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Noel's Straight Hedge

Noel’s Straight Hedge: Your Punk & Hardcore For October
Noel Gardner , October 30th, 2018 08:38

This month: Nazi Killer, Constant Mongrel, Vanilla Poppers, Black Mold, energised thrash, and hardcore of the blown-out, tone-filthy variety. Come hither and enjoy

Unannounced album drops. Loved by the fanbase, hated by music publications who, in their unseemly attempts to try and wring a few more farthings from their moth-walleted enterprise, are obliged to join in with the first listens, liveblogs, tweet collation etc whenever Drake or someone unveils new glop with 24 hours’ notice. Still, at least the underground punk and hardcore covered in this column will never pull this nonsense: if a release is prepared in secret, it’s probably because hardly anyone gives a toss about it.

Except! This is what blitzkreig crustpunk tunesmiths Tragedy did recently – recording a six-song EP, Fury, during summer 2018 and selling it off the merch table at a gig in their home city of Portland shortly after with no advance notice. Tragedy, granted, are not Drake, but they are sufficiently and widely revered for their first new music in six years to be met with massed gaped jaws, or an expression of that in internet comment form.

At 16 minutes long, Fury is teasingly brief but leans more on melody than its 2012 predecessor Darker Days Ahead, pin-sharp and soaring where that was swirling and murky. ‘Enter The Void’ is pretty much melodic hardcore, closer to a band like Lifetime than Tragedy’s broadly accepted if-you-like-that-you’ll-like-this peers, even with Todd Burdette’s much-imitated bark on top. The lyrics tend to be gloom-sodden, nonspecific and unnecessary to learn by heart, but the vocal tradeoffs between Burdette and bassist Billy Davis have a rap-like fluidity (note: I am not suggesting Tragedy have any kind of pronounced hip-hop influence), the guitars of Burdette and Yannick Lorrain duelling in post-Mötorhead/Maiden fashion to max endorphin rush effect. Once the solos in ‘Kick And Scream’ crank up the metal histrionics, I’m thinking the epithet ‘stadium crust’, occasionally used to snarkily describe Tragedy and the like around the mid-00s, should be reclaimed as the glowing compliment it can be.

They’re an album band really, these guys, and as such Fury might leave you wanting more – even while they pack a lot into short bangers with slyly similar drum parts, like the 109-second title track – but it’s a hefty return with usefully metal-edged Billy Anderson production.

Perhaps it was just the way the chips fell for Tragedy (there’s scant meritocracy in hype), but they’re one of those rare hardcore bands who, when they do something, make it feel like an Event. Fucked Up used to be like that too, back in that aforementioned mid-00s era – then they started sounding increasingly less ‘hardcore’, indeed encouraging listeners to consider them outwith that term. Their new album Dose Your Dreams is a few weeks old, and I don’t feel moved to review it here, but commendably it’s also spawned two releases which are certainly in the column’s purview.

The first is a two-song 7-inch by Jellicoe & Woodbury, who feature a quotient of Fucked Up members somewhere between one and all. The concept behind ‘Fear’/ ‘Doubt’ (Quality Control) combines lived experience and metaphorical allusion: Jellicoe and Woodbury, actually two streets in Toronto, here become the names of dogs who once lived in the area and frightened a young Mike Haliechuk, future Fucked Up guitarist. J&W render them symbols of, yes, fear and doubt – a device also used in James Joyce’s Ulysses. On whose structure Dose Your Dreams is purportedly based. Uh, so would you like to know what the songs sound like? It’s their homage to the more metallic side of Japanese hardcore, pretty much, right down to the swish sleeve art by Sugi, but not in a parodic or orientalist way, and with some FU-brand ethereality piped in (listen about 14 seconds into ‘Fear’). Musical pick of the pair for me is ‘Doubt’, its bucking-bronco guitar solo and iron-fisted metalpunk battery worthy of Texas’ wild Impalers.

