Night Thoughts on Necrocapitalism

Posted in Dispatches, Research Notes with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2020 by Magadh

Revolution is never quite the revolution we want. Lost in the warp and woof of our mingled thoughts, what lies below bubbles up like the contents of a witch’s cauldron. In such moments we are, or should be, reminded of the frailty of the worlds we make. But human arrogance is such that someone is always to blame, generally someone other than ourselves.


COVID-19 is both revolutionary and meaningless. It is no less meaningless for all the manifold attempts to build it into one narrative or another and thus to affix it within the realm of human causality. This is clearly the case in the flailing attempts of the current administration in the United States to build it into a coherent spectacular image. Having failed to nullify it through blunt denial, the administration’s latest tack is to try to make it part of the larger phenomenon of asymmetric warfare between the United States and China, flavored to taste with collaboration by the deep state.


This is one of those elite narratives that is clearly meant for distribution to the desperate and delusional fractions of the petit bourgeoisie who graze on Fox News and support the president with passionate intensity irrespective of his malign, bumbling incompetence. Its mélange of baseless assertions and debunked, paranoid fantasies is so obviously ludicrous that even that those in media and government tasked with doling it out can hardly do so with a straight face.

Beneath the crass politicization of the event lies a deeper reservoir of cathectic energy wherein the virus becomes an element of stories the moral of which ranges from redemption to pure catastrophe. One is here reminded of the televangelist in Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic Repo Man who reminds his views that “the Lord works in mysterious and often meaningless ways.” To see COVID-19 as the hand of God might be seen as a source of comfort, even if the underlying purposes might escape the bounds of human comprehension. That the virus is the hand of nullity is rather less palatable.


What COVID-19 has done is to cast the contours of capitalism in relief. If the book trade persists in the wake of the crisis, many bytes will be spilled describing the various ways in which this is true. To take only one of the most immediately horrifying examples, coronavirus has given rise to a new variety of proletarianization. On Marx’s view, the defining feature of the proletariat was that its members had nothing to sell but their labor power. The new proletariat of the era of COVID-19 has nothing to sell but their presence.


Capitalism always involves the consumption of human life force. The current age is one in which the owners of capital are simply being rather more honest and open about it. This COVID-19-inspired glasnost was first eminently clear in the statement a month ago by the lieutenant governor of Texas to the effect that grandparents might (perhaps ought to) be willing to risk death in order to allow the economy to function. What might at another moment have been universally viewed as blood-curdlingly profligate with respect to human life read in the current circumstances as mere candor.


Since that time three things have become clear. The first is that the president is bored by the crisis. There is nothing fun or interesting about it. It just goes on and on. The virus doesn’t care about its reputation, can’t be slandered or flattered in the media, just keeps taking off the kind of inconsequential meat sacks who wouldn’t be part of the kind of entertaining synergies of which the president is so fond. And yet their sheer numbers present a problem that persists in sucking the joy out of life.

The second thing to emerge is the desperation of the state governors. Irrespective of political coloration, the inhabitants of the various statehouses are all intimately aware of the prospects for economic ruin presented by the virus. COVID-19 is having a catastrophic effect on the human propensity to truck and barter. Those segments of the economy that subsist most effectively in the current situation, ones involving delivery and little or no face to face contact, tend to generate cosmopolitan pools of capital that end up in bank or brokerage accounts beyond borders of the states (and often of the country).


Even among the most science-friendly among them, the specter of economic collapse creates inherent systemic pressure to do something. It doesn’t help that several are now being harried by astroturfed “protests” involving white guys, many toting long guns, demanding the freedom to die (or to kill others) for a burrito and a beer. It goes without saying that this is a white man’s protest since the consequences for people of color of showing up armed (be it with a gun or a cell phone or a candy bar) in public spaces are often lethal. Be that as it may, the compelling power of tens of protestors waving flags, guns, and the occasional antisemitic slogan on the premises of the state capital can hardly be denied.

Third, and as a consequence of the previous two items, the president’s response to the crisis is to fall back on the nostrums that have served him well in the past. Rather than engage in the unglamorous and tedious work of planning and executing a systematic, national-level program, it is clear that the president wants to stage some sort of macabre competition among the state governors to see who can wager the most human lives on the reopening of the economy. The weeks and months to come present the prospect of The Apprentice: COVID-19 Edition, with state governors playing the role of supplicants seeking the favor of the dear leader.


