Archive for June, 2012

Review: Lentic Waters

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on June 17, 2012 by Magadh

Lentic Waters Lentic Waters Apocaplexy Records / React With Protest / IFB Records

Perhaps you have on a time found yourself listening to the Alpinist’s Lichtlaerm and thought to yourself, “Impressive though this is, it is too square in terms of tempo and tonality to satisfy the fondest desires of my soul.” Fear not, for you have but to familiarize yourself with the efforts of the doughty souls of Lentic Waters to know true peace and contentment.

What exactly does Lentic Waters mean? Well, I had to look it up. Lentic is a more elevated synonym for sluggish. You can work it out from there. Lentic Waters hails from western Germany (their bio lists their origins as Münster, Bielefeld, and Dortmund). Their self-titled record came out last year some time and was a gang release by Apocaplexy Records, React With Protest, and IFB Records. Reading the name, I sort of expected something along the lines of Shellac (if not the Bevis Fronde). Having come upon their record in the company of grind/power violence type music, I was curious enough to proceed.

The opening track starts out with a bit of jangly guitar, slowly building in intensity and distortion so it’s only toward the end that you really understand what’s in store. From the second track, they are well out of the gate and thrashing. As mentioned above, those who have heard Alpinist will notice distinct similarities. Lentic Waters features a bit more stylistic variation than Alpinist. Their songs tend to have rather extended arrangements and they are willing to bash every ounce of power out of every lick. Although the guitars are plenty heavy, they mix in some cleaner sounds which add to the atmosphere without detracting significantly from the power. There is a very dark vibe about this whole project, one that might remind one of bands like Tragedy or From Ashes Rise, but without the d-beat approach characteristic of those bands. Those desperate for a reference point might try to imagine how His Hero is Gone might have sounded had they headed in a slightly more power violence direction.

These guys really have the d.i.y. spirit. They did what seems to be rather limited vinyl release of this record, which must certainly be long gone by now. They have, however, uploaded it to bandcamp, for which they deserve props. All in all, this is another fabulous addition to human culture. They have a split with Planks due out on Apocaplexy soon, and on the basis of what we’ve heard so far I say that the expectations are pretty high.

Magadh

Review: Warbringer

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on June 16, 2012 by Magadh

Warbringer Worlds Torn Asunder Century Media

I suppose we all like a little nostalgia from time to time. Listening to Infernö and Gehenna in the 1990s gave one a little taste of that moment of the first time you dropped the needle on Hell Awaits, or the day you got the Exodus demo in the mail. There will always be a place in the metal world for bands that recall the halcyon days of thrashmetal in the mid-1980s. It’s a sign of the essential quality of that music. On the other hand, there was a lot of mediocre metal in those days, and I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that that is getting revived as well.

For your consideration, I offer Warbringer’s most recent release, Worlds Torn Asunder. I must admit that the enjoyed the first couple of Warbringer discs. For me, they were a throwback to bands from the 1980s like Dark Angel: they were enjoyable for a couple of listens but they never quite had the quality of songwriting to lift them into the top level of thrashmetal elite. Warbringer demonstrate mastery of a lot of the fundamental elements of the genre. There is a lot of double bass thumping and damped chugging. The vocals are gruff, but clean enough such that you can understand what is being said. So what’s not to like?

Well, for starters, there’s not a great deal of progression across their catalog. This might strike some as a sort of an odd expectation for a band whose stock in trade is 1980s atavism. However, it’s one thing to like the style, and another to be satisfied hearing the same record over and over again. If you put the first three Warbringer discs on shuffle, you will be hard pressed to figure out for sure which songs come from which record, unless you are one of those brave souls who have conceded enough of your life span to recognize each song individually.

Warbringer’s most recent offering is, it must be said, a bit more varied than previous releases. It is nonetheless the case that they are sort of trapped by the format. Essentially, there are three stylistic choices for a band like this. They go more technical. Alternatively, they can take the At the Gates route and up the level of brutality. (If you’re wondering about that reference, just listen Slaughter of the Soulnext anything else that At the Gates released). Or they can just wallow in the style that they’ve been doing so far. Clearly, it is this third choice that they have gone for. Once again, atavism isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The thing that differentiates bands like Infernö and Gehenna from Warbringer is that their atavism consisted in an effort to take the format back to it’s roots, thereby to recapture some the rawness and intensity that had been lost by subsequent purveyors. Warbringer was a throwback to a style that is already fully developed and plunging headlong toward decadence. It’s like trying to renovate rock and roll by starting a Genesis cover band.