Dose Your Dreams’ lead single, ‘Raise Your Voice Joyce’, is a multi-sectioned rocker whose lyrics resemble Jethro Tull and concern not a male Irish author but a fictive woman, Joyce Tops. This has been used as the seed of a compilation LP, also titled Raise Your Voice Joyce (Static Shock). Eight women – seven from the UK’s present-day DIY scene plus Manuela Iwansson of Sweden’s Terrible Feelings – contribute one song apiece about a different event or era of radical history; Joyce, blessed with time-travelling powers, serves as connecting thread by appearing at each one. This is an inspired concept, and for my money the best idea Fucked Up have had in years; their involvement stops at the idea stage, though, and the musicians on the comp are what make it great.

Given freedom to address histories of personal significance, there are tales of the Welsh women who first set up camp at Greenham Common (Bryony Beynon’s ‘Black Cardigans’, which bisects noisy garage and martial anarcho); the British Black Panthers of the late 1960s/early 70s (Kaila Stone, of bands including Child’s Pose and Nekra, with ‘Olive Calling’); and how Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist texts have suffered by mistranslation by a disinterested or malign literary establishment (the typically ratatat ‘Erase’ by Jen Calleja of Sauna Youth, who has written at length on the politics of translation, including for tQ). There are surprises from figures I’d encountered, and figures I’d not. Ola Herbich, of Quality Control Records and the monstrous noisepunk band Game, croons over the early-80s goth slinker ‘Defiance’, about the White Rose Movement; Crøm-lus, who makes music documentaries by day, peddles choice nocturnal creep with ‘Claw The Elite’, a layered postpunker. Really can’t say enough good things about this record as a project, a listening experience and a springboard for personal research.

Forward-thinking punk rock is frequently a pernicious notion – many would-be envelope-pushers assume this should mean an awkward fusion with another genre that was perfectly happy by itself. Living In Excellence, the third album by Melbourne quartet Constant Mongrel and their first for London’s La Vida Es Un Mus Records, is more successful in this regard, progressing on their own terms rather than forced audacity. The band claim to have been jamming Alice Coltrane and the Happy Mondays, among others, during recording, and if this doesn’t necessarily leap out it at least telegraphs their efforts to build on the bare-wire minimalpunk of their previous sides. There are multiple dimensions to this release, ones you imagine appealing to a broad cross-section of people: CM can convey grandeur and opulence in one movement, fixed-stare austere the next.

Elegant sax parts and synth textures are weaved into a framework of brisk, deft thumpers that betray their longer-standing yen for anarcho punk, deathrock and the yobbier end of postpunk. Album opener ‘600 Pounds’, a lament against the normalisation of racism as well as vocalist Hugo Young’s own parlous finances, demonstrates the benefits of (again, in their own estimation) using a decent studio, and there’s similar, keenly-tracked depth to ‘The Law’ and ‘Puffy’, the latter bolstered by lachrymose Joy Division keys and the lyric, “Do you know what a puffa jacket is?” Living In Excellence places Constant Mongrel in the company of other fine, smart-not-snooty contemporary punk outfits: Uranium Club, Institute and Sauna Youth, who I’d identified as peers before noticing that this album’s ‘More Social’ has a freakishly similar guitar riff to SY’s recent ‘Unreal City’. There’s a melodic nous present here, though, which suggests a hypothetical audience larger than any of them.

Sometimes I like to kick back and undermine one of Straight Hedge’s guiding principles – to contextualise punk as a subculture and a network, as well as/instead of a sound – by reviewing something which exists outside of that. Possibly. Sum total of info out there about Black Mold, who have just released their Atavism demo on metal label Helldprod: they’re Portugese and these five songs were recorded in 2016 and ‘17. They might fucking hate punk for all I know. They resemble it, though, in the way that Bone Awl and Ildjarn and Akitsa and Sump all do, although Black Mold are more crust-buzzy than Oi!-stompy, and I could well believe that Atavism is an attempt to channel Darkthrone foremost. ‘Worship Nothing’ is your go-to for atmospherics, thanks to a riff that drags itself up and up like a heretic thrown down a well; ‘Shroud Of Bottles’ for whipping proto-BM speed; ‘Void Intoxication’ for a drumbeat whose monomania could soundtrack a marching zombie militia.