Rescinding stay at home orders, as many governors now seem intent on doing, will have one of three consequences. It may have no effect since just because businesses are allowed to open doesn’t mean they will actually do so, and even if they do that still doesn’t mean that people will be inclined to take the risk of patronizing them. It may cause a spike in infections and deaths from the virus, over and above the current upward trend. Or it might allow the state economies to function again, thus saving the day. Of these, the first two seem much the most likely outcomes, while prospects for the third seem vanishingly small. But this hasn’t stopped the cold-eyed realists of capitalism from banking that the longshot will actually pay off.


For that to happen, workers have to be made to give up their labor power and to do so on terms that allow for the efficient extraction of surplus-value. This applies particularly to that segment of the workforce whose jobs cannot be done from a remote location. If the hash is going to get slung and the mani-pedis are going to get done, people have to be on-site to do them and it won’t do to have them withholding their labor power merely because of some squeamishness about contracting a potentially fatal illness.

The opening shot in this struggle (or in this intensified phase of it) was the president’s signing of an executive order indemnifying the meat industry against suits by employees sickened in the course of their jobs. The president was very hesitant to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to compel businesses to make supplies necessary to fight the pandemic. But he approached the project of protecting multibillion-dollar corporations from the depredations of their employees with gusto. When a handful of meatpacking plants were forced to close because employees became ill (and some had the temerity to actually croak), the president saw an imminent threat to the timely provision of hamburgers and moved with alacrity to make sure that the risk remained precisely where it belonged: among the proletariat of the physically present.


Congress has since taken up the call. Mitch McConnell has let it be known that no further bailout money will be made available, especially to the states (read as blue states) without some sort of blanket immunity against liability being provided for employers. Exceptions would be made, McConnell intoned, for cases of “gross negligence”. But they will apparently not be made for simply forcing people on the threat of starvation to deal out subs and chicken wings to whoever might care to come by.


There is a certain (admittedly highly contested) view of fascism that sees it as the project of capital to discipline workers. The argument goes that the rising militancy of workers in the late 1920s and 1930s, resulting from the systemic dysfunction of capitalism in the era between the world wars caused those in need of their surplus-value to undertake extreme measures to encourage, or enforce, workers’ compliance. The root causes and fundamental nature of fascism are certainly more complicated than this. Still, the need or desire to keep capitalism functioning smoothly by making participation more or less explicitly compulsory is a common feature of the system in crisis.

Signs of the systemic crisis are easy to see and were visible before the shock of COVID-19. Slow growth and system-wide overcapacity have combined with the concentration of wealth at the top of the income distribution to create turbulence. In part this turbulence has been managed by diversionary tactics: communism, the threat of global jihad, “we have always been at war with China”, the prospect that brown people are coming to take jobs and white women. Trump is the apotheosis of this diversionary spectacle, but he is only an expression of it rather than, in any significant sense, its author.


Viewed in a certain light, the roots of the current political-cultural formation go back to the formation of the republic, and to the slave system that provided the moment of primary accumulation for both Europe and the settler colonies it created. More directly, it’s roots lie in the need for conservatives to find some other basis on which to compete for votes during the economic boom of the postwar decades, which high growth and a (by American standards) healthy welfare state made small-government conservatism a hard sell. The so-called “Southern strategy” and the 1964 Goldwater presidential campaign were its harbingers.


Much as this approach has reaped considerable rewards in the last decades, the advent of coronavirus has presented it with new challenges. The consequences of the destruction of the welfare safety net are now clear for all to see and become painfully apparent to people whose jobs are currently unavailable and are likely to be exceptionally dangerous for the foreseeable future. The ramping up of the ludicrous narrative in which COVID-19 was generated in a weapons lab with the goal of destroying the Trump regime is symptomatic of the challenges facing the neoliberal populist project.


The other side of the coin is the chorus off assertions from Republican officials that “there are more important things than living.” These things include (perhaps are limited to) keeping processes of capital accumulation running. The rush to reopen states is a further expression of this, as it amounts to a sort of back door compulsion for people to reassume their positions in the workforce irrespective of whether it is actually safe for them to do so. The mayor of Las Vegas was particularly brazen in this respect, offering up her city as, in effect, a giant Petri dish in which the effects of unrestrained transmission of coronavirus can be studied at closes range.

