Archive for May, 2012

Review: Terrorgruppe

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on May 31, 2012 by Magadh

Disclaimer: I know a lot of the things I write start out with permanent reminiscences. That’s just how it is. Actually, I’m interested to hear your stories too. These are mine.

As a lad, I was fascinated by German punk. In part this was a reaction my mother’s insistence, much against my own wishes, that I should learn German. When she discovered that my junior high school didn’t offer German, she set up a private course for me and several other students. The fact that we were all compelled by our parents to do this, and that the class met for an hour before the normal school day, did nothing for my (already very limited) popularity.

It was around this time too (1982-3) that I discovered punk rock. In an effort to pay my mother back for all of the irritation she caused me, I decided that I would use my language skills to get into German punk. How could she object? In any case, my opportunities to do this were somewhat limited, living in Walla Walla, Washington. I set about scanning the pages of Maximum Rock n Roll, looking for anything that I could order with the meager funds available to me. Soon I had a small but very satisfying collection, including such gems as Razzia Tage ohne Schatten, Normahl Der Adler ist gelandet, Chaos Z Ohne Gnade, and the Porno Patrol Jump Back 7”.

Of all the German bands that I heard, my favorite by a long way was Inferno. I happened to pick up a copy of their Sohn Gottes 7” and something about their gruff, noisy thrash really piqued my interest. Plus they came from Neusäss, just outside of Augsburg, so I figured they must be small town guys like myself.

It took me a lot of doing, but I finally acquired a copy of their Tod und Wahnsinn LP, which had been released in 1983, and from then on I was on the lookout for their stuff. I can still remember making a special trip downtown to pick up a copy of their split LP with the Japanese band The Execute (to this day one of my very favorite records from the 1980s).

The occasion for this long back story is that, while shifting around some boxes that I hadn’t opened since coming back from Berlin in 2008, I discovered my long lost copy of Terrorgruppe’s Nonstop Aggropop CD. I had originally bought it without knowing that former Inferno singer and guitarist Archi Pfister was in Terrorgruppe as well.

In truth, I really loved Terrorgruppe long before I knew this. Their music will not be familiar to most Americans because, unlike so many European bands, they by and large resisted the temptation to sing in English. I really respect this, but it does mean that their music is a bit inaccessible for the large majority of Americans who don’t speak any foreign language, much less German. This is too bad, because in addition to writing some excellent melodic punk tunes, they have a really endearing goofball sense of humor.

Unlike more commercialized and stylistically diffuse bands such as Die Toten Hosen and Die Ärzte, Terrorgruppe’s music retained its rough edge. They hit a lot of standard punk themes: skateboarding (“Mein Skateboard ist wichtiger als Deutschland”/“My Skateboard is More Important than Germany”), annoying the neighbors (“Wir müssen raus”/“We Have to Go”), drinking your problems away (“Tresenlied”/“Bar Song”), and the always popular punk rock road trip (“Wochenendticket”/“Weekend Ticket”). But along with the humor they included a lot more actual political commentary that your average American goofball band would. “Keine Airbags für die CSU” (“No Airbags for the CSU”) expressed their (quite justified) loathing of politicians. “Gewerbepark Nord” (“Business Park North”) effectively described the alienation of meaningless, dead end jobs. “Nazis im Haus” (“Nazis in the House”) mocked losers who still hold out some love for the brown old days. Still, they never took themselves too seriously. On their website they described themselves as “10% politically correct, 90% politically incompetent.”

Strangely enough, my favorite song on this disc is their cover of Die Ärzte’s “Kopfüber in die Hölle” (“Head over Heels in Hell”). In it, they sing about the ideals of the 1980s:

Revolution stand auf unseren Fahnen,
Revolution stand uns im Gesicht,
Wir haben erlebt was andere nicht mal ahnen,
Revolution – weniger wollten wir nicht…

Revolution was on our banners,
Revolution stood before us,
We lived through things that others never understood,
Revolution – we wanted nothing less…

They finish with a bitter critique of people of have abandoned those ideals and the excuses that they make for sinking into normal, passive lives:

Heute stehst du
Bei Hertie an der Kasse
Und da ist keine Sehnsucht mehr in deinem Blick.
Du sagst man tut halt, was man kann
Und dir gehts gut – Du kotzt mich an…

Today you stand
Behind the checkout at K-Mart
And there is no longing in your expression anymore
You say one does what one can,
And it’s going good for you.
You make me puke…

It is one of the ironies of this record, and of the modern punk scene in general, that Terrorgruppe’s version of this song is considerably better than the original. Die Ärtze have been around forever, and they have written some great songs, but they have traded in their authenticity for stadium shows and slick studio production. Terrorgruppe showed that the thing is really still worth saying, and that’s worth a lot from where I’m sitting.

