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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge: Punk & Hardcore For September By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , September 5th, 2016 07:43

Noel Gardner once again brandishes the HC secateurs, leaving the punk rock topiary exquisitely shaped and ready for your appraisal

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Now, the instalment of this column after this one is due in two days before November’s US presidential election, so ideally I’d wait until then to hail a Washington DC band who went on tour last summer and dubbed it “BAMA STOMPIN’ THRU AMERICA”. Ideally, though, we wouldn’t be living in a calendar year so eyebleedingly fucked up that there’s a blunt logic in cashing in your chips before the sky falls on your head. Also, Pure Disgust, the band in question, just dropped their self-titled debut album on the Katorga Works label, and at no point during its 18 minutes of rampaging hardcore does it mince words or hold back.

Pure Disgust released their first demo in 2013, aggy hardcore-paced Oi! along the lines of 86 Mentality; over two subsequent seven-inches and this LP, they’ve flipped the ratios and now sound like an archetypal (if tremendous) hardcore crew using Oi!’s molten rage as solder. PD frontman and lyricist Rob Watson also uses his platform to talk of police brutality, Black Lives Matter and the “no angel” racist handwaving, respectability politics and whites who “don’t see colour”. While not a new-found focus, to all intents and purposes Pure Disgust is an album about being a black American in 2016.

Watson has said before that he considers his lyrics personal – “my life and what I experience” – rather than political, a simple but illuminating distinction. Hardcore, a predominantly white subculture, has always been a vessel for those who elect to speak up on behalf of others; without this element, it would be drained of much of its potency. Yet there’s an uncomfortable disconnect that stretches through to punk in general: best intentions notwithstanding, when the stage is almost entirely given over to white dudes, chances are that’ll be reflected in the audience. There isn’t an easy ‘fix’ for this issue, but it does mean that bands like Pure Disgust and G.L.O.S.S., who toured together last month, are especially essential voices.

Personal, political or otherwise, this record truly brings thunder.

When I was trying to pick a track for the mix at the top of this column, it pretty much became a case of backspacing one title and typing another every time a new one kicked in (in the end I picked ‘Lost Child’ for its creeping Cro-Mags intro and ballistic thrash verses). The stompy mosh parts in ‘Normalized Death’ and ‘Agents Of The Machine’ will have even lone listeners instinctively ducking away from swinging fists. ‘Respectability’ (“No suit, no dress will ever change their perception of you / So stop trying”) has a brickwall-tuff Negative Approach vibe, led by the twin guitars of Brendan Reichhardt and the finely named Ace Mendoza. The album’s one metal moment comes with the wailing solo on ‘Scumbag’ (“My hands around your neck / Watch as your life leaves your eyes”), before ‘White Silence’ underlines Watson’s status as a black punk surrounded by white liberals: “You claim you’re for equality but only when it affects you.” If it induces pangs of unease, that’s the idea. A legit ripper with not a wasted breath or dull moment.

Social commentary is in abundance on the second, sadly posthumous, album by Scottish metallic hardcore conceptualists The Process: The Covenant Of The Cosmos (Superfi / At War With False Noise) talks of war, global warming and overpopulation during its eleven immersively heavy songs. Its chosen issues are never used as a cudgel, though, rather as fuel for a lyrical worldview that originates in the theology of The Process Church Of The Final Judgement. Accordingly, considerable weight is placed on the notion of humanity leaving behind a dying Earth, either via space travel (as endorsed on ‘Alternative Three’) or a still more nebulous ascension to a higher plane (‘Ceaseless Burning Desires’).

All this being crypto-Scientological poppycock, I have my doubts that The Process – whose five members have been in a wide array of other bands, all far more spiritually bereft – were ever true adherents to this credo. They were damn good at talking the talk, though: I remember seeing them supporting Iron Lung about a decade ago, where vocalist Gav Brown introduced every song with nailed-on swivel-eyed cult preacher patter. As they write on the back of The Covenant, “Where allegory ends and verity commences is a question The Process have long considered.”

