Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Grind: TFD’s Hoak Redefines Brutal and That’s the Truth

If I may quote from one of the preeminent philosophers of the late 20th Century, Mr. Charles D., “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me."
But maybe he should, according to Total Fucking Destruction’s Rich Hoak and his merry band of pranksters in Total Fucking Destruction because, as the song sez, “We’re all Elvis Now.”
“I was reading a book about consumerism,” Hoak said when I caught up to him before he hit the road for Maryland Death Fest. “Elvis died as a result of his commodification. He definitely had art, but he became a bloated pig of the music industry and died on his toilet. It’s sort of what’s going to happen to America. We’re all going to die bloated of oil. It’s a shame we don’t realize it more.”
That’s what makes Hoak’s jaundiced, agent provocateur perspective so interesting at a time when grind is weighed down by a cloned legion of imitators that are content to rehash the same hoary political diatribes without injecting any new insight into the dialogue. Somewhere in between the killing of the jocks and the eating of their brains, he’d like you to switch on the 14 ounces of meat you call your gray matter.
Now I loves me some Napalm Death. Fifteen years of listening to them and they still give me a tingly in my nethers. But c’mon, they’ve spent 20 years and recorded umpteen albums bitching about the same things and telling us what we already know. It’s no surprise the world is fucked, but how we deal and try to carve out a meaningful existence in the middle of shit is what we could really use some help with and that’s where Hoak, still a vocal champion of DIY ethics, remains an essential figure in grind.
But first a point of housekeeping. Remember when I recently said there’s only one drummer whose work I follow religiously? Allow me to publicly pull my Chuck Taylor outta my mouth and correct a huge fricken oversight: yes I’ll slavishly check out something with Hoak’s name attached because he’s consistently challenging metal’s status quo.
Case in point, you’re not gonna hear Hoak describe the new TFD album, Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction, expected out this fall, in terms of the most extreme extremity that ever extremed.
“I’ve always been down on the bands that say, ‘We’re the most brutal.’ The most brutal guys won’t take a shit on a dirty toilet,” he said. “If they want to be brutal, join the army. Go kill somebody. Go join the Red Cross and clean up after disasters. Having a child starve to death in front of yourself, that’s brutal. A Cannibal Corpse song is not brutal.”
I haven’t stopped listening to the acoustic grind, multimedia mindfuck that was Zen and the Art of Total Fucking Destruction, one of my favorite albums from last year, and Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction is already recorded and in the can, waiting for Hoak to sift through an array of label deals. And then he shocks me by speaking blasphemy, slagging Zen.
Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction is eons beyond that,” he said. “[Zen] was far too metal for me. … [Peace] has come along a lot more to where I want it to be.”
He described the new tunes as “Minutemen meets Napalm Death and a little bit of Hendrix.” Hoak opened the super s33kr1t vault and let us have a quick listen to a few new songs and he’s not idly pulling your dicks either. “Fuck the Internet” is a galloping blast fest death threat to MySpace, while “Let the Children Name Themselves” channels the best of D. Boone and Mike Watt’s wanna be Dylan street poetry over fractured calliope keyboards and “The Doublerspeaker” invents and bowdlerizes Janice Joplin at upbeat punk tempos.
Take a moment to process that and then join me in saying, “Fuck, yeah!”
But first there’s this little matter of Brutal Truth hitting the studio to record their first new album in 11 years, which will be teased on This Comp Kills Fascists, a throwback teaser being put together by Relapse and Scott Hull in vein of Pessimiser’s classic Cry Now, Cry Later collections. Along side TFD and new wave bangers like Insect Warfare and the recently reinvigorated Conan-core of power violence squad Crom, Brutal Truth will unleash four all new tracks, one of which, “Turmoil,” is already up on BT’s MySpace page.
In a scant 1:08 “Turmoil” manages to reignite the Truth’s glory days in a holocaust of scorching riffs courtesy of Sulaco/Kalibas/Lethargy mainstay Erik Burke (replacing Gurn who has bowed out, spitfire drumming and hellbelched vocals.
Burke, an inspired choice known for skittering, slippery riffs in prior bands, officially takes over from Gurn, whose “wife and kids and two homes and a job that requires him to work lots of weekends” prevented him from making Brutal Truth the priority a working band should be, Hoak said.
And yes, a new full length is in the offing, Hoak confirmed. About the time we get graced with a new TFD full length, Brutal Truth should be hitting the studio and the songs in the works already out-rip “Turmoil,” which boasts the best production of the band’s career. No shit?
“The stuff since has been way better,” he said.
Lamenting the thin production that sucked some of the punch out of BT’s farewell disc, Hoak said the band is stoked to use “technology and our fucking understanding and ability to use the technology to really produce it better than Sounds of the Animal Kingdom.”
Hail to the Kings, baby.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