Although they played in the United States, most notably with NOFX in the late 1990s, the fact that about 99% of their material was in a language no one understood limited their appeal. (They did actually record an album in English called Rust in Pieces. It was released posthumously in 2006. It’s ok, but not as good as their German language material. It kind of sounds more like No Fun at All than Terrorgruppe’s other material.) They stopped touring in 2004, in part, at least according to their website, because their shows in Germany were getting so big and so out of hand that they had real trouble doing them on a d.i.y. basis and they were kind of afraid that someone would get badly hurt. That is worthy of respect. They were also just tired of it, and one can hardly blame them. The next year, Archi left the band, which effectively ended the operation.

Nonstop Aggropop and their other releases take a bit of finding, but it is well worth the effort. They write awesome foot-tapping punk songs. And as for the language problem…lern ma Deutsch.

Magadh

Kill All Redneck Pricks: A Documentary Film About a Band Called KARP

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2012 by Magadh

William E. Badgley
Molasses Manifesto Productions

Jarvis Cocker wrote in “Common People”,”You will never understand how it feels to live your life with no meaning or control and with nowhere left to go.” He could have been describing early 1990’s Tumwater, Washington. William E. Badgley’s film, “Kill All Redneck Pricks,” tells the tale of three friends who managed to overcome their surroundings and create something magnificent in the form of their band, KARP.

Badgley uses archival (if such a term can be used to describe VHS tapes) footage interspersed with interviews of band members Jared Warren (bass/vocals), Chris Smith (guitar/vocals) and Scott Jernigan (drums) to tell the tale. The film also features interviews with Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill/Riot Grrrl), Justin Trosper (Unwound), Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening/K records), among others, to provide additional context.

At its heart this a coming of age story. Playing punk rock becomes a means for the three friends to escape the constant abuse they receive from jocks at Tumwater High. Their efforts are rewarded as they find kindred spirits in the fertile Olympia punk scene of the early 1990s. They would go on to record three full length albums on K Records before breaking up in 1998.

Kill all Redneck Pricks is full of triumphant live footage from both the band’s early years as well as its heyday. Badgley includes two amazing live sets as extras on the DVD and they are well worth the time. The film also deals candidly with Smith’s drug abuse, depression and suicide attempt.  Smith discusses his struggles and their ultimate destruction of both the band and his friendship with Warren and Jernigan. Jernigan’s death in a boating accident, just as he and Warren had begun to play music together again, is also addressed. The tragedy at the heart of their collective friendship makes the film somewhat bittersweet.

Badgley creates a transcendent portrait of three friends from rural America who escape their circumstances and create something memorable. Check out http://karplives.com/ to find out where you can see or purchase this film, you won’t be disappointed.

– Captain of Games

Review: Azaghal

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on May 29, 2012 by Magadh

Azaghal Nemesis Moribund

It is a commonplace to say that black metal these days is rife with cliches and mediocrity, unselfconsciously noshing on tired styles and ideas without the pretense to excellence that makes the posturing and ill-conceived politics at least minimally tolerable. In fairness, this is where guitar music is generally, at least in stylistic terms. But it is also the case that black metal, with its fetishistic atavism and its relatively miniscule pool of cultural references, is prone to this tendency in a particularly extreme degree. It is probably too much to ask for something new under the sun (or in this case the funeral moon) to emerge in black metal. What one can at least hope for is that bands will take what the genre does well and present it effectively.

