Saturday, June 28, 2008

G&P review: GridLink

Amber Gray
Hydra Head
You have only one question, if you’re anything like me: Is this the second coming of Discordance Axis? The short answer, no.
While GridLink, Jon Chang’s latest grind outing following seven years of silence since DA’s legendary The Inalienable Dreamless, superficially traffics in the same microbursts of rabid grind that were his former cohorts’ stock in trade, don’t mistake this twitchy beast for a guy rehashing his salad days.
All caffeine and wasabi, cyberpunk tropes by way of Masamune Shirow manga and PlayStation RPGs, GridLink carries over many of Chang’s favored themes, but set against altogether burlier music, an earthier, rawer assault than the silicon smooth Discordance Axis
Despite a few similarities, GridLink emerges as its own critter in just a few listens to this 12 minute, 11 trackm which neuroshock takes its name from British cyberpunk Neal Asher’s 2001 debut novel, a rather hackishly written mash of William Gibson retread and Dune space opera notable only for an alarming prevalence of grammatical errors in a professionally edited tome. (Seriously, were all the good Snow Crash references already taken, Chang?) But none of that matters when the spiraling, receding riff that closes the Final Fantasy VII-inflected “The Jenova” invades your ear holes and starts overwriting your DNA.
Where Rob Marton’s riffs were slick grindcore starfighters, guitarist Matsubara’s songsmithing is far more insectile and predatory, angular lower register assaults studded with spikes and gnarls. Under that, drummer Bryan Fajardo favors staccato patterns with copious snare drum rolls. As always, Chang’s vocal scrapings, staying well in the upper octaves the whole outing, cut through the racket like the death wail of a rusted out mech.
After spending the better part of the last decade dabbling in anime and video game production, Chang has found the will to grind again, may the Matrix be praised. GridLink, like the molar loosening thrash piss take Hayaino Daisuke that proceeded this year, prove the man still sits atop the roster of hot shit console cowboys running cyberspace.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

G&P review: Agenda of Swine

Agenda of Swine
Waves of Human Suffering
Fuck Nancy Pelosi and all of those touchy-feely squishy liberals in Congress these days. Bay area bruisers Agenda of Swine hearken back to the days of blue collar, brass knuckled union Democrats who believed in economic justice for all and weren’t afraid to employ tactics a mite more forceful than an angry speech on the House floor.
Benumb alums Pete Pontikoff and John Gotelli are back and thrashing like a maniac with their latest project.
These sheet welding union agitators fuse hardcore bark and urgency with Slayer and Sepultura-style thrash reinvigorating the best of both scenes.
Gotelli also anchored grind crew Vulgar Pigeons with Pontikoff’s brother, Paul, but here he puts his best feet forward, showcasing some of the sweetest double bass work outside of 1987 and providing a solid foundation for guitarists Jason Behan and Jeff Lenormand’s King/Hanneman-inflected trade off riffs and solos. Pay particular attention to mid-tempo crusher “Eradication of the Seeds of Purity’s” slide into the feral “End of All Ends” at the album’s midpoint both chronologically and emotionally.
You can practically feel the spittle flying off of Pontikoff’s lips as he bulldogs his way through the album’s 12 tracks, bellowing his hardcore bark as he raves against the World Bank, free trade and anything else that diminishes the earning power of the American worker. It's that singular focus on the intersection of politics and the average American's wallet that separated Benumb from the nameless packs of Napalm Death soundalikes and that unique visions carries over with Agenda of Swine.
Rather than the unintelligible yelp of Benumb’s first few recordings or the monotonous growl of final full length By Means of Upheaval, Pontikoff has finally found the balance between power and clarity, roaring with an intelligible force and pushing himself dynamically to truly make the vocals an asset to the songs.
This isn’t just a metal tour de force culling the best aspects of grind, thrash and hardcore; this is throwback union agitprop. Somewhere Dustbowl troubadour Woody Guthrie is smiling.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Carcass Word of the Day Calendar: June 22, 2008

Spitting LSD on unsuspecting people as a DIY form of MKULTRA is an idea so twisted Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, who was cuckoo for acid puffs, would smile in approval. Carcass drummed up this particular electric Kool-Aid acid test on Necroticism with the ditty “Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition” where they unleashed some particularly clever adjectives on an unsuspecting world.

