According to existentialist icon and chain smoking gloomy gus Albert Camus, for modern man “one sentence would suffice.” Supposedly all you need to know is “he fornicated and he read newspapers.” Pretty much any of my un-/under-employed former colleagues will tell you ain’t nobody reading fucking newspapers. However, fornication is still in style. So sub out making lists for newspapers and Camus makes an easy transition into the 21st Century. No matter how arbitrary and purely subjective they may be, we are a list making species. Whatever extra terrestrial anthropologists go sifting through our nuked out debris in a few millennia surely can’t help but notice we feel a need to compulsively rank things, particularly at some arbitrary point in the planet’s annual trip around the sun that we designate as the start of a new year. In that spirit and because I will not be a slave to the cheap numerology of round numbers (or my inability to cut one band off my list), here are my 11 favorite grind albums of 2009.
Behold the Failure
The jokes would have written themselves if Behold the Failure had sucked outright. (And you all know I can’t resist an easy joke.) But Mumakil defused that problem by crushing everything in their path. For all the faults I found with Behold the Failure – its desperately in need of some varied songwriting – there was something about Mumakil’s second album I found compelling. It left me wanting more because this Swiss band is just on the cusp of a truly explosive breakout album. While Behold the Failure may be hampered by a same-iness to the songwriting, the unrelenting brutality – one of the most visceral and violent albums released this year – easily hurdled any artistic deficiency.
I get it now. After years of not understanding why everyone raved about these slantwise Poles, Antigama met me halfway by upping the aggression on fifth album Warning. Their post modern everything but the kitchen sink-core is just as left field as before, but now the band’s wonkishness is tempered by a slavering lunge and spittle-flecked intensity lacking in some of their more prior output. Warning leaves you as drained as if you had just sat for a calculus quiz. The physicists among us could probably pen a treatise on Antigama’s use of inventive drum patters and odd sounding time signatures, but for those of us with a more literary bent, I would say this is grindcore for Pynchon aficionados.
9. Squash Bowels
In the race to be the fast drum in the West, grindcore practitioners often lose sight of songwriting in the process. With a (relatively) slow is steady wins the race, Polish veterans Squash Bowels thrust themselves more forcefully onto the world stage with Willowtip’s backing and an arsenal tunes that recognize the groove is just as important as the grind. Comparisons to Cretin and Repulsion are obvious and are in no way pejorative. Grind Virus is a virulent, catching collection of absurdist body horror and cretanic grotesquerie. Don’t expect shattered land speed records. Do expect to giggle until you shit yourself. I think that’s the point.
8. Graf Orlock
Destination Time Today
The John Williamses of grindcore completed the third and final chapter of their twisty time traveler paradox audio action film (if listen to all three chapters in a row – admittedly difficult since volume three is vinyl only for now – pay attention to the stolen lyrical conceits, think about it way too hard – possibly with medicinal aids – a plot does begin to almost emerge) with all the triumphant bombast you expect from a popcorn action flick’s third act. Our heroes load up on weapons (“Run Over by a Truck”) and get righteously pissed (“An Interest in Prosthetics”) before peaceably settling their disputes with the antagonist. I kid. Everyone dies in a hail of bullets. What keeps Graf Orlock from being just another one-trick goof is the fact that the songs are damn good, and Destination Time Today features some of the best and most emotionally resonant sequences in the band’s catalogue.
Christian music is so easy to mock. At least it was until Rehumanize brutalized my ear drums and my soul (if such exists). Rehumanize’s grindcore of mass conversion is just as blunt and unrelenting as their missionary work. For all their self righteous proselytizing (there’s a come to Jeebus diatribe in the liner notes that has to be read to be believed) and intrusive, fat fingered samples of oh so earnest ministers, these guys are keenly aware of what makes grind work and they deftly work it into half an hour of apocalyptic grind. God is coming back, they say, and boy is he pissed.
