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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For September
Noel Gardner , September 15th, 2021 07:04

Noel Gardner once again scales the filth ridden summits and strolls the verdant valley floors of international punk rock. Home page photograph Neon Christ live by Chuck Gill

The last Straight Hedge, two months ago, opened with a review of the fire debut EP from Taqbir and a passing observation that, while it had initially been slated for release on Montreal’s A World Divided, that label “had gone very quiet”. Which they had, but my fears have since proven unfounded, as AWD has blazed back with two new releases! Three, actually, but one is a tape version of an album that came out last year, so gets short shrift in my efforts to be both descriptive and succinct.

The two new AWD EPs both hail from Montreal, one act being a subset of the other. Blemish are a four-piece whose tuneful punk grit was honed in Malokio, in which three of them played in several years ago. Rick Aube, the member who didn’t, plays everything on the self-titled EP by his other band, Ilusión.

Blemish’s seven songs are a collective delight, containing traces of post punk darkness when guitars drone and slash but are fundamentally melody-led. I get a vibe akin to late-70s US bands like The Bags and other Dangerhouse Records sorts, with ‘Reanimate’ inching towards new wave. There’s a bold willingness to take songs past the three-minute mark, too, the tape’s closer ‘Ghost Song’ finding vocalist Lisa Czech assuming the character of a vindictive phantom at old enemies’ windows.

Ilusión, which made what I think was its live debut in full-band mode earlier this month, is more hardcore-styled: the matchless barrage of pre-Rollins Black Flag is recalled on ‘Metiche’, early Poison Idea on ‘La Sangre En Tus Manos’. Aube can go longer, though, hitting near-psychedelic levels of dirge on ‘State Kiss’ and, as with Blemish, maintaining a dark-punk brood in the guitar parts especially (even though I think he drums in that band). If you’re in Europe, you can save on postage by getting this one from a French label, Dirty Slap.

Homo (Static Shock) is the first release by Dublin’s Strong Boys for six years, and – chastise me for not having celebrated their steez at the time – they are as heroically, hairily hardcore as ever. Unlike their earlier days, there are no come-and-get-me pleas to any bears who happened to be listening amidst these four songs, indeed ‘Bad Bear’ denounces one with wandering paws; elsewhere, archaic moral codes are what’s primarily eating Strong Boys. ‘Pink Death’ concerns the intrusion of religion into (primarily but by no means solely) queer life, ‘UB2FU’ decries the idea of HIV being a “dirty death sentence” in 2021 and ‘Bad Blood’ is a sardonic title addressing the absurdly still active policy of exclusively soliciting blood donations from the heterosexual community. Musically, it’s gruff and mean as you like, Oi!-derived oompah beats and slow mosh parts spliced with exhilarating thrashes whose fastest points are as close to, say, Infest as anything.

Back to Canada, Vancouver this time, for a six-song EP by Chain Whip. I feel that when a hardcore band comes to name itself, something like ‘Chain Whip’ is the rainbow for which they’re reaching: a name that sounds deeply generic yet is – miraculously – unclaimed. Ergo, kudos. Two Step To Hell, released by Drunken Sailor in the UK and Neon Taste elsewhere, is nine minutes of hyperactive belligerence that’s taken forever to get out thanks to COVID and pressing plant shite but is outstanding in its field, certainly in the latter third of this year. Are you someone who digs the big, more rock & roll-influenced dogs of early wave USHC – Black Flag again, Circle Jerks especially, Angry Samoans to a point – but can’t imagine being arsed about a contemporary take on it? Try Chain Whip, and if it’s still a nope I’m calling it a you problem! Josh Nickel has a great voice, equal parts puppyish excitement and pitbull spite; Joel Butler sprays smart solos and subtly weird guitar breaks (the title track has two good’uns) over all six songs, the last of which is a cover of olde worlde Vancouver punx the Subhumans.

