Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Grind in Rewind 2009: The Legacy League

Is it just me or has then been a fairly crappy year for punk and hardcore? Given that the pickings are so slim (and that I’ve yet to pick up the new BBTS, Weekend Nachos or Converge), I’m going to crown Wolfbrigade as this year’s prom queen and move on with a special jury prize going to Infernal Stronghold for their frost encrusted... umm ... crust. So in lieu of a d-beat retrospective and before we get to the real countdown, I decided to take a moment out to recognize the geezers of grind: those legacy bands that have been kicking around with greater and lesser degrees of success and decided to either reunite or just drop a new album in 2009.

5. Agathocles
Grind is Protest

In a vain attempt to give the jingoistic hysteria and reflexive racism that characterized post-war American conservatism a patina of intellectual sheen, William F. Buckley wrote in the mission statement to his magazine National Review that the conservative was the person who “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” Agathocles are the very kind of unrepentant liberal agitators that drove Buckley up the wall, but their music is the living embodiment of Buckley’s sentiments. The Belgians stand athwart musical history somewhere around 1989 yelling “Stop!” Grind is Protest is is largely indistinguishable from prior output from the band, and that’s just how they intend it. Mainstay Jan Frederickx has switched from bass to guitar and while some of his riffs may not flow as smoothly as past six stringers, the sincerity of conviction is the same. This may not be Frederickx’s Jericho moment, but it sure sounds like the thinks he can “tear down the walls of the ministries of arms” through grindcore alone.

4. Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Sure, ANb is not quite as legacy as some of those on this list, but with Anal Cunt, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Pig Destroyer, Japanese Torture Comedy Hour and solo work, it seems like Scott Hull has been a vital grind force since time immemorial. And dude is not done pitching curve balls to the slavering masses. Ditto ex-Enemy Soil/current Drugs of Faith mainman Richard Johnson. The lightbulb moment for Agorapocalypse came not when I was listening to the album itself. Rather I was spinning ANb’s cover of C.O.C.’s “Hungry Child” from the Bestial Machinery collection when it struck me: with the longer songs and slower tempos, ANb had just made an electro-crossover record. It was a clever move from cagey veterans who have pretty much defined extremity for grindcore for the last decade. The only thing that really held Agorapocalypse back from ruling my year was the staggering decline in the humor (though I missed the best joke on the album the first go-round). While the split with The Endless Blockade shows J. Randall’s id can be just as twistedly illuminating as ever, it seems like the band took advantage of new singer Katherine Katz and her spare X chromosome to wallow in misogynistic humor with the convenient “hey but we have a woman singer” excuse (close cousin of the “I have black friends” defense). It was an annoying step backwards from a normally stellar band, but one that feels temporary.

3. Extreme Noise Terror
Law of Retaliation

Extreme Noise Terror’s latest slab o’ grindy goodness is a lot like reuniting with a beloved old friend you haven’t seen in ages. While your relationship may have warped during the years of absence and a lot of those stories are starting to blur and sound the same, there’s a convivial familiarity that glosses over those lapses. That’s what frontman Phil Vane brought to the British bastards with his return to the fold. After about a decade of wandering through the metal wilderness (what is it with British grind bands and the need to expand their horizons halfway through their careers?) Extreme Noise Terror locked and loaded more than half an hour of tooth chipping grindcore that may not quite reach their teen angst inception but recalls all those good times you used to have. Sure, your long lost college friend may crash through your coffee table and maybe he’ll miss the can when pukes in your bathroom, but it’s all cool. You’ve got history.