Probably the most debated and discussed grind record of 2009, Magrudergrind’s self-titled Willowtip debut may have polarized for its cleaner production and sleeker attack, but taken on its own, the album was a scorcher of stripped back grind and flashes of goofy humor. But there was also a vicious soul to the mayhem as well. “Martyrs of the Shoah” is probably the most affecting piece of grind I’ve ever heard and the band’s sense of outrage at local injustices comes off as sincere and not rehashing of shopworn clichés. This is a band that wants to fight for your right to party and live in decent housing and make a liveable wage. It’s a potent combination driving one of the better performances of 2009.
5. Attack of the Mad Axeman
Scumdogs of the Forest
I don’t know if they’re nihilists, but German grindcore furries Attack of the Mad Axeman bring a Lebowskian sense of the absurd to the genre with second album, Scumdogs of the Forest. Aping the already self-referential Gwar and picking fights with Glen Benton, Axeman don’t gore your sacred cow so much as make sure you’re treating properly, getting it regular vet checkups and making it comfortable while it lives out its days in comfort and you dine on cold tofu. Not the most obvious scheme to win friends and influence people, but their absurdist brand of performance art – complete with risible animal costumes – is damn effective. Oh, and they grind like motherfuckers while they do it.
4. Blood I Bleed
Gods Out of Monsters
You know that scene in A Better Tomorrow where Chow Yun-Fat walks into a room and artistically guns down every motherfucker in sight? Yeah, that’s what Gods Out of Monsters sounds like. Pure shrapnel; nobody gets out alive, and you just might walk away crippled like Mark Gor. Wielding a guitar strung with concertina wire, Shantia is easily one of the top five songwriters working in grind right now. Each track on Gods Out of Monsters, despite its all fast all the time missions statement, is distinct and bears his signature feedback-rodeoing stamp. With a supporting cast that’s just as single-minded, Blood I Bleed are poised to be a thoroughly dominating grindcore fixture for many years to come.
Vid Helvetets Grindar
Swedish powerhouse Afgrund kick off their second album predicting that Europe will burn in the future. I’m not here to dispute these digital Nostrodomi or their precognitive abilities. What I do know is that they’ve been setting most of the grind loving globe on fire right here in the present with Vid Helvetets Grindar. Everything they hinted at with Svarta Dagar gets refined, carefully edited and reduced to a lambent core of plasma intensity. While a pair of forays into sludge and stoner swing are, to be charitable … ungood, that’s a minor misstep for a band that’s the grind equivalent of a time traveling, plutonium powered DeLorean. It’s 1.21 gigawatts of blastbeaten goodness. You know you want one.
2. Parlamentarisk Sodomi
De Anarkistiske An(n)aler
Nobody has been as consistently awesome the last two years as Parlamentarisk Sodomi’s Papirmollen. His one man crusade against Norway’s reigning power structure tripped the fuse on three homemade bricks of C4 to date, sending blastbeaten and dildo-shaped shrapnel flying toward every unprotected orifice. Latest long player De Anarkistiske An(n)aler finds him devising ever more intricate death traps as though he were Jigsaw in a parallel universe where the Saw films didn’t suck. He’s a moral terrorist, Papirmollen, and he wants to his targets to stew over the life choices that may have brought them to this impasse in their lives before he delivers the killing blow (say, in the shape of 11 minute epic “Klaebukranikene (de Anarkistiske An(n)aler)”). While not as visceral as Har Du Sagt "A" Får Du Si "Nal,” De Anarkistiske An(n)aler is a bold – and overwhelmingly successful – statement from a grindcore visionary.
Lo! ’tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly –
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama – oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes! – it writhes! – with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And the angels sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out – out are the lights – out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy called “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
Edgar Allen Poe
“The Conqueror Worm”
There is absolutely nothing I can add to what Atanamar, 206-Grind and Zmaj (especially Zmaj) have already said so much better. All hail the Conqueror Worm.