Reviews

Benny Mathews

Black Iron Prison / Gas Chamber Public Humiliation II LP

Public Humiliation II is a collaborative performance from Buffalo, New York experimental HC grind unit GAS CHAMBER, and BLACK IRON PRISON, a two-piece from Toronto, Ontario who sit even further up the experimental ladder than GAS CHAMBER, providing more drums and vocals as it rattles on and well the fuck off the platform of HC that is so crudely erected amongst this psychedelic rubble. This record is a live collaboration, recorded at Iron Lung Records’ 10th anniversary show, which would also mark GAS CHAMBER’s last performance, set to wax as an insane jam; at times reminiscent of early HC acts that attempted to breach the boundaries between psychedelia and hardcore, sitting somewhere between GASP and the MEAT PUPPETS. A truly monumental effort, highly recommended.

Pillsbury Hardcore Ghosts of Straight Edge Past LP

PHC. PILLSBURY HARDCORE. What would eventually become the criminally underrated PISSED HAPPY CHILDREN, one of the earlier projects of Eric Wood, who would eventually champion the freak-bass noise monster, PV-coining, amp-eating nightmare that would charm beardos coast-to-coast and allow thick-rimmed glasses and satchel-clutchers a place to shit on and call their own within HC. Before MAN IS THE BASTARD, before PISSED HAPPY CHILDREN, is PILLSBURY HARDCORE. PILLSBURY HARDCORE comes across as a slightly more juvenile PISSED HAPPY CHILDREN, less serious (though all humour would take a far darker turn with MAN IS THE BASTARD) and with a far snottier atmosphere than the contemporary straightedge acts of the time. I guess it has to be said that the bass in this is what sets it apart. What would be absolutely stock standard, if not a little goofy hardcore becomes something far stranger, putting PILLSBURY HARDCORE up there with bands like NEOS and LÄRM as one of those odd ’80s HC bands that were stuck between eras, pushing the boundaries for speed and absurdity.

Endless Swarm / Fuck on the Beach split EP

Somehow, even after all these years, FUCK ON THE BEACH still brings an unprecedented level of speed and ferocity to their side of this split; it blows my mind how fast and manic they sound 22 years after the release of Power Violence Forever, shit like this gives me hope as a punk slipping slowly into my thirties. ENDLESS SWARM had me tapping along as well, if not further in the INFEST direction of things; good to see this Glasgow unit still kicking.

Dropdead Dropdead 2020 LP

I’m a DROPDEAD fan, but I’ll admit they’re a band with a far too big catalogue and that I have quite gladly picked and chosen the specific few records and comps I think they excel on. When I sat down to listen to Dropdead 2020, I ended up digging out and relistening to 落とす死 (which is still an absolutely stellar HC record), and I guess that was a mistake. Revealing a band in its adolescence at the cusp of their prime no doubt colours what I imagine crossover fans would call an alright crossover thrash record, if you’re into that sort of thing. Included in a write-up for this record was a statement about how they have (vocally) moved away from the “raw screaming” of previous releases, and with that I guess I’m out. Mind you, there are some catchy tracks on this and some really good drumming, it just doesn’t hold a candle to their earlier records.

Antisocial Skills / Rules split LP

Prague’s ANTISOCIAL SKILLS spit out ten tracks of mid-tempo HC that has no right to be as catchy as it is, absolutely reeking of youth, hopelessness, and occasionally series of blasts just to remind you that they can kick into gear when they’re not doing the snotty teen thing. Though a fair bit too melodic for my taste, even someone as misery-guts as myself can acknowledge that this band could easily destroy a house show with this kinda energy, real foot-tapping shit. It’s RULES on the other side of this record, hailing from Zagreb, Croatia, who perplex me. We go from songs that barely scrape the two-minute mark to the five-minute, borderline noise rock of TRANSIENT CARE? The tempo amps up considerably after this, a kind of raw HC crossed with some of the weirder shit on Amphetamine Reptile Records with screeching noise rock coming through with every twist of the guitar in this. It grew and grew on me, especially the harsh, slightly deeper vocals. Highly recommended.