“He Blossoms into Womanhood”: Amazing Cretin Story in Decibel

“I didn’t want a son/ I got one anyway/ Little boys have nasty things between their legs”

I’m not normally in the business of sending you off to read someone else’s work (cuz you're here to stroke MY ego), but the July issue of Decibel has an excellent feature on Cretin frontman Dan Martinez’ transition to Marissa Martinez. (No link available just yet, but go read it.)

“Daddy’s little girl/ Teaching him to be a she and not a little he”

Back at my first reporting job in one of Maryland’s more benighted rural areas, I did a series on gays living in small towns. One of the first people I found was actually a transsexual who was still married to her wife of 30 years (take that gay marriage opponents). It was an amazing interview with both of them, learning how this 40-something correctional officer slowly became a woman and how her wife, one of the most frighteningly cheerful and well balanced people I’ve ever met, dealt with this shattering transition. It also sparked the greatest letter writing campaign in the paper chain’s history (many of which included some interesting if hilariously uninformed speculation about my own sexuality).

“Slipping hormones in his food/ He blossoms into womanhood”

There are plenty of knuckle-dragging homophobes roaming the metal scene, but hopefully everybody will give Marissa the time and the space she needs to fully grow into her (new) own skin and hopefully (Please! Please! Please!) hit the studio again. It took Cretin 14 years to pound out their Repulsion worshipping first album, here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another decade for the their follow up.
In the meantime, hit up Cretin and drop Marissa a note of support. (I already did). The guy’s obviously been putting his own insecurities into his songs, so it’s the least we can do in return. Good luck, Marissa.

“He thinks I’m saving money for his college education/ I plan to use the money for his sex change operation”

Saturday, May 24, 2008

G&P review: Coldworker

Rotting Paradise
I promised myself I would try to get through this review without dropping the N-word… ya know Anders Jakobson’s former musical digs. But fuck it, that’s the only reason anyone would have to be mildly curious about Coldworker’s facelss and forgettable second album.
From the artwork through the songwriting, Coldworker seem to be doing everything backwards. Though they churn out a solid mix of death metal and grindcore, the songwriting lacks even the rudimentary hooks that made The Contaminated Void a decent if only occasional listen. There are no hummable “Return to Ashes” or “They Crawl Inside Me Uninvited” style songs to be found here with the possible exception of “Citizens of the Cyclopean Maze,” a pinch harmonic, fluid solo frenzy that breaks up the otherwise faceless blast blast blast, chug chug chug dynamic of Rotting Paradise. It’s all executed solidly and decently produced – from an array of studios across Sweden. Which may be part of the problem because the band doesn’t seem to be on the same page and according to the production credits, were hardly ever in the same room.
Even the art fails to play to the band’s strengths, coming across as ill chosen and derivative. Relapse’s in house visionary, Orion Landau, who crafted the stunning multilayered art for the band’s debut, is back but his best mangled, rotted and eroded images evoke Pig Destroyer rather than creating a unique identity for Coldworker. And his best work is shoved inside the packaging, which is graced with a Job For a Cowboy-lite goatheaded gigolo who looks like an extra from that awful Omen remake.
While it’s good to see Jakobson back in the saddle following his long time songwriting partner’s tragic death, Coldworker’s uninspired mix of classic Swedish death and American “-tion” assault just isn’t enough to reinvigorate a well tread scene the way Nasum (there I’ve said it) kicked grind in the ass. Bands like Cattle Decapitation and Misery Index are confidently working the same territory with much better results and Coldworker just don’t do enough new to hang in a badly worn scene.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

