Reviews

Felix Havoc

Skitklass 世界の平等さようなら EP

Another fun little banger from Japan’s SKITKLASS. As with their many previous releases, this is energetic råpunk putting you in a time machine to Sweden in 1982. One of the most endearing things about this band is their retro guitar tone. Rather than a tuned-down, blown-out wall of distortion, we get the raw, jangly tone of the early ’80s. You could best compare this to bands like MISSBRUKARNA or HEADCLEANERS. The song structure fits in more with the aggressive style of ANTI CIMEX or SHITLICKERS, but the overall vibe is one of punk rather than hardcore—a subtle but important distinction to my ears. Lyrics are in Japanese, but I don’t think they are making any bold political statements. They continue the bondage mask motif from previous releases (which was TERVEET KÄDET’s skeez when you think about it). The standout track for me was “Animal Ghost.”

Rat Cage Screams from the Cage LP

This band has two great 7″s, and this LP does not disappoint at all. It features none of the impurities that mar many hardcore bands these days such as weird artsy stuff, metal, grind or garage influences. It is pure straight unadulterated uncut hardcore in the Pick Your King/Is This My World? tradition. The songs are well-crafted, catchy, memorable, and delivered with fire and fury. Musically I like how it is fast and furious, yet a little wild and loose. I hear a lot of JERRY’S KIDS in the general structure, and something about this record structurally reminds me of post Y2K thrash bands like DIRECT CONTROL. But the overall vibe is more wild and chaotic, like classic Italian or Finnish hardcore, even if the pacing and structure is based on the American form. The artwork is crazed like the music, a rat with a chainsaw holds up a severed head on the front. On the flip his eerie rat eyes peer at us from inside “the cage.” Lyrically we get a lot of dead-end desperation here, written from the perspective of the outsider who always gets the short end of the stick. And a refreshingly retro anti-nuclear jam.  I’m told this is a one-person project, and if so, hats off to that person for their vision, because this is the complete package right here. When I was a teenager, me and my friends got into tagging for a while, mostly throwing up anarchistic slogans off our MDC and Crass records. One night I was tagging a bridge piling, when flashing police lights appeared behind me. I ran like hell up the embankment with the cops in pursuit. At the top the hill was an impossibly tall fence with barbed wire on top. Somehow I scampered up and over that fence, but caught my jacket on the barbed wire. I was hanging upside down, spray cans falling from my pockets looking at the cops coming up the hill after me. Then my jacket ripped and I fell to the ground. I got up and ran, from further away I could see in the distance the stymied cop looking through the fence and the other shaking his head looking at my piece on the bridge. That feeling of triumph, danger and excitement is how I feel when I spin a sick new hardcore record like this RAT CAGE.

Fractured Fractured Demo

FRACTURED is a new band from Montreal featuring ex-members of quite a few bands whose records are already in your collection. Their stated objective is to play “UK82 like BROKEN BONES, but at a faster pace” and that’s a good place to start. But they are far from a clone of BROKEN BONES or any UK82 band, really. In fact, that scene might have provided inspiration, but the guitar tone and overall production have a sound that is far from retro. The song structures do owe much to pre-crossover BROKEN BONES, but I feel like there is also some influence in structure and pacing from POISON IDEA and “Burning Spirits” Japanese hardcore. The guitar tone is more crisp and dry than something like BROKEN BONES—in fact, it reminds me a lot of the sound of EXIT ORDER, or maybe some of those mid-’80s Norwegian bands. All of this is to say that despite being inspired by BROKEN BONES and having some wicked Bones-inspired guitar leads, this band has a pretty fresh and original sound which draws on the rich history of the hardcore genre.

