Monday, August 31, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Inertia Kills

Inertia Kills
Tous Des Aveugles
Choking Hazard
For a brief six months in 1995 Quebec’s Inertia Kills were not only one of the best From Enslavement to Obliteration cover bands working but they just may have been grindcore’s finest purveyors of hockey hair as well. Blastbeats and the ape drape, a combination you could only find in Canada or perhaps the seedier hockey rinks of Pennsylvania.
The band, featuring members of Immoral Squad other Quebec outfits too obscure to warrant a mention on Metal Archives, only had a pair of 7-inches and a pair of unreleased cover songs to mark their half year existence. The production is the audio equivalent of a leaking sewage pipe (that’s a compliment, btw). In fact, all of Tous Des Aveugles (All the Blind, according to my rusty college French) is an index fossil from an age before precision when grind was still slick with punk’s afterbirth.
The songs are all sloppy blastbeats cribbed from the Mick Harris playbook and have never been in the same timezone as a click track, fighting through distended intestinal tract grunts and forceful neutering yawps and an undifferentiated wash of guitar crunch. Songs like “Reforge Your Thoughts” kick off with four count drum beats, an unbroken strand of punk DNA that sneaks its way to the surface. The songs themselves are kamikaze races between the song’s end and impending musical collapse with a few obligatory mid tempo crushers (“Awake,” the title track) thrown in to relieve the blastbeats and clumsily edited samples (a classic from Ren and Stimpy on “Toy of Leisure,” Yoda’s wisdom kicking off “Ou”). The package is rounded out by covers of Crucifix and The Fact Remains That (Yeah, me neither). At just about 18 minutes, Tous Des Aveugles doesn’t overstay its welcome, providing a perfect snapshop to a transitional era in grind’s history when the punk was still strong and the ape drape was still a viable fashion choice.

Friday, August 28, 2009

G&P Review: Weekend Nachos

Weekend Nachos
Punish and Destroy/Torture
With a new album due to drop on Relapse, I belatedly turn my attention to Punish and Destroy/Torture, a collection of Weekend Nachos’ early stabs of second wave power violence. It’s the sonic equivalent of wiping out on your skateboard into a gravel pit.
Burlier and more refined than Spoonful of Vicodin, Weekend Nachos work the same territory as their fellow Empire Staters, cobbled together from shrapnel labeled Man is the Bastard and Apartment 213.
While the strained hardcore vocals trend a tad too monotonous, powers through that sole drawback with violence. Paired together, the EPs (Torture is the heavier of the two) practically present a survey course of every subgenre ever suffixed by –violence or –core. “Punish and Destroy” spends four minutes crawling through Winter’s back catalogue and “Intro” devolves from meticulously plotted electronic blorp to ominously ringing guitar chimes from transitional era Neurosis. But Weekend Nachos also draw in the Dismember-ed death opening of “Dimension X,” rocked cock swing of “American Hardcore” or slow noise rock dissolution of closer “Sludge.” Every couple of songs finds the Nachos appropriating another shard of the fragmented punk and metal scene, holding them up to the light and marveling at the refractions. While that may not initially sound cohesive, Weekend Nachos manage to make all of it their own. From one more interesting This Comp Kills Fascists alum, I’m now officially curious to see what the band can do on Relapse’s dime.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Name is Legion, For We are Many

As if defining grindcore weren’t a confounding enough task, there’s a subset of practitioners such as Spoonful of Vicodin that seem determined to set themselves apart from their peers and colleagues by inventing a micro-genre they can solely inhabit. Is being a humble grind band that bad? Join me on a trip through grind’s far-flung and constantly evolving nomenclature.