Officinalimmiscible compounds are mixed
A gagging expectorate of lysergic acids
Premensely emerced, consciousness slowly strips
Percolated in an ebriating narcosis
Cataleptic … Imbibe … Neutropsick
Neurally numbed a narcosis so trans-lucid
So pernicious hallucinogenics
Procreating ocular contortion
Your idiosyncrasy is now expropriated
Extirpation … Mind … Termination

Officinal – adj. Kept in stock in a drug store.
Immiscible – adj. Incapable of being mixed.
Expectorate – n. Spit or phlegm.
Premensely – Not actually a word as far I can tell.
Emerced – Also not a word I can find.
Ebriating – Shortened version of inebriating.
Catalpetic – adj. Paralyzed, in a condition associated with catatonic schizophrenia.
Neurotropic – adj. Having an affinity for nerve tissue and cells.
Pernicious – adj. Causing harm.
Expropriate – v. To take from someone’s possession for one’s own use.
Extirpate – v. To totally remove as by pulling from the roots.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

G&P review: Threatener

The Hammering, the Fastening and the Bending of Throats
625 Thrash
Choruses are overrated. As are verses, bridges, and other traditional songwriting fuckery. Instead, Threatener trimmed all of the fat from their songs, allowing them to cram 47 fricken tunes and four radio promo spots into 28 minutes for this excellent retrospective.
These Ann Arbor stooges worked the twitchy pulsed demimonde between hardcore and straight out grind between 2003 and 2007, specializing in seconds long jabs to the kidneys. With songs this short, picking out individual tracks to highlight is pointless, but instead The Hammering functions as one relentless beatdown. For being recorded at different times, the songs have a seemless quality to their production, even the live tracks performed for WCBN (four little letters that gave frontman Roderick McClain tongue twisters between songs).
Throw in a three ’graph story that sounds like it could have broken free from the dark cellar where J.R. Hayes chains his insecurities, and you’ve got a tidy little package, courtesy of the excellent 625 Thrash, which is quickly making a name for itself snapping up obscure bands whose back catalogues deserve to see the light of day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

G&P review: Infect

Complete Discography 1998-2003
625 Thrash
If you thought the only banging things to come out of Brazil were Sepultura, Ratos de Parao and Gisele Bundchen’s ass, then a listen to Infect discography is in order.
Compiling everything this all estrogen quintet set to tape during their five year lifespan, Complete Discography will not send your eardrums into spasms for its originality, but Infect snarled tune after tune of extremely well played hardcore. Napalm Death and Infest (only one letter off!) get inspirational shout outs in drummer Estela Homem’s liner notes and both of those influences are pronounced. But Infect, vocally especially, can also sit comfortably along side Antischism and Naked Aggression and just a touch of Melt-Banana.
I left my Portuguese phrasebook in my other pants, but I can make a fairly educated guess as to the topic of songs such as “Homofobia,” “Sociedade Masculina” and “Classe Dominante.” (Helpful translations are offered for curious Anglophones.) It also doesn’t hurt to note that these ladies’ anger, coming from a country noted for periodic political strife and extreme class stratification tends to make the rants of spoiled middle class American punks seem a tad bratty by comparison.
One fairly interesting detail to note is that instead of lining all the songs up chronologically, as with other discographies, Infect group multiple versions of the same song together, allowing to watch “Assessino,” “Se Aceite” or “Sendo Fogo” progress from demos to more robust and well rounded productions. The watery tune “Nova” helpfully comes labeled with “smashed,” “crashed” and “thrashed” versions.
Infect didn’t stray farm from hardcore’s well worn grooves: guitars scramble, drums pound out near-blast beat tempos and screams range from throaty diatribes to full on slasher film victim screeches. But Infect prove that teen aggression, political frustration and loud music are universal statements no matter the language.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