One is happy to report, then, that on their recently released disc Nemesis, Finnish black metallers Azaghal have accomplished just this. One thing was certain: 2009’s Teraphim was going to be a tough act to follow. The latter disc was a bit of a mold breaker for Azaghal, who previously had exhibited that penchant for raw, rudimentary black metal that is something of a trademark in Finland. On early releases, such as Of Beasts and Vultures (2002) and Perkeleen Luoma (2004), Azaghal exhibited stylistic tendencies that called to mind bands such as Horna and Sargeist, maybe not as nasty as Beherit, and without the edge of weirdness of an act like Impaled Nazarene. Recent releases have seen them move to a somewhat cleaner sound, while still retaining a melodic edge that makes their music a lot more accessible to the average listener. Omega (2008) was a breakthrough in this regard, exhibiting a much cleaner and sharper sound than Luciferin Valo, released two years earlier.

Often times, the kind of improved gear and musicianship that come from staying together for a decade or more will blunt the force of even the most dedicated thrashers. There is definitely a body of thinking that sees Azaghal of having falling victim to this. Teraphim included a lot more variety in terms of song structure and the means employed to create atmosphere, and I think that, to some black metal purists, this reads as a capitulation to the stylistic expectation of the broader listening public. Although the cuts on Nemesis comprise an even greater degree of stylistic variation, please allow me to assure the reader that this is an absolute fierce (if not entirely orthodox) black metal record.

Nemesis contains a lot more elements of pure rock than previous releases, and there are moments when it seems as if they are channeling, not to say copying, other bands. Thus, there are moments at which the incautious listener will think that they have accidentally put on a mid-period Borknagar disc, while at other times the subtleties on offer recall Brave Murder Day era Katatonia. This will undoubtedly viewed as anathema by the purists, but the result is a record that is varied and keeps listener interest long after the endless blast beats of other black metal records would have caused one to lose the plot. All of this is not to say that Nemesis is either meek or diffuse. Azaghal, to a greater degree than a lot of other bands plodding along in this genre, have a very developed idea of how they want to sound, and they are certainly not afraid to mix in liberal doses of traditional black metal fury. But it is the complexities and atmosphere, born of a willingness to experiment with the orthodox style, which lifts Nemesis above the general level of black metal currently available.

Magadh

Dispatch #3

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on May 28, 2012 by Magadh

The good people at Souciant.com have reprinted the Captain’s article on Kristian Vikernes. Head over there and check it out, along with the masses of other interesting stuff that they post.

Review: Narrows

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on May 27, 2012 by Magadh

Narrows Painted Deathwish

I have to admit that I kind of come to each Narrows record expecting to hear Botch. This is unfair. The only direct connection between the two acts is Dave Verellen, and while the vocalist does a lot to give a band its own peculiar feel, it is really the guitar (at least in most cases) that is decisive in terms of the sonic topography produced. In terms of heaviness and dissonant elements, Narrows guitarists Jodie Cox and Ryan Frederiksen play in a style that does bear some similarities to that of Dave Knudson. That the careful listener will never mistake the former for the latter should not be taken as a criticism. Listening to Botch, especially their live shows, had a vertigo inducing quality. Narrows can write some complex tunes, but they are the kind of band that it’s easier to bob your head to.

The first thing you’re going to notice about this record is that it’s a lot more straightforward in terms of tempos than previous Narrows releases. Narrows are sometimes classified as “math rock” or “math core.” One could debate the justice of those designations, but in any case this current release is likely to cost them their union cards in United Math Rockers Local 3.14159265 (if indeed they ever had them). All of which is not to say that the time changes and dissonance that characterized their previous releases have been completely abjured. On Painted, they have been harnessed to an attack that relies on pounding and bludgeoning the listener, rather than leaving them wondering what time signature it was all in. Fans of previous releases, and of Botch, will be pleased to note that one thing that hasn’t changed is Dave Verellen’s gut-wrenching vocal style. As on previous releases, he sounds like he is slicing chunks off of his soul with a butcher knife, his fearsome roaring lending an urgency to the proceedings which manages to retain some of the unsettling qualities of earlier Narrows discs.

“Under the Guillotine” opens the action with hammering riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on a High on Fire record. This sets the tone. While their music is often challenging in terms of presenting the listener with square progressions or comfortable melodies, their bread and butter is an uncompromising wall of sound. “Absolute Betrayer” reinforces this point with a series of jackhammer riffs over which dissonant notes float like a halo. “Greenland” starts off with three minutes of weird noise that sounds like it was recorded off Pinhead’s home stereo before mutating into a bombastic, slow burn. From there, matters return to the familiar, punishing furrow that had been plowed through the earlier parts of the disc.

