Friday, July 31, 2009

How Swede it is (The Punk Years): Anti Cimex Part 2

Anti Cimex
Absolut Country of Sweden
Discharge may have declared they were “Born to Die in the Gutter,” but that was less a cri de coeur than yet another set piece to indict a British society still hung up on Victorian notions of class and propriety. After a short hiatus, 1990 saw Anti Cimex step back into the limelight and out from under Discharge’s lengthy shadow on comeback album Absolut Country of Sweden, less a political manifesto than a realization that the apocalypse will come at an individual scale. Absolut Country of Sweden found Anti Cimex abandoning even-then stale diatribes against the faceless state in favor of something far more honest and personal.
It’s hard not to be struck by Freke’s wailing that “I won’t sleep alone tonight” on “1990,” which comes lead weighted with a decade’s despair, isolation and desperation. While punk’s inherent fuck you attitude has made it an ideal vehicle for antisocial angst for three decades now, it far too often fails to connect on such an honest emotional level.
That emotional honesty would never have been so effective had Anti Cimex also not broadened their songwriting. The spiraling urgency of “Wheel of Life” is majestic and the intricate intro to “Under the Sun” is remarkably delicate when offset by the overall hardcore brutality. “Rose” reaches deep into punk’s roots to exhume fro-ed out MC5 psychedelia.
Absolut Country of Sweden is an absolut masterpiece from the forefathers of Swedish punk, the emotional and songwriting peak of a career that is directly responsible for an entire country’s ongoing love affair with up tempo hardcore.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Swede it is (The Punk Years): Anti Cimex Part 1

First up, you have no idea how excited this makes me. Regain Records, a label I tend to associate more with Euro death and old In Flames records than gutter punk glory, has snapped up three out of print Swedish crust classics by founding punks Anti Cimex and put them back in circulation. I have been peeing my pants with excitement about this since February when everything was originally slated to hit stores only to watch with dismay as the release dates got shoved further back and two previous orders were cancelled. Even when the release date in June came and went a couple of these albums were still trapped in back order limbo (the Wolfpack reissues that I wanted to include with this have been shoved back into August and I’m not holding my breath Regain will meet that date either). But oh, were the Anti Cimex albums ever worth every minute of kid-before-Christmas anxiety.
Swedish punk begins here.

Anti Cimex
Anti Cimex
This is ground zero for all of Swedish hardcore.
Anti Cimex, named for a pest control company, is the kind of band for which terms like crucial were coined. Short of the Ramones, Black Sabbath and Napalm Death, I’m at a loss to think of a band that has had a more profound impact on a musical scene. For those of us who can’t claim to own an original copy of the seminal Raped Ass EP (my excuse is I was four and living in the frozen hellscape of North Dakota at the time, which may explain my Swedish fetish, come to think of it), Regain has smartly reissued this collection of early works by the masters, the Rosetta stone of Scandi-crust.
This eponymous collection is Anti Cimex at the peak of their Discharge influence, Ds get beaten and the guitars can barely be contained by the cheap studio job. The early songs are a sonic safari of stampeding wildebeest drums being harried by the kind of rabid wasp guitars Unseen Terror would perfect. And all of that is just a pedestal to display Tomas “Freke” Jonsson’s vodka scarred crocodilian roar.
The songs all touch on the inspirational Brits’ wellworn themes on “Cries of Pain,” “Warmachine” and “Victims of a Bombraid” (or as Freke’s accent puts it, “weektims of a bombraid”). But even when Anti Cimex were beholden to Discharge (and to a lesser extent Amebix’s biker bar ambience), songs like “Smell of Silence,” with its Wayne Kramer freakout guitars, presaged the band’s incredible growth. The guitar trills and cymbal runs of the slow motion collapse of “Painkiller” already showed the kind of songwriting chops the band sprout later.
At time furious, hilarious and unexpectedly deft musically, Anti Cimex and contemporaries like Totalitar built on Discharge’s foundation, assembling the pieces that would become the Swedish punk of Disfear, Acursed, Avskum and a host of others.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Catheter