Feeding Time (La Vida Es Un Mus), the debut 7-inch from Stingray, is London hardcore scene head regenerative entity part 94… with the plot twist of being metallic mayhem to a degree no-one involved has previously achieved. Anarcho-thrashers Subdued, who lend guitarist Nicky Rat to Stingray, were certainly getting there; Asid, who Paco from LVEUM singles out as the specifically pre-Stingray band, and Arms Race weren’t shy with the riffs either. Tin Savage’s lyrics were much more on the personal side in Asid though, compared to invocations of nuclear winter and cracked lungs on this EP’s ‘Electric Elimination’. The whole thing is simply ridden with 80s metal reverb, Celtic Frost/Sacrilege foreboding and the sort of barely-controlled chug that is probably filtered through Burning Spirits hardcore and mid-80s Agnostic Front listening sessions but comes off as a more yobbo cousin of capital city peers Game. ‘Internal Retreat’, my pick of the six songs here, is for some reason only available digitally, which shows what one of us know.

Saw Koma, a four-piece equally distributed between Leeds and London, a couple of times in early 2020. They also released a demo tape, on actual tape only, most copies of which (mine included) forgot to include any music, so as far as I can discern hardly anyone heard it. Peak mysteriousness! Eighteen months later, here’s an album – Internment Failure, on La Vida again – and it sheds precisely none of the noise-boosted kaos of their early/sole live performances, while also utilising the power of the studio.

As with Stingray, you can flag up members’ (uniformly class) other bands – singer Becky Harris’ Hex, guitarist Simon Marsham’s Maladia, bassist Ben Hills’ Vile Spirit – and act like yer saw this coming, but none of those have scaled such filth-ridden summits. Everything’s mixed way into the red, cymbals screaming for special attention among a sea of ear blood, but if Internment Failure borders Confuse-style Japanese noisecore in its tonality, Koma are too into rocking for this to define them. ‘Insolent Crucifixion’ and the deathrock-via-thrash barrage of ‘Impossible Altar’ have highly defined grooves chestbursting out of their centres. An LP with no weak links or wasted moments, and just my sorta length at 27 minutes (for any late arrivals to the column, this is longer than most modern hardcore albums).

Oxford label Richter Scale have latterly been specialising in UK editions of barely-distributed tape demos by new USHC bands, in even more comedically limited quantities. I was one of ten (10) people to spring for the debut by Little Angels – their “first of many demos” according to Kill Enemy, who released it in the States – but, because this ain’t the freakin’ Stone Age, it is easy to hear online. Little Angels are from Pittsburgh, whose hardcore scene has been talked up of late (members’ other bands include Speed Plans, Living World and Necro Heads), and readers old enough to remember Kerrang!-friendly hard rock gumbies Little Angels will agree that these young Yanks have failed the Chain Whip name test. Much they care, I’m sure.

Oh yeah – the review! This tape is a hot mess of rasping turbowonk with no manners at all, aside from the innate tidiness of its six songs lasting almost exactly six minutes. It’s fast as fuck, sounds like it was recorded on a four-track, has heaps of Void/United Mutation/Deep Wound goonery and vocalist Maggie packs a delivery that could strip paint off the walls she just kicked over. If hardcore bands have to deliver new paradigms for you to bother with them, Little Angels aren’t for you – for that matter I’m surprised you’ve read this far down the column – but this is the stuff of life for me, and it comes out of nowhere, all the time.

The LA-based Militarie Gun is the latest band formed by Ian Shelton, whose prison system-themed powerviolence project Regional Justice Center was repped in Straight Hedge some years back. This time, he’s on a groovy post-hardcore tip and is joined by people including Nick Cogan from Drug Church, a pretty popular band who I have never actually listened to due to being cool. Er, I mean uncool.