Sadly, the popular slogan about things that happen in Vegas staying there never held much water, and in the context of the current circumstances is simultaneously brutal and utterly vain. The mayor herself was coy about her own potential exposure, which gives one a little insight into the understanding in conservative circles about the appropriate distribution of risk. Given the stark facts of COVID-19’s propensity to spread via asymptomatic carriers, it may be the case that best friends of the Republicans (those most willing to cast off the shackles of social distancing) will turn out to be its worst enemies, as the curve of contagion takes a further upward course. In any case, the next few months will see a nationwide experiment in necrocapitalism and where that will take matters in anyone’s guess.


So here we are in the revolution, and it is being televised. The danger posed by COVID-19 and the threat it poses to those lacking the political and economic capital necessary to absent themselves from the venues of greatest risk have the capacity to play the role of class consciousness in the classical Marxist system. Certainly, the rules of the game and the imperatives on which it operates will become ever clearer to those placed in the firing line the need to make and sell. But all the neither automatically constitutes a clear understanding of the problem nor the organizational nous to become an agent of change. The future is, if not open, at least more susceptible to fundamental transformation than it has been for the best part of a century.

You’re Not Going to Believe This…

Posted in Heads Up with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2020 by Magadh

But Slavoj Žižek’s new book is actually quite good. I just reviewed it for http://www.thebattleground.eu…

The Communist Influenza

Separation

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2020 by Magadh

“Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalization of the social division of labor in the form of class divisions had given rise to an earlier, religious form of contemplation: the mythical order with which every power has always camouflaged itself. Religion justified the cosmic and ontological order that corresponded to the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing everything their societies could not deliver. In this sense, all separate power has been spectacular. But this earlier universal devotion to a fixed religious imagery was only a shared belief in an imaginary compensation for the poverty of a concrete social activity that was still generally experienced as a unitary condition. In contrast, the modern spectacle depicts what society could deliver, but in so doing it rigidly separates what is possible from what is permitted. The spectacle keeps people in a state of unconsciousness as they pass through practical changes in their conditions of existence. Like a factitious god, it engenders itself and makes its own rules. It reveals itself for what it is: an autonomously developing separate power, based on the increasing productivity resulting from an increasingly refined division of labor into parcelized gestures dictated by the independent movement of machines and working for an ever-expanding market. In the course of this development, all community and all critical awareness have disintegrated; and the forces that were able to grow by separating from each other have not yet been reunited.”

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, #25

Drunks on Death Metal, Episode 1: Ripping Corpse

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , on April 20, 2020 by Magadh

After many technical issues, I’ve managed to put together and post the first episode of our new video podcast: Drunks on Death Metal. Episode 1 features a discussion of one of the most crushing bands ever to emerge from the wilds of New Jersey: Ripping Corpse

Obviously, there are still some technical issues to get sorted, but this will do to be going on with. Check out the comments for links to Ripping Corpse’s recorded output. More (and better) to come…

Review: Subtype Zero

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on March 30, 2020 by Magadh

Subtype Zero, Ceremonious Extinction, Seeing Red Records (2020)

When I finally tumbled on to Subtype Zero’s first release, The Astral Awakening about six months ago, I kind of felt like a chump for not having heard it sooner. I know I talk about how much harder it was to find out what was going on back in the days of tape trading and photocopied fanzines, and every time I do I kind of feel like one of those elves in a Tolkien novel banging on about how horrible (or awesome) things were 5000 years ago. But if a thrash metal record of this quality is going to be put out by a band from Cleveland I feel like it should cause my spider-sense to tingle at least a little bit.


The Astral Awakening is one of the more ripping straight thrash metal records you’re ever going to hear. If you’re like me and you keep waiting for Power Trip to drop another CD you could do a lot worse than to fill the intervening time with this. Subtype Zero pack 12 songs into 29 minutes and change, which tells you something about their approach. Their songs get to the point quickly and don’t overstay their ideas. They’ve got lots of chugging guitars and double bass thumping and the playing is pretty razor-sharp.


I feel kind of bad for these guys. They were just about to leave on tour to support their newest release, Ceremonious Extinction, when the zombie plague hit and everything to knocked into a cocked hat. Obviously, things could have been worse. The whole thing might have happened while they were on the road (or they might have caught the zombie plague themselves) but you could kind of forgive them for feeling like (what must have been) a lot of hard work was getting derailed.