Alternatively, if you don’t feel up to sifting through the dense array of imagery, you can merely get down to some legit ragers by one of the UK’s more inventive 21st century hardcore bands. The influence of Cleveland’s Integrity and the Holy Terror movement they coined (itself inspired somewhat by the Process Church) was always fairly apparent, especially on The Process’ 2007 debut LP Rosenkreutz – but here melodies are permitted to breathe, structures and song lengths going beyond hardcore orthodoxy. The title track, for example, resembles epic doom metal as much as anything; ‘Occultation’ is burly post rock with twinkly synth parts and samples from the 1970s mockumentary Alternative 3. Equally, in the vicious hardcore stakes The Process are more lethal than ever. ‘The Vastness Of Mana’ features death metal vocals from Brown and some fast as fuck instrumental parts that could have been ripped from any number of militantly masculine metalcore muggers from late-90s mainland Europe. The Covenant Of The Cosmos is an unnervingly literate album with the power to satisfy base, brutish musical desires.

Also from Scotland, Glasgow to be specific, Civil Elegies too are both heavy and musically deft. They pitch their tent in the bustling fields of noise rock, or perhaps math metal, or jazzcore or similarly inchoate cod-genre. Certainly, though, Combat – a self-released cassette or download album, Civil Elegies’ third such item – has belly-crawling tunings, antagonistic time signatures, stretches of sludgy feedback and Hamish Black’s lyrics, which seem to wilfully conflate a loathing of the self and of society.

The three-piece claim Combat was not only recorded in one day, but expanded on the spot from a planned EP. You’d never know – they sound honed and precise, switching between rumbling rhythms and jabs of guitar noise on the opening ‘Life Of A Stupid Man’ and laying into “decadent bourgeois obfuscation / Neo-fascist warmongers” (‘Semantics’) over a braindrill riff Karp wouldn’t have kicked out of bed. A cover of Queen’s ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ acts as a tribute, knowingly or otherwise, to this delightful 2002 tribute album (if you don’t have time for the whole thing, Weasel Walter’s contribution is off the chain).

Combat is sinewy without being macho, smart not snickering, apt to surprise and a match for – especially – early-00s Hydra Head bands like Harkonen, Cable and Craw. The only thing vexing me is their current lack of recognition for this. Chrissakes, they claim to have only made thirty cassettes of this album and at the time of writing you can still buy one. I could name more than thirty specific individuals who would dig this album off the top of my head.

As with Heavy Metal in the previous edition of this column, Denim & Leather prove there are still good punk band names up for grabs, as long as you think outside the box, and do so obnoxiously. So not only do this Manchester quartet bear very little resemblance to Saxon, their second seven-inch (released by Leeds label Milk Run) paints them as men who simply can’t moderate their language in front of the vicar.

This EP gets progressively more interesting as its five songs stack up. Introductory lyrics about eating one’s own shit and “skinning and raping the dog,” set to brisk garagey hardcore that could be any number of bands on labels like No Way circa 2008, might play well with the GG Allin set but is hard to get terribly exercised about. ‘Pink Flamingos’ maintains the lurid imagery, a cheap holiday in the parallel lives of a pimp and a rentboy, but soundtracked by Gun Club-type noir blues. ‘Bleeding Glass’ slathers on thick layers of gothy reverb, taking it close to the personal space of the terrific Anxiety album (again, see the previous Straight Hedge), and ‘Passioned Fruit’ is 74 seconds of chaotic HC with a wheedling Void-like guitar solo. Good unclean fun.

Transitioning from cassette to vinyl this month are the debut recordings by Tough Tits, another outstanding band name that incalculable thousands of dummies have passed over in favour of calling themselves ‘The [well known inanimate object]s’ or a spoonerism of a 1980s TV show or some shit. That said, its merit does hinge on its owners being betitted themselves, and happily Tough Tits are three women from Newcastle who deliver a belligerent psychedelic garage punk din on their Hairless 45 (Frux, who released this on tape a few months ago and have repressed it in conjunction with Drunken Sailor).

