Archive for punk

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: Röntgen

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2019 by Magadh

Röntgen, Inhale Death (Blown Out Media)

Quite a cool 7″ released by one of the very few bands from New Mexico that I’ve ever heard. Straight ahead hardcore thrash with little in the way of frills. These guys have some d-beat elements, but they don’t sound like the 8 million Dissober clones out there. Let me just say that I like bands tuned down to C as much as the next guy (maybe more depending on who the next guy is), but I have to admit that it is kind of refreshing to hear this music being rocked in standard tuning. It shows a kind of faith in one’s ability to create rocking punk with artificially punching up the heaviness.

Inhale Death features seven cuts of mostly in a kind of middling tempo. They have some nice changes and lots of feedback, and they don’t commit the cardinal sin of bands in the kängpunk world of making their tunes longer than the underlying ideas will bear. The recording is crisp, especially the guitar sound which has quite pleasing buzzsaw quality to it. The guitarist uses heel damping rather more often than is common in d-beat releases but in that kind of scratchy punk rock way that makes the music sound more intense but not more metallic.

The vocals are not in that super low, unintelligible register that characterizes so many bands like this. The singer sounds like he just came home to find a beloved family pet dismembered on the front lawn.  I still can’t tell what the fuck he’s saying (or really even if it’s a he although the names on the lineup suggest that it is), but he sounds desperate and angry and not so much like a wounded Yeti, which is a plus.

D-beat should always leave you wanting more not less. When I hit the end of this disc after the first listening I immediately queued it up again…because I wanted to hear more. This is punk the way that is should be done: raw and angry. If I could give this band one piece of advice it would be: do not change a fucking thing.

Review: False Confession

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2019 by Magadh

False Confession, Out of the Basement Demo CD Queer Pills

Sometime in the Spring of 1985 I was in Seattle. This was always a big thing. Seattle was six hours away from my home town, Walla Walla, at the opposite corner of the state, and I wasn’t likely to get there more than once or twice a year.

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Review: Alien Boys

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2019 by Magadh

Alien Boys, Night Danger (Desolate Records)

I’m going to just open up by saying that Vancouver B.C.’s Alien Boys have put out a punk rock record that is pretty close to flawless. If you don’t want to read any further, feel free to head over to their Bandcamp page and see if I’m right. But on the off chance that you need more convincing (from me) I will just say that on Night Danger they have found the sweet spot where rocking really fucking hard (which they do) meets smart, passionate politics (which they have). Honestly, I’m having a hard time thinking of something critical to say about them. Maybe it will come to me later.

First off, I love the name, not only because it is (I’m reasonably certain) a reference to the brilliant EP released by The Wipers in 1980, but also because Alien Boys is a great name for a band made up of five women. They put out a demo in 2016 called Self-Critical Theory. I can’t recall hearing it at the time, but it definitely had promise. It was pleasingly raw, chugging punk with melodies that lifted it above the run of releases in this vein. It was good, but it’s one of those things that looks better when you hear what came after.

Night Danger is in a whole other league. With two guitars the band absolutely thunders through nine cuts (plus the intro) of blazing, melody-tinged punk. There are a lot of reference points in the history of this genre that you could point to. Maybe Rabid Reaction-era Freeze (minus the stupid lyrics) crossed with early SNFU (no, not because they’re Canadian). Alternatively, they sound like The Gits with a second guitar and a lifetime supply of beer and steroids.

Alien Boys are unapologetically political and unflinchingly feminist. They have a kind of tonal similarity to War on Women in this respect, but with a slightly more goofball edge (I’m thinking here of the song “Bender” for which the video is fucking brilliant). Still, when they want to be serious they write songs that really strike home. One of the great failings of dudes (and here I do not exclude myself) is not hearing when women (especially those in the LGBTQ+ community) tell us that they don’t feel safe. “Whose Bodies?” is a great take on this:

When you go out to a nightclub, do you ever look around and wonder “is this safe?”
have you had to hit the ground?
does walking in the street with a loved one hand in hand make you do shoulder checks – because you feel demands from eyes that pry and ask you,
“why do you act this way?”
have you ever been cornered no chance to walk away
countless taken from us and more murdered every day
I’ll tell you something it takes strength to be out in this way
so we resist to this day

Night Danger is loaded with anthemic cuts that are passionately feminist and queer positive. It is, for this reason, not just a great record, but an important one as well. Writing great punk tunes is one thing. Using them as a vehicle for conveying messages that it is crucial that people hear is another. The ability to do both makes this one of the best punk records that I have ever heard.