 


Well, I’ve been waiting around my house for the scheduled release date of Ceremonious Extinction, which was three days ago, and I’ve now had the chance to listen to it a couple of dozen times (because what the fuck else do I have to do with my time). The four songs here absolutely shred. Three of the four are less than three minutes, while the other is four minutes and change. Once again, short and to the point is a virtue. Dripping with dark aggression, this about the best thing I’ve heard this year.


Ok, the year is only three months old, but you get my point. Subtype Zero absolutely deliver the goods. “Esoteric Illusion” absolutely fires out of the gate with some kick-ass thrash, punctuated with the obligatory whammy bar solos and pinch harmonics. There are a decent number of changes of tempo in a song that only lasts 2:18. If you guessed that the follow-up cut, “Ethereal Spirit,” started about with a head-bang-inducing double bass run, well, you’d be right.


I’m really bitter about a lot of things associated with the current situation, not the least of which being that it cost me a chance of seeing them live. So I hope all this stuff gets sorted out soon, and, yes, for the obvious humanitarian motives. But I do also need to get my mosh on, so I need these guys to be able to play in person. If you think I’m going to be headbanging to Ceremonious Extinction like some sort of nerd in front of my computer, you are 100% correct.

Review: Odious Mortem

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on February 12, 2020 by Magadh

Odious Mortem Synthesia

On Synthesia, their third record and their first for quite a long time, Odious Mortem have really cracked the fucking code. Normally my tolerance for the “technical” variant of death metal is kind of limited. All too often these bands get so wrapped up in their ability to generate riffs in odd configurations and time signatures that they end up chasing themselves up their own collective asshole. It’s a rare band where I find myself thing, “Damn, I really want to hear that song again. But on my third run through this disk, I’m still discovering it’s positives qualities, and still interested in hearing more.

Ok, there are a lot of blast beats, which is pretty much de rigeur for this type of thing, but there aren’t a lot of places where I find myself trying to tap whether they’re still in 7/8 or have moved on to 11 or some other completely random time signature. There are places where these guys sound a lot like Anata, especially in the era of the latter’s Under a Stone with No Inscription. But Anata’s problem, if you want to call it that (and many devotees of this kind of metal probably view this as a virtue) is that they were so fast and changed so often that one often felt suffocated.

There is, of course, something to be said for this. But metal thrives on a certain amount of groove and what you really want is for these bands, when they occasionally stumble onto a really dominant riff among the forest of licks that they’re firing at you, to give it to you enough time to generate some head bob.

Ok, so Odious Mortem don’t give you a huge amount of that, but they do give you enough to keep you interested. The songs are kind of short, at least by technical death metal standards, but that adds to their power. It’s easy to string together riff after riff, especially at hyper speed. It’s harder to arrange songs in a way that makes sense and seems coherent rather than just mystifying. Odious Mortem’s songs make a certain kind of sense, and that lifts their material to a whole other level of quality.

There is an interesting element of old school death metal in these cuts. Not a huge amount, but enough to frame the more technical passages in such a way as to let you comprehend their extremity. This album is distinguished by its musicality, which is just not something one finds oneself writing about technical death metal bands all that often. It’s not just that these dudes are good at their instruments. They’re good at writing songs, which is not the same thing.

Synthesia is a stone-cold slab of blistering death metal. Their playing is absolutely razor-sharp, which is, of course, the coin of the realm here. It’s not just that it’s extreme and impressive, although it is both of those things. It’s simply awesome death metal and something that should definitely be your jam.

Review: Deny

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2020 by Magadh

Deny Dystopia Flyktsoda

I’ve been meaning to get around to reviewing totally crushing recent release by the Swedish band Deny. There are so many d-beat/crust bands kicking around Sweden these days that sometimes it can be a little difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, but these guys are definitely in the former category. Dystopia is a seriously hard rocking piece of kängpunk that hits all the right marks.

Before getting into the particulars, I want to return to a point that I’ve adverted to a number of times over the years. Given the relatively small number of people in Sweden (slightly more people than in the Chicago metro area), it’s absolutely mindblowing that it has produced the volume of completely crushing fucking band (among with Deny must certainly be numbered). My friends and I back in Portland used to fantasize about going to Sweden because we assumed that there would be a crust punk band playing on every corner.

Deny hail from Mariestad in Västra Götaland, a ways away from the hotbeds of Swedish hardcore in Gothenburg, Malmö, or Stockholm. Their songs tend to be short, but have a real punch and catchiness and always leave you wanting more. This is a major virtue since one of the failings of a lot of d-beat bands is to write songs that outrun the quality of their ideas.