G&P review: Crom

Hot Sumerian Nights
Underdogma Records
By Mitra, but it does my soul good to see these power violence barbarians Crom astride the lands of Hyboria again. After a seven year sojourn through Zingara, Shem and benighted Stygia where dusky skinned sorcerers make foul offerings to slithering gods, Crom return, having enlisted two more vagabonds in their freebooter brotherhood.
The might of their steely thews wields a broadsword of power violence, decapitating foes with thrash pillaged from the decadent Kingdom of Bay Area, before crushing the fallen under the metal shod hooves of a galloping charger named Iron Maiden. A soupcon of black metal alchemy wreathes our heroes’ legs like a foul wind from the blood pits of Thulsa Doom (who crossed swords with Kull the Atlantean but never met Conan in the R.E. Howard canon, it must be noted for +10 nerd points).
Overall, Hot Sumerian Nights stretches its mighty legs further than 2001’s Cocaine Wars, but the ratio of filler to actual songs has slipped a little out of whack. You’ll have to sit through two bombastic, deconstructed intro pieces before the first actual song, “Wee Hours of the Snowgoat” strangles the serpent Set with black metal rasp and some severely creeptastic exhalations. Despite their ubiquity, Crom’s choice of samples is inspired, with the expected Conan lifts before driving the Bad Brains, Warren Zevon and horrible ’80s piano ballads before them and listening to the lamentations of their women. But the songs that are there are a stone delight. Karl Sanders would probably sacrifice a nut to shadowy powers from beyond for the arabesque scrollwork riffs that lace the titular track before it heaves its way into the enVenomed follow up, “Worms of the Earth.”
While it’s great to have Crom, who injected some much needed levity into the oh-so-serious power violence scene in the ’90s return, the production is a little too crisp and the samples too overpowering at times, burying an album that could easily rival Cocaine Wars or even Lair of the Minotaur under layers of distracting noise.
Crom have indeed returned (also look for them on the upcoming This Comp Kills Fascists album), though a decade older, a little flabbier and slower by a step. But they could easily lace up their fur trimmed boots and regain their fighting form. All it takes is a barbarian training montage.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

