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Noel's Straight Hedge

Noel's Straight Hedge IX: Blackened Punk, Or Don't Shoot The Messenger
Noel Gardner , October 9th, 2013 09:59

In his latest punk and hardcore column, Noel Gardner dares tread into the juncture where black metal meets punk, from Raspberry Bulbs and Ildjarn to Detroit's ribald leathermen Shitfucker (pictured)

The initial idea – if 'idea' isn't too grand a word – was a review that threw together Deformed Worship, the second LP by Raspberry Bulbs, and a three-strong volley of reissues by 90s vintage Norwegian project, Ildjarn. The notion being that one of these bands represent the evolution – if 'evolution' isn't too grand a word – of the crossover between black metal and punk, and one of them plays a large and founding role in that evolution. And that both of them would be irked by someone pegging them as "black metal punk", or similar.

Well, seeing as the formatting on The Quietus' album reviews section makes reviewing more than one thing at once an arseache, it was suggested I fold them into another of these stupid columns instead. "Fuck it, why ever not?" is what I said to myself as I noticed that there was a bunch of this gloop spurting into the ether right now – the stuff I'm going to write about here has all been released in the last four months, I think, and there are probably a bucketload of tapes and singles that have disappeared from Bigcartels before they've hit the ground. An advisory word: the 'blackened punk' (I'm going to call it this, deal with it) aesthetic generally strives for unpasteurised sonic obscurity, and sometimes what results is just pointless bedroom rubbish. Much like a lot of underground black metal, then, and I suppose a lot of punk too, although punk doesn't have as much of a one-man band tradition (i.e. some ashen-faced teenage shut-in who can't / won't make real friends because humanity is a virus). I think all the stuff I'm reviewing here is a cut above, though.

The basic deal with Raspberry Bulbs (and what genteel fun it was Googling that name in the project's very earliest days) is that it started in 2009 as a spin-off band from California two-piece Bone Awl, who are a big and important deal in the BM/punk intersection, but haven't released anything new since 2011. In Bone Awl, Marco del Rio played drums with a primitive, military gallop seemingly influenced by D-beat and crust punk; recording as RB, he took things in a more Oi!-influenced direction. Over time, he's moved to New York and assembled a band, who accompany him on Deformed Worship. The result is slightly less monomaniacal than previous efforts, and much of the skinhead glory has been benched in favour of semi-gothic klang and Flipper-style panel-beating, but the fact that this LP was released by Blackest Ever Black is still a total curveball however you slice it. Most commonly associated with steely avant-techno acts like Raime and Regis, the most likely broker in this whole deal would be Dominick Fernow; he's released product on BEB under his Prurient and Vatican Shadow aliases, while his Hospital label released Nature Tries Again, the debut RB LP, in 2011.

Still, if you think about it in terms of atmosphere, it's not too hard to slot Deformed Worship into the Blackest Ever Black lineage. These nine songs are murky, with blown-out vocals (probably the most tangibly 'black metal' aspect of the RB sound at this point), but have ample hooks and considered song structures. Its closest sonic relative in 2013 might actually be Iceage's You're Nothing; harking back slightly further, some of the more damaged interpreters of American garage rock – Lamps, Hospitals, even Pussy Galore – operated with comparably blunt instruments. Any road up, while a few years back the Raspberry Bulbs project existed in Bone Awl's shadow – some might have said that Bone Awl rendered it surplus to requirements – it stands defiantly on its own feet now.

Gnomic, inscrutable and socially maladjusted even by the standards of black metal, it's hard to know exactly what godforsaken music inspired Vadar Vaaer's compositions as Ildjarn. The punk spirit that many observers hear in his albums, three of which have recently been reissued by French label Season Of Mist, seems to have mostly been flagged up after the fact, and certainly not by Ildjarn himself – which isn't to say that it's without foundation. A player of sorts in the early-90s Norwegian scene, featuring in a group called Thou Shalt Suffer shortly before they mutated into Emperor, Ildjarn's albums were home-recorded on a four-track with little to no outside input. Even accounting for the fact this venture started in 1992, at which point black metal was pretty much guaranteed to sound like a murky racket, the depth of fidelity mined is quite remarkable. Moreover, while many of his contemporaries could really play, Ildjarn tends to make do with a couple of chords and a brain-drillingly unchanging drumbeat (by which I don't mean, like, a motorik thing, I mean he just plays one beat all the way through a song).

