Thursday, January 1, 2009

Harder Core Than Thou 2008

When you get down to it, hardcore is a lot like sex. It’s a pretty simple operation for all the joy it brings us and each new generation is under the mistaken impression that they personally invented it. But it’s that simplicity that keeps it vital. Teen angst + a modicum of musical know how = instant excitement. Just some of us never seem to grow out of it a couple of decades later. Looking back on 2008, here’s hoping I never do. Here are the 10 punk offerings that got the most love and spins from me this year.

10. Early Graves
We: The Guillotine
Metal Blade
If you told me 12 months ago I would lead off a best of countdown of anything with either a metalcore outfit or something off the Metal Blade roster – let alone both – I woulda ROFLMAO in your face. So I guess I better sell off my palm reading business because these light fingered San Francisco musical appropriators Frankenstein together an impressive metal/punk monster by five finger discounting the finest bits of In Flames, Today is the Day and Mastodon and sewing them into a believable whole that nods to its sources without tipping the scales into out and out ripoff.

9. Trash Talk
Trash Talk
Trash Talk
To paraphrase a modern day classic, short, fast and loud is no way to go through life, son. Perhaps the greatest achievement to come from the too brief power violence movement was the reminder that dynamics and *gasp* even slower tempos can be just as effective and intimidating as all the attempts to shatter the sound barrier on instruments. Trash Talk, though they slung plenty of the short, fast and loud on their eponymous third release, they reached their apogee today by swiping Man is the Bastard’s Quaalude stomp. Misanthropy played at cough syrup speeds.

8. King Generator
King Generator
Tank Crimes
Because every countdown list needs a little Dave Witte and Mike Hill. Rounded out by The Process/Shank guitarist Jamie Thomson, the trio blew out speakers with this delightfully (and hopefully deliberately) lo-fi old skool hardcore outing, slavering their way through eight minutes of primo punk lacking in any subtlety but swinging a sack the size of Stephen Colbert’s. Witte and Hill’s drums and bass ooze together into an indistinguishable but palpably percussive mass colored a contusive purple. You see that dog on the cover, rumor has it Thomson grafted its vocal cords into his throat to achieve the perfect punk bark. Nice doggy.
Hill and Witte have this awful habit of dropping bands right when they seem to be on the crest of greatness. Here’s hoping Thomson can wrangle them back into the studio again.

7. Rudimentary Peni
No More Pain
We walked down the aisle to Pachbel’s “Canon in E” at our wedding this year; sadly I couldn’t talk my wife into doing it to Rudimentary Peni’s psychedelic take on the matrimonial standby. Her loss. Nick Blinko et al seem to pop up every three or four years now with a new EP delving into the cobwebbed corners of its infamously unstable frontman’s psyche. Just because anybody with about six months of guitar playing under their bullet belt could master just about any riff from “A Handful of Dust” or the Alice in Wonderland via ZZ Top boogie shuffle of “Doodlebug Baby” in no way impugns the sheer artistry involved. Like Blinko’s obsessively lined black and white artwork, Rudimentary Peni employ the simplest means to achieve transcendence.

6. The Endless Blockade
20 Buck Spin
Vying with Iron Lung for the best nu-power violence (did I just coin yet another awful genre tag?), Toronto’s The Endless Blockade come Man is the Bastard-approved and unlike a lot of those who would aspire to the second gen power violence crown, The Endless Blockade actually channel not only their predecessors’ obsession with setting new land speed records on their instruments, but the top flight band’s penchant for bizarre electronics and other audience-hostile musical measures. Primitive has all that in spades, crushing both The Endless Blockades’ prior efforts and just about all challengers as well. But like Lavar Burton ‘s minions would say, don’t take my word for it, Apoctosis digs this shit too.