Napalm Death

Spoonful of Vicodin
Bones Brigade

Grind is Protest

Darkness Grind

Northern Hyperblast
The Mystical Gate of Reincarnation
Nuclear Blast

Scrotum Jus

G&P Review: Spoonful of Vicodin

Spoonful of Vicodin
Bones Brigade
Everybody sing along now: Just a spoonful of vicodin helps the power-violence-inflected-with-thrash-shriek-and-grindcore-gurgle go down.
OK, so I’m no Julie Andrews, but for the authentic article spin Spoonful of Vicodin’s “Paved Paradise,” which deftly interweaves the Disney ditty with intermittent blasts of crusty noise. No mean sample, the two components trade off of each other, creating a wholly unique song from their disparate parts.
Terrible New York twosome Tim (drums) and Sarah (guitars) conjure the chaos that ensues after a suicide bomb goes off in a crowded market with the compilation Rotcore. The vocals careen between a manic 12 latte chatter and a starvation stomach rumble grunt and the production is just as punk as fuck.
A majority of Rotcore’s collected songs, 27 tunes in a whisker under 15 minutes, come with authentic “Smoke, Grind, and Sleep Production” courtesy of Danny Lilker. How you respond to semper lo-fidelis production will largely determine how you respond to Spoonful of Vicodin’s strain of rotcore. However, deliberately crude the music and production may be, the band carefully honed the exquisite sarcasm of their songs. “My Idea of Anarchy is Taking a Dump on Company Time,” “God Wins at Everything” and “Tapeworms in Punk, a Documentary” pretty much demand you pore over the lyric sheet.
Spoonful of Vicodin have the tunes and the sarcasm to make it all go down. No extra sugar needed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

All Your Bass Are Belong to Us

Raise your hand if you’ve had this happen to you (or if you’ve done this to someone else). A bright, eager young metal fan burns with a passion to play music, but, sadly, lacks any musical training. What instrument do you hand them? Bass, of course. (Not that I still hold a grudge or anything, guys.) Metal is full of shred heads, drum gods, and vociferous front men, but aside from the occasional DiGiorgio, bass as a whole does not command a lot respect. Especially in grind. Insect Warfare, Discordance Axis and pretty much any band to feature Scott Hull have gotten along without a four stringer crowding the van and clamoring for a cut of the profits. But such wasn’t always the case. So in no particular order, we look back fondly on some of the greatest moments featuring grind’s least favorite instrument.

Solo Effort
Nasum were just one of dozens of grind bands that got along swimmingly sans low end for two awesome full lengths until they swiped bassist Jesper Liverod from the idle Burst (who are once again idle) for masterwork Helvete. Liverod’s presence brought additional depth and contrast to Miesko Talarczyk’s godly riffing, bolstering songs like the sandman murk of “The Final Sleep.” While Nasum will always be remembered as the axis of Talarcyzk and drummer Anders Jakobson, Liverod, who would depart just as quickly as he entered, commanded his own space on Helvete, particularly at the 2:02 mark of “Scoop.” Not too many other grind bands would have the vision or the balls to close out the second song on an album with a full on bass solo.

Festerday’s News
Scott Carlson was a busy guy in seminal grinders Repulsion, not only mortaring a foundation for Dave “Grave” Hollingshead’s embryonic blastbeats and Aaron Freeman and Matt Olivo’s rusty scalpel riffs, but he also had to puke out the band’s grave robber lyrics at the same time. His sneering vocals balanced both power and clarity, setting a standard a metric butt ton of lesser gorehounds are still emulating. But Carlson wasn’t just the guy at the mic. His greatest musical contribution comes within the first 10 seconds of “Festering Boils” as a roiling, suppurating bass tone snarls through the opening bars. Though as a song “Festering Boils” may not be as strong as “Maggots in Your Coffin,” “Radiation Sickness” or “The Stench of Burning Death,” that fuzzy, overblown bass sound would become a hallmark, endlessly aped (hello, Jeff Walker) for the next two decades.

Bench Pressed
While I don’t really consider Bolt Thrower a grind band, per se, only a fucking moron is going to deny First Lady of Metal Jo Bench the props she’s fucking earned. She casually shattered the extreme metal’s gender barrier with a flick of the pick and managed to do it without really making it seem significant. Unlike the current wave of metal women being pushed by the major labels, Bench established her space without trading on her sexuality. Bench’s success does raise an interesting question though. I say this not as a name dropping douche, but Drugs of Faith’s Richard Johnson was recently telling me about meeting Bench at the Maryland Death Fest (it came up because I’d likened his S.O. and bandmate Taryn Wilkinson to the Bolt Thrower bruiser). With the exception of god awful “operatic” singers of shitty goth metal bands, if you find a woman picking up an instrument in rock or metal, chances are pretty good it will be bass. Sure there are obvious exceptions (Angela Gossow, Garden of Shadow’s Mary and God Dethroned’s Susan Gerl), but more often than not it’s bass. What up with that? Is it the few extra inches on the neck? Does size really matter?