2. Napalm Death
Time Waits for No Slave

Century Media
Napalm Death jettisoned the annoying cameos and noodling experiments that slowly creeped back into their repertoire since signing with Century Media on 13th studio album Time Waits for No Slave, but for all that the album still felt a tad slower less vital than predecessor Smear Campaign. But that’s a relative measure because these Birmingham bastards could write a grind album that slays most comers on their way to breakfast. While Time Waits for No Slave may have dragged in spots, it still feels momentous and even transitional for a band that’s worn many masks through its various incarnations. The flashes of Amebix and even Voivod that have peeked around corners on previous albums have been given free rein on Time Waits for No Slave, the band’s most successful experiment since Fear, Emptiness, Despair. That the lineup of Greenway/Harris/Embury/Herrera, which has been together for nearly two decades, can still find ways to innovate and experiment in a field as self-restricting as grindcore is a welcome cementing of their hard earned pride of place.

1. Brutal Truth
Evolution Through Revolution

There’s a manic, anarchic energy to Brutal Truth’s triumphant victory lap Evolution Through Revolution. It’s as though the Marx Brothers decided to record a grindcore album. It’s a sense of chaos I’ve never really associated with the New York band. For all their far flung experimenting and gallivants to musical extremes, their performance as tightly focused as though they had a need to control (see what I did there?) their surroundings. But Evolution Through Revolution brings the same anarchic body bomb assault that drummer Rich Hoax has been exorcising with Total Fucking Destruction. Don’t discount the introduction of Rochester fixture Erik Burke either. Not too many guitarists could fill Gurn’s pick hand but Burke has been bringing the weird for more than a decade first with Lethargy and then with Sulaco (with a detour to drum for Kalibas between). A pioneering press past what we previously thought was grindcore’s frontier, Evolution Through Revolution is pretty much a masterpiece from a band that’s got an album or two already worthy of the title.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Moment of Shameless Self Promotion

Cosmo Lee over at Invisible Oranges asked me to make him a grind mix tape recently. The mission, he told me, was to put together a list of bands that anyone interested in recent grind should at least be conversant with, barring the kind of huge names that normally get bandied about in your glossier dead tree publications. While I fudged quite a bit (there's about five or six on this list I consider huge names -- at least in humble grind circles), that's the reason people like Pig Destroyer and GridLink are conspicuously absent. You download my compilation over there or here. Yes, I've finally given in to Mediafire, and yes, I'll probably make more use of it in the future.
Below you'll find my selections, which I tried to make as international as possible despite my own Eurocentric tastes. But I'm curious what you would add/delete/argue the relevance of. Give me your list of five recent grind songs you'd pick to woo someone over to the dark side.