The drawing of an inhuman, weapon-wielding behelmeted fascist on the cover of the debut seven-inch by Nazi Killer might remind you of D.R.I.’s Violent Pacification single, and the spectacular brevity and ballistic chaos might remind you of that band’s preceding Dirty Rotten EP. None of these 16 songs, released collaboratively by an impressive seven labels, reach a minute, most are under half that and it’s pressed at 45rpm. From Leicester, Nazi Killer share heads with Nothing Clean and Mangle, whose respective takes on powerviolence I’ve reviewed in past columns; despite that, and the track lengths, this isn’t PV as such, more super-intense hardcore. Which I appreciate sounds like narcissism of small differences, but this feels in the lineage of 80s speedfreaks like Lärm, Protes Bengt and Neos, just with way thicker production. Lyrics are, in the main, boiled down to the strictly necessary: “All / You / Do / Is / Perpetuate” declares ‘Poppy Fucker’, as laudable a title as Nazi Killer is a band name.

Vanilla Poppers, that’s another good one. From a currently strong scene in Cleveland, Ohio, they’ve been around since 2015 and released their debut LP about a year ago; singer Christina Pap, who started the band after moving from Australia, has a neat label called Blow Blood. All that said, it’s daft (on my part) that it took until new 7-inch I Like Your Band (Drunken Sailor / Feel It) for Vanilla Poppers to hit the spot. The world is creaking under the weight of excess trashy, speedy garage punk, of the type played here, so exceptional elements are necessary. On these four songs, it’s Jo Coone’s guitar lines – piercing and sharp like Angry Samoans, maybe, and suggestive of someone who writes blitzin’ riffs without really trying – and the general aura of Pap. Everything is delivered in the same excitingly abrasive caw, whether dickhead-zappingly defiant (“I’ll be everything I’m not sposeda be!” repeats ‘Get Away From Me’) or gloopily romantic (‘A Stranger’). The character on the title track, a jaded scenester who attends punk gigs and acts the goat, is probably not a portrait of the vocalist herself, but is made to sound appropriately grating and obnoxious.

To Ireland, a country not given its due by this column quite honestly, for two fine releases. Dublin trio Extravision are assembled from members of other rad bands: Sissy and Surge, both of whom I have reviewed at least, plus synth-metal dramatists No Spill Blood. On this five-song demo tape, recorded last year and available via Sligo label Art For Blind, a since-departed drummer named Legs plays their propulsive part in Extravision’s sound: gothic postpunk jangling, dreamy and pillowy without being watery or precious. Leigh Francis’ vocals are slightly different to how she sings in Sissy – prioritising melancholy over invective, you’d suppose – but equally effective; the music leans, at various points, on tom-heavy Banshees touches and gauzy 80s 4ADisms. Closing track ‘Don’t Wanna Be Here’ brushes the hem of sadgal indiepop, a little like Black Tambourine might have sounded if they didn’t record in a bin.

This song also features, alongside 17 others, on Karate Klub Compilation #1 – a V/A LP documenting/celebrating the present-day Dublin punk scene and the work of the city’s Karate Klub space. Named in reference to the building’s past use as a dojo, by all accounts it’s been utterly transformed by the collective’s efforts, and become a fulcrum of DIY activity in the capital. They’ve really gone to town on this release, too: a gorgeous screenprinted heavy card sleeve and chunky booklet, in the tradition of 90s hardcore compilations. Moreover, the music deserves it. It’s a varied spread – the Bishops Green-ish streetpunk of R.A.Z.O.R is followed by Dowth’s misty folktronica, for example – and I couldn’t name a song that drags down the overall quality. Hardcore of the blown-out, tone-filthy variety (Surge, Disguise) and energised thrash variety (Rats Blood, Strong Boys, Pozoga) prevails; there’s bleak noiserock from Badb, anti-Christian death metal from Putrefaction and instrumental surf punk from Electric Bill & The Meter Readers, who outside of this comp only have music on YouTube but are absolutely glorious. Really hope I get to write about them again in future, likewise a sheaf of other bands on KKC1 – surely be the best regional scene compilation that’ll emerge this year.