‘Hairless’, a feedbacking dirge which kinda reminds me of Comanechi, is a justly unsubtle bayonetting of the body hair removal industry, ergo patriarchy, in the voice of a woman cracking under that societal pressure. “I fucking hate myself / But I’ll always love you … you’ll never love anybody else,” sings Ayesha Linton-Whittle, afforded a cool ‘standing in a big echoey room’ vocal effect. ‘Fantasy’ is what I figure a Headcoatees gig would sound like if you stuck your head inside the speaker. And ‘Nipslip’ brings Helen Walkinshaw’s ear-excavating synth drone to the fore, drummer Liz McDade’s lyrics coming with no soft soap: “If you can’t control your urges, you should be locked up!” Which, written down, admittedly sounds like something a pensioner might bark at teens groping each other on the bus.

In School isn’t quite as classic in the band name stakes – my assumption is that it’s a nod to the Die Kreuzen song of that title, but it might just refer to the pursuit of education – yet this NYC band more than compensate by calling their second EP Cement Fucker (Thrilling Living). CEMENT FUCKER! A great word combo which will never be sullied by the hordes of ‘creative swearing’ dipshits as (a) part of the compound isn’t something twee like a womble or a puffin and (b) none of that lot would sully themselves with this kind of rattling, jagged hardcore fury.

Praxis Of Hate, In School’s 2014 vinyl debut, was no slouch, but this is faster, noisier and uglier – club-handed percussive thuggery, uncontrollable guitar and lyrics which serve as calls to arms even though you (I) don’t quite understand them (“Cement firms the nail / Is a fucker / Smash it down with steel / And then you’re off”). It’s got that ‘hyperobscure band who recorded one bonkers single in 1984 then broke up because no-one else played HC in their backwater town’ vibe, but you don’t have to be a collector spod to fuck with Cement Fucker. It goes so hard, you may not believe bassist Talya Cooper was also in jangly indie sorts Household, although both bands have excellence as their common factor.

I’m marginally less clued up on the family tree of Dublin’s Surge, but Avalanche, their tape on the Dogs And Vultures label, stands on its tod as exceptionally vicious crust punk. The recording on these seven tracks is stunning, and by stunning I mean it feels like being run over by a bulldozer made of hammers and broken glass. Filling-loosening rawpunk screech guitar, d-beats out the wazoo and extremely righteous lyrics cutting through the turmoil – okay, a lyric sheet was essential, but vocalist Nic is only a siren in the air-raid sense, spitting feathers about misogynist judges, the limitations of binary sexualities and Ireland’s culture of shame around abortion. Sometimes, this kind of crust fare amounts to so much sloppy plodding, but Avalanche is noise at the top of its game; required listening if you’re wild for D-Clone, Electric Funeral, Lebenden Toten or Disorder, and probably my favourite release this time around.

Comprised of dudes from two bands who broke up earlier this year, having earned considerable praise (not least in this column, although it probably meant the least to them) for their snaky nihilistic hardcore, and another dude from a band who are still together but have a sheaf of other bands occupying their time, you’ll probably hear more from Leeds’ Whipping Post soon. Their demo tape, four songs with the 80s speed metal-tastic title Taste The Whip, is a strong introductory handshake.

A rhythm section who previously featured in Mob Rules hold it down with panache, and perhaps a bit more pep than on that band’s two LPs; guitarist Rob Tyers’ tenure in Perspex Flesh had already betrayed his taste for Greg Ginn-soaked metallic gnarl, but in Whipping Post he goes to town on his My War axe explorations. (Why has there never been a wanky solo guitar LP called Axeplorations?) Andrew Jones, who plays bass in The Flex and previously sung in Closure, adopts an agreeable slobbery growl for his vocals; these would serve him equally well in a mid-80s style crossover thrash band but work best on ‘Pull The Cord’, a menacing slow’un along the lines of Black Flag deep cuts like ‘Rat’s Eyes’.