After so many decades, one often finds oneself wondering if punk as a genre is played out. On the basis of this, you’d have to think it wasn’t. It retains its ability to deliver important messages. Punk always had an element (often a very strong element) of cis white guys mouthing political ideas that they didn’t really understand. But, at its best, it also created (and creates) spaces in which people marginalized people could talk about their lives and their experiences at the tops of their lungs. Sometimes you have to shout at the world because the world doesn’t want to listen. Night Danger is a great example of that.

Review: Martyrdöd

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2019 by Magadh

Martyrdöd, Hexhammeren (Southern fuckin’ Lord)

I wrote somewhere, maybe here, that I always get kind of nervous when I hear that Martyrdöd are about to release a record. I can still remember when I first heard their classic In Extremis (2005), a record which rocked me as hard as anything crust record ever had. Ever since then I’ve been sort of waiting for them to drop off in quality. Sekt, released four years later, was good, but kind of didn’t live up to the earlier release. Paranoia was better but suffered from a bit of indistinctness that often happens to band that is tuned way down. Still, “Tragisk Zeitgeist” was a cut whose rage and power would not have been out of place on In Extremis. Eldop was great. List was better, especially the video for “Harmageddon,” with its footage of heroic women YPG fighters. Long story short, the bar for this band, at least in my estimation, could hardly be higher.

Hexhammeren opens with the title cut, a chugging, heal-damped jackhammer that gallops headlong into the darkness. The slightly more metallic picking style gives the music a different texture, swirling darkly underneath Martyrdöd’s signature melodic overlays. The second track, “Rännilar” (which I think means “rivulets” or something like that) gets back to the more mainline version of the band’s sound. But it is a pummelling track nonetheless, featuring yet another spiraling melodic line.

Since In Extremis, Martyrdöd have made their stock in trade the expression of the anger and sorrow of the world. That record was a barely contained explosion of rage and pain that seemed at all points ready to break the bounds of the recorded medium and to become manifest in the world, anguished and self-aware. Over successive releases, they have polished and refined their sound, but have never lost the edge of furious urgency of their early discs.

Something they’ve added to their repertoire since the release of List three years ago has been video accompaniment. The video for “Harmageddon” mentioned above was an excellent opening shot, juxtaposing footage of the band playing with clips of female YPG fighters doing the business against ISIS. This was particularly effective, not only demonstrating an interest in, and commitment to, actual struggles for actual justice, but also emphasizing the role of women in the ongoing struggle. The band themselves looked on the edge of desperation. Jens Bäckelin attacks his drum kit like a guy administering a beatdown to someone he hates from the old neighborhood.

The new disc is accompanied by videos for “Helveteslarm” and “Pharmacepticon”. The former is good, and has a slightly lighter tone than some of their other material. The latter gets back on model, showing dark and unsettling images over a chunky, mid-tempo cut with a melancholic melody, the sum total of which is quite unsettling.

The material on Hexhammeren constitutes a powerful reaffirmation of the validity of Martyrdöd’s approach. Songs like “Bait and Switch,” “Cashless Society,” and “Den Sista Striden” emerge like explosions of black flame, dripping with overdrive and raw emotion. Martyrdöd’s music is, in a sense, an aphotic apotheosis of crust as a genre, standing as a challenge to every other band to find new ways of fusing darkness and melody. Hexhammeren simply restates this challenge with the accustomed power and clarity.

Since their last record, they’ve had a bit of a lineup change, with Pontus Redig leaving and Tim Rosenqvist moving from bass to guitar. Filling his spot on bass is Daniel Ekeroth, formerly of Dellamorte and a bunch of other bands (and author of the definitive book on the early years of the Swedish death metal scene). So no worries there. If there’s anyone who knows how this music is supposed to sound, or how the bass fits into a band tuned down to somewhere around the key of C, it’s Ekeroth. If I hadn’t known this in advance, I wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

Maybe it’s something in the water. Or maybe they’re just all really depressed. For whatever reason, Sweden seems capable of producing a seemingly endless stream of devastating crust acts, and has been since the early 1980s. One can easily name a dozen such bands without thinking too hard, from Anti-Cimex and Crudes S.S., to Wolfpack and Skit System, and on to Myteri and Misantropic and myriad other groups churning out music that reflects the dark structures of life. Among these, Martyrdöd leads the charge, consistently delivering dark and punishing evidence of the world’s decay.

The world is going down the shitter. That is not news. But it is at least some comfort to be found in the capacity of bands like this to translate the sorrows of the world into forceful mixtures of light and darkness that have the power to block out the anguish of the lived crisis, at least for a moment.  