In spite of all of this, it must be said that Worlds Torn Asunder is not a bad record. Even with the significant lineup changes that Warbringer have gone through in the last couple of years, they have retained their core sound and technical consistency. What it comes down to is a calculation that each listener must make between love of the style itself the actual quantity of one’s lifetime that should be devoted to hearing the same old thing. Given the choice, I’ll probably just listen to Hell Awaits again.

Magadh

A Little Friday Afternoon Recognition

Posted in Dispatches on June 15, 2012 by Magadh

Magadh chilling in the bunker library with a little refreshment and his brand new Deathcycle shirt. Props to Chainsaw Safety for making this awesome band more generally available.

Review: Coldworker

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on June 14, 2012 by Magadh

Coldworker, The Doomsayer’s Call, Relapse

Coldworker first came to my attention about four years ago. When Dan Swanö parted company with (or was kicked out of) Bloodbath in 2006, he posted a note on their website in which he cited his work with Coldworker as evidence that he had not wanted to soften Bloodbath’s music (as the other band members seemed to imply). I didn’t find out about this until 2008, mostly because I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the vicissitudes of the Swedish deathmetal scene. But I was kind of intrigued to find out about this other project to which Swanö had been devoting his producing time.

According to the interweb (and when is that ever wrong), Coldworker were originally formed by Anders Jakobson after the demise of Nasum in 2004. Their first album, The Contaminated Void, was released by Relapse in North America in 2007. Probably the best thing that can be said for it is that at least it wasn’t an attempt to revivify the corpse of Jakobson’s previous band. Although the songs were short and aggressive (the whole album came in at just under 40 minutes), they lacked Nasum’s breathtaking intensity. Nasum’s signature was a sort of whirlwind effect, switching vertiginously between riffs and tempos. Coldworker, by contrast, seemed like pretty average deathmetal. It was enjoyable if you were really devoted to the format, but it was hard to get through more than five or six songs without one’s interest beginning to flag.

In 2008, they released Rotting Paradise. By this time, they had managed to forge a much more distinct artistic identity. The songs were still short, but the production (once again undertaken by Dan Swanö) was sharper. They played at a high tempo, but didn’t fall in love with the blast beat, which is probably the greatest failing of modern deathmetal. For the blast beat to be effective, it has to be a change up from a thicker riff in a lower tempo range. Bands like Marduk and Bloodthorn never seem to get this. For the most part, Coldworker, employed the blast beat in the way the Nasum had: as a way of kicking the thrashing up to its highest level of intensity. Rotting Paradise presented a more technical approach, with some excellent dark tonalities and a level of technique that was higher overall than their previous release. On the other hand, the style was a little diffuse, and there was still an excessive reliance on a few well-tried deathmetal techniques.

On their most recent release, Coldworker have taken another step forward. The degree of improvement isn’t quite that found between their first and second discs, but they have really carved out a stylistic niche of their own and worked in some pleasing variations. The Doomsayer’s Call kicks off with a slower number This is an approach that one doesn’t find all that often with deathmetal bands, who tend to like to bludgeon the listening into submission from the get go before introducing variations later on in the count. Those looking for a reference point might think of Dismember’s Massive Killing Capacity, if a little less heavy a little more technical.

From the second track, things kick into a higher gear. One difference that is immediately obvious is the increased attention paid to the grinding aspect of these tunes. In a sense, this is the last piece of the puzzle, since most of the grind parts on the previous discs were just slightly unsatisfying. Not so here. Clearly much more attention has been given to this element of their attack and it does wonders, both in terms setting off the faster parts more effectively and in highlighting the technical bits in a better way.

There just isn’t that much that is novel in this particular area of metal, so a lot of what makes a band is whether they do something that’s interesting and whether they execute well. In both cases, Coldworker succeed brilliantly. The Doomsayer’s Call bears many listenings, and contains enough subtleties to keep the discerning listener well occupied.

Magadh

No Mistake

Posted in Articles with tags , , , on June 13, 2012 by Magadh

I recently got a blurb about Mike Bromberg’s new band No Mistake. First of all, allow me to set out the caveat that Mike is not the only person in this band. He’s just the only one that I know personally. With apologies to the other guys in No Mistake, what I have to say here is going to center on him. Those of you who can remember the 1980s will probably recall Bullshit Monthly as one of the more influential fanzines from the NYHC scene. For those who are interested, Mike has apparently digitized some or all of the old issues and mounted them on his blog, which is also worth reading.