5. Iron Lung
Sexless//No Sex
Hulk smash! I double dog dare you not to circle pit in your bedroom as the stompalicious, shout along chorus of the titular track kicks in. It’s astonishing how much noise this duo managed to make and in just a scant 20 minutes. Welding Helmet’s street level thrum to Man is the Bastard’s power violence grooves, Iron Lung, quickly becoming underground darlings, took a Godzilla sized step forward on Sexless//No Sex. Their best written and best sounding effort, Iron Lung lay waste to metropolitan skylines whether they’re idling in first gear or dive bombing in fifth. But it for the awesome Nick Blinko art, stay for the stop shelf power violence beat down.

4. Black Ships
New Romance for Kids
Black Ships are like punk rock comfort food. Being Canuckistani and Quebecois to boot, I assume that’s a giant plate of poutine for them. Black Ship’s greasy plate of gravy and fries is nothing you haven’t heard before, but I doubt you’ll have heard much better. It’s hardcore punk at its most basic but executed with such deft skill and confidence you can’t help but be won over. The band seemed to come out of nowhere this year, first snagging my attention with their crafty Low EP. With two solid and monstrously large sounding releases under their studded belts in just nine months or so in 2008, I can only imagine the kind of delights they’ll unveil in 2009.

3. Trap Them
Seizures in Barren Praise
For an album I still don’t particularly like (I’m more of a Clandestine guy), Entombed’s Wolverine Blues has seeded a new generation of punks that intuitively grasp its mix of death metal chug and rock swing as a tonic to revive a flagging hardcore scene strangled by its own deflated decadence. And Ryan McKinney’s lyrics, scraped like peeling paint in a rotting home from the underside of his psyche, are more effectively horrific than any of the morbid musings or Lovecraftian posturing of any death metal ensemble. Perennial producer and frequent collaborator Kurt Ballou contributes the occasional riff and Sunlight soundalike production to ensure Trap Them razor their way through the growing ranks of also rans jocking the latest it sound.

2. Ghostlimb
Bearing and Distance
Level Plane
Graf Orlock side project Ghostlimb jack their instruments straight into America’s collective id on second EP Bearing and Distrance, deftly sailing the shores of the misty dream country Neil Gaiman chronicled in Sandman. From the artwork and anxious melodic hardcore through the simple but insightful lyrics, crystallizing modern unease in a cultural seemingly awash in plenty but devoid of any true substance or sustenance, a plastic wrapped throw away society quietly strangling in its own detritus. It’s a cartography of isolation and anxiety on the cusp of the 21st Century.

1. Disfear
Live the Storm
Sweden’s self-proclaimed defenders of the d-beat hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing new on their second Relapse effort. Not that I’m complaining.
The quintet merely turned in the single most energetic, tightly written and just plain fucking fun hardcore album of 2008.
Hell, I’m in my 30s and listening to it has me breaking out the air-guitar and –drums and circle pitting like a moron in my living room to my wife's amusement.
We all know Kurt Ballou can produce the hell out of an album when he’s not strangling his own guitar in service of Converge, but he really outdid himself on Live the Storm, his finest studio moment since Jane Doe. I shit you not.
The intro to “Get it Off” could have been lifted from “Welcome to the Jungle” while “Fiery Father” and “Dead Weight” could serve as instructional materials for a course on hardcore singalong songwriting. Hell, all 10 songs on this, including the nine minute closer “Phantom,” perhaps the longest d-beat song in history, are damn near instant classics. The addition of Uffe Cederlund of Entombed fame was a brilliant master stroke and his frenzied soloing and riffing gives Live the Storm a serrated, urgent edge that explodes the songs. It’s like fishing with dynamite but in audio form.
The first new album of 2008 I laid my hands on, Live the Storm has drawn me back time and time again over the last 12 months. For an album that offers pretty much nothing new since Discharge drummer Tezz first fumbled his way around a kit, Disfear’s latest opus proves that conviction and balls out ferocity can still keep hardcore vital well into the 21st Century.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

never looked @ this post before lol nice pick with disfear