John from the Eastside

Review: Dödsrit

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 30, 2017 by Magadh

Dödsrit S/T Alerta Antifascista Records/Bloodsoaked Records

 

dodsrit1Moments of absolute perfection are rare. This is probably a good thing since they are indubitably subject to a sort of quantity theory. If we didn’t have things to gripe about, even in the context of things we like, the world would be a duller place. And if our hopes and desires were always being optimally satisfied, life would likewise be impoverished. Maybe the philosophers of dissatisfaction are correct when they say that the payoff that we get never rises to the intensity of the expectation. But there are moments when the joy of realization’s asymptotic approach to the ideal gives one something approximating the joy of real fulfillment.

 

My most recent brush with this region of experience was the first time I spun up Dödsrit’s self-titled mini-LP, available via Bandcamp from Germany’s Alerta Antifascista Records (and in Sweden by Bloodsoaked Records). This disc literally has it all. From the cover photo featuring hoary northern woods bathed in fog, to the skillful melding of crust and black metal styles contained within, Dödsrit is constantly demanding an answer to the question: How could this be done better? And, frankly, most of the time I am left concluding that it couldn’t.

 

The driving force behind this epic is former Totem Skin guitarist Christoffer Öster, already of worthy renown. Those who follow the crust/h.c. scene will know without needing to be told of the complex brilliance of that band. Over the course of two full albums and a number of other releases, Totem Skin bludgeoned listeners with an effective mix of dark styles: from crust, to black metal, to screamo, to passages that verged on the more esoteric realms of emo. Their collective talent for arrangement and composition left in its wake a collection of ripping h.c. cuts the quality of which holds up with the passage of time.

 

In Dödsrit, we have the quintessence of this stylistic mix. The songs are slimmed down (relatively), sacrificing complexity for epic power. Bombastic melodies spiral over cascading blast beats, before spilling vertiginously over broad expanses of battering double bass aggression. This release comprises only four songs, but they are longish, ranging from five to eleven minutes in duration. The question one always has to ask when h.c. and crust bands start crossing the 3 minute barrier with regularity is: Do these cuts really contain enough ideas to justify added length? I will say that, after repeated listening, Dödsrit always leaves me wanting more.

 

It is only a few years since blackened crust really started to be a thing. It’s not totally surprising that those on the darker end of the crust scene would want to try to integrate some of the power and atmosphere that lower fi black metal has often managed to achieve. But all too often this amounts to the excuse for the multiplication of blast beats without concomitant melodic or atmospheric overlays and it ends up just sounding lame. Dödsrit, on the other hand, are the real deal. The integration of crust and black metal elements is absolutely seamless, carrying the listening along on a flood tide of sonic aggression and dark ambiance.

 

Such is the perfection of this record that it’s a little difficult to know where Dödsrit could go from here. At least in my opinion, and you’re welcome to think what you want about what I have to say, they’ve set the bar incredibly high. But that’s a question for the future. For now, it is enough to ride along with them into battle among lonely graves and northern fogs.

–John from the East Side

Punk as Absence

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , on October 22, 2016 by Magadh

blackflagI discovered punk rock when I was in eighth grade (which would have been in 1982 or so). My buddy Chris introduced me to it. In seventh grade he’d turned me on to Iron Maiden. At that point I thought Number of the Beast was the most transgressive thing ever recorded (and so I was fascinated by it). One day, toward the end of eighth grade, Chris said to me, “Iron Maiden is ok, I guess, but Black Flag is way better.” Our mutual friend Brian (who we all called Chauncy for reasons I never quite understood) hooked me up with a tape that had Damaged on one side and the Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables on the other. I was hooked.

dksThe music spoke to me in a way that metal never did. I always thought of metal as kind of thuggish, and that was never me. Strangely, punk didn’t seem that way to me at all. I got hassled at school all the time and I was pretty much a social pariah. Punk gave those experiences a meaningful narrative. The jocks and the rednecks and the cool kids and cute girls who made my life unpleasant were all scum. I and the few friends I had who’d tumbled on to this thing were privy to a sort of secret knowledge, of bands and scenes and signs and movements and languages. There’s a line from an old song by the German punk band Die Ärzte that goes something like, “Wir haben erlebt was andere nicht mal ahnen [We experienced what others don’t suspect].” That summed it up quite nicely, although I only heard it later.

It was only later too, once I’d learned a bit of the history of the cultural formation with which I had aligned myself, that I started to wonder what it was really all about (i.e. was it about what I thought it was about or something different). It was in the course of this that I worked out that talking about “the” punk scene was really a misnomer. The punk scene, like the underground scene more generally (and probably most cultural formations) is not a cohesive organization but a set of overlapping micro- and macro-scenes. There is no central unifying text or positive content, only a set of more or less overlapping networks.