Mike has since relocated to San Jose, but you wouldn’t really know it from listening to No Mistake (you can do so here and there’s some live footage here). They are, in a lot of respects, comparable to Go! and ego, Mike’s earlier bands, but with a slightly more down home New York hardcore feel that put me in mind of United Blood-era AF. In any case, as with all of Mike’s previous projects, No Mistake rock really hard and have thoughtful songs to boot.

*     *     *

I first met Mike Bullshit when I worked at Reconstruction Records in New York in the early 1990s. I only sort of knew who he was. Both Go! and Bullshit Monthly were kind of East Coast things, and I was really a West Coast sort, at least in terms of the hardcore culture to which I’d been exposed. What I did know about him was that he was openly and unapologetically gay. For a guy who was a public figure in the New York HC scene, that was something that you really had to respect. I’m sure that there is no hardcore scene on earth that can claim to be free of homophobia or violence, but New York had the full measure of both. To be openly out in an environment like that was to invite some seriously nasty experiences.

Sometime in the winter of 1992-3, Mike asked me if I wanted to go out as the roadie for his band ego, which he had started with Charlie Adamec. I was broke, and Manhattan was really getting me down, so I said I would do it.

Things started off inauspiciously. We were driving though Cooper Square on our way out to Brooklyn and we got caught behind a cab whose driver was in the process of getting his ass kicked by some guy that he had insulted on the street. Ego’s drummer was a guy named Dave (I forget his last name), who was a very earnest anarchist type. He leaned his head out the window while this was going on and was like, “Hey now! Stop doing that!” Needless to say, this didn’t really improve the situation.

It was one of the most cramped tours that I’ve ever been on. We went in the drummer’s car which, as I recall, was something on the order of a Honda Civic hatchback. I was the shortest guy in the car, and since I’m about six feet tall you can imagine that we were packed in there pretty tight.

It was cold. Fucking cold. We stayed a couple of days in Philly in a squat house the only heat for which came from a series of kerosene heaters. Around lights out there was a nightly game of musical sleeping bags as people tried to appropriate a place for themselves such that they wouldn’t freeze before dawn. The upside of that place was that the people who lived there were very nice and seemed to have an unlimited supply of bagels and coffee. We spent our free time, of which there was a lot, playing endless rounds of spades.

One day while we were in Philly, we decided that we were going to explore the town a bit. We went down to Independence Hall, where the Liberty Bell is, and looked around at the hordes of tourists who had braved the snow to come see it. At some point a snowball fight broke out amongst us. This was a lot of fun, until the park rangers got annoyed and chased us off. In the process, I slipped on a patch of ice and smashed my knee into the pavement. After the adrenaline wore off, I realized that it had swelled up to half again its normal size.

Undaunted, we continued our tour of the city. Folded tight into the back seat of the car, my knee became psychedelically painful. At some point we decided that we would go the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I can’t remember whether the point was the museum itself (Mike was as I recall quite art conscious) or just to run up the steps like Rocky. In any case, my run up the steps was more of a shambling limp due to the state of my knee, and I certainly was not dancing around when I got to the top.

The last show of the tour was in a little joint in a strip mall in Parsippany, New Jersey called The Rusty Nail. We drove there in a blinding snowstorm. I was a little freaked out for the whole ride. My knee was killing me and the snow was piling up to such a degree that the little car in which we were traveling was on the point of high centering just driving down the interstate. I was pretty sure that if we had to get out and try to walk anywhere, I was a goner.

My mood did not improve that much when we got to the gig. We arrived late in the afternoon, and the only people there besides ourselves were some ratty looking Jersey rednecks. Queer activists that he was (and is), Mike was in the habit of giving a sort of anti-homophobia talk at the beginning of Ego’s sets. That was all well and good, because it was the sort of thing that people needed to hear, but I was a little dubious about how it was going to go down in front of that bunch of trashers. I fully expected that we’d all be killed and buried in a snow bank somewhere to await discovery by the cops in the spring thaw.