There is a lot to like about this record, and its very existence is impressive given that the members don’t get to spend a lot of time together. What is also impressive is that they keep managing to come up with material that is fresh and compelling. If Painted is more straightforward than earlier Narrows releases, it is also the case that they have managed to harness what at times seemed like an anarchic fury into a focused aggression that demands repeated spins.

Magadh

On Gypsies and Gentlemen: Marcus Kuhn’s Series Profiles Some of Our Favorite Artists

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by Magadh

The residents of the 1000 Trivialities bunker all agree upon the indisputable radness of tattoos and tattoo culture. Most of us started marking ourselves up at a fairly impressionable young age and all have continued to do so apace.

I first learned about Marcus Kuhn’s excellent, “The Gypsy Gentleman” series while in Austin, Texas. Following Narrows last show at SxSW, Rob Moran arranged for several of us to be tattooed at Rock of Ages by his old friend and amazing artist Steve Byrne. We took Steve out to dinner when we were all done and the conversation turned to Vice’s series Tattoo Age . Steve mentioned that Marcus Kuhn had recently been in Texas filming a series of his own and that he and his business partner (the equally talented ex-Concrete, WA resident Tony Hundahl) were featured in the 2nd episode.

Each episode of “The Gypsy Gentleman” features different cities, themes and artists. Kuhn’s old stomping ground, New York City, kicks off the series.  Virginia Elwood and Thomas Hooper  accompany Kuhn as he talks a bit about the life of a traveling tattoo artist. Daniel Santoro of Smith Street Tattoo Parlour and Black Gold Records also makes a brief appearance. Episode 2, embedded below, sees Kuhn exploring the evolution of American tattooing following the end of the 2nd World War. His partners in crime are Steve Byrne and Tony Hundahl. The most recent episode finds Kuhn in San Francisco. He enlists the aid of Jason Kundell and George Campise  to discuss the current Renaissance in American tattooing.

The series also does an admirable job of introducing the viewer to unique attractions and unforgettable characters beyond those in the tattoo game. While Dan Santoro’s antique and record store is easily featured due to Santoro’s work as a tattoo artist, many of the others standout all on their own. Kuhn introduces a man who creates a cathedral from junk, an old friend who trains police dogs as well as taking the viewer on a tour of a museum devoted to old carnival pianos and fortune telling games.  While each is unique they also inform the viewer as to the spirit of the city.

Kuhn ends each of the episodes with he and the featured artists collaborating on a theme which is then translated into a series of glorious tattoos. The quality of the artists speaks to the strength of the end product but, more than anything, the theme is effectively transmitted into the tattoos. Marcus Kuhn’s “The Gypsy Gentleman” is well worth your time, long may it continue!

– Captain of Games

Dispatch #2

Posted in Dispatches on May 24, 2012 by Magadh

For The Better

I was digging through some old boxes last year when I came up on my copy of Funeral Oration’s Communion LP from 1985. I got it from Dig Pearson in the days when he did a record distro before he started Earache. Dig was a funny guy. I know a lot of people came to really dislike him, but he was always nice to me. He generally wore nice, button down shirts and jeans with the knees only slightly ripped out. This kind of stood out in those days when the style of filthiness that would later mutate into crust was just being born. Dig’s one sort of concession to the punk aesthetic was a little hand drawn DRI mosher logo on his jeans, with the caption “Mosh Hard Or Be Moshed.” Everyone thought this was kind of funny, since Dig was not the kind of guy who you saw in the pit very often.

Anyway, I can still remember getting this disc from him and hurrying home to check it out. This was the first Dutch punk band that I had ever heard. The opening bars of “For the Better” made the hair rise on the back of my neck. They still do. I’ve mounted that track here, since this record is pretty much completely unavailable and for some reason they didn’t include it on the (rather selective) discography CD that they put out a few years ago. Peter Zirschky, whose voice gave Funeral Oration their distinctive signature, apparently died a few years ago. Tragic.

Magadh