Each of these albums is far too long, as befits a project which disavowed outside meddling. Ildjarn (1995) has 27 songs which mostly sound like one another; Strength & Anger (1996) a mere eighteen, sixteen of which mostly sound like one another and two of which are unnervingly minimal ambient tracks each coming in around the quarter-hour mark. Forest Poetry (also 1996) weighs in with 22 grim gobbets, Vaaer's vocals having developed into the kind of necrotic growl that BM fans will have probably heard multiple times, and his musicianship becoming very slightly developed. After Forest Poetry, and before officially retiring in 2005, Ildjarn released several EPs and compilations, most often indulging his ambient tendencies.

Not sure if there's been anything especially thoughtful written on the intersection of black metal and 'outsider music', and no doubt anyone doing so would be instantly labelled a pretentious tossrag, but Ildjarn, Strength… and Forest Poetry each combine idiot savantism with unfiltered bloodymindedness. To this end, listeners are entitled to be reminded of The Shaggs or Jandek or The Gerogerigegege or Royal Trux's Twin Infinitives; likewise, early Swedish and Italian hardcore in the piercing tinniness of the guitars and incomprehensible yowl; likewise, and a little more obviously, Mayhem and Burzum's earliest releases. I couldn't put on a straight face and earnestly encourage everyone reading to buy these albums, but if you're one to seek out ne plus ultras in music – records more conceptually extreme than anything that had come before – Ildjarn's mid-90s output definitely warrants attention.

It's unlikely that anyone in Manchester quartet Pine Barrens would get the hump if you idly dubbed them a hardcore band, or made a proposal to them which involved some interaction with the outside world (playing live, for example). Their rock family tree includes Beecher, a fiddly metalcore band who were signed to Earache for a while, and crustier-than-thou veterans Extinction Of Mankind; Kingmaker, their debut album, is released by a commendable clusterfuck of FIVE labels (SuperFi, Art For Blind, Moshtache, Parade Of Spectres and Slow Riot), and demonstrates that Pine Barrens have internalised black metal motifs, but no more so than slate-grey Nineties metallic hardcore and gloom-soaked epic crust.

Kingmaker is a long player of two pronounced sides, in structure as well as format – this is one of a number of reasons (Steve Larder's gatefold artwork being another) to spring for the vinyl instead of squatting on Pine Barrens' Bandcamp. Seven burly, desperate-sounding rampages of tremolo guitar, snare rolls and hollered, half-buried vocals make up side A; when Thom Bleasdale's vocals briefly drop into semi-spoken mode on 'Solitude (My War)', the whole sounds like some late-90s screamo band that, say, Level Plane Records might have released. 'Product', which follows it, locks into an energetic D-beat and isn't a thousand furlongs from Wolfbrigade or someone.

The flip stretches two songs across twelve inches, meandering all over the road in the process: 'Binary' gives it some gently abstract sludgy riff fannydangle for about five minutes before a saxophone enters the fray, like an unscheduled wrestler in a Royal Rumble. A disarmingly smooth sax too, kind of what I imagine sax on 80s fusion records to sound like if I'd ever sat down and listened to any. 'Solitude (My Love)' opens with churning, droney feedback and, on exploding into life, is the closest Kingmaker comes to 'authentic' BM – provided you don't read the lyrics, which are obviously considered and personal but not all that lexically inspiring. Regardless, Pine Barrens are one of the raddest 'heavy' combos active in the UK at present, and this is a very good album.

Bigged up in this column once or twice before, Sump are a duo who don't just have a couple of other irons in the fire, musical project-wise: their discography multiplies like flesh-eating bacteria. Why, they released two cassettes while I was typing that last sentence. Sump's latest release (apart from some rehearsal tape I've not heard) is a split seven-inch with Carved Cross, from Tasmania and on vinyl for the first time here. A paltry four labels have teamed up on this one – Sump's own Legion Blotan, CC's imprint Nocturnal Emissions plus Winterreich and All Dead Tapes – but you'll be pleased to hear this left no extra money for a studio. Four tracks of obscure muck with untamed clods of screeching guitar, mid-paced chugging and drums with all the imprecise stomp of a donkey derby, Sump's Oi! influence has been suggested before (probably by me) but this is too scrawly and berserker to carry that off.

Carved Cross, on the evidence of their two numbers here, are the sound of the batteries running down – either those on yer ancient held-together-by-tape boombox, or the metaphorical batteries of life itself. Slow to the point of torpor and not so much distorted as decayed, 'Moss And Mould Envelope One's Final Place Of Rest' (can't fuck with that) transfigure every sound, even the vocals, into a single unified gurgle of misery and pathos. That is to say, it sounds like total shit, but in an interesting way. Not much like anything 'punk', but we already established that the boundaries are often gerrymandered here.