In the event, I had nothing to fear. By the time the gig actually got going, three other bands had arrived, as well as a bunch of people we knew from the Recon/ABC set, and the trashers had headed off to greener pastures. That left me relieved, but still exhausted, broke, hungry, and limping like mad. I was at kind of a low ebb when Charles from Rorschach came up to me at the bar. I knew Charles from working at Recon (which he ran with Freddy Alva). Ego was just finishing up their set and I was looking for a way out. Charles asked if I needed a place to stay before going back to the city and I was with relief that I drove with him to his parents’ house in Paramus. When we got there, his dad was still up and made us a plate of vegan ravioli. I cannot remember ever enjoying a meal more.

Several weeks after the end of the tour, I was walking around late at night in Alphabet City with Mike and Charlie. We stopped at a little Middle Eastern bakery and Mike went in while Charlie and I waited outside. After kicking around on the sidewalk for a couple of minutes, we looked in and saw Mike talking animatedly to a heavy set guy with greasy brown hair and a greasier leather jacket. He came out and we asked him who he’d been talking to.

“That was Harley Flanagan.” Neither Charlie nor I had recognized him.

“What were you guys talking about?” Charlie asked.

“Baklava.”

Magadh

Review: Route 19 Revisited

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on June 12, 2012 by Magadh

Marcus Gray, Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling, Soft Skull Press

If Marcus Gray had never written another word about the Clash after his Last Gang in Town: The Story and Myth of the Clash (1996), he would nonetheless have already proved an important point: it is quite possible to write an excellent band biography without speaking directly to any of the participants. In the 500-odd pages of Last Gang, Gray minutely dissected the band’s history, basing his work on interviews with band confidants and an encyclopedic knowledge of the interview and documentary literature surrounding them.

In his most recent book, Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling, Gray continues his productive fascination with band. In taking on London Calling, Gray immerses himself in the most productive era of the band’s history, but also the most challenging that they had faced to that point. Having recently parted ways with their Fagan-like creator Bernie Rhodes and in the wake of the lukewarm critical and popular reception of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, the Clash were at a nexus point in their development in early 1979.

This was a crucial time in the 1970s English punk “movement” of which they had been one of the originators. Their career to this point had highlighted many of the contradictions with which punk was riven, not the least of which was the relationship between music and politics. Their fellow originators, the Sex Pistols, had been something of an art project. As conceived of by Malcolm McClaren, the premise of the Pistols was to reconfigure the normally pleasant and engaging form of rock and roll, transforming it into something jarring and unpleasant. That art that was created was a combination of the music being made on stage and the audiences (often quite shocked) reaction.

The Clash were much more of a normal rock band, although of a much rawer and more primal kind than was generally found in late 1970s rock culture, dominated by self indulgent art rock of the likes of Pink Floyd and Yes. The Sex Pistols stripped rock and roll down to its most basic components, to a great extent because this was all they were technically capable of playing. The Clash, by contrast, were much more proficient musicians, and this allowed them to integrate a greater range of the traditional rock culture into their music than the Pistols were ever able to do. Moreover, unlike the Pistols, who imploded spectacularly during their ill-fated US tour in 1978, the Clash were a continuing project, which raised questions for them that had never been raised for the Pistols. The Clash had a more thoughtful relationship to actual politics, and as things progressed, it became clear that it was not immediately obvious how to reconcile their political views with their life in the music business.

The members of the Clash embraced a more or less amorphous leftist politics, fused to the anti-establishment rhetoric of the London punk scene. That said, it was also true that the success condition for the Clash was much the same as it had been for a band like Mott the Hoople: sign a record contract and make a good living from playing music. As became clear to the band members in the course of 1978, pursuing these two imperatives led to contradictions. In Westway to the World, Paul Simonon related a conversation he had with Joe Strummer after the band had signed a record deal with CBS and received a £100,000 advance. “I remember for days after, me and Joe walking up the street and deliberating over the content of the songs. Like, ‘well, we can’t sing about career opportunities anymore, because we’ve now got some cash.'”

And, of course, the contradictions were not only economic. Having put out two records which, apart from a few deviant cuts, conformed closely to narrow punk artistic orthodoxy, the question remained as to what they could do from a standing start, producing all new music for a third release. To the extent that an overarching approach can be attributed to UK punk in the 1970s, it was a sort of determination to move forward by looking backward; to renovate rock music by stripping it down to its essential elements. By the end of the 1970s, this was beginning to change. A new wave of bands had arisen, not bound by the orthodoxy of the earlier punk style, from Joy Division’s dark energy to the stripped down amphetamine funk of the Gang of Four. Something of the band’s mindset in this project can be gleaned from the fact that one title that was kicked around in the early stages was The Last Testament.