Brutal Exit
Nobody likes being fired, but there’s no greater revenge than success. Danny Lilker is a living legend in metal, but in 1984 he was just the unemployed guy who used to be in Anthrax. Where some would take that as a sign to check the help wanted ads for joe jobs, Lilker just went on to found innovative thrashers Nuclear Assault with fellow Anthrax castoff and popularize crossover in S.O.D. Oh and he dabbled in grindcore with a couple bands you may have heard of – Brutal Truth and Exit-13. By 1990 grindcore was already ossifying. Terrorizer was gone and Napalm Death and Carcass were both grazing in death-ier pastures when Lilker and Brutal Truth shoved a weed-drenched enema of unbounded experimentation up the scene's ass. Brutal Truth combined relentless brutality with forward thinking music and a host of outré influences while Exit-13 plowed even further through fog banks of pot smoke into a land of jazz, grind and death (the skipping plucked bass of “Societally Provoked Genocidal Contemplation” should make Lilker’s career highlight reel). It’s that restless sense of experimentation that has constantly driven Lilker to innovate and that makes him such a vital metal presence. Sure Anthrax may have millions of dollars and a guest appearance of Married With Children to their credit, but does Scott Ian have a place in the Guiness Book of World Records? (The 2.18 second-long clip for Brutal Truth’s “Collateral Damage” claims the honor as world’s shortest music video.) That’s got to count for more than appearing in Vh1’s I Love the 1930s Part 12.

None More Vile
Oops. Not actually a bass, but still grisly as all shit.
Now I don’t want to sound like one of those aging, bitter assholes who think everything was better back when Digby Pearson was ripping everyone off and grind ceased to be relevant or interesting or innovative in 1987. We all know that’s bullshit. Case in point, new jacks Maruta ruled 2008. And despite not having a full time bass player on debut In Narcosis, the Floridian swamp grinders made a very significant contribution to the bassical arts. Tee up “Demise of the Humanist” for one of the finest grindcore bass moments in recent memory. It’s the sound of Scott Carlson staying up all night with a case of PBR and bootleg snuff films. The sound is vile and molders over the song like a charnel house virus. Maruta use bass like a blunt instrument. “In Perpetual Narcolepsy” is like being teabagged by Polyphemus. That image disturbs me. I’m going to stop now. You go listen to Maruta.

From Enslavement to Infatuation
From 1988 until today, Shane Embury has been the pivot of Napalm Death’s gyre. He is the grindcore center that has held for more than two decades.
The closest thing that passes for an original member in a band that has completely rotated its cast of characters, Embury is both the soul and conscience of Napalm Death. He’s also the greatest ambassador grind (hell, metal in general) could ever dream up. And he damn near missed his opportunity.
As the story goes, Mick Harris tried to rope Embury (then drumming in Unseen Terror) into replacing Justin Broadrick after he split following the first half of Scum. Though he bowed out in favor of Bill Steer, Embury would get a second crack at the band on bass, an instrument he was more comfortable with from his time in Warhammer and Azagthoth.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Napalm Death in my life, and without fail at every show I see Embury working the crowd before the band rips the stage. No matter how successful or how in (and out) of vogue his band may be, Embury is a tireless proponent of metal and has anchored Napalm Death through all of its member transfusions and stylistic upheavals. While I can’t imagine any frontman having the sack to step to Barney Greenway’s mic at this point, I’m convinced Napalm Death will only exist as long as Embury wills it. The day he finally calls it quits, that’s the day Napalm Death ceases to be.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Deathbound