G&P review: Venomous Concept

Venomous Concept
Poisoned Apple
Century Media
According to Poisoned Apple’s seventh track, principle songwriter Shane Embury has “A Case of the Mondays.” Other than affirming his love for the collected works of Mike Judge, the Poison Idea inflected tune (Venomous Concept --> Poison Idea – Get it?) gets to the poisoned apple at the center of the band’s second long player, which never manages to move beyond workaday grumbling into out and out rage.
Embury has rotated to guitar while Danny Lilker has slotted into the bass position after Melvins mastermind Buzz Osbourne bid adieu (and wouldn’t ya know it, after Osbourne buzzed off, the band unleash their most Melvinsy cover art: an Apocalypse Now horroscape of aspoloded, bleeding bunnies that will have your kids checking their Easter baskets for IEDs). Danny Herrera (who unleashes some of his better blasts in recent memory) and Kevin Sharp round out the all star ensemble.
The membership musical chairs has meant a slight change in songwriting. Poisoned Apple sounds like post-Earache Napalm Death (especially the Century albums) gone hardcore. Sharp’s roar is as rasping and forceful as ever, boding well for the rumors Brutal Truth may return to the studio (with Lethargy/Kalibas/Sulaco’s Erik Burke standing in for the MIA Brent “Gurn” McCarty). Sharp and Embury give all the usual suspects a thorough lyrical beatdown: war sucks, conformity blows, jobs – who wants those? Yada Yada Yada. But VC are not meant to be boundary pushers but rather a loving tribute to the crusty hardcore that went before. So keeping in mind these trailblazers' best Lewis-and-Clarking years are behind them, there’s actually an enjoyable if derivative half an hour music to be had here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Dirty (Baker’s) Dozen: Look Back in Anger

When I started this blog six or so months ago, I assumed a real quick countdown list would help me pad out the posts for the five of six weeks, giving me a ready stock of copy to pull from when I couldn’t write something fresh. Here we are half a year later and it’s finally come to an end after I revised, revisited and rethought the countdown I had hastily assembled in advance. Essentially, I thought this list would help me explain to people (if anyone gives a rosy red rat’s posterior) where I was coming from musically, give you some insight into why I’m likely to praise some albums and pan others. But what I didn’t expect was how much I would learn from this process. (I’m about to get selfish and introspective, so deal with it or just skip ahead.) I’ve spent half of my life obsessively following the purveyors of blast beats, greedily hunting down any album with a completely sick song-to-length ratio to add to my collection, and the reflection this last has forced me to over the last few months has not only reaffirmed my love of grind, but forced me to really listen to some of my favorite albums with fresh ears. Try to think back to the first time you threw on your first Napalm Death album (1992—Utopia Banished on the b-side of a friend’s bootleg copy of Suicidal Tendencies’ debut). Or getting your grindcore cherry handed to you courtesy of the medicinal madmen in Carcass. Now that I’m in my 30s, going back and listening to these albums has allowed me to recapture that youthful sense of rage and abandon that made them so vital and so fresh originally. Hopefully you feel the same. If you’re still reading. If you care.
So first, a quick recap:

13. Anal Cunt
Morbid Florist
Grind’s clown princes.

12. Assuck
Misery Index
Sound Pollution
Crucial, punk as fuck metal. [OK, in retrospect Anticapital probably deserves this spot. Fuck it. Buy both. They’re equally awesome.]

11. Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Altered States of America
Technogrind misanthropes, tune in, turn up (the bpms) and drop kick your ass.

10. S.O.B.
Gate of Doom
Toy’s Factory
Grindcore ninja commando team from the land of the rising sun.

9. Siege
Drop Dead
self released
A classic Boston beatdown that laid the cornerstone for the genre.

8. Pig Destroyer
Prowler in the Yard
House band to the stalker convention.

7. Terrorizer
World Downfall
Toca rapido o muerte.

6. Brutal Truth
Sounds of the Animal Kingdom
A graduate degree in grind but plenty of time to smoke up with friends.

5. Nasum
Hellaciously tight Swedish grind saviors and one of metal’s most revered martyrs.

4. Repulsion
Soundtrack to the greatest zombie flick Romero never made.

3. Carcass
Reek of Putrefaction
These medical malpractitioners are more cloned than Dolly the sheep.

2. Napalm Death

And the machine they built still rolls on 20 years later.