The Clash were in a rather different position than the newer bands. They were sort of the flagship of the movement, such as it was, and they were under more scrutiny. When the Clash signed a contract with CBS in January 1977, Mark P., wrote in in Sniffin’ Glue that that was the day the punk died. The record that the Clash produced over the course of the 1979, which has come to occupy the status of a rock masterpiece, was a fascinating artifact of the times. The writing and recording of London Calling is the story of the Clash exploring the music that had shaped them and fighting to fit it into the expectations of their fans and of the public at large.

It is the story of these struggles, and of the triumph that arose from them, that Gray seeks to relate in Route 19 Revisited. Having already written one of the most extensive books ever published about the Clash, the amount of new material present by Gray is quite impressive. He does rehearse many of the important facts and anecdotes that he had used in the earlier book, but this is done mostly for the benefit of people less familiar with the Clash’s history, and provides an excellent backdrop for the main sections of the book. As in the case of Last Gang in Town, one of the great strength’s of Gray’s presentation is his extremely minute analyses of the band’s songs and lyrics. In Route 19 Revisited, Gray devotes a chapter running over 200 pages to painstaking examinations of each individual cut on the album. The results can be a little bit mixed. The twenty pages devoted to “London Calling” are fascinating, treating everything from the cultural origins of the lyric to the chord structure of the tune, are very much apposite. On the other hand, the section devoted to “Death or Glory,” which is only slightly shorter, seems to get a little caught up in excess detail.

The tone and content of Gray’s analysis is consistent with that of his earlier Clash book. One reviewer described Last Gang as “hopelessly rambling and combative,” and there is an extent to which this is a fair cop. Gray’s account is extensive to the point of pedantry.  He relies heavily on reviews and articles in from the British music press which, of course, must be taken with a grain of salt. He is no hagiographer.  He is more than willing to call the band when they say things that or silly, or contradictory. Often in Last Gang, he criticized the band for pretending to be things that they were not, and his criticisms in this light are sometimes a bit obtuse. Clearly, as the son of a foreign office civil servant with a public school education, Joe Strummer was not in the same position with regard to career opportunities as many others further down the social ladder were in Great Britain in the late 1970s. On the other hand, one reason that the Clash’s music found such resonance was that they were singing about a situation that did affect a lot of people. The fact that it was not exactly true for them does not change the fact that they were saying something true. Route 19 contains some of this “debunking,” but generally Gray shows a reasonable degree of sympathy to the band’s position as well-meaning individuals struggling to come to terms with their political and social environment.

Route 19 Revisited is definitely a book for the Clash obsessed among you. Those with a more fleeting interest will probably be overwhelmed by Gray’s determinate to relate every fact that he ever collected about the band in the course of the book. On the other hand, for those with the requisite level of interest this book will provide a lot of enjoyment.

Magadh

Bullets Over Boston

Posted in Articles, Dispatches with tags , , , , on June 11, 2012 by Magadh

Image

The good people at Metalsucks.net have a story that must be read to be believed. Mike Eleftheratos (aka Hräsvelg), from black metal band Nachzehrer, was detained by Boston police when a concerned citizen clocked him removing a bullet belt from his bag.

Read the rest of the story here. As a public service announcement, civic minded metal heads and crust punks may wish to amend their sartorial choices so as not to offend the tender sensibilities of Bostonians

Nachzehrer

– Captain of Games

Golden Shower of Fascism: Naer Mataron’s Bassist Elected to Greek Parliament

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2012 by Magadh

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The bassist of forgettable Greek black metal band Naer Mataron seems to have fulfilled Varg Vikernes’ political dream. In an April 21, 2012 screed entitled, “War in Europe: Part IV – Si vis pacem, para bellum”  Vikernes wrote:

Do not just sit back and relax and wait for us to emerge victorious though. Keep on fighting; spread the truth, resist the lie-propaganda of the enemy and help others do the same. And most importantly; only vote for strongly anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist Nationalist parties! If they do not exist, start them up yourselves, and cooperate with all others who do the same, whether you like them personally or not, or infiltrate and take over the Zionist “Nationalist” parties en masse. If you cannot openly tell the truth without the risk of persecution use the term “banker” instead of “Jew”, and they cannot touch you. Talk about “culture” and “language” instead of “race”, talk about “keeping the diversity” instead of “the threat to your nation”, and so forth. They cannot touch you if you do, and most Europeans will understand what you mean by this anyhow. We Europeans are perhaps too kind and naive for our own good, but we are not stupid – and most of us are sick and tired of being treated like inferior human beings in our own countries.