Discharge Noise Not Music 3xLP box set

F.O.A.D. has a reputation for doing great retrospective releases with lavish packaging and lots of unreleased material. They pulled out all the stops for this most important of bands: three LPs, a bonus 7”, a hardbound book (in the size and shape of an LP, to fit in the box) and a poster. The first live LP features a shockingly good audience recording of a 1980 London gig. This was previously bootlegged as the First Ever London Show LP but this version sounds cleaner and captures the band’s early fire and energy. I really enjoyed this recording as it’s all the early 7” material, played with great verve and gusto. You can tell these guys are young and fired up with a new sound and message. A rare documentation of music history in the making. The second LP is a soundboard recording from Detroit from 1982. I don’t think this recording has surfaced before, except perhaps among tape traders. The third live LP is a soundboard recording from the 100 Club from 1983 and features more of the Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing-era material. It captures the band’s progression into a more metallic realm, but still comes across as pure hardcore, just with the added high-pitched scream or lead here and there. The highlight of this release, though, is the book. There are lots of flyers, photos and press clippings, many never before seen. Rich “Militia” Walker does an entertaining job of retelling how much DISCHARGE was reviled by the music press while at the same time inspiring a diehard following of devoted fans. He is pretty fair and balanced, is in a good position to measure the band’s worldwide impact on music, and I think he was a good choice to handle this important task. The DISCHARGE story related here ends abruptly in 1983 with Price of Silence. Notably omitted is the second US tour with BATTALION OF SAINTS; however, some flyers from those gigs are featured and one of the live LPs is from this era. Not told is the story of DISCHARGE’s later years and the third US tour, perhaps for the better. Absent from the proceedings is Cal, so we don’t get his voice on the early days or the band’s message. But this doesn’t detract too much from the overall package—and what a package it is. We may take a moment to contrast the lavish nature of a triple-LP box set and hardbound book to the raw and urgent 7” singles of the early days. I do enjoy F.O.A.D.’s deluxe reissues and the care that goes into them. At times it seems far from the roots of hardcore, but as diehard fan, I appreciate the attention to quality and detail. Is this release essential? No. Is it a rare treat for diehard DISCHARGE fans? Yes. If it’s in your budget and you love DISCHARGE, it’s certainly worth picking up for the book and graphics alone, even if you don’t care for live albums.

Strul Punkrock Deluxe EP

Third 7″ from these Swedish ragers. If you are already a fan, this band is consistently high quality; if you aren’t a fan already, this is as good a place as any to start and you will want to track down the rest of their stuff after they win you over. STRUL plays high-velocity hard-rocking Swedish punk. It’s raw and fast with a snotty punk attitude. Unlike most Swedish bands, I don’t think these guys play in, or are ex-members of any other outfits. The vocals are shouted and distorted hardcore style. The pace is fast, and the leads are wicked. When they are playing fast it’s almost like the hardcore of INFERNÖH, NITAD, HERÄTYS or SKITKIDS but a bit more rock’n’roll on the riffs and solos and more punk rock in the attitude and song structure. When they play slow, they are getting more into hard rock/hardcore territory like a more punk version of something like R’N’R or ANNIHILATION TIME. Thick hard rock riffs and scorching leads, but all with a seething punk sneer as opposed to a party vibe. I would add other influences probably include TOTALITÄR, ZEKE, Peacelovepunklife-era UNCURBED, MENACE and mid-period SSD, all in moderate doses. So far, all of STRUL’s releases have featured artwork of a cartoon punk rat or rat band engaged in various anti-social activities, and this one continues the trend with a cartoon of a rat band playing on the hills overlooking a desert city. I still think the Föredrar Ju Fest EP is their best work, but really all of it is great.

Physique The Rhythm of Brutality 10″

If you aren’t already familiar with this band from their LP or 12″, they play raw, blown-out hardcore in the style of Japanese bands like FRAMTID or KRIEGSHÖG, who were in turn playing a more distorted version of the hardcore style of Swedish bands like CRUDITY and ANTI-CIMEX. Here you will revel in a thick and distorted guitar sound, but thankfully not overly distorted where the riffs are buried in a wall of feedback. The bass has a raw, chunky clunk and the drums are hammered like obstinate nails. The coarse vocals have the just the right amount of reverb on them to sound like they are being shouted at you from the bottom of a well but not from another dimension. In total, the compositions, production, and overall vibe of this release are outstanding. It doesn’t fall into any of the traps or excesses of the genre but remains finely balanced between total raw noise and something more musical. Powerful and invigorating, the intensity of the music contrasts somewhat with the lyrics’ bleak outlook. There is an underlying current of despair and misery in the lyrics while expressing the yearning to break free and rebel. As with many bands of this genre, I find the music really gets the blood pumping and forms a direct mental and emotional link to a desire to break free and run wild. But the lyrics about depression and despair keep bringing us back to what we are rebelling against rather than the freedom we are striving for. I was out of town when these guys played Minneapolis and really regret not seeing them live.