Deny write songs that are short and to the point. Their sound, at least in terms of song structure, is a little in the retro side. They remind me a lot more of a band like Black Uniforms than of more modern bands like Martyrdöd and Myteri, although they definitely have some melodic moments. If you really twisted my arm, I’d say they sound like the Spanish band Instinto, with somewhat shorter songs and brighter production. The singer screams with real intensity, but in a way such that you can actually understand what’s being said. There is a lot of political and social commitment here, so it’s nice to be able to hear (and understand) what they have to say about it.

As near as I can tell they aren’t down-tuned at all, and it’s really refreshing to hear a band embracing the kängpunk genre who doesn’t need to tune down to C to get their point across. Deny let their songwriting do the talking. There are little interludes here and there, some metallic, some melodic, but their theory is pretty clearly to punchy, ass-kicking tunes and let the music do the talking. After checking out their songs, I had occasion to dig the video that they did for the title track, which is awesome and seriously disturbing.

They have a number of earlier releases available on Bandcamp  and these are definitely worth checking out for people who love totally unapologetic Swedish d-beat. But Dystopia absolutely goes a step beyond their previous material. The playing is absolutely razor-sharp and the production is absolutely crystal clear. The songs range in speed from frantic (“Meatmachine”) to what you might call d-beat standard (“Market of Flesh”) to slower (“Never Again”), but they show mastery at each point. I can’t remember a record that I’ve heard lately where I dig every single cut, but this is definitely one.

Dystopia is as close as you’re going to come to a perfect punk record in this day and age. Deny have integrated a lot of different genre influences, from straight d-beat, to its more melodic variants, and even some metal overtones. The end result is a record that rocks hard and sounds all their own. This disc should be my jam for a long time to come.

The Era of the Late Republic, Part 1

Posted in Dispatches, Research Notes with tags , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2019 by Magadh

We are living in the late period of the American republic. The global order of the decades following the Second World War has entered an era of inexorable decline. A new global order has arisen whose fundamental characteristics are refeudalization, colonization, and hyperreality. It is shaped by a complex of overlapping and interlinked economic and political processes, for which these terms function as heuristic markers. The transformation of the global order has fundamentally undermined the institutions of the America republic. How, then, are we to parse the conceptual ecology of the late republic.

It is difficult to periodize precisely, because its roots reach back into the previous era, but also in some respects to the origins of capitalism itself. History resists the definition borders between clear, unambiguous periods. This, it is impossible to point to an exact moment at which the current age was born. Its existence has been defined by two overarching features, the outlines of which have become increasingly clear against the background of political and economic processes that make up postwar industrial mass society.

The political order of the industrially developed world has been reshaped by a process of privatization (and monetization) of previously public governmental functions which some (Jürgen Habermas, Sighard Neckel, and others) have termed refeudalization. This process involves the extreme concentration of wealth at the upper end of the income distribution which, as some (such as Thomas Piketty) have argued, is a tendency intrinsic to the capitalist mode of production. But it has also involved a project, often term “neoliberalism,” conceived in the 1940s and 1950s and operationalized with increasing intensity since the 1980s. The central thrust of this project was the substitution of private economically based modes of governance for public democratic ones.

At the same time, capitalism itself has been subject to a series of fundamental transformations. The first was the rise to predominance of finance capitalism. Finance has been a central element of capitalist production since the 19th century. Since the 1970s, financial profits have risen sharply as a proportion of the whole. Much recent work has shown, in the last 20 years capitalism has undergone a further metamorphosis. Shoshana Zuboff has argued that a variant of capitalism that she terms “surveillance capitalism” is increasingly becoming the dominant mode of capital accumulation. Others, like McKenzie Wark, Wolfgang Streeck, and the journalist Paul Mason, have argued that capitalism itself is in a process of transformative crisis. Wark views current conditions as post-capitalist, while Streeck and Mason argue that post-capitalism will arise soon. Both contentions merit further investigation.