The Dirty (Baker's) Dozen 1: Discordance Axis

Discordance Axis
The Inalienable Dreamless
Hydra Head
America stood rigid in awestruck carbonite for a few days in 2001. And for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with disaffected Middle Eastern men who unfortunately take their imaginary friend’s advice about air travel. Maybe The Inalienable Dreamless’ impact was quite as seismic culturally as the Sept. 11 attacks, but Discordance Axis’ farewell platter reverberated throughout the grindcore underworld. Seven years after their demise Discordance Axis still stands as the almost Platonic ideal of grindcore
Siege laid the groundwork, Napalm Death gave the scene a name and a defining sound, Carcass remains one its most beloved progenitors, but Discordance Axis perfectly embodies all that grindcore was and everything it could be. If I could only introduce somebody to grind through one album, it would be The Inalienable Dreamless.
Just as America was about to embark on a pair of poorly conceived wars, Discordance Axis left the trappings of grindcore history – rants against military and political shenanigans that had gone stale in the 14 years since Mick Harris thumped out the first blastbeat.
Lead off track “Castration Rites” hands you your nuts in a minute burst of piranha blasts, midalbum standout “Jigsaw” sputters and starts like a warped bit of machinery and penultimate bruiser, the aptly titled “A Leaden Stride to Nowhere” delivered just that, a five minute trudge unlike anything the band ever put to tape (with the exception of the space opera “Berzerk” on the three way split with 324 and Corrupted).
Instead of cliché ridden diatribes Jon Chang’s confident lyrics stripmined Japanese culture, particularly manga and anime, using cartoon metaphors to cloak weighty meditations on loneliness, insecurity, despair and paranoia, crafting an intensely personal brand of grind that has yet to be even equaled let alone surpassed.
Though The Inalienable Dreamless is arguably the greatest burst of grind set to silicon (hell, I’m arguing it right here), Discordance Axis just never cracked the wider metal scene to garner the attention they deserved. But that quietly building cult status may be part of the band’s charm and enduring appeal. It’s winning the golden ticket to tour Chang’s neon lit demimonde.
Of all the bazillion bands and kajillion albums Dave Witte has put his name to, he told me this is his favorite when I interviewed him recently. That’s about the best endorsement you’re gonna get.
“I never had a spiritual connection with a guitarist like I had with Rob [Marton],” he said. A lot of times we’d be jamming and stop together. We were feeling each other out.”
Unfortunately, Marton would develop a nerve condition that would make him extremely sensitive to loud noises – like a top flight grind band jamming in a practice space or shredding a stage during one of their sparsely attended shows.
Though Marton has since recovered and even jammed with Witte, the drummer said the guitarist has little interest in diving back into music full time, so The Inalienable Dreamless will stand as both the band’s tombstone and its milestone.
“I wish the mix and recording was a little different,” Witte said but quickly pushed aside his own quibbles. “That was such an amazing experience.”
"I Will Live Forever – Alone” Chang morosely announced on the back cover of the album’s unique DVD box packaging. He had the first part right. Grinders will be turning to this timeless album for inspiration for decades to come. Discordance Axis will indeed live forever, but the band will be surrounded by adoring fans and far from alone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