Groinoids Lost LP

This record was quite a surprise for me. Most of us know the GROINOIDS from their tracks on Boston Not LA and Unsafe at Any Speed. Those tracks and the later released Radiobeat Sessions feature some fast, demented hardcore with snotty/wacky vocals and sarcastic lyrics. One formed the impression of a goofy group of misfits who were into playing fast and not too seriously. This opinion was reinforced by contrasting them to the tight, heavy and powerful mesage-driven hardcore bands like SSD, DYS and JERRY’S KIDS. This Lost LP is in a completely different style than I envisioned. The riffs are heavy and sludgy. They swing from an evil heaviness you might expect from a band like CAVITY or BUZZOV•EN to a more rockin’ form of heavy like, say, HIGH ON FIRE or FU MANCHU. But—and this is a big but—the vocals are still the whiney, juvenile, sarcastic snarl of the early hardcore days. It’s almost as if they are asking us not to take this new heavy direction seriously just as they seemed to with their hardcore material. Some practical joker decided it would be uproarious to place a locking groove at the beginning of record so you actually drop the needle about an inch in from the edge rather than on the outer edge of the slab. I would say if you are into heavy post-hardcore stuff this record might be a real missing link for you. For hardcore fans I think it is more of historical and academic interest.

Circle One Demos & Comp LP

CIRCLE ONE is a band of some notoriety and has taken on the veneer of myth in these many years since the tragic demise of their singer. Formed in the very earliest days of the hardcore scene, they were one of the first bands to see the way forward into the ’80s being blazed by the GERMS and BLACK FLAG. The immediately emerged at the hardest and most aggressive vanguard of the emerging hardcore scene. This LP compiles their two early demos and some comp tracks. Most of us know CIRCLE ONE from the Patterns of Force LP, and the great thing about this LP is that none of these songs are on Patterns of Force. That is to say, by the time the band recorded the LP they had already discarded all these demo tracks and moved on. Some of them we know from comps, but there is a lot of material on here that is probably only known by tape traders until now. Let’s be clear—these are demos, not all the tracks are great, and you can see they were working to tighten up and develop the sound that would emerge on Patterns of Force. Indeed, listening to the progression from 1980 to 1981 to 1983, we hear the punk influences shed for a more purely hardcore sound, and the guitar tone gradually get thicker and beefier. While this isn’t on par with Patterns of Force, it’s certainly a great slice of Southern California hardcore punk history and there are some standout tracks here.

Nervous SS Future Extinction LP

After a 7″, here’s a full 30 minutes of this “Totalitarian” D-beat band from Macedonia—“Totalitarian” in that it is in the mold of TOTALITÄR, not that it advocates a one-party dictatorship. The point of departure is, of course, TOTALITÄR, but this is no slavish clone. The guitar sound is a bit thicker and more metallic and there’s enough variety of influence here to allow this record to stand on its own. That said, the majority of the tracks are solidly in the realm of TOTALITÄR-style kång. My impression is that the creator of this comes a bit more from a metal background than hardcore punk, as the whole production has a crunch and heft and underlying subtext points more towards metal than, say, UK82 or ’77 punk. And noticeably absent is the kind of punk stomper TOTALITÄR would throw in on their releases. A few tracks have a bit of Motörcrust vibe as well, but all of these factors complement rather than distract from the overall impact. My only critique is the overuse of of SS as a suffix for a hardcore band name.

Crimex / Skitklass Disrupt the Order / Snutsvin split EP

SKITKLASS is a Japanese band playing in the ’82 Swedish style. The song structure is from the SHITLICKERS/AVSKUM/ASOCIAL/DISARM era and vibe of Swedish hardcore. But the guitar tone is actually kind of undistorted, more like UK82 or a band like TST. I love it when Japanese bands do these sorts of homages, replete with lyrics in Swedish etc. I think the bondage mask motif is a bit overdone, resurfacing on most of their releases. I didn’t get a lyric sheet, but judging from the song titles it’s rather tongue-in-cheek chaos punk fare about drinking and raising hell. This kind of thing is great fun, if not a super serious work of art. CRIMEX from Olympia play straight forward raw punk their vibe is perhaps a bit less contrived. They are on the faster and more furious end of the raw punk spectrum; I love the searing vocals and that classic ramshackle bass sound. Some solid riffs and cohesive delivery. Would have loved to see this band play a basement show or sweaty warehouse practice space with their friends in attendance, but they’ve since broken up.