Preamble to Oblivion
The younger siblings to contemporaries like Assuck, Phobia and Excruciating Terror, Catheter were part of America’s second wave of grindcore, playing a crustier, more brutal style that seemed to be a deliberate reaction to the increasingly overproduced and metallic progression of Napalm Death and Carcass.
Though still intermittently active (including an appearance at the recent Maryland Deathfest – for more complete coverage see here and here), Catheter like World Downfall, Phobia and Agathocles before them tend to specialize in EPs and splits, having turned in only two solo longplayers in the last 19 years. Full length debut Preamble to Oblivion was a punk as fuck assault straight from the mean streets of Denver that wore its cred dangling from its wallet chain.
Powered by a Pete Pontikoff-style hardcore bark and rusted Folgers can snare drums songs like the gang chorused “Free Will” are a revolutionary call to arms that should be mandatory listening around the July 4th grill.
Catheter are masters of the elusive ability to imbue dozens of grind songs (SelfMadeGod’s reissue includes 10 bonus tracks) with a distinctive vibe that separates them from the blastbeat pack whether it’s the desert wind dervish of “Halo of Flies,” the brooding drums of “803” and the crackled static bass wall of “Doom Planet.” While Preamble’s blasts get thoroughly beaten, Catheter also swing with the crusty end of the doom continuum reigned over by Grief (“Chad” even swipe’s that band’s loping gait from “Earthworm”). “Korn Biscuit” even crashes to a close with a jazz swing pimp strut.
Repping the 303 since 1997, Catheter’s debut full length is a vital restatement of the punk ethos that drives grind and makes it unique from its metallic cousins. Preamble to Oblivion is just that because everything that came after was laid to waste.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

G&P Review: Resistant Culture

Resistant Culture
All One Struggle
Seventh Generation
It’s good to know your strengths. Case in point, Resistant Culture specialize in tribally bolstered crust grind. Nowhere in there would you read the members boasting any particular marketing acumen. Turns out the band quietly released their second long player, All One Struggle, (third if you count 2003’s Ancient Culture, put out under the name Resistant) back in October but never bothered to tell anyone until ads started popping up in your favorite metal glossies recently for their impending tour with Hellbastard. But all that really amounts to me bitching about them being too DIY and not conforming to today’s overly commercial metal scene – like that’s a bad thing.
With All One Struggle Resistant Culture focus more on their crust and punk influences than on grind-inflected that characterized Welcome to Reality, one of Jesse Pintado’s final recordings. Remaining guitarist Katina steamrolls any notion that Pintado’s absence represents a setback for the band within the opening 20 seconds, filigreeing a guitar whorl within the first bars of “Beneath the Concrete” before laying into the jackhammer tone that dominates All One Struggle.
In the band’s trademark use of sampled tribal chants and native instruments is back on display with greater (“Beneath the Concrete”) and lesser (“Mending the Hoop”) degrees of success. Resistant Culture also forage new territory on All One Struggle with the Amebix-ized Moonspell goth gloom of “Runaway.”
The only knock I can lay on the album is with Tony Rezhawk. The guy could give postgraduate grind seminars on balancing power and clarity in your vocal performance. Lyrically, the same themes of environmental stewardship and tribal autonomy get another once over, but All One Struggle largely lacks the kind of singalong hooks that made Welcome to Reality stand out. That aside, Resistant Culture further refine their unique attack on All One Struggle, but the man's passion for native causes remains as focused and powerful as ever. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dig out some back issues of Jason Aaron’s Scalped.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Assault

H:G Fact
Are you like me? Do you obsessively read Jon Chang’s liner notes for the Discordance Axis albums and become enraptured in his thoughts on font? The guy wrote a song called “Typeface,” f’chrissake. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s ever geeked out on font design and what it says about us and how they can manipulate our mindset. (C’mon raise your hands if you’ve watched Helvetica or if it’s still bouncing around your Netflix queue somewhere). Such is the power of the visual art, eh, Sunyata?
The point of all that being, I bought Assault’s self titled album a few years back completely unheard for two simple reasons: it’s Japanese and the interesting typesetting looked like something Chang would cook up (it’s not) considering his visionary design work for bands like 324 and Asterisk*.
I may have been wrong on the art, I was right to trust my instincts when it comes to the Japanese. Assault revel in the strain of no bullshit hardcore that will never go out of style as long as there’s a pissed off teen in a basement somewhere. No experimentation, no chug-a-lug breakdowns, just furious punk storming straight ahead. The songs have some metallic heft to them and just a sheen of melody in spots (“Method’s” moody opening) but they’re assaulted with reckless, energetic abandon that prizes punch over precision. Bullet-belted and leather pantsed guitarist Osamu looks like he stepped out of a bad Possessed or Destruction cover band circa 1991 while Kaoru slaps away at bass strings that sound like slackened phone lines and drummer Kentarou recklessly bangs at his kit. Frontman Satoru has such a charming Engrish delivery as he barges through a song like “Victims for Jackyls” (or “Veectimsssssaahhhhhh for Jackuuuulssaaahhhhhh”) that you can’t help but bang along.
Assault hit it and quit it in an easily digestible 20 minutes that makes multiple rotations of head down bangers like “Go for Lust” and the Motorhead-inflected “Object of the Attack” mandatory.
I know nothing about either the band or the album beyond that. It’s Japanese; it’s hardcore; it makes me smile.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