If you want to hang someone or shoot them in the back of the head, for betraying their own race or for attacking our nations with coward and dishonest means, I understand you very well, but please wait until after we have won, when you can do this lawfully. There is enough rope for all of them, and bullets too, so just be patient. They will hang soon enough anyhow. And their brainwashed offspring too. And their f***ing dogs.

P.S. In case you wonder; I cannot start up any party in Norway myself, because of my criminal record.

Leaving aside Vikernes’ amusing predilection to use Latin, the language of tribal Europe’s Roman conquerors, it does appear Greece’s Golden Dawn is just the kind of party Vikerenes endorses. How happy he must be Naer Mataron’s Giorgos Germenis, user of the charming stage name Kaiadas (the valley where “unfit” Spartan children were thrown to their death) was elected Golden Dawn MP for the Greater Athens district during the 5/6/12 elections. In recent days, Golden Dawn have revealed themselves to be neolithic bullies, something their fellow Greeks already suspected.

On June 6, 2012 Ilias Kasidiaris, a 41 year old self proclaimed weight lifting enthusiast, former Greek special forces soldier and Golden Dawn MP, assaulted 2 female MPs from left wing parties live on Greek television. Kasidiaris first threw a glass of water at Rena Dourou before rising from his chair and striking Lana Kanelli three times. Showing his true colors, Kasidiaris then fled the studio. Eleni Raikou, state prosecutor for Greece, has issued an arrest warrant for Kasidiaris. Golden Dawn have steadfastly refused to condemn Kasidiaris’ actions.

Readers seeking additional coverage of Giorgos Germenis election can find it here; The Guardian has video of Kasidiaris assault on Kanelli (w/ video) here. Readers are also invited to draw their own conclusion as to Vikerenes’ support for Kasidaris’ actions but one can have little doubt as to his support for his politics and those of Giogros Germenis.

– Captain of Games

Racism and the European Championships

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , on June 7, 2012 by Magadh

This past week has not been a particularly good one for UEFA, the administrative body that governs football in Europe. With only days to go before the start of the European Championships, being co-hosted by Poland and the Ukraine, the feel good atmosphere being promoted in the run up to the tournament was roiled by the broadcast by Panorama, an investigative news program on the BBC, that uncovered rampant racism surrounding football in Eastern Europe. In an interview for the program, titled “Stadiums of Hate,” former England captain Sol Campbell was asked whether he thought non-white fans should attend the tournament. His response will not have sat well with the publicity wonks at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon: “Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t even risk it … because you could end up coming back in a coffin.” If UEFA considers the program one sided they would do well to consider Michel Platini declined an opportunity to be interviewed for the program, something he surely must regret at this stage.

UEFA and the host nations are in damage control mode. Oleg Luzhny and Andre Shevchenko, former Ukrainian internationals who played some of their football in England, were trotted out to assuage supporter’s fears. Schevchenko stated, “We never have heard problems about racism”, while Luzhny opined, “No, no, no, I never heard about this. We have Nigerian players…and I never heard about racism.” As both men are professionally associated with Dynamo Kiev, they need simply look in the stands or read the graffiti around the ground to understand how wrong they are.

Worse yet, from the point of view of tournament organizers, it has come out in the media in recent days that the families of several prominent, non-white English players, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joleon Lescott, and Theo Walcott, will not be attending due to fears for their safety. As the Guardian reported several days ago, the British Foreign Office has a notation on its website advising “travellers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent and individuals belonging to religious minorities” to take “extra care” when travelling to Eastern Europe. In public, UEFA has taken, and continues to take, the position that it has a “zero tolerance” policy with regard to open displays of racism in European football grounds. In practice, the situation has been much different, and the tournament, which begins on this coming Friday, will be a stern test of the way that the organization responds to the problem in practice.