We Deserve Much Worse
Dynamic Arts
Like Potter Stewart and his pornography, I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a definition for grindcore that would survive any serious scrutiny. I just know it when I hear it.
It’s a given that the blastbeat is a central tenet of the sound, and I usually describe grind as “the bastard child of punk and metal” for those who aren’t currently scene cognoscenti. But that’s a hazy approximation at best, and any attempt at more specificity is bound to implode. At what point does fast punk and hardcore cross into grind? Some people lump Disrupt in with grind, but I consider them punk due to the paucity of blastbeats. Not that I could defend that assertion with anything approaching empirical measurements. Same goes for the metal influences. Where’s the demarcation between grind and a really short death metal song loaded with blastbeats?
My taxonomical dilemma (and yes, I’ve had this dilemma of categorization before) is brought about by Finns Deathbound who pound out savage metal-flecked punk riffs on third album We Deserve Much Worse (a fourth is currently in the works) but are far more strategic in deploying the blastbeat. Former Rotten Sound drummer Sami Latva can bring the noise but songs like “Deceiving Shortcuts” find him picking his spots, using blasts as gravy instead of the protein in Deathbound’s culinary holocaust. The sandman somnambulance of “Connected to the Confusion” slinks through gray mists just under blastbeat BPMs and close out ECT session “Ward 77” is a booted bass stomp that validates the less speed is more approach by giving the low end a chance to resonate and crush the song.
Dropping the BPMs requires some guts because you can either end up with Leng Tch’e’s intriguing decision to swap speed for atmosphere on Marasmus or the stale elevator fart disappointment of Coldworker’s Rotting Paradise. Both Justice Stewart and I agree that Deathbound is much closer to the former, if that helps.

So how about it, is there a workable definition of grindcore that manages to includes all of its offshoots? How would you define it?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Tusk

Tree of No Return
Between the too clever by half false start of Get Ready and the Pelican-lite disappointment of The Resistant Dreamer, Tusk glanced off grindcore perfection with Tree of No Return in 2003, the most disturbing travelogue since Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voigt and Ronny Cox took an ill starred trip up the fictional Cahulawassee River back in 1972.
Featuring three quarters of Pelican (and actually preceding that band), Tusk’s self described “avant-grind” on the nightmarish Tree of No Return blends Pig Destroyer style ferocity with the experimentation of Converge and Neurosis. The Cliffs Notes version: a camper sets out into the wilderness (“Tree of No Return”), gets lost (“The Rising Terror, the Setting Sun”), stays lost (“Lost in the Woods”), slowly goes insane from hunger (“Starvation Dementia”) and gets mauled by brown bears (“Ursus Arctos – Walk the Valley”).
Beyond the Larry Herweg/Laurent Lebec/Trever de Brauw axis’ well documented instrumental prowess, Jody Minnoch’s increasingly deranged and expressive vocal delivery gives startling life to Tree of No Return’s unhinged narrative as he rasps and snarls like a grindcore Nick Blinko. His unwholesome whisper greases through “Tree of No Return,” exhuming childhood nightmares from your id. Minnoch’s vocal gyrations are bolstered by a sonic assault that errs on the side of unsettling. “The Rising Terror, the Setting Sun” is a demonic pixie dance that gets stumbled over and crushed by a drunken ogre while the incipient insanity of “Starvation Dementia’s” delirious acoustics are abraded by grinding madness. All of this psychic battery culminates in “Ursus Artcos,” a Hitchcockian masterwork that accounts for half the EP’s play time. It incrementally builds on electro-lit unease that crests but never breaks, slowly dissipating into a lingering dread.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a camping trip to cancel.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Prowler in My Back Yard

The Washington Post sent an enterprising n00b reporter to prowl Maryland Deathfest, complete with a guided tour courtesy of Pig Destroyer. It's thoroughly engaging read that namechecks Napalm Death, Birdflesh, Triac and Richard Johnson/Enemy Soil along with an in depth profile of each member of the Virginia grind quartet. The only odd thing, the Post mentions Scott Hull joined a potty-mouthed Boston band whose name can't be reprinted in a family newspaper during his college years but fail to make any mention of Agoraphobic Nosebleed.
Unlike the usual "what's up with these freaks" story, this one actually tries to make some sense out of grind and death metal and actually makes all of the interviewees sound like reasonable, functional human beings. A must read.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fear of Napalm(isms): Say My Name, Say My Name