G&P Review: Magrudergrind

It’s hard to picture Norwegian black metal evolving as it did were it not for its fog-wrapped forests and ice-floe choked fjords as a backdrop. And we never would have been blissfully pummeled by the nihilistic machinery of Godflesh if the industrial clang and smog-choked atmosphere of Birmingham hadn’t weighed upon Justin Broadrick so oppressively.
My point being, grindcore tends to lack a sense of place. It’s either involved with issues too macro (war, destruction, government malfeasance) or too micro (just how many severed cocks can you cram in a suppurating pussy?) to take notice of its surroundings and draw inspiration from its own neighborhood.
None of that would have occurred to me were it not for Magrudergrind whose eponymous second album and Willowtip debut so perfectly encapsulates D.C. – a schizophrenic city that’s both overwhelmingly poor and black and at the same time home to the nation’s white (in every sense of the word) halls of power. But the trio of Avi Kulawy (vox), R.J. Ober (guitars) and Chris Moore (drums) thoroughly capture the city’s vibe on a sample-laced album that touches on themes of gentrification (“Fools of Contradiction”) and the divide between D.C.’s Fedland core and its impoverished southeastern swath (“The Price of Living by Delinquent Ideals”). Even the elegiac and stirring “Martyrs of the Shoah,” the last true song on the album, comes off as downright prophetic after a geriatric bigot from the burbs decided to shoot up the Holocaust Museum to impress the RaHoWa retards back home.
Sonically, everything is polished to a sheen courtesy of producer Kurt Ballou and mastering by Scott Hull (who selected the band for his This Comp Kills Fascists throwback) as Magrudergrind blast through half an hour of ferocious punk at the nexus of grind and power violence. The Magruders do throw the occasional curve ball with the slow kindling “Bridge Burner” or the hometown shout out, white boy funk of “Heavier Bombing” that’s one Chuck Brown cameo short of perfection.
This is the sound of band coming into their own, kicking back with a half smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl and deciding to pen a love note to the city.

[Full disclosure: Willowtip graciously provided me with a review copy.]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Selfhate

At the Beginning God Created Fear
Self Hate did for Polish grind what Vader were for the country’s death metal rep. At the Beginning God Created Fear is a remarkable time capsule of mid-’90s grind, a cross pollination of Scum and Jouhou that rolls in Horrified’s signature rattling bones and open grave fetor production style.
At the Beginning God Created Fear is a time capsule from an era when grindcore was still a jumped up hybrid of thrash and hardcore that had yet to firmly establish its boundaries and rules. Self Hate lard their blast beat onslaught with nods to European thrash that could have been swiped from just about any early Kreator album such as the stop, start cymbal grabs of “Na Naszych Oczach” or the double kick pitting of “Exterminacja.” At the same time, At the Beginning straddles the line of what we would consider modern day grindcore as Self Hate staggers through the alternating vodka stumble and exfoliating blast wail of “Mundurowe Swinie” and brute bullishness of “Experyment.” “Zaraza” even plays out like an extended, two minute cut of Discordance Axis’ “Dystopia,” complete with Jon Chang bitch screams.
Poland has proven itself to be a grindcore powerhouse in the 21st Century looking back with trad bruisers like Exit Wounds and laying claim to new terrain with grindonauts Antigama, but the country’s contributions to grind go back even further with Self Hate holding a proud place as gatekeepers.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