Extended Hell Mortal Wound LP

EXTENDED HELL has been with us a few years now—their two 7″s and their live gigs have caused a stir in the realm of the underground. The inspiration comes from bands like INFERNÖH, HERATYS, and of course, the antecedents like ANTI-CIMEX and TOTALITÄR, I also feel like some of the riffs and structure brings to mind Another Religion and One Struggle-era VARUKERS. Heavy riffs and guitar tone give this band an underlying drive that is relentless: a ceaseless pounding like a piledriver repeatedly hammering into the depths. Layered on top of that drive is an overlay of smouldering guitar pyrotechnics that are restrained enough not to be gratuitous, but hot enough to give the hardcore drive some rock sizzle. Lyrically and visually, EXTENDED HELL paints a picture of a bleak world. While a lot of bands follow the D-beat template and use war tropes as stand-ins for a message, it’s clear that more thought went into these lyrics and the artwork. Power and profit untrammeled have resulted in the complete dehumanization of the many for the benefit of the few. Interestingly, songs like “Operational Exhaustion” and “Disintegration” deal with dehumanization of the soldier and oppressor, while “Dissident” and “Mortal Wound” are written from the point of view of the victim of oppression. This brings to mind Camus’ Neither Victims nor Executioners. I have the pleasure of knowing cover artist Joe B, as he’s originally from Minneapolis. He’s done all their artwork, and this one continues the theme of the other pieces. A vision of a technological terror state controlling the city, where humanity is reduced to a ghost-like existence. The bleak, hollow vision of alienation is a stark contrast to the commercialized consumer culture vision of life in New York City. It brings to mind some of the writings of Mike Davis and Naomi Klein, who foresaw a future where the working class lives a segregated and surveilled existence while the elite lives it up in a “Green Zone,” with all the luxuries and amenities. Personally, while I appreciate the cohesive aesthetic of the bleak reality, I wish that EXTENDED HELL would offer us a ray of hope, because the music itself is quite liberating and uplifting. Just as a Goya or Kollwitz painting of an atrocity can still be a beautiful piece of artwork, this picture of gloom and horror also has the power to enlighten us and set us free. The music itself is quite empowering, even if its subject matter is man’s inhumanity to man.

Articles of Faith What We Want Is Free EP reissue

The explosion of hardcore in the USA in 1981 occurred at just the right time in a socio-cultural context to recruit to its ranks a legion of incredibly talented and creative people. When we review the canon of the first few years of hardcore in America, we are astonished at how much truly great, empowering, and influential music was created in a short period of time. Like the original explosion of punk in the UK, it was just the right place and right time. Here were a lot of very talented and energetic young people who were just waiting for some creative window to open that they could jump through. ARTICLES OF FAITH were one of many of those first wave of hardcore bands. Their first two 7″s captured them at a perfect point where the raw energy of hardcore was bursting forth, and before their creative talents lead them to more complex compositions and explorations. Their later material draws in a lot of influence from GANG OF FOUR and other post-punk types, but on What We Want is Free, we have that raw enthusiasm of a band’s first release, charging hard out of the gate with no such pretensions. The recording is lo-fi, the layout is cut-and-paste, but the energy and zeal radiate from the record like blazing bonfire. Musically, this is straight-ahead ’82 hardcore, but played with some chop and panache that reveals a greater underlying musicianship, not unlike their then labelmates DIE KREUZEN, or perhaps New Strings For Old Puppets-era REALLY RED. Vic Bondi wrote some great lyrics; he had a way of capturing complex social or economic issues and condensing them into a “less is more” lyrical delivery. That is to say, you can read a lot into what he is trying to say with very few words. “What we Want is Free,” “Bad Attitude,” and “My Father’s Dreams” focus on the yearning to be free from the constraints of a preordained conformist career in the capitalist system. “Everyday” is the same message of the bleak dehumanized reality that awaits those who do conform and get stuck in society’s rat race. The second 7″ Wait was also reissued; that one is a real masterpiece musically and lyrically. Taken together they are a testament to the enduring power of the genre.