All Roads Lead To The Gun II (Convulse), another 12-inch that could easily fit on a 7, follows a similarly titled Militarie Gun EP from a few months back and crops out most of its indie/psych tendencies in favour of a big, crashing sound that’s like a late-80s Dischord Records band with early-90s alt production. It reminds me somewhat of 2010s DC ensemble Give, and slightly less of Turnstile, but with that latter band now concerned with introducing the ‘millennial whoop’ to millennial hardcore, the fanbase they’ll inevitably slough off may be looking for a new home.

The debut release by X’ed Out from London goes further into those subgenre’d realms. We All Do Wrong (Human Worth) is a seven-song LP whose individual tracks are sometimes longer than many entire releases this month: ‘The Noble Rot’ lasts over ten minutes, and closes the record, of course. X’ed Out’s take on post-hardcore is multifaceted and ambitious, sporting a Drive Like Jehu dimension in its embrace of the epic (if you ever caught singer Phil Mann’s old band Silent Front this may figure) but more time-changey and with some texturally tasty trumpet blown by Adam Faires, also of the Working Men’s Club who are not the indie-dance Working Men’s Club in the same way X’ed Out are not 90s powerviolence dons Crossed Out.

We All Do Wrong opens on its most mnstrm-friendly note, in that ‘Inborn’ sounds a little like At The Drive-In, but gets weirder and zig-zaggier thereafter. ‘Fouling The Nest’ is like Keelhaul soundtracking sundown in the desert, there’s a bit of proggy crooning over keyboard and while it is in some ways the spiritual opposite of many of its in-column passengers, it has a latent feralness and big teeth sharpened further by a Wayne Adams recording and James Plotkin master.

Coax’s first tape contains multitudes too. Not enough multitudes to complicate things, but a few. It’s the newest outing for Newcastle’s Sam Booth and Tom Hopkin, also both of Radium Jaw (who I reviewed late last year), Foot Hair and Rife at various times, and is less outwardly horrid than any of those: ten songs that bounce sullenly between semi-primitive Gatling gun ratatatting and gothy postpunkers. ‘Mirror Mirror’ has a blackened punk feel in its beat, the migrainey cymbal raps especially; ‘Everyday Escapism’ drapes spoken word vocals over slow, chorus-drenched guitar. A successive lyrical punch of ‘Working Class Fatality’ and ‘Graft’, which seems to address the decline of heavy industry in the north-east over decidedly Joy Div riffs, is a pleasing indication Coax are attempting to convey something beyond introspective metaphor-frotting. Though parts of this tape may well be the most accessible music Booth or Hopkin have ever released (if there are other people in the band, sorry for not acknowledging you but… I don’t know whether you exist), there is forever something more expectedly grubby cued up next.

The sole release Atlanta band Neon Christ managed in their lifetime, a ten-song 7-inch titled Parental Suppression, is quintessential 1984 American hardcore, and forms the first side of 1984, a short but exhaustive compilation released by Southern Lord. Shit-off-a-shovel fast in an audibly post-DRI way, betraying the members’ teenhood even beyond the title (“They’re jumping on my back / for being in this band” – ‘It’s Mine’) and marking a point far enough down the road that hardcore bands were taking influence exclusively from other hardcore bands, or sounded like they were.

This was probably not an overall good development, but didn’t – doesn’t – preclude the possibility of a release kicking ass, and Parental Suppression is loveable aggro angst with ridiculous guitar solos (‘Bad Influence’), three-second songs and occasional tilts towards actual melody. ‘After’, the EP’s final song, has Randy DuTeau imagining a post-apocalyptic wasteland over improvised guitar – suggesting, after all, the possibility of Neon Christ evolving. The four songs on 1984’s other side, never officially released until now, back this up with forays into a big coat post punk sound among the thrash apoplexy. The guy who recorded this session would later play the Russian president in 24; more notably, Neon Christ guitarist William Duvall moved onto SST Records second-stringers Bl’ast and for the last 15 years has filled Layne Staley’s shoes in Alice In Chains.