The question of racism on football has been very much in the public consciousness this season, with a series of high profile incidents roiling the atmosphere in Western European leagues. During a match at Loftus Road In October, Chelsea defender (and erstwhile England captain) John Terry was reported to have racially abused Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand. In February, Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez was clearly caught on camera repeatedly directing racial slurs at Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. In that same month, Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli and midfielder Yaya Toure were subjected to racist chants during a Champions League match at Porto in Portugal.

The consequences of these incidents tell on a lot about the ways that racist incidents are handled in the modern game of football. John Terry was the subject of an investigation by the English Football Association and will be the subject of a criminal prosecution later this summer. Luis Suárez was suspended for eight matches and fined £40,000 (about $61,000). Both of these matters were handled by the domestic authorities in England. In the case of Porto, UEFA doled out a fine of £20,000 to the club in punishment even though this was the 2nd instance of such behavior, the first occurred in 2004 when Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and William Gallas received the same treatment. This might seem like a lot, until you consider that the same body punished Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger for a (non-racist) touchline dispute with an official by fining him £40,000 and banning him for three matches. Adding insult to injury, City was fined €30,000 for taking the pitch 1 minute late to start the 2nd half (actual chant at :20 here).

The question of racism in international football has always been rather fraught. This has, in an important sense, to do with the status of the international game itself. The leadership of both UEFA and of FIFA, the sport’s overarching international governing body, is that the international game functions to bring people together to celebrate their common love of football. At the same time, international football plays on the promotion of intense nationalist sentiments of the kind that, since the end of the Second World War, are looked upon by civilized people with justified suspicion. The governing bodies have, in the past few years, taken to making pious pronouncements with regard to the problem of racism in the game. After Mario Balotelli was racially abused by fans of the Italian club Juventus in 2009, FIFA president Michel Plantini announced the federation’s readiness to see matches abandoned rather than tolerating racist abuse: “We will call for play to be stopped when these things [racial abuse] happen and for announcements to be made in the stadium. If it continues, the match will be stopped.” Thus far, this consequence has never ensued.

All of the cases mentioned above are from Western Europe, but the situation in the east is rather different. There, as the Panorama program was only the latest to illustrate, racism is common and condoned. There is little evidence that that distaste for racism that arose in Western Europe after the horrors of Nazism ever took hold in Eastern Europe. Rather, in the period of Soviet domination, racism simmered just under the surface throughout the region, coming into the open at various points when abetted by the racism (particularly the antisemitism) of the Soviet authorities.

The case of Poland provides an apposite example. After invading in 1939, the Nazis undertook a policy of racial cleansing of an area that they planned to repopulate with “Aryan” German settlers. In the resulting slaughter, nearly 6 million Polish civilians were murdered; a figure that comprises roughly equal numbers of Jewish and non-Jewish Poles. The postwar Polish narrative, in which the Poles were cast a mere victims of Nazi aggression, was not revised until the publication in 2001 of Jan Gross’s Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, illustrating a case in which Poles slaughtered their Jewish neighbors without any significant prompting from the Nazis. The book was highly controversial, but its primary contentions were, to a great extent, confirmed by a government sponsored panel.

Unsurprisingly, Gross’s book prompted very bitter feelings among some Poles, accustomed as they were to viewing themselves in the role of victims. When, in 2006, Gross published a second book about antisemitism in postwar Poland, he was threatened with prosecution by the Polish government on the grounds that he had “slandered the Polish nation.” This response is typical of that of Eastern European officials when confronted with accusations of racism. They are simply dismissed as untrue, irrespective of what evidence is evinced, and often the person leveling the accusations is branded as someone with an axe to grind.

A version of this is clearly in evidence in the Panorama program. After being told by the program’s producer that he had seen (and filmed) a couple of thousand soccer fans openly performing the Hitler salute, a local police official in the Ukraine claims that the fans were simply “raising their right hands” in an attempt to get the attention of the opposing fans. In fact, the Panorama producer seemed to have no problem whatever finding people willing to avow their intense hatred of Jews and of non-white foreigners. The anti-Jewish animus is particularly striking, given that, as a result of the depredations of the Second World War, the Jewish populations of Poland and the Ukraine are miniscule. It is worth noting in this context that accusations of “blood libel,” the spurious assertion that Jews used the blood of Christian babies in their rituals, persisted in Poland into the 1950s.

The occurrence of racism at football ground and in football culture generally will be readily apparent to anyone with an internet connection. And, as this website illustrates, the problem is widespread, and by no means limited to Eastern Europe. (Warning: this website has an autoplay soundtrack that is both hideously racist and musically deeply mediocre, so turn your sound off before looking at it).