V/A Distort Midwest cassette

I love compilations; getting a chance to dive into a whole scene via one tape is fuckin’ joy, allowing someone like me, a thousand miles away from the US, to voyeuristically pry into the underbelly of whatever the fuck is happening in Midwestern HC. This tape covers an absurd amount of ground, at over an hour in length with fifteen bands providing multiple tracks, giving a fair amount of time to newer, lesser-known acts and some that are more firmly established (Detroit’s SHROUD and Missouri’s MENTIRA, for instance). Genre-wise though, a majority of this is hardcore, on the grimier, D-beat side of things. If anything’s going to make you miss rubbing shoulders with filthy, fucked-up crusties at shows, it’s this tape. A shame to have been released in a year where shows were impossible in the Midwest.

Con Artist Subservient cassette

There’re eleven tracks on this tape, but if you told me there were half that, I’d believe you. They whip through these in rapid-fire succession with all the grace of car wreck, ultra-fast stop-n-start HC with excellent drumming and some seriously pissed-off vocals. CON ARTIST is from Victoria, BC way up in Canada, featuring at least one member of the grind unit SIX BREW BANTHA; excellent debut and I thoroughly look forward to a slew of splits to come.

Slant 1집 LP

After a demo and a 7”, Seoul’s SLANT is back with a ten-track LP on Iron Lung Records, a vicious slab of modern HC with its influences firmly rooted in the classics of ’80s American hardcore. While this is a snotty, stomping blast from start to finish, I find it’s the lighter touches on this record, like the squealing, STOOGES-esque guitar solos that tail-end a lot of the choruses, that really do it for me. This is a significantly more polished endeavour than their prior two releases, but I’d argue if anything, they stepped up the aggression for this LP. While this isn’t hardcore that’s reinventing the wheel, it’s a fucking good ride; SLANT is clearly an act that is just itching to get back to touring and playing live, I have no doubt they could tear a venue to shreds.

Initiate Lavender 12″

This is a short record that reeks of Californian HC, from the stomping sing-along choruses to the stranger aspects of this LP, like the wavy dream pop track “Beverly” that bleeds into the marching band riff of “One in the Same”. Short records are the best records and this one whips by too quick for me use the dreaded term “post-hardcore,” but I can definitely see this band getting stranger, and that’s not a bad thing.

Verbal Razors By Thunder and Lightning LP

I find it really hard to take this sort of thing seriously. It just reminds me of shit like MUNICIPAL WASTE, drunken idiots in sleeveless denim, sordidly becoming caricatures of the aging thrashers of yesteryear. It just doesn’t manage to capture the grit and nastiness that the forefathers of the genre (SLAYER, VIO-LENCE, etc.) managed to radiate. It’s a shame in a way, because bands like this are always more than technically proficient, I guess proving again that just being decent at your guitar doesn’t necessarily make a decent thrash record.

Earth Crust Displacement / Heavy Nukes split EP

I only heard the EARTH CRUST DISPLACEMENT side of this split, so HEAVY NUKES remain a mystery to me, though their name is leagues better than EARTH CRUST DISPLACEMENT, which I suppose could be some sort of reference to fracking or similarly evil geotechnical industries. Regardless, they present us with two ripping tracks of raw punk and a cover of ’90s German fastcore band MxVxDx (which got me to revisit the Stagnation of Thinking EP, which I highly recommend). EARTH CRUST DISPLACEMENT comes at things from a much heavier direction, with a delivery that reminds me of grimy classics like the SHITLICKERS more than the hardcore thrash of MxVxDx. It’s a short listen, but it’s a blast.

Solvent Demo 2020 cassette

I mean, this shit just sounds like the cover art, really. How many side shots of crudely drawn skulls with daggers through them can one punk suffer? I mean, fuck, despite my whinging, it’s a good demo. The songs are fast as all fuck, faster than your average contemporary (ooh la la) D-beat at least, which is a plus considering the seemingly endless wave of mid-paced bullshit lately. The vocals have a hiss and snarl to them that only comes out occasionally, but when it does, fuck me if it doesn’t rip. This fucker was over before it began and I’m glad for that; I hope this lot stick to 7”s and tapes and don’t succumb to the ultimate in modern punk trappings and resort to an LP—this shit is fast as all fuck and vicious sounding, a quality I think would be lost on a 12”.

