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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For August
Noel Gardner , August 24th, 2022 11:05

Your guide to the world's finest new punk and hardcore releases returns for August, with reviews of Chat Pile, Gehenna, Trauma Bond and more

Chat Pile, from Oklahoma City, describe the late-July release day for their debut album God’s Country (The Flenser) as “crazy”. From a distance, it does seem like the amount of attention foisted on this four-piece band’s morbid, downtuned histrionics was unusually concentrated around their debut’s ‘drop’, as opposed to a more gradual accumulation of approving talk – Chat Pile’s chat pile, so to speak. By no means obviously populist music, God’s Country nevertheless locates a sound primed for a certain type of modern rock listener.

Essentially, the album plots a continuum between the sort of music that was called ‘pigfuck’ in the 1980s and not so much since – nihilistic, detuned, (mostly) American – and the more commercially inclined plains of 90s alt-rock and metal. (Two of the more prominent connecting nodes between those scenes, Godflesh and Helmet, are relevant indeed to any discussion of Chat Pile.) Ably self-produced, God’s Country is tonally grotesque but betrays its members’ MTV-raised sensibilities: Chat Pile drummer Cap'n Ron (all members are at least part-pseudonymous) plays an electronic kit, which works rather well in the mix and which I’m not sure I’d have twigged without being told.

The group’s public image – such as it is – indicates Ron, vocalist Raygun Busch, guitarist Luther Manhole and bassist Stin don’t take themselves gravely seriously. There aren’t jokes on God’s Country, exactly, but a degree of inferred levity preventing the chosen subject matter from seeming too harrowing, even when it objectively is. You might find this aesthetic offputting, or you might recall the various Big Black and No Trend records which did something similar. ‘Why’, whose music splits the difference between The Jesus Lizard and industrial metal, is a denouncement of America’s homelessness crisis which asks its questions in a childlike register: “Why do people have to live outside, when there are buildings all around us with heat on and no one inside?” I say ‘childlike’ not to belittle, rather to concur that the issue is fundamentally this simple, could be fixed in weeks by identifiable individuals, and anyone who tries to argue otherwise is an earthbound demon.

Negative Hardcore is the third LP by Gehenna in a hair under 30 years, and mysteriously long in its conception: the band recorded it seven years ago and had sketched out a linkup with Iron Lung Records – fulfilled here – before that. Whatever the backstory, this is no Chinese Democracy-esque carry-on from the Nevada-based belligerents. In the best way, this continuation of Gehenna’s trademark blackened wreckhead blitz sounds banged out and dog-rough, like it was done in a day and then lost in life’s fug.

Crawling with blastbeats, divebombs and bestially blown-out production touches more akin to, say, Teitanblood than any hardcore qua hardcore outfit, if it wasn’t for an additional spate of moshers’-delight breakdowns and most of these songs being under two minutes long, I daresay most fresh listeners would just figure Gehenna were a straight-up metal band. Certain guitar parts, ‘Death In Disguise’ for example, beat their chest in Cro-Mag-ish fashion, and if you dig the ‘holy terror’ sound coined by Cleveland’s Integrity… well, you probably know Gehenna already in that case, but their rep as a more chaotically self-medicated riposte to Integrity holds up on Negative Hardcore, with even more extreme metal savagery than before.

Iron Lung have also just birthed Nin-Gen, Rashomōn’s second 12-inch – one-sided, like the first, with an etching on the B which you can invite people to come up and see – and it’s faster, frothier and thrashier than X = Pathogen X, that 2018 vinyl debut. Frontman Kohei Urakami, who sings in Japanese, is backed by a crack squad of Washington harDCore scene perennials (longtime NSH readers, if they exist, may have previously read my thoughts on guitarist Daniel Peña’s Pure Disgust or drummer John Seager’s Lotus Fucker) and here Rashomōn sound like they’re using hardcore’s evolutionary history as a jumping-off point.

As their label say, there’s something of DC’s early wave in this barrelling sound: I often suspect geographical confirmation bias at play when influences and soundalikes are pondered in punk reviews, but the guitar break 70 seconds into ‘Patriot’ could comfortably spring from Flex Your Head, while ‘Musha Musha’ is a Void-level joyride with a delightful, loosely Middle Eastern-sounding solo near the end. Frequent threats, never quite carried out, to ‘go metal’ are most likely rooted in the Burning Spirits wing of Japanese HC, and I’d wager the hazardous Cleveland scene of yore that sprouted (often Japanophilic) bands like Nine Shocks Terror has its place in Rashomōn’s record racks.