Zuboff has argued persuasively that a process of colonization has driven the formation of a new mode of capitalism. A new digital nomos has been established, facilitating the large-scale collection, retention, processing, and sale of behavioral surplus data. This process mirrors in important ways the brutal projects of extractive colonial domination undertaken by European powers with ever extensively and intensively over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Carl Schmitt’s analysis of the parsing of colonial spaces in the era of the ius publicum Europaeum is an apposite reference point here. Citizens in the industrially developed world are now experiencing a sort of neo-colonial reflux of systems of domination and exploitation to which extra-European regions have been subjected, to one degree or another, for the last three centuries.

At the level of the political, hyperreality is the order of the day. Arguably, the hegemony of the hyperreal emerged in 1964. In that year, in response to a fictional attack on U.S. naval forces in the Gulf of Tonkin, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed (with a mere two dissenting votes) the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the president authorization to order military action without a formal declaration of war. A more compelling starting point is October 2002, when the U.S. Congress, approved the Iraq Resolution. Although there was greater dissent at this point (155 opposing votes out of a total in both houses of 529 members), it is the speciousness of the underlying evidence that connects these two events.

History is replete with instances in which dissimulation and bluster have formed the basis for military adventures. This difference in these two cases if the hyperreal context of the decision-making process. This context was in the process of formation in the earlier case. By the time of the (so-called) Second Iraq War, hyperreality was in full effect and debates over the course of action appropriate to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and/or global terrorism took place in a conceptual and intellectual ecology far removed from any viable concept of common ascertainable and demonstrable reality. These events in the politico-military sphere are symptomatic, the external faces of an order in which the internality of society and human being have disintegrated. In place of coherent subjectivity, there is now only performance and reflection.

Prediction is a vain, of also occasionally interesting mode of interaction with historical and contemporary conditions. As Max Weber wrote compellingly more than a century ago,

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrifaction, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.

It may be the case that the totally administered society that the thinkers of the Frankfurt School (quite rightly) found so alarming will arise in the context of a technological formation that they could not have imagined. The digital panopticon created by surveillance capitalism seems in many ways to be more powerful more all-encompassing than the “stahlhartes Gehäuse” with which Weber characterized modernity. What follows is an attempt to trace some of the features and synergistic interactions between the return to feudal modes of political action and organization, the colonization of private life through the collection of behavioral surplus data, and the spectacular politics of the hyperreal.

Review: Adrestia

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2019 by Magadh

Adrestia, The Wrath of Euphrates (Phobia Records) 2019

I meant to review Adrestia’s supremely hard-rocking The Wrath of Euphrates months ago when it first came out. But at that point, I was absolutely up to my ears in other projects and it passed out of my sight for a time. What follows take a little while to get where it’s going. If you want the Cliff’s Notes version, this is a really shattering piece of metallic crust, that has the added benefit of having sound political consciousness and an important message. If this is enough for you, feel free to move on down the line. For the rest…

*****

I can remember a lifetime ago standing around at the Mermaid in Birmingham seeing Napalm Death for the first time. In time this would get to be kind of old hat. They opened a lot of shows in Birmingham in those days and I ended up seeing them a bunch of times in the months that I lived in the U.K. in the spring and summer of 1986, but I recall the first time clearly. I recall it because I’d seen Mick Harris, a weedy little guy (not as weedy as myself of course) with the brim of his baseball cap flipped up and Lärm scrawled across it, hanging around the bar for an hour before the show. But this thing I most remember is that they must have done 30 songs in a fifteen minute set.

If I’m remembering correctly, they were a three-piece then and their bassist was singing. Before each of the manic blasts he would bark out whatever the subject of the song was: “This one’s about…destruction of the environment!” But, for all I knew, it might have been about the scoreline of the Aston Villa versus Nottingham Forest football match. It was just completely impenetrable.

I don’t know about those guys, but I do know that a lot of the punks that I met around Notts were pretty politically engaged: going to demos, playing benefits, doing a little light hunt saboteuring here and there. This was a big change for me from the U.S. (or at least my part of it). Politics for us were a bit more abstract. I think we mostly hated Ronald Reagan, but the general run of punks in the U.S. was pretty unpolitical (and sometimes kind of right-wing). I remember one of the Notts punks saying to me, “The only band from the U.S. that I take seriously is Crucifix.”

As I got more toward adulthood (and moved to an actual city as opposed to the backwater town I grew up in), I found more punks being actively engaged, doing non-profit stuff, running Food Not Bombs, etc. But toward the end of the 1980s I felt like that fell off a bit. Punk in the U.S. always had a pretty strong element of personal rather than political focus, and the rise to prominence of the East Bay pop punk bands kind of validated this. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but only a bit. There were always overtly political bands (especially in Portland where the crust thing was almost cult-like), but as I got older a really began to miss the more political end of things.