All Dead Tapes' release schedule since summer also includes two demo tapes by Iron Drugs, an outstandingly named duo from Rawtenstall, Lancashire. They call it Rottenstall, as they quite obviously should, and play vicious, clattering bootboy fodder for fans of very early Agnostic Front, the more willfully obscure Youth Attack bands and Venom – or any number of the continental lunatics who were biting Venom's style in 1983 or so. The second Iron Drugs tape sounds better, or at least more vile, and increases both tempo and distortion, although it does suffer from not having a song called 'So Fucking Strong' followed by one called 'Fuck Off', like the first tape does.

London duo – more duos than late-80s chart rap in this game, I tell ya – Hunger have showcased their wares via cassette exclusively since forming in 2011. Until now, that is, their Dying Is Ordinary EP arriving on luxurious seven-inch, with sleeve art screened using the finest silks. Muscle Horse Records, who released it, reckon that these four songs “inch into black metal territory at points,” which understates things if you ask me. The drum patterns, about as complex as a bailiff's knock, keeps the ball in the hardcore court, but the guitars are wounded and raw, and lyrically they chuck around some arresting imagery, although I suspect the invocations of filth and blood and animals is a cover for some fairly drawn-from-life concerns. Peaking in intensity with final song 'Forced Hand', this EP sounds monstrous for a two-piece; Will Killingsworth, ex-member of several noted US hardcore bands and post-production wiz, probably deserves ample credit as the man behind the mastering.

MASS are one of those bands who expect us to write their name in all caps just because they say so. As I am very much taken with their self-titled tape, released by UK label I Hate My Records, I shall acquiesce. An inevitable duo, they formed in Birmingham but moved to Iceland; I'm not really up to speed on the "extreme music" scene there, but feel reasonably confident that MASS' strain of gruelling blackened pigfuck is one of the noisiest musical treats the country offers at present. Dragging four songs out to about half an hour, riffs teem and coagulate in a manner comparable to Todd or Rusted Shut or someone, but with levels pushed EVEN FURTHER in pursuit of complete abandonment of structure. The black metal influence is more implied than obvious for a while, I feel, and perhaps filtered through (say) Gnaw Their Tongues than anyone from the BM canon – until eleven-minute closing track 'Mute', which starts off with some postrocky minor chords before fucking the club up with a chaotic hailstorm that seems to crib from American black metal more than anything. It still sounds pretty fucking real, though, given that MASS aren't a real black metal band.

There might be those among you reading who have little interest in black metal but think of it as a breeding ground for views of a National Socialist or otherwise far-right nature, and are eager to see if The Quietus will wade into these slimy waters. In short, nah, fuck that. There are buts, though, and it seems prudent to put those buts face up on the table, as it were. In addition to the Ildjarn reissues, this month apparently sees the release of a split LP featuring unreleased stuff by him and Hate Forest, who broke up in 2007 but were and are one of the better known NSBM bands. (Ildjarn himself seems to have been effectively apolitical beyond garden variety BM misanthropy, as far as I can tell.) Legion Blotan, George from Sump's label and distro, carries a lot of self-described NSBM, mostly on tape and marginal to the point of barely existing (“limited to 88 copies,” what larks), albeit leavened by plenty of stuff from the other end of the spectrum. And Shitfucker, a band of ribald leathermen from Detroit, have had the artwork to their debut album banned in Germany, who take a dim view of artwork very blatantly mimicking the Nazi flag. Even when it's the letters S and F arranged to look vaguely like a swastika.

The album is called Suck Cocks In Hell, which adds credence to the likely truth that Shitfucker are boisterous rivetheads who know how to push a button or two but have no political agenda to speak of. It's released by Hells Headbangers, probably the best label in the world for this sort of rambunctious no-bullshit frash filth, and is unique among the releases in this column in that it sounds like a PARTY. One of quite specialist tastes, I'll grant you, but beneath all the bullet belts, demonic vocals and divebomb solos toils an uncomplex 1000mph rock & roll band. You can whoop it up to Venom, likewise to Tank, OBVIOUSLY to Mötorhead, no doubt to Destruction and The Accüsed and Broken Bones if you surround yourself with sympathetic simpletons – and by jove, you can 'bang to this until your spinal column is gelatine. What I'm saying is that Shitfucker are very much a black metal band, just 'black metal' as it was deemed in the 1980s: roughly-produced Satanic ugliness made by horribly grinning beer monsters who pride themselves on being more badly behaved than the squatter punx and definitely don't support the video nasty ban.