I am absolutely awful with song titles. Case in point, I was recently surprised by just how many I didn’t recognize on World Downfall. I shudder to think of how many times I’ve listened to that album in my life without “Whirlwind Struggle” piercing my consciousness.
As you can imagine, it’s a real handicap for somebody who loves to obsessively write, think and talk about music. My problem is only exacerbated by my love of grindcore, which places a premium on cramming a bazillion songs onto a 3-inch CD each gurgled out by a pitch-shifted tapir with impacted sinuses. But Karl Marx bless Napalm Death for giving inattentive shlubs like me a way out. Between Barney Greenway’s powerful but clear ogre roar and the undercurrent of underappreciated verse/chorus hardcore that has always girded their songwriting, I can generally make an educated guess as to what any given song’s title might be.
I’ve come to praise pop-influenced songwriting not to bury it.
Punk has always been about stripping away the dross that weighs down pop music, and somewhere during the evolution from hardcore to grind niceties like catchy verses and choruses were deemed expendable. But a funny thing happened when the band that laid grindcore’s cornerstone started wandering off into death metal pastures, discernable versus started oozing back into their songwriting and have remained a fixture of the band’s post-Earache renaissance.
Oh sure, even I’ve mocked Napalm Death for an over reliance on clichés (Time Waits for No Slave, mercifully platitude free!), but even a shopworn bromide like “When All is Said and Done” could power a spiraling Jacob’s ladder of a tune on Smear Campaign. Ditto millennial return to form Enemy of the Music Business and “Necessary Evil.” Even during the band’s creative nadir, an album like Words from the Exit Wound, for which I harbor an unabashed fondness, or Inside the Torn Apart, which I loathe, would be elevated by the headbanging, scream-along ear candy of “Next of Kin to Chaos” or “Breed to Breathe,” which were motored by an elusive mixture of catchy riffing and a gripping chorus.
The most stunning thing about a “Greed Killing” or “Instruments of Persuasion” is that they exist at all. Napalm Death, albeit with different constituents, embodied and championed the notion of shearing a song down to its – occasionally absurd – essentials. But having popped a creative Viagra at the fin de the most recent ciecle, Napalm Death are challenging the strictures they laid down. Napalm Death now prove that grindcore, often mocked at pointless thrashing by the more “musical” offshoots of the punk and metal trees, can be just as involved and downright enjoyable as the most tightly focus grouped pop tune without ever compromising on the extremity.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Swede it is (The Punk Years): Anti Cimex Part 3

Anti Cimex
Scandinavian Jawbreaker
Anti Cimex would like to remind you the recent rash of hardcore bands getting sleazy with a little Motorhead is no new phenomenon. Like late ’80s TSOL, these Swede punks were surreptitiously sliding some cock in with their rock on 1993 album Scandinavian Jawbreaker when the rest of us were girding up with flannel for half a decade of mopery.
“Braincell Battle” or “Only in Dreams” could easily be reckoned as Anti Cimex’s “Ace of Spades” as the band drifted even further from their humble d-beat roots to a verdant pasture of grime and debauchery.
No matter how debauched, though, Anti Cimex never wander too far from their punk roots. So classic Discharge is augmented with nihilistic ZZ Top boogie on “New Blood,” “Nailbiter’s” toasted gruyere horror film keyboards, or even by the surprising delicacy of “Pain (U Bring Me)’s” interlaced acoustic and electric guitars. Central to the album and its bipolar moods is the two part title track. “Scandinavian Jawbreaker Part 1” is a soccer hooligan of a punk tune that’s all pounding drums and scathing guitars while its sleazier twin, “Scandinavian Jawbreaker Part 2” is a biker bro hymn with a catchy “No chicks/Big dicks” refrain.
Anti Cimex’s DNA lurks in the genetic code of just about every punk band to call Sweden home and former band members can be found anchoring current stalwarts like Driller Killer and Wolfbrigade but the band’s influence can be felt even wider (as At the Gates' Alf Svensson, who contributed both album art and riffs to the punktastic “…Of Ice” can attest). Though I don’t think Scandinavian Jawbreaker is as strong or as thoroughly realized as predecessor Absolut Country of Sweden, it’s a vital transition for the worldwide punk scene, paving a greasy biker sound that is only currently being emulated by hardcore kids across the globe.