1. Mumakil
Customized Warfare
Caustic Rhythms

The Way of All Flesh
United States

3. 324
“Kage Wo Samayou”
Across the Black Wings
HG: Fact

4. Hope Collapse
“Cold Steel Penetrates Your Flesh”
Year of the Leper
United States

5. Rehumanize
“Unitarian Universalist Ungodly”
Resident Apostasy
Open Grave
United States

6. Kill the Client
“Bullet Proof Vultures”
United States

7. The Arson Project
Blood and Locusts
Power It Up

8. Blood I Bleed
“Insensible We Are”
Gods Out of Monsters

9. Keitzer
“Kharkhadan of Nuclear Winter”
As the World Burns
Yellow Dog

10. Drugs of Faith
“The Age of Reason”
2008 Demo
Self Released
United States

11. Wormrot
“Born Stupid”
Scrotum Jus

12. Torture Incident
“Full of Political Bullshit”
The Deadly Efficiency of Napalm
Dark Colliseum

13. Triac
“I Wish the Worst for You”
Blue Room
United States

14. Insect Warfare
World Extermination
625 Thrash
United States

15. Rotten Sound

16. Attack of the Mad Axeman
“Nazi Worms Fuck Off”
Scumdogs of the Forest
Scrotum Jus

17. Noisear
“The Chains That Grind Us”
Pyroclastic Annhiallation
United States

18. Exit Wounds
“Fire at Will”
Exit Wounds
No Escape

19. Expose Your Hate
Black Hole Productions

20. Parlamentarisk Sodomi
“Parlamentarisk Sodomi”
Har Du Sagt "A" Får Du Si "Nal"
No Escape

21. Inertia Kills
“Toy of Leisure”
Tous Des Aveugles
Choking Hazard
2008 (reissued, originally 1995)

22. Graf Orlock
“Captives of the Thuggee”
Destination Time Yesterday
Level Plane
United States

23. Afgrund
Svarta Dagar

24. Blockheads
“Social Fracture”
Shapes of Misery

25. Who’s My Saviour?
“When Magic Turns into Black Plague”
Glasgow Smile
Power It Up

26. Looking for an Answer
Living Dead Society

27. Cyness
“2 Wochen”
Loony Planet/Industreality
Sound Pollution

28. Magrudergrind
“Martyrs of the Shoah”
United States

29. Nashgul
“El Vengador Toxico”
Crimes Against Humanity

30. Asterisk*
“Green Eyed Angel in My Dream”
Three One G

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

G&P Review: Looking for an Answer

Looking for an Answer
La Caceria

Well Helen Keller should have seen this coming. Spain’s Looking for an Answer are practically custom built for Relapse, wielding a bludgeoning brand of grindcore that doesn’t scrimp on the soft tissue trauma. Extincion was easily a highlight of 2008, but now the band has dropped a 7-inch with four new songs (one being a Repulsion cover) on us courtesy of Relapse’s dime and many tentacled distribution muscle that should maybe shove Looking for an Answer under a few more of the right noses.
For all the cash at Relapse’s disposal, La Caceria is actually rougher and more sepulchral than Extincion, which isn’t a bad thing. “Estandarte de Huesos” heaves out of the grave to chew over the politics of the day and possibly your left femur, if you’re not using it. “Supremacia Etica” starts with those snappy cymbal clutches that practically defined early Napalm Death and for which I’m still a sucker. The rest of the song is a high impact cardio routine played on fast forward while being stalked by ominous blasts of perverted bass. That grisly bass grist mill is also the star of the more down dynamic (read: some slower parts) “La Peste Roja,” which sounds absolutely filthy, like these bunny hugging crusaders have been wallowing in slop with the hogs they’d rather you not eat. All of this bass focus makes perfect sense when Looking for an Answer exhumes and reanimates Repulsion’s “Driven to Insanity” as their closer, perfectly aping Scott Carlson’s festering settings, complete with bone saw guitar solo.
This slim tasting platter is a perfect sampler for anybody who hasn’t had the joy of one of grindcore’s rising stars.
Oh, and those homonivorous minotaurs on the awesome, charcoal toned album art? They just want you to know that, no, you cannot has cheezburger.

Friday, December 18, 2009

G&P Review: Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci
At Our Expense!

Bones Brigade
Joe Pesci are funny how? I mean, funny like a clown. They amuse you? They make you laugh? Like they’re fucking here to amuse you? What do you mean they’re funny? How are they funny? How the fuck are they funny? What the fuck is so funny about them? Tell me, tell what’s funny?
Oh, you mean these Brits write grindcore with a sly, sarcastic and at times hysterical sheen? Yeah, I can see that. I mean I giggle at “Sticking My Carbon Footprint Up Your Arse” and “Mindless Zombified Fucks” as much as the next guy. And the grind and audio pastiche of “Beating Robert Mugabe to Death…” is not just an amusing listen but also a nice real world recommendation. Grind-wise, “Project 2501” is a Ghost in the Shell referencing bitchslap that sounds like firing high velocity rounds through a too small breach.
What’s not a laughing matter, unfortunately, is the wildly uneven production that’s rather astonishing for a Bones Brigade release. And that’s where At Our Expense! goes horrifically off the rails. Every great moment the band crafts is smothered under sub-demo quality production. The guitars are heavy but lack any texture or nuance. All that’s left is a slurred mess of indecipherable passing trains roar. There very well may be a killer band under all this muck, but damned if you’ll be able to tell by listening to At Our Expense!
Not Narcosis bad, but that’s a pretty low bar. It’s kind of like saying you’re the tallest guy in Munchkin land. Unfortunately, there’s nothing here Jesus Crost didn’t already do better this year. Turns out it was all at my expense.
For a dissenting opinion, see here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