Lich, who came from Margate and split up a couple of years back, were a great and firey ensemble – a bit like the end-of-days hardcore bands I referenced in my Process review back there, muddled with mid-90s power violence and sludge metal of the most rancid and flea-ridden kind. Most of them have regrouped in Savage Realm, joined by Kunal Nandi – whose label, Superfi Records, I have lovingly endorsed in this very column and in multiple previous entries, though have yet to review anything he actually plays on until now. (To that end: the new LP by his other band, Art Of Burning Water, is an exemplary 20-minute noise-rock-meets-techy-thrash-metal pummelling and their heaviest release to date.) Nocturnal Savagery, Savage Realm’s four-song demo tape, is pitch-black, pitch-perfect underground metal extremity.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Lich and Savage Realm is the death metal vibe the latter have added. ‘So As Below’ plays it slow and murky for the most part, a la Autopsy, Entombed or similar bands from a time before speed and precision were über alles; ‘Povegila’ is a black death hell storm of the kind Iron Bonehead Records fires out at a prolific rate. Samantha Fairclough’s larynx sounds like it’s coated with swamp slime and coffin dust, perhaps at its raddest when growling over the death/doom intro to ‘Sacred Grove’ (which is 90 seconds long but might have reasonably been dragged out for a lot longer). Like Autopsy and demo-era Swedish DM, Savage Realm carry a hobnailed punk aura however metal they get, and the cassette artwork couldn’t be more perfect, right down to the unnecessary quote marks around the title.

So yeah, early death metal (and later stuff which apes its ripe honk) might not ‘sound’ punk, but without punk it might not have existed, or at any rate would have been very different. The same also applies to much of the late 70s/early 80s UKDIY scene, which was galvanised by the “it was easy, it was cheap, go and do it” ethos of The Desperate Bicycles and others, and thrived on home-recorded cassettes sold by mail order. Rarely raucous pogo fodder, these bands were often scratchy, spoddy and eccentric, idiosyncratic invective twinned with basic strummed chords or burbling bedroom synth. And that’s how you segue from Savage Realm into the Instant Automatons, a Lincolnshire three-piece who were arguably the quintessential UKDIY band, and who are being compiled on vinyl for the first time with Sincerely Making A Noise (BFE / Beat Generation).

Instant Automatons outside the Angel Inn (RIP), Brigg

“Although punk inspired us, we were never a punk band,” writes vocalist Mark Lancaster on the band’s website. It made its presence felt, though, in the abrasive, drain-swirling sound (inspired, equally, by Hawkwind and Faust) and grimly hilarious lyrics of songs like ‘John’s Vacuum Cleaner’ and ‘Nice Job For The Lad’. A flirtation with dub techniques, which cropped up in swathes of post punk singles of the time, colours ‘Invertebrates’ and ‘Too Big’, while ‘Laburnum Walk’ is a noisy improvised piss-take of the cassette underground’s ascetic extremes: “Musicians do not need to eat! We walk from gig to gig and we live on fresh air!” This featured on the Peter Paints His Fence single, the sole time Instant Automatons got a vinyl release to themselves; also included here was their best known song (relatively speaking), ‘People Laugh At Me (Coz I Like Weird Music)’. Over a languid, distortion-loaded strum, Lancaster mounts a haughty defence of his antipop ways, refusing to be cowed by guffawing mods or Abba-loving girlfriends who walk out when he plays his favourite DIY tape.

It is, you might surmise, the ultimate in white male blues: entering into a small, harmless subculture of one’s own volition, then getting the hump when normies are nonplussed by it. It’s most likely true, too, that the surviving members (Martin ‘Protag’ Neish died in 2014) would readily admit to this. For all that it might seem meek, even cowardly that in the era of the three-day week, Thatcher and the Falklands these young men skirted their duty to roar from the rooftops, the Instant Automatons’ retreat into a world of surreal kitchen-sink dramas and soaped postage stamps perhaps tells its own story. Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy, and all that. Historically speaking, they’re partly responsible for this column reviewing so many damn cassettes, too.

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Sam
Sep 7, 2016 3:37pm

In School is a nod to the Die Kreuzen song, FYI. Great round up, thanks.

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Baxter Parp
Sep 11, 2016 12:15pm

Downloaded Denim & Leather and Tough Tits, great stuff.

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