G&P Review: Jesus Crost

Jesus Crost
Bones Brigade
There’s no drum machine in Jesus Crost’s arsenal but the Dutch duo channel the mechanically-enhanced vibe of recent Agoraphobic Nosebleed or Enemy Soil on Tot. Even the artwork has a Prosthetic Cunt’s Eurotrash cousin vibe to it. But nope, no drum machine. Just a guy in a lucha libre mask who calls himself 10 beat blasts in time with a guitarist known only as 13.
While Jesus Crost, on balance, may not have honed their songwriting chops to the scalpel edge of the aforementioned, Tot boasts a raw, wood shop guitar tone and “Geheimfavorit” could have been lifted off of just about any era Enemy Soil 7-inches. There are other flashes that hint at the band’s gestational potential to grow into a respected player in the Euro grind realm as well. The bouncing opening of “Der Schnock” will get your wooden shoes tapping and “Milevsky” slo-mo wades through 30 seconds of the same quicksand murk that defined Nasum’s “The Final Sleep” before being tattooed by relentless blastbeats.
Things do go off the rails late in the album, though. The band squander whatever good will they’ve accumulated, unfortunately, as they close out their album anticlimactically with their live appearance at the 2008 Obscene Extreme Festival, 10 minutes of the worst live recordings you’ve ever heard. Seriously, the first couple of listens, I actually thought it was some sort of lofi electronics dickery.
But that’s easily ignored. While Jesus Crost may need to invest in a better live sound engineer, Tot shows the band already has a confident handle on its studio sound.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Slight Slappers

Slight Slappers
Tomorrow…Will the Sun Shine Again?
H:G Fact
The line “Tomorrow, will the sun shine again?” appears in Ryuhei Kitamura’s 2002 execution gone wrong flick Alive (itself based on a manga by Tsutomu Takahashi). I don’t know if there’s any direct connection between that and this platter of exquisite punk noise from Japan’s finest purveyors of power violence, but I just thought I’d throw it out there.
Everything about Tomorrow is raw, with a blown out production that highlights every pick squeal and cracked cymbal crash, but Slight Slappers manage to fight through that skateboard injury sound to craft genuinely hummable tunes. If the scabs were scraped off of “The Ocean, August and Blue Memories” and the song was re-recorded with cleaner guitars, it easily could be the hook for one of those annoying Carnival cruise commercials and just maybe they could stop abusing Iggy Pop’s junky odes.
For an album that’s less than a dozen minutes long, Tomorrow is laced with those kinds of touches. The headlong punk of “Sweet Box” drones off into a swirling melodic maelstrom that in turn segues into the bouncing faux-pop opening of “Flystar.” But the pinnacle of the Slight Slappers’ distorted melodi-punk approach is the close out title track, another commercial jingle candidate as performed by a power saw quintet with gently draped guitar lines of the sort Ben Carr bangs out with regularity.
Man is the Bastard famously coined the term West Coast Power Violence, but if they’d taken a moment to look to their right, there was another potent power violence storm brewing just across the ocean.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Apartment 213

Apartment 213
625 Thrashcore
Apartment 213’s “Kill for Christ” is the single most perfect power violence song ever recorded east of the Mississippi. The implacable mid-tempo stomp is like being stalked by Jason Voorhees; the foreboding bass never alters its tempo but you know somehow it’s gaining on you no matter how fast you run. Then the machete-like lead riff comes slicing through your body from a direction you never expected. The sludge menace and audible violence of that song alone perfectly embody everything power violence strove for.
And that’s just the second song on these Cleveland bruisers’ 40 track discography, collecting the early works of one of only two bands to get Eric Wood’s rare imprimatur as genuine power violence (the other being The Endless Blockade). Hell, the entire affair kicks off with one of the most beautifully unhinged phone messages ever captured by recording technology.
Like Macabre before them, Apartment 213 had a fixation with serial killers, especially mid-90s Midwestern freak Jeffrey Dahmer (duh) through the métier of unhinged punk and the kind of gutter psychosis that would have Henry Rollins curled up under his bed with a teddy bear. The awesomely named Steve Makita sounds like a power tool, some steel cased, heavy duty model with a ground plug and frayed wiring.
Being a discography, the sound quality varies wildly, but the rough edges only lend more menace to gut punches like “Dissection” or “Two by Four Crucifixion.” he band have also recorded one full length and a less than satisfying split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, but the discography shows Apartment 213 at their rawest, a young band raging against the stultifying boredom of the Midwest. It’s enough to make someone go on a killing spree.