Bearing further east, we reach Philadelphia and the self-released debut 7 inch by Delco MF’s. Named in reference to Delaware County, adjacent to the city, there is in fact a sole motherfucker on this recording – Jim Shomo, who I last saw in 2020 fronting a pick-up version of his band Loose Nukes for a set roughly as long as this EP (five minutes). Absent the knowledge that Shomo is playing everything on here, you might reasonably believe this was a live recording, and not from anything as luxurious as a soundboard, as it sounds like absolute bin juice.

Not dramatically different from Loose Nukes in style – fast, popped-eyeball hardcore with four of its five songs done in under 60 seconds – it’s way more lo-fi, though mastered pleasantly loud, and I’m convinced that if you offered a pro studio engineer a million bucks to try and replicate the absurd bass drum sound on this thing they wouldn’t manage it. In conclusion, a release for fans of early-80s marginal murk like Solger, Youth Korps and Neon Christ, and/or people who think that being able to separate instruments in the mix is for wimps and posers.

Now, two more releases on the Noise Merchant label, whose home-dubbed short runs are currently arriving at such a rate I could fill any given bimonthly column with them. Circle Nøne, from London, seem to be comprised of folks who don’t otherwise cross my threshold (vocalist May Mansour drummed in an early version of Petrol Girls, who I’m at least au fait with), but with The Wreckoning offer up some tastily forceful hardcore grandstanding. Pleasingly, the quartet avoid sounding like an emulation of any particular scene or era, without being a vague appropriation of genre tropes either.

Mansour’s lyrics are strong whether you’re reading or listening – cramming syllables into lines one moment, resorting to yellable refrains the next – and her bandmates hit on a chunky sound that stops short of being overproduced. ‘Knives Without Targets’ is a metalpunk blare not a mile away from London peers Game, while ‘Shitshow Fiends’, from its chugging intro riff onwards, feels a little like an early-90s Revelation Records release. Elsewhere, the bass-forward mix and sense of high drama make me think of Neurosis before they turned into an art-metal band: as I say, there’s quite a bit going on here that you might not expect to hang together, so props to Circle Nøne for managing it.

My other NM selection comes from Marseille’s Idiopathique, and while I can’t give you much background info or scene-based context, their patchwork jazzpunk babble is very much on my wavelength. With five members, two vocalists (Luar Delcaos seems to be credited as Idiopathique’s lead singer, but guitarist Dimitri’s voice as almost as prominent) and a member responsible for “noises”, this 11-song tape is as busy as it’s unpindownable.

Often cracking on at hardcore tempo, elsewhere deploying on-off moments of creepy crawl lumber, sometimes Idiopathique just say ‘fuck it’ and do both at the literal same time, as on the bafflingly-arranged ‘Alie.n.ation’. Guitars are pore-gougingly atonal, drumbeats whip you hither and yon with minimal warning, and all the lyrics seem to be in either English or Spanish. If this band had existed in the early 90s, they’d have shared oxygen with some/all of Stretchheads, Dawson, God Is My Co-Pilot, Melt-Banana, Boredoms and Truman’s Water, which I fancy would’ve been a fine proving ground for them. More recent touchstones might include Neon, Preening, Warm Bodies or NASA Space Universe, and if having names flung at you this rapidly feels exhausting, well so does listening to Idiopathique.

Embarking on what has to be one of the longest possible domestic European journeys between two major cities, we reach Brest, the seemingly reluctant home of dreamy streetpunx Syndrome 81. I say ‘reluctant’ because Prisons Imaginaires (Sabotage) – their debut album, following several 7-inches – gives the impression that life in Brest is dreary, drink-fuelled and purgatorial: many Oi! bands are outwardly proud of where they come from, for better or worse, but that’s not apparent here. What’s clearer is that Syndrome 81 have nailed their ‘postpunk bootboy’ sound here, 13 songs in a half-hour that fair flies by.