Crutches / Kontrasosial Chaos Riders Freedom Fighters split LP

CRUTCHES spit out nine tracks of clean-sounding Swedish D-beat in the vein of all your favourite umlaut-adorned and mispronounced backpatches, but with all the modern advancements of clean recording. It’s fine, I guess. Vocals could sound less shrieked, but I’m old now so what the fuck do I know; it’s just hard for me to get sucked into something so polished-sounding, especially when sonically, they just don’t manage to conjure that atmosphere of danger that I think is absolutely necessary in modern crust. I can hear all the shiny studs in this recording and none of the filth. KONTRASOSIAL gives this the kick that it needs with a slightly more metal approach and stomp that blows the other side outta the water, an unfair pairing really.

Gazm Heavy Vibe Music LP

I like Canadian HC, they always seem to put something out that’s just slightly left of the mainstream. What we have here, however, is a slab of Age of Quarrel-era worship that, despite my distaste for worship bands, had me nodding my head along the whole way. There’s that thin line between tracks that have the thick, aggressive stomp of the CRO-MAGS at their angriest, and then tracks that waver between hardcore and that wave of neo-thrash bands that were abundant in record bins all over the world a couple of years back. Is this LP good? Depends, I suppose; I probably would’ve liked it a hell of a lot more if it was a 7”, but what the fuck does that even mean? Maybe if they could lose that kinda goofy, borderline pizza party vibe I get from this shit.

Spy Service Weapon cassette

This is sick. SPY wastes absolutely no time kicking off, a squeal of distortion followed by some seriously fucked-off stomping hardcore. I’m stumbling for comparisons to make but it sounds so fucking furious, with that sweet tinge of delay on the vox that allows for a real fucking snarl to seep through. The stomp that comes through on this tape is so fucking prevalent I can feel my bad knee begin to throb beneath my desk and I’m only two tracks in; hardcore is best when it doesn’t try reinvent the wheel, but rather uses it as a vehicle for genuine aggression and frustration. This is some desperately pissed-off shit from the Bay Area and it shows. I’m a sucker for Bay Area HC, but regardless of your tastes in regional HC, this should easily tick all your boxes.

Zulu My People…Hold On cassette

This is a follow-up to the first release of Anaiah Lei’s one-man HC assault on hypocrisy and performative justice. Showing no sign of slowing down, a vicious and heavy listen that echoes the more modern PV bands (think mid-to-late 2000s) or grind that sits on the HC end of the spectrum, with tinges of youth crew coming through (especially in those massive breakdowns). A release that is thick with frustration as the opening poem, bluntly explaining the persistent hypocrisy a Black woman faces on a daily basis, sets the tone for this tape; melded together expertly with samples from the classic EDDIE KENDRICKS track of the same name, this reminds me of classics from the early West Bay grind scene, where you were just as likely to hear a sample from an old Black Panthers chant as you were to catch a horror movie snippet. Recommended and definitely one to keep an eye on.

Escuela Grind Indoctrination LP

Escuela” (at least via my shithouse translation methods) means “school,” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I got was seventeen tracks of punishingly heavy grind-violence that achieves what should probably be the goal for people seeking to write a grind LP, making something that careens by with all the gusto of a 7”. The riffs in this remind me of more modern grind, admittedly, but the sheer aggression on display and abrupt time signature switches and that utterly relentless blasting make this a band I’d love to see fucking destroy a basement show. If the labels on the back of this LP didn’t make it a blind buy for you then take this recommendation to heart and blow out your eardrums.

Kidnapped Collected Works 2017–2019 LP

I don’t know an awful lot about the New England region of the United States, but from what I can gather from this record, it’s fucked. Miserable and bleak. I say this with all the speculation a punk way down on the other side of the planet can; my interpretation of KIDNAPPED’s home state is made purely based on this record. What a fuckin’ ride it is. Furious, pummelling HC, more so in the vein of bands that tackled that slightly stranger side of 2010’s powerviolence (holy shit, remember WATER TORTURE and ROBOCOP?). I say slightly stranger, but there’s no element of pretension here, just a hell of a lot of anger and speed, followed by some truly crippling breakdowns. There’s a bleakness to this kind of HC that I really fucking like, it eschews poeticisms and goes straight for the throat. Despite appearing to be a compilation, this thing whips by like an LP, highly recommended. (PS: The DOOM riff cutting into that pinging snare on “Shit Tier Kinda Guy” is the chef’s kiss on this record.)

