
Drugs of Faith's latest demo sets a new (Jo) Bench-mark for bassist Taryn Wilkinson whose supple yet hefty performance lurks over this five minute, three song EP like a glower front giant. Her playing is practically a physical presence as she and guitarist Richard Johnson craft another hefty and hook-laden amalgam of industrial grade grind and hardcore.
Opener "Race to the End" passes the truth in advertising test with a Heisman worthy rush to the endzone. "The Age of Reason," a timely yet blistering ode to rejecting religious superstition in favor of reason and the scientific method, introduces a start-stop dynamic to the Virginians' overstocked songwriting repertoire that expands the band's boundaries and provides a welcome palette cleanser from session drummer Jake Cregger's otherwise dominating drum performance. His blasts and fills are tighter than a pickled nun's anus as he methodically works over his kit, leaving not tom untapped and no cymbal unsmashed.
While Johnson has more than a passing familiarity with the drum machine, he and Wilkinson may want to extend an invite to Cregger to imbibe their drugs on a fulltime basis because his physical style meshes perfectly with their organic performance.
Though Drugs of Faith bill this as a demo, mastered by Johnson's Agoraphobic Nosebleed fellow traveller Scott Hull, this platter lays waste to many a professionally recorded offering with a (presumably) Lilliputian budget in comparison. If this is meant to be a teaser for an impending new release, Drugs of Faith have got me hooked on their crack.

[Full disclosure: Johnson graciously sent me a copy of the demo for propaganda purposes.]

Monday, March 2, 2009

Blast(beat) From the Past: Word Salad

Word Salad
Deathmarch 2000
Word Salad didn't have me at hello (because Tom Cruise should just die in a fucking fire already), but the dearly departed fastcore/grindcore quartet knew how to unlock the recesses of my heart with the opening guitar squall of "Hacking Flesh at Will" chased by the descending His Hero is Gone melodi-crust riff of "Stomach Wounds Bleeding Again."
More this word salad than that word salad, Word Salad the band whipped up a piquant southwestern mole of crust gracing the Prank roster from the '90s. Like onetime labelmates HHIG or Damad, Word Salad could throttled back from grindcore to sludge, often in the span of a single 90 second tune ("Living Cirkill") but were most comfortable crusing in fourth or fifth gear. Songs are crusty, grimy tales of getting blitzed on gutter booze ("At War with Alcohol"), arson ("Set Your Family on Fire") and incipient dick rot ("Sex=Death") that could only be cultivated, fungus like, in the darkest squat of the soul.
Though they never seemed to garner the same widespread accolades as some of their crusty contemporaries, Word Salad's sole long player is an overlooked, fetid little gem of misery and disease that keeps on reeking a decade later.