G&P Review: Squash Bowels

Squash Bowels
Grind Virus

Lucky man that I am, I recently did battle with H1N1, and "Squash Bowels" pretty much sums up how I felt for that week. Not because of the flu, which consisted of a cough, savage fever and a week shambling around the house in a bathrobe like an Ozzy impersonator. No, the intestinal torture was a byproduct of the Tamiflu I was prescribed. What nobody told me was the side effects of Tamiflu include gut wrenching stomach cramps and the kind of projectile vomiting that would do Linda Blair proud.
I would love to have been there for that drug pitch meeting. "Well, we have this amazing flu remedy, but the side effects are worse than having the flu."
Grind Virus, Squash Bowels’ first full length solo effort since 2005’s Love Songs, is a particularly infectious strain because the Polish trio (featuring Arthur, the bass player from Exit Wounds) isn’t determined to break land speed records. Squash Bowels realize it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. So they ease off the accelerate enough to bring the old school crush of Repulsion worshipers Cretin (portions of “Shit Oneself” sound enough like “Cock Fight” a paternity test may be in order) blended with the body horror fixation of Sewn Shut (with whom they’ve shared a split). The loose, relaxed approach gives “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Ass” – a seminar in grindcore songwriting economy – an almost thrashy tinge and spotlights the brain drill attack of “Two Cows and Monkey.” When Squash Bowels do cute loose with the speed, drummer Marius’ crashing, strident style gives the blasting a sense of impact.
In an era of overblown swine flu panic, Squash Bowels are a very effective curative. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting and a profound sense of satisfaction.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Visual Aggression

Shanetera of the awesome Citadel Bloodbeard blog recently scored some sweet art for his banner. Being the generous gentleman he is, he graciously offered to help me over come my ludditism and spruce up the steaming heap of HTML FAIL that is G&P HQ. I think his choice is particularly apropos as one of my favorite all time directors, David Lynch, recently talked about his decision to turn down directing Return of the Jedi in favor the Alan Smithee-credited Dune.
So give the man both a round of applause and click over to his place for some good reading.

G&P Review: Avicularia

Born to be Vile

Croatia Records
The great philosopher Marx – either Karl or Groucho, take your pick – once opined that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce.”
Case in point, back when I was in college a decade ago we were plagued by obnoxious Phish heads who thought they were the reincarnation of the ’60s. As though the decade that gave us the self absorbed shit stains we call the Baby Boomers needed to be revisited. Remember Woodstock 2 and 3? (MTV probably would appreciate it if you didn’t.)
Cheap nostalgia wasn’t the curse of my generation solely. Currently, my wife’s cousin attends the same college I did and she’s walking around dressed like an extra from a John Hughes film with nary a trace of irony as only someone who didn’t actually live through the ’80s could do.
Croatian spider obsessives Avicularia have a serious jones for the ’90s, particularly when death metal face planted into tech. Their sound splits the difference between mid-era Dying Fetus and pre-suckage Cryptopsy (None Born to be More Vile?), pile driving their crunchy death metal peanut butter into the rich, creamy chocolate of technique with some mixed results. You already know what most of Born to be Vile sounds like before note one, horrific typewriter drumming and all.
If Avicularia could keep their eyes front and center, though, they may actually be on to something. A late bloomer of an album, Avicularia chase an intro and five serviceable but unspectacular songs of Nile bombast with two closing mindfucks of vision and accomplishment. The aptly titled “Spiraling Doom” swirls through lightly plucked passages of odd time signatures, creeping arachnid melodies and crashing Neurosis peaks and valleys. Kiss off song “Requiem for Ego” is even more transcendent, one of the best and most engaging death metal songs I’ve heard this year with its piercing, affecting lead guitars, crabbed rhythms and restrained, pounding drumming. Its strength lies in its cleaner, moody bridge that manages to sound both spontaneous and ethereal as it gives way to a vibrant cello conclusion.
There’s no doubt Avicularia is full of talented musicians who can bring a crushing death metal tune. All they need to do now is pull themselves out of the ’90s and start looking forward. The pieces are there and just need the proper alignment.