The upshot of all of this is that nowadays I have an especially soft spot my heart for bands with serious political commitment. Having followed developments in Rojava for a few years, I was really gratified when Martyrdöd (which reads of this blog will who I have a real thing for) put out a release in support of the cause there.

The struggle of the Kurds for an autonomous homeland perhaps did not receive the support from the community of the left that it might because the fight against groups like ISIL attracts so many from the nutball right. People are justifiably hesitant to take positions that might line them up alongside a bunch of neofascists, and the opposition to ISIL from that end of the spectrum is, more often than not, freighted with a lot of racist and cultural chauvinist baggage.

As Mr. Trump’s recent dealings with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demonstrate, the right has a hard time not simply categorizing non-whites as terrorists to one degree or another (thus Mr. Trump and his supporters were pretty much ok with Erdoğan’s project of ethnically cleansing northern Syria). Support for Rojava, and the YPJ and YPG units fighting to defend their autonomous zone and to root ISIL out of the region, is something decent people can unreservedly get behind.

Martyrdöd took an important step along this path with their video for “Harmageddon” in 2016. The use of actual footage of YPJ fighters in battle was intense and compelling. They then reprised this cut on the In Solidarity with Rojava split EP with Adrestia that came out the following year.

Adrestia’s previous full length, The Art of Modern Warfare (2017) also had Rojava as an important theme. I remember listening to it at the time, but never really connecting to it, although it holds up well now in retrospect. It’s got the kind of crusty aggression that you’d expect, plus the cover has actual colors other than black and white, which is a refreshing change.

The Wrath of Euphrates is a real step forward. This gets my vote for the best record to come out in 2019, and I really don’t think there’s been anything else even close (ok maybe Hellknife, Dusk of Doom which coincidentally is also out on Phobia Records). The Wrath of Euphrates comprises thirteen cuts of hyperaggressive d-beat crust. There is a very significant metal dimension to this disc, with a lot of single-string techniques, overlying melodies that would not have been out of place on an early Dimmu Borgir record. There are also more straight-ahead metal touches (a fair amount of heel damping, pick harmonics, and solos more complicated than the standard d-beat fare). But it all works together.

Their sound bounces around between early Wolfpack and a more Skit System-esque direction. Like a lot of crust bands, they tend to play a lot of melodies over underlying d-beat progressions. But unlike bands like Martyrdöd or Burning Bright, Adrestia’s melodies are more depressing and uglier.

The result is a disc that absolutely blazes with anger and aggression. It’s hard to single out particular cuts as excellent, but if you twist my arm I’d say my favorites are “See You in Hell” and “Afrin.” The former fields a pretty complex lick that then resolves into a skull-crushing d-beat pounder. This one had me headbanging to the point that I nearly wrecked my (thanks guys). “Afrin” features an opening in a sort of eastern sounding progression that is very much outside the norm for this style of music and which helps it develop real atmosphere.

For added awesome, check out the video they did for “The Message” with vocals by former Anti-Cimex singer Tomas Jonsson. I will just sya that I had very good reason to believe that nothing like this would ever happen, so it was nice to hear Jonsson’s voice gracing another record.

The Wrath of Euphrates is about as perfect of a synthesis of metal chops and hardcore aggro that you’re ever going to find. They play their music like the world was coming down around their ears and they’d been invited to play the afterparty with Motörhead. I really can’t imagine what they could do to top this, but I am eager to hear them try.

Review: For I Am

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2019 by Magadh

For I Am Late Bloomers (Bearded Punk Records)

[I dedicate the following lines to the two Belgian punk rocker guys who I met at a Christmas party in Berlin a few years ago. They must have been the only people there who didn’t speak German and, sort of in payment for chatting to them in English but also out of punk rock solidarity, they kept passing me bottles of Duvel until I was absolutely rat-arsed. I hope you lads are well…]

Punk rock, the internet, and a proctologist’s surgery all have one thing in common: one tends to find an above-average proportion of really unpleasant assholes there. Having spent a lot of time around the first two at least, I have (as one must) learned to ignore most of it. But there are moments, often in the late and solitary watches of the night, when the capacity of both the internet and the underground scene to distill the most repugnant qualities of human beings can bring one to an attitude of real loathing.