This illustrates an important point: racism is by no means limited to Eastern Europe. As the rise of groups like the English Defense League and the growing political prominence of political parties like the Front Nationale in France indicates, the power of racist discourse and ideologies is a problem afflicting Europe generally (and North America as well). What is crucial here is the way that the authorities respond to it. The bodies that govern English football, and those that govern Great Britain more generally, have at least recognize that there is a problem, if their solutions have not always been even and effective. One could, for instance, cite the recent case in which a white woman was sentenced to 21 weeks in jail for racially abusing South Asian passengers on the London subway. Such a prosecution is extremely difficult to imagine in the context of modern Eastern Europe.

Stories of racist abuse of non-whites in Eastern Europe are so widespread as to hardly require citation, especially so since the perpetrators like to publicize their actions by posting videos on YouTube. That we have resisted the temptation to link such videos to this article stems from the desire not to participate in the distribution of violence porn, but it does not take much searching to find them. With the evidence of that frequent occurrence of racist violence in Eastern Europe so ready to hand, the question must be asked as to why it was that UEFA allowed the tournaments to be staged there.

The answer seems to be that, pace their public statements to the contrary, the organization is, as it so often has been, prepared to countenance racism in football with a nudge and a wink, or to assert that it is the responsibility of the national federations, or that it is a problem of society in general. In recent days, Michel Platini has both reiterated UEFA’s willingness to see matches suspended due if there are racist outbursts, but also warned that any player who leaves the pitch because of racist abuse will be booked. The prospect of trouble inside the stadiums is only one dimension of the problem. The staging of tournaments in countries where attacks on non-whites are frequent (much more so than in Western Europe) rewards the national federations and the national governments for their failure to take any but cosmetic steps to address the problem.

One suspects that the governing bodies are well aware of the situation, but unwilling to cost the clubs the large quantities of money that they stand to lose by rigorously policing their ultras. And then there are the local and national governments, whose response to the problem has been, and continues to be, a mix of indignant denial and ineffectual actions. Thus it is that the racism of the ultras will now be validated by the staging of a major European tournament in a zone where they will be allowed to police the racial composition of the fans.

(Images used under fair use guidelines)

Magadh
Captain of Games

Review: Enslave

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on June 6, 2012 by Magadh

Enslave Far East Hardcore Punk MCR

A friend turned me on to this the other day, and I must I’m impressed. I have a long running thing for Japanese hardcore dating back to the 80s when it was seriously exotic and very hard to come by. Back then bands like Gism, Gauze, Lip Cream, Laughin’ Nose, The Stalin, etc. were just names on a page in Maximum Rock n Roll, not the kind thing that the likes of me and my friends were ever likely to come in contact with. The fascination continued in the 1990s when it became a bit easier to actually hear this music for those of us who weren’t manic record collectors.

What immediately became clear was the incredible breadth of the punk rock culture in Japan, ranging from straight ahead hardcore (Bastard, Gauze) to more metal damaged bands (Gism, Gudon) to bouncy funny punk, to old school Oi, to…well you get the point. Suffice to say that I’ve always subsequently been interested in bands out of Japan. I make no claim to be an expert, or even very well versed, especially these days. Thus, I was really surprised when I heard the first few cuts on Enslave’s Far East Hardcore Punk CD. Their music is really hard to pigeonhole, which is a good thing. They have dual male/female vocals, which adds variety. The singing tends to be a bit higher pitched than one is used to, at least if one came up listening to bands like Societic Death Slaughter. At points the screams almost seem to get into black metal territory.

According to the MCR website, Enslave started out with a sort of NYHC sound. Careful listeners may hear some vestiges of these origins, but it is fair to say that they have moved far away from that style. There is very little in terms of metal in the mix here. Rather, Enslave spend most of their time buzzing along at the high end of the d-beat tempo range, but with much more melody, no downtuning, and much greater variety in terms of the tempos that they are willing the explore. I saw a review that compared some aspects of their music to Articles of Faith, but I really don’t see that at all. Their music is fast, melodic, and tight. Imagine Feel the Darkness era Poison Idea being played by a Burning Heart Records band.

This disc is really a breath of fresh air. I will never get over my love of the classic Japanese HC sound, such as it used to be described, but this is a new thing for me and I find it really compelling. Maybe you will too.

Magadh