Fabrice Le Roux delivers his lines with a finely menacing glower, not unlike Carl Miller from Blitz, and his bandmates are generous with the old BVs when needed. Shorter songs – ‘Violence Sociale’, ‘Sur La Brèche’ – gesture to Syndrome 81’s hardcore influence, but more often guitarists Damien Lannuzel and Alexandre Marzin embrace their chorus pedals for a double dose of piercing Joy Divvy shimmer. ‘La Ville’, a mid-album spoken word piece, appears to have been recorded in the pissing rain (by all accounts a common event in Brest), and the songs which surround it are, lyrically speaking, spectacularly miserable. The music, though, is propulsive and hook-heavy, and at the last there’s a resolution of sorts. Gothic synthpopper ‘Lumière Magnétique’ replaces Timothée Priol with a drum machine as Le Roux describes a solo visit to a nightclub, there to dance his gloom away. Love that for him.

It’s a comparatively short distance from Brest to Falmouth in Cornwall, should you have access to a yacht or light aircraft, and when you reach land you might be able to watch a band featuring Charlie Murphy – such as Life Forms, whose debut EP was recorded solo style. It’s been released on cassette by Silent Kill, a Welsh distro branching out into label biz, and its five songs juggle punk, pop and garage with hectic efficiency.

Murphy’s best known group Freak Genes have a new album out just after this column drops, which promises to continue their deviation into sequenced art-synth archness. To this end, Life Forms circles back somewhat to Freak Genes’ earlier, more rockist rattles: I can’t hear any keyboards on this tape, but if you want chickenwire-taut speedgobble guitar, stop-start jolts aplenty and goth-on-45 basslines, you’ve come to the right place (Falmouth, apparently – my cue to bitterly recall growing up in Cornwall in the 1990s, when as far as I could tell there were zero punk bands in the entire county). Closing track ‘It Glows’ is semi-spoken word and semi-experimental, otherwise the EP feels styled after Jay Reatard, the Wipers and the Shitty Limits at various points.

Moving up the West Country to Bristol (sorry for dragging this ‘column on tour’ conceit out, it’s nearly over) and another five-song tape – by Cosmit, whose party I’m late to in every way. It’s Cosmit (Specialist Subject) was released in May, follows a 7-inch that came out in early lockdown and completely missed my radar, and utilises the talents of people from various bands I’ve never really listened to. This is its whole own treat though!

Equipped with two guitars, an organ and what Cosmit call a “delay pedal UFO” – fairly so, especially on psych-ish EP opener ‘Cost Of Breathing’ – over ten minutes the quintet encompass indiepop sugar, mod jitter, the ramalama soul-punk of, say, Reigning Sound and Snuff’s melodic thrashings. “You won’t find me by the phone, tapping my fingers in an empty home / Or in the corner of the classified, but it’s always on my mind,” warbles Jeremy Tadros on ‘Somebody’s Man’ – from which one can conclude either that Cosmit are playing up to their retro inclinations, or the vocalist is still without a mobile or the internet.

Trauma Bond, whose London location puts the final pin in August’s map, have two releases to their name. The first one, The Violence Of Spring, has been online since spring 2021, but James Watts has just done a tape version on his Panurus label. Winter’s Light, its followup, is currently digi-only, but together they comprise about 40 minutes of breathtaking industrialised grindcore, from a duo with no previous scene bona fides that I can discern.

In fact, they’re respectively a fashion photographer (Tom Mitchell, who plays Trauma Bond’s instrumental parts) and a fashion model (Eloise Chong-Gargette, who handles vocals and lyrics). I don’t wish to dwell on this, as it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the music, but that’s kinda the thing – reconciling the aesthetic of their respective portfolios with this steel-jawed ripper, as it tears through compressed blastbeats and death-gurgle vox and staticky power electronics, might take a bit of doing.

In some respects these releases are hypermodern grind, thickly produced and noise-savvy a la Full Of Hell or the HIRS Collective, but there’s also some vintage death metal in Mitchell’s guitar playing, while the newer of the pair actually dials back the tekkers in favour of a sludgier ruffness. Like Chat Pile, there’s also an occasional ‘should I be entertained by this’ vibe to Chong-Gargette’s lines, which – as per the band name – you suppose might come from dark origins; conversely, “You defended Nazis! You left your nails on my bedside! Forgot my birthday!” is an objectively funny thing to shout over music.