So it was the other night when, noodling around on Youtube, I found this:

I was pretty deep in my cups at that point, and I honestly can’t remember now why I decided to watch it. Taylor Swift is not really my thing and, as far as pop punk bands go the market is so saturated that it’s rare that one that catches my attention. But, lo, I was really pleasantly surprised. All too often, cover songs tend to be a kind of slavish homage, a lesser version of some greater original. More rarely, a band will take a cut from some other genre and, by translating it into their own, show the original in a new and different light. Leatherface were masters at this, for instance when they covered Abba’s “Eagle” or Elton John’s classic “Candle in the Wind.” But such brilliancies are few and far between, and altogether too rare.

For I Am’s driving cover of “Blank Space” is very much of the latter kind. While the original is very much in the mold of Taylor Swift’s (not unpleasant) more recent bouncy pop material, For I Am kicks out the jams, rendering it in aggressive, guitar-heavy double four time. Vocalist Hanne Terweduwe absolutely makes the whole production, both with her powerful singing chops and the sort of goofball demeanor that she effects. Swift’s original was an expression of her frustration at being painted in the (grossly sexist) press as some kind of man-eater. For that reason, it is important that is a woman delivering the lyrics.

Some gender-specific songs can have their valence reversed to useful effect (for instance Joan Jett’s cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover”). By contrast, “Blank Space” is an attempt to highlight a kind of treatment specifically meted out to women. While there are (I have since discovered) quite a number of covers of this song floating around the net, the ones with dudes singing miss something important.

Anyway, my interest piqued, I headed over to Bandcamp for a little deeper dive. For I Am are from Antwerp. I must admit to my own embarrassment that I’ve probably only ever heard three or four Belgian punk bands. The only one that I can readily remember is Zyklome A, whose Made in Belgium was a classic of 1980s hardcore.

For I Am play pretty straightforward pop punk and just released their third offering, Late Bloomers. There is a refreshing self-awareness about this band. Their profile on Discogs.com features the line, “Does the world really need another pop-punk band? Probably not, but we started one anyway.” That’s fine. Rock the way you want to rock and if the field of pop punk bands is a bit crowded, quality tends to show through.

For I Am’s two prior releases are a 7 song EP from 2014 (15 Minutes Late) and a full CD from 2016 (All About Perspectives). The former was subsequently re-released with three added cuts under the title 15 Minutes Late (Again). These first two offerings have a lot going for them: catchy melodies, efficient arrangements, heavy guitars, a drummer who really knows what he’s doing, and Terweduwe who belts out the vocals with joy and conviction. Their songs cover both personal and political topics, the lyrics smooth and well-composed, especially for people working in their second language (if not their third).

It is one of the great failings of bands generally, and pop punk bands in particular, to find a formula and stick with it. One thinks here, for instance, of No Use For A Name, who settle on a workable approach with ¡Leche Con Carne! and then rerecorded it five more times. Say what you want about Bad Religion, the records that they released after No Control at least responded to the criticism that that record sounded almost exactly like its predecessor.

For those wondering what a new record from For I Am might comprise, I will say that they have resisted the temptation to rest on their laurels. They’ve retained the things that were appealing about their earlier releases while adding some nice touches and different textures. For I Am features a dual guitar attack and interplay is actually pretty subtle. The guitar sound is thick with overdrive. Late Bloomers features some more metallic-sounding techniques than and their prior discs. The songs tend to hit some pretty frenetic speeds, but the melodies are there still present and correct. Their bass player is surpassingly good, playing lots of chordal stuff that sounds at points like the guy from Face to Face (and I think that was about the best thing about that particular band).

Over it all, Hanne Terweduwe’s vocals are a powerful presence. At a couple of points in their web presence, they make the point that there aren’t that many female-fronted bands in Belgium. Probably true, because it’s true for punk rock in general. It’s always been kind of a sausage party, so it’s always nice to find women using the punk scene to amplify their power. The lyrics are smart and heartfelt in the way of modern pop punk, and there are some really clever elements as well. “P.I.G.O.T.R.Y.” makes a kind of cool, backhanded reference to Animal Farm, and this is only the best of a very good bunch.

I’ve been rocking Late Bloomers in my car for days now and it always makes me smile. I don’t always like pop punk, but For I Am makes the noise that my brain wants to hear. Maybe there are a lot of bands like this, but there is always room in the world for a band that rocks this hard.