[Full disclosure: Avicularia kindly sent me a copy of their album.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

G&P Review: Ablach



One summer Earl Thorfinn went raiding in the Hebrides and in various parts of Scotland. He himself lay at anchor off Galloway where Scotland borders on England, but he sent some of this troops south to raid the English coast, as the people had driven all their livestock out of his reach. When the English realized that the vikings had arrived, they gathered together, made a counter-attack, recovered all that had been stolen and killed every able-bodied man among them except for a few they sent back to tell Thorfinn this was how they discouraged the vikings from their raids and looting. The message was put in distinctly abusive terms.

Orkneyinga Saga
Circa 1200

The Icelandic saga writers had such a droll sense of humor, don’t you think?
With so many pressing problems that need to be screamed at and blastbeat into submissions, grindcore has very rarely bothered itself with the past or culture or heritage. Instead those concepts have been left to *shudder* folk metal or black metallers who have embraced their Norse heritage with a fervency that just might get them added to a Southern Poverty Law Center watch list one day.
Scots Ablach (which is Gaelic for “mangled carcass,” according to the band) are the square peg in grindcore’s round hole, crafting crusty 90 second lessons on their nation’s history from the first highland tribes to imperial era scuffles with the English.
So the sextet presents us with songs about Scottish farmers being evicted from their land to make way for sheep (“Na Fuadaichean”), apocryphal wedding night rituals (“Jus Primae Noctis”), witch trials (“Confessit & Declait Furth”), and the national love of the fruits of the grain (“Whiskey Violence”). With only 13 songs in 18 minutes, two covers (Napalm Death’s “Unchallenged Hate” and Terrorizer’s “Corporation Pull In”) feels a bit like padding, however. But the band knows its way around a catchy grindcore tune.
The wild card on Aon, however, is the production. The band seemed to be going from an old school Morrisound scooped guitar tone, but instead it all just sounds very hollow and distant, as though there’s a whole channel missing. While it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, I do think it limits Ablach’s reach. That hiccup aside, Aon is a solid debut from a band that’s actually found a unique identity with something different to say.

Friday, December 4, 2009

G&P Review: Rehumanize


Resident Apostasy

Open Grave

“To me, harmony means forgiving and embracing everybody, and I don’t want anyone to suffer anymore. And if the suffering of little children is needed to complete the sum total of suffering required to pay for the truth, I don’t want that truth, and I declare in advance that all the truth in the world is not worth the price! And finally, I don’t really want to see the mother of the little boy embrace the man who set the hounds on him to tear him apart! She won’t be able to forgive him. If she wants to, she may forgive him for herself, for having caused her, the mother, infinite suffering. But she has no right to forgive him, even if the child chooses to forgive him himself. And if I am right, if they cannot forgive, what harmony can there be? Is there one single creature in the whole world who could forgive or would have the right to do so? No, I want no part of any harmony; I don’t want it, out of love for mankind. I prefer to remain with my unavenged suffering and my unappeased anger – even if I happen to be wrong. I feel, moreover, that such harmony is rather overpriced. We cannot afford to pay so much for a ticket. And so I hasten to return the ticket I’ve been sent. If I’m honest, it is my duty to return it as long as possible before the show. And that’s just what I’m trying to do, Alyosha. It isn’t that I reject God; I am simply returning Him most respectfully the ticket that would entitle me to a seat,” [Ivan Karamazov said.]