As the Drum Machine Rolls On: How Enemy Soil Broke New Grindcore Ground

I don’t know if faux filmmaker Marty DiBergi has ever met Enemy Soil, but he would certainly be impressed by Richard Johnson’s punctuality.
I hit up the former Enemy Soil/current Drugs of Faith axe master to talk about Relapse finally reissuing Casualties of Progress, ES’ signature EP and the guy responded to my lazy email in less time than it takes to get a pizza delivered. Problem was I wasn’t expecting that kind of promptness and my copy of Casualties was still stuck in FedEx hell. So some of the questions I send over just to get the convo started were woefully misinformed. Luckily, Johnson is good natured enough to put up with my crap and cheerfully shared insights into what made one of grind’s more interesting pioneers tick.
Casualties of Progress, regarded has a high point in Enemy Soil’s catalogue and a watershed for drum machine grind, has gone in and out of print over the last 14 years. The band’s most highly regarded release was the only thing left off the Smashes the State discography collected by Bones Brigade a few years ago. Stuck in reissue limbo, Relapse finally had the good sense to bring it back into its active catalogue.
“Well, Relapse repressed it several times, I think at least three, back in the ‘90s,” Johnson said. “So it’s not like they wanted it to go away. It was supposed to appear on their Single Series, so they asked us to keep it off the discography, but they seem to have abandoned that series over the years. So it’s time for it to come out again.”
Though he refers to it in the liner notes of Smashes the State as “the infernal machine,” Enemy Soil was inextricably linked to machine percussion throughout its seven year existence and laid the groundwork for the thriving blipcore grind scene flourishing. Even J. Randall, who tagged team with Johnson on Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s best album to date, sang Enemy Soil’s trailblazing praises in the liner notes to the Casualties reissue. While industrial artists such as Justin Broadrick bravely liberated the drum machine from the bowels of disco’s doldrums, Enemy Soil was among the first grinders to really recognize its potential to spit out insanely fast beats.
“We had a drummer when we first started the band and wrote our first songs with him. But that didn’t work out, and eventually I bought a machine so we could record as we couldn’t find a drummer in Sterling, Va. I finally ran across Brian Harvey [who hooked up with another ES alum, J.R. Hayes, to form Pig Destroyer with Scott Hull] as we worked together at a grocery store in the early ’90s,” Johnson said.
“It never grew on me, but I was able to work with it. Early on I wasn’t concerned with whether a person could reproduce live what I was programming but I think I toned that down over time. We were always associated with a drum machine, even after we were playing shows with live drummers.”
Though Enemy Soil, with its Spinal Tap-ian (two references in one article!) rotating cast of characters finally retired the drum machine a decade ago, Johnson was drafted to round out Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s all star drum machine roster (Hull, Randall, and Prosthetic Cunt’s Carl Schultz), joining forces with artists whom he himself had inspired.
“Actually, I’ve taken away a lot from ANb in terms of my vocal style, but at the same time, Enemy Soil was one of the bands that inspired Scott Hull to go for it with a machine for ANb,” Johnson said.
A decade and a half after its first pressing, the guitarist who shattered percussion boundaries still happily stands by the scrappy 7” that set grind on its ass and opened up new avenues to blast beat exploration.
“Hearing it now, it sounds very primitive to me, partially because of the production. Later on we leaned how to add more musicality and more range with the riffs, which improved the music, but there’s also nothing wrong with what we were doing at the time, wearing our influences on our sleeves and cranking the machine up,” Johnson said. “If there’s only a few releases from the band that are essential, I think this is one of them.”
In a familiar motif, Johnson’s current project, Drugs of Faith, is in the hunt for a drummer. Luckily the guy knows his way around a drum machine.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

G&P review: Enemy Soil

Enemy Soil
Casualties of Progress
J. Randall knows his way around a drum machine, so when he gushes about the importance of Casualties of Progress in the reissued album’s liner notes, ya kinda take that shit seriously. ANb’s resident misanthrope mouthpiece dubs this nine track collection of groundbreaking drum machine grind from 1994 “an unsung hero, a wartime casualty, loved/known by a few.” Talk about damning with faint praise.
Relapse has finally gotten off of its collective ass to reissue Casualties of Progress, Enemy Soil’s signature EP with a handful of bonus tracks, which was absent from the Smashes the State discography on Bones Brigade.
This 15 minute collection, featuring four songs (including a Napalm Death cover) not on the original 7”, pulled together by Richard Johnson and tag team partner Mason (Initial State) is a historical revelation. Until then, drum machines had been the province of bad dance music and the occasional industrial visionary, but no one had really harnessed its blast beat potential. Enemy Soil specializes in the kind of 60 second electrostatic jabs to the ’nads “a few bad apples” delicately applied to Abu Ghraib prisoners in all of our names.
Many of these songs have been released elsewhere and collected on Smashes the State, but Casualties of Progress boasts some of the best production of the band’s short and varied career, courtesy of Relapse’s deep pockets and sonic guru Scott Hull’s deft remastering job that gives the tracks plenty of depth and clarity without sanding down the raw edges that make grind work.
Like the killer sampler that kicks off “Group Think” says, “what’s gonna happen when this war breaks out is the bombers and strangers are gonna fall into each others’ arms and say oh now we have to fall in line behind the president. What I say is this is when we gotta go in the street and shut this country.”
Though it referenced America’s first questionable military foray into the Persian Gulf, it’s just as applicable today. And so is Casualties of Progress.

[Ed.’s note: Not enough to sate your Enemy Soil fix? G&P struck up an email convo with Richard Johnson reminiscing about Casualties of Progress’ reissue. So come back this weekend to learn about the early days of drum machine grindcore from one of its earliest practioners.]