G&P review: ASRA

The Way of All Flesh
Black Box Records
ASRA snugs up next to Assück on my MP3 player, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Black Box’s latest grind signing. Not to be confused with the American Recreational Skiing Association or the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, Alleged Satanic Ritual Abuse channel Florida’s finest grinders circa Misery Index, adding in dollops of Discordance Axis, Insect Warfare and maybe just a smidgen of the severely underrated Asterisk*. Not that ASRA can’t mix it up a bit. Putting an exclamation point on this short albums are closers “Loathsome” and “Enclosed Enemy” descant the insalubrious spirits of Earache era Entombed’s thunder and Bolt Thrower’s chug.
The production is punchy and the vocals descend from tonsil grinder Jon Chang screams to the stygian death growl depths that would have done any of the 90’s "–tion" bands proud. Though ASRA ably ape and update classic second run grind, but it’s that death metal core, which peeks through in the longer, sludgier songs that differentiates the band from a bazillion other blast beat freaks weaned on Napalm Death, Repulsion and Phobia.
From Jethaniel Peterka’s beautifully rendered and somewhat blasphemous artwork to the punchy, crunchy mix by Chip Karpells (mixed by the ubiquitous Scott Hull), The Way of All Flesh tidily sews together several by now familiar elements into a fresh and consistently listenable package. Speaking of packaging, as with Tombs, Black Box is selling a deluxe edition that includes The Way of All Flesh on both CD and nice thick clear vinyl (which reminds me of all those Isis remix albums I never listen to).
For a debut album, the way of all this flesh pleases me greatly.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Heavy Metal Sausagefest: A Rant in Dropped D

Call me a PC asshole if you want, but there’s something that’s been seriously annoying the piss outta me lately as metal seems to be trying its hardest to become another bloated, single driven wasteland of focused grouped mall metal chart sludge. There are already too few chicks mixing it up in the metal/punk pit so can we please stop trying to turn them into fucking pin ups. Can we just talking about the fucking music?
What inspired this completely pointless aside was getting stuck in line at an FYE recently. I never read Revolver, cuz, ya know, it sucks the fungus from a hobo’s toes. But trapped in line I noticed the rag proudly announcing its third annual hottest chicks in metal spread. Like pretending to be Maxim is gonna hide the fact that Revolver’s days are numbered once this spate of Wal-Mart approved metal inevitably farts itself out (am I the only one who remembers when oversaturated thrash imploded in 1991?).
We’ve already seen this trend with Fuse’s annoying “Mistress” Juliya Chernetsky, host of Uranium and, briefly, Metal Asylum, who played up her ridiculous wannabe bondage kitten persona as though that made her more “metal.” This is already people’s perception of who we are and it’s really fucking sickening to see that same trite crap being peddled by a magazine that at least likes to pretend it’s in touch with the underground.
And, predictably, a few days after spotting the mag, I get labels like Nuclear Blast sending out breathless press releases announcing “SONIC SYNDICATE's KARIN AXELSSON - ONE OF THE HOTTEST CHICKS IN METAL.” Sure pushing a band as lazy, manufactured and Hot Topic-ready as Sonic Syndicate is a thankless business, but if one member’s looks is the best pitch they have, there must be reason I haven’t bought a single Nuclear Blast album in about five years.
Even Resound, Relapse’s in house catalogue/propaganda mouthpiece has just added a lame ass “Miss Resound” centerfold where sad, tattooed metal chicks pose in carefully obscured wannabe sexAY poses a la Annie Leibowitz for poor rendered black and white spreads with a brief into about HOW TOTALLY METAL! they are.
Surprise, surprise, we’re not putting … how to say this generously? … metal’s less than physically perfect Adonii through the same beauty pageant bullshit treatment. Anybody want to see a spread of Shane Embury or Gene Hoglan half nekkid? Anybody who read Decibel supreme lampooning the whole idea in its August 2007 edition with its disturbing “Hottest Doods in Metal” photo spread knows there’s not enough eye bleach in the world.
I came into all of this from the punk side of the family tree, where female participation was actively encouraged. My musical foundation is underscored by a solid layer of Victoria Scalisi (Damad), Jo Bench (Bolt Thrower), Kirsten Patches (Naked Aggression) and the absolutely raging Alyssa Murry (Disrupt) and I’m encouraged by recent entrants like Gallhammer and Angela Gossow, who can clearly hold her own among the boys. So can we at least pretend we’re not the knuckle dragging basement dwelling troglodytes everyone thinks we (OK that blackmetallers really are)?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