“That’s rebellion,” Alyosha said softly, lowering his eyes.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov


Despite – or maybe because of – his reactionary embrace of the Eastern Orthodox church, Fyodor Dostoevsky is the second greatest humanist to ever set pen to paper. (For those of you keeping score at home, Kurt Vonnegut is number one.) Dostoevsky was obsessed with the human condition, particularly the need for mankind to suffer. While his existentialist descendents would shrug off human misery as one more symptom of an indifferent, absurd universe, Dostoevsky’s solution was to embrace suffering, seek it out. Suffering was the penance paid in this life to reap God’s rewards in the next. He developed that religious fervor and obsession with suffering during his four year sentence to hard labor in Siberia for revolutionary activities. Staring down a firing squad will probably force you to drastically reconsider your life like that.

While they would likely approve of Dostoevsky’s devotion to God, band name aside, I’m pretty sure Rehumanize would consider his humanism to be another symptom of a fallen, sinful universe. That’s right, Rehumanize proselytize via grindcore for a stringent, inflexible, reactionary take on Christianity that revolts against megachurches (the relentlessly blasting “Supersized Megachruch”), the liberal left (“Moonbat Invasion”), porn (“Demise of the Adult Industry”) and … ummm … Unitarians (“Unitarian Universalist Ungodly,” which boasts a bass like the war trumpets of a righteously pissed Old Testament war god). Seriously, dude? Unitarians?

But here’s the thing, Resident Apostasy is a damn good album even if their theology makes me look over my shoulder for the Spanish Inquisition. But if I’m to be intellectually honest, myself, I’m forced to credit the honesty of their convictions as they rage against prosperity gospel hucksters Creflo Dollar (“Creflo $”) and Rick Warren (“Rick Warning”), an area, should they be willing, where they could make common cause with a New Atheist like me.

And theology aside, Resident Apostasy rages no matter which side you’ll take come Armageddon.

The guitars could use a tad more depth and definition, often whirling into a white sheet of noise on the faster songs but the galloping angel horde drums of “Psychopharmacologist” are spectacular. Ditto the doomridden “Planet Laodicea,” which drops the BPMs just enough to be ear candy without throttling all the way down to monotony. Album standout, the apocalyptic wrath of “La Ira de Dios se Manifesta,” cycles through the seventh seal of grind, hardcore and thrash.

Rehumanize are impressive because I’m pre-programmed to reflexively hate everything they stand for, but Resident Apostasy obliterated any objections I may have had, demanding repeated listens and forcing me to assess just how broadminded and honest I can be with myself. And my reward for that introspection is one of the most complete and well written albums of the year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Going Dutch: Shapes of Misery

Shapes of Misery
Rise Above Oppression
I Hate Humanity
I assume most of you are familiar with the reverse cowgirl, but Shapes of Misery bassist and I Hate Humanity Records proprietor Geert pulls a move on Rise Above Oppression I have dubbed the Reverse Newsted.
The guitars on Rise Above Oppression, the band’s sole full length to date, are laughably, tissue paper thin (“Something to Believe” foolishly gives the guitar its own space in a song to bathetic effect). However, the entire outing is saved from drowning in the suck swamp by Geert’s sledgehammer on songs like “Fire in Your Eyes,” a pyromaniacal blast that flares and snaps like a gas station going up.
Songwriting wise, Shapes of Misery are not altogether dissimilar to mid-era Phobia or even another grind collective that is also well acquainted with the morphology of discomfort. The band works the golden grind oldie of slow build tension and orgasmic blast release driven by thudding bass and stomping heart beat bass drumming.
While guitarist Glenn may want to savagely beat the album’s engineers, he does earn a spot in grindcore Valhalla as a vocalist who’s largely, surprisingly intelligible as he growls his ways through 27 slashes of traditional grind, including a cover of hometown heroes My Minds Mine’s “Drop Fascists Not Bombs” for good measure. In the hands of a competent producer, Rise Above Oppression could have been a ripper. Instead it’s a passable, enjoyable half an hour from a country that’s on the cusp of grindcore dominance.