Mandible Klaw Mankind Grind LP

These guys hail from way up in Calgary, Canada and to be honest, with the winters they get up there I’d expect something more genuinely aggressive-sounding to come outta the place, but MANDIBLE KLAW don’t deliver us that. Instead, we get thirteen tracks of ultra-clean crossover thrash in the usual party tradition, complete with a nod to the Home Improvement theme song. It reminds me of a million other bands from a period not so long ago in the mid-2000s; its speed never quite reaches a level to be impressive, and the pissed-off vocals just sound inauthentic. Call me cynical all you want, but this sounds like a record that I’ve already heard a thousand times before—and after a year with more than enough to be fucking livid with, I’m after something actually pissed-off.

Instinto Primitivo Quemados EP

The opening riff to the first track almost threw me for a second—it comes off almost as dry-sounding as something the MEAT PUPPETS could’ve written (Up On The Sun-era), before the maniacal laughter starts, the jangle is quickly dropped, and four tracks of raging Colombian HC are quickly spat out in rapid-fire succession. This thing’s a blast, HC sounds best raw as fuck and recorded straight to tape.

Riot Stones Mosh With an Open Mind cassette

RIOT STONES are mentioned in a few articles as being one of the first HC bands from Morocco—emerging in 2015, they released this tape themselves, and to be quite honest I have no clue if they’re still active. What’s on display here is aggressive, stomping hardcore that, just like the title implies, makes ample use of breakdowns and mosh parts. Emerging as late as 2015 whilst still having the title of first HC band in Morocco raises more questions than answers, and the snippets of information I could dig up about their scene lamented the closure of a local youth centre in Casablanca, leading to the demise of multiple bands. Regardless, what you’ll hear won’t break any musical boundaries, or reinvent the wheel as it were, but it is a fun listen from some genuinely fucked-off kids who deserve credit for kicking open a door for (hopefully) others.

Nekra Royal Disruptor EP

Dripping with sarcasm and venom, NEKRA spit out five tracks of vicious HC, easily switching between fast-as-fuck aggression and stomping mid-paced choruses. These tempo changes and snotty vocals manage to yield some of the catchiest punk I’ve heard from London in some time, while not losing an ounce of that raw energy that made their 2017 demo such a fuckin’ rager. Recommended.

Unruly Unruly LP

Miserable, crawling punk from Wellington, Aotearoa, UNRULY debut with a nauseous-sounding sludge record that channels a very particular kind of anxiety. They stay at a constant crawl but it’s when they finally break through into mid-paced territory that they really hammer a riff right into your skull. “Knuckle-dragging” is an often used whilst seldom accurate epithet ascribed to punk like this, but it really does fuckin’ pull ya along. Think blood stains and foul bucketbongs, black mould and chronic bronchitis.

Slutet Bortom Vansinnets Grepp LP

There’s some fucked up black metal project with the same name that I’ve low-key been meaning to check out, so it was a surprise when I got hit by some of the cleanest sounding Swedish D-beat I’ve heard (at least in recent years). SLUTET is members of WARCOLLAPSE and EXPLOATÖR doing the stadium crust thing. It’s fine; catchy, excruciatingly clean-sounding. Call me old fashioned here, but fuck me up good and proper and leave me miserable and filthy any day. I don’t think my TOTALITÄR records are going to go far from my turntable any time soon.

Arson Savage Butchery cassette

This is thrash in the VOID tradition, with an edge to the guitar that never strays quite into a metal territory but is still more than fast enough to really nail this fucker home. The vocals are snarled through with a tinge of reverb and just a hint of restraint (barring, of course, the few moments where this thing really kicks into gear). This is hardcore from Leeds, UK by characters you’ve heard from before (PERSPEX FLESH comes to mind) who got the Static Shock treatment, though this is a demo that sounds more like it could’ve come out on 625 Thrashcore sometime during the 2000s—highly recommended.

Urban Void In Denial demo cassette

Stomping, aggressive hardcore that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Straightforward, heavy but not too metallic. The only thing I could ask for would be for it to come across more unhinged. It’s one thing to be pissed off, it’s another to menace. I have trouble figuring out how this came about; it’s billed as a “transatlantic retort,” whatever that means. Who cares? The drums sound killer and the riffs are simple but obnoxious enough to make me wanna kick through my drywall, and I suppose in 2020 that’s what counts.