G&P review: Tombs

Black Box Records
A decade into his musical career, we can confirm Mike Hill is Not A Happy Camper. In fact, the guy has a channeled a lifetime of grey skies into some of the most abrasive music burned to disc and scored to vinyl and the beatings have not let up with his latest project, Tombs.
The second gen noise monger has been a busy d00d since dissolving the singularly cathartic Anodyne, debuting three new bands with a fourth – his power violence reunion with Dave Witte – King Generator expected this summer.
But the band at hand, Tombs, almost literally picks up where his previous project, the short lived Versoma with LickGoldenSky six string strangler Jamie Getz, faded out. Swirly riffed lead off track “Fountain of the World 666” captures and extends the vibe of Life During Wartime closer “Come in Alone,” proving nobody kills like a white man from Brooklyn with a guitar and a massive chip on his shoulder. Hill frosts the moody, squonky cake that is “Fountain” with a layer of Slayerish double kick at the end, courtesy of drummer Justin Ennis.
While many of the Tombs tracks were penned for Versoma, the new band is clearly not content to rehash past projects. The songs may roar along a similar rusted, guttered and frazzled subway track for a guided tour of NYC’s benighted boroughs, but overall all Tombs has a much harsher vibe than the astonishingly hummable Versoma work.
Not since Helmet’s Paige Hamilton has a musician funneledthe seething grime and claustrophobia of Scorcese’s festering Big Apple like Hill. Though he has filed down Anodyne’s rougher angles, Hill’s guitar work still creeps along on mathy parabolas of and sine waves of melody and dissonance.
The triple threat songwriter/producer/label owner has more than a little in common with basement lurking isolationist korpsepaint commandos. Though Hill recruits other breathing bodies to round out his sound, his work is always the product of his single, focusesd – but extremely jaundiced – artistic eye. Far from his career’s epitaph, Tombs bodes well for Hill’s progression and I can’t wait to see what emotional graves his robs next outing.
Bonus Review: On a wholly unrelated packaging note, Hill has issued both the Tombs and Asra (more on them soon) albums in deluxe versions that include both the heavy grade vinyl and CD formats for those who may be on the format fence.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

G&P review: Unearthly Trance

Unearthly Trance
I’m still not sure what whacky electrophile Nikola Tesla did to deserve being portrayed by David Bowie in a film as bad as The Prestige, but Brooklyn sludgesters Unearthly Trance hope to at least balance the karmic scales on their fourth platter, Electrocution.
The Serbian tinkerer once predicted he could crack the earth in half if he could find the right frequency, hence the album artwork (how the Maltese Falcon lookalike fits into that, I’m still not sure). And that kind of crust cracking oomph is signature metaphor for the band’s brown note bass workouts.
While not a tremendous leap forward from 2006’s The Trident, Electrocution finds Unearthly Trance striding comfortably through a swamp of Darkthrone iciness, Melvinsly sludge and His Hero is Gone crust, weaving the disparate influences into a seemless whole.
The album’s breakout track is “God is a Beast” – this album’s equivalent of the real life Godzilla nightmare of Sept. 11 that was Trident’s “Wake up and Smell the Corpses.” Despite the song’s title, frontman, magickal misanthrope and principle songwriter Ryan Lipynsky did not pen the tune after perusing Richard Dawkins’ latest tome or wandering into the infamous Pharyngula comment threads. Rather the staggering, creepy crawl tune gets all metaphorical about humanity’s fascination with tossing around the old nuclear pigskin and destroying all life on the planet as we know it. If you're determined to give Allah the finger, I recommend fast forwarding to self explanatory sixth track “Religious Slaves.”
While the album does not make great strides forward considering the band’s past growth from Sunn O))) Jr. drones to crust/black bleeders, Electrocution does feature a few microevolutionary highlights. Lipynsky is clearly much more confident vocally, sliding from buzzing Melvins wail to guttural chug to frostbitten black metal howl seamlessly within songs. Drummer Darren Verni is determined to kick sludgy doom out of its accustomed torpor. Lead off track “Chaos Star” kicks all denim vest and bandana with thrashtastic double bass work and “The Dust Will Never Settle” leaps out of the gate at hardcore tempos that would make Tomas Lindberg smile before coursing straight into full on blast beats toward the end.
In all, Electrocution is an admirable slice of crust punk sludge and doom that charges and crackles like a Tesla coil straight through to closer "Distant Roads Overgrown" with its magnificent climbing staircase riff and electrified fuzz out denouement.