Once I realized this, the culture of punk seemed to me to involve a paradox. People spent a lot of time and spilled a lot of ink in the 1980s trying to figure out what punk was and (what often seemed more important) what and who it wasn’t. If you read the letters section of Maximum Rock n Roll in those days you would see at least one or two, and more often significantly more, assertions that someone was a poser, or that some band was bunch of posers, etc. Even when I was 14 that stuff seemed like a stupid, sterile thing to argue about. In any case, this grated harshly against the ideals of freedom and the varieties of aesthetic expression that were fundamental to my attraction to punk at the most general level. On the one hand, authenticity was key. On the other, there was no such thing.

lydonI remember in this context reading an interview with John Lydon in which he asserted that anyone calling themselves punk at that point was being fundamentally inauthentic. There was a certain sense in which he had a point. From his perspective, he and a few dozen people in and around London in the mid-1970s had created a thing, which had then died (on an electrically tense night in the Cow Palace in San Francisco if not before), and they had moved on. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple.

The London punk scene of the mid- to late 1970s was influenced by the sort of glam/art rock scene in New York, radiating outward from the New York Dolls, which was itself heavily influenced by bands like the MC5 and the Stooges. The more you dig into it, the more you find that each of these scenes was connected (sometimes by personnel, sometimes by style) to bands and scenes that had gone before. In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus makes the point quite effectively (pace Stewart Home’s rather nasty critique in Cranked Up Really High) that there is a line of cultural connection that can be drawn connecting Dadaism, Lettrism, Situationism, and a bunch of even less well known movements for the revolutionization of art and civilization, with the various punk-related scenes of the 1970s.

yotIn the early 1980s, I and my friends took part in inscribing the hardcore punk scene into the culture of small town eastern Washington. By that point the denizens of the “original” scene of Lydon and his compatriots had mostly moved off to serious musical careers, straight suburban lives, or spiralling drug addiction (or some combination thereof). By then too, the original impetus had fragmented, leading to the formation of complexes of microscenes in Los Angeles, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and dozens of other cities (and hundreds of small towns) in the U.S. and around the world.

7secsGiven this process of fragmentary diffusion, it is not surprising that the question of what it all meant seemed so crucial. But, of course, there was no there there, at least in the sense of a coherent cultural something binding it all together. Even within the subgroups there was immense variation. Looking at straight edge, just as a for instance, the scene that grew up in D.C. around Minor Threat was much different than that in New York around bands like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, and both were different than the scene in California (Stalag 13, Uniform Choice, and others), and from the one in Reno centering on 7 Seconds. [NB. If you’re reading this and thinking that different bands might be more representative do bear in mind that I’m just tossing this stuff off the top of my head. If you know better (or think you know better) feel free to write your own blog post.]

stalag13This didn’t stop people from arguing about it, often quite nastily. A lot of it was social. The scenes that existed were often projects or projections of groups of friends, mostly high school or college age. These sets are fractious at the best of times, so it’s not at all surprising that charges of apostasy of various kinds might be made, especially when there was the possibility of amplifying them by having them printed in MRR, or Flipside, or whatever. These social dynamics synergized, once again, with the fact that the culture being appropriated was diffuse and acephalus. And so the grousing and griping spun on and on without ever really bottoming out or discovering very much that was fundamental.

Ultimately, the work of defining what punk was and wasn’t was left unfinished because the moment of its realization was missed. Green Day came along, and grunge, and the powers of the recording industry once again became convinced that there was some coin to be made. What it all meant became a matter of supreme indifference to any but the most neurotic purists and zine writers. Just what was punk? “Let’s make lots of money, and worry about it later.” So it has continued, although renewed corporate interest has not, in fact, managed to kill off the residual fragments of the punk scenes of what you might call the “intercommercial” era (i.e. the period between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s during which records types didn’t care very much about underground music). And still the devotees of crust and other abiding punk forms know what they are doing and with whom they share common ground without having to have an overarching theory to explain it.

And so, perhaps, it has come to this: punk was (and is), at its heart, an absence. If punk ever meant anything, if it was ever worth anything, it was because it created a space in which identities to could be created and explored (mostly) outside the hegemony of the dominant cultural forms. This did not mean that these identities were created sui generis. Nor did it mean that coercion was entirely absent. Some of the identities that people created were racist, sexist, homophobic, or chauvinist, the persistent influence of these tendencies distorted and constrained the cultural space of the underground. But still the space endured, not unique and certainly imperfect, but still a place where kids who were weird, or gay, or feminist, or otherwise marginal could take a hand in making themselves rather than merely reproducing images of what they were supposed to be.