Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For April

Noel Gardner is back once again with all the information that is fit to publish from the world of punk

Plastic for the punks, hard copies for the hardcore. Come feast once more on physical media as Straight Hedge bites into ten more such units: flattened wax in both boastful 12-inch and adorable 7-inch size, plus cassettes for when you want something cheap, efficient and weighing under 100 grams.

And yet I see readers making a face that says, “Is the legally executed confinement of virtually everyone likely to read this not enough for you to drop this daft policy of no digital releases, seeing as it’s impossible for any fucker to go and buy them?” It is not! You should be able to get anything reviewed in this column via mail order, barring legal limitations on what can be sent through the post being introduced. In which case the people making and selling this fresh produce will need money even more and so will doubtless be happy to accept yours and send your record at a later date. Community-level organisation, like.

Upon clocking their debut LP Delux (Pop Wig), you’ll be waving metaphorical wads in the face of Bib, or more usefully one of the shops or distros carrying it in the UK, if that’s where you live. And if your heart murmurs for hardcore punk which simultaneously nails the ignorant, arm-swinging side of things and its awkward, wriggly counterpart. Talking of ignorance, I’d overlooked this Nebraskan band’s output – various singles collected on a comp LP, 2018’s A Band In Hardcore – until now, but Delux is my kind of whirlwind meaty thrash and then some.

Guitars are tuned down in the main, fuel for pit ignition on a par with (say) Turnstile, but free to go wheedlin’ walkabout on jams like ‘Boiling Point’ and ‘Laugh Track’, the latter of which sorta makes me think of Pissed Jeans reverting to their early-00s HC roots. ‘Us & Them’ has tweaked-out Void bits, psycho-surfer Adolescents bits and gloriously numbskulled Cro-Mags bits, yet doesn’t sound like a haphazard mess, or if it does it’s a sick one. Vocalist Nathan Ma peppers his apoplectic splutter with death metal-style grunts and bits lost to the wash of cavey reverb, and the whole 19 minutes is punishingly efficient, but not in a cynical or focus-grouped way.

Punishment Park (Quality Control), the debut album by Leeds’ Big Cheese, has its eccentricities too, and some of the same keywords as the last review: it’s also 19 minutes long, they toured with Turnstile not too long ago and both releases were mastered by the ceaselessly good Will Killingsworth, who I’d bet had thoughts of the Cro-Mags running through his head when touching up tracks like ‘Heartbreak Ball’.

Big Cheese’s niche, if you can describe this LP’s narrow yet stylistically elusive palette with such a word, is more like if one of the less pop-sensible NWOBHM bands travelled slightly forward in time and boned up on crossover thrash and the first two years of Revelation Records releases. That is to say, it’s got a pointedly regionalist outlook (‘Pennine Scrubs’ distinguishing itself in the hardcore lyrical canon by including a brief list of names for a bread roll) but mines a metallic ore of yore which has turned up seams the world over for thirty-plus years and still hasn’t got played out.

There’s a boss Priest-ly solo on the title track and general ample exploitation of the two-guitar setup – Louis Hardy, also of Higher Power, and Meg Brooks being responsible here – and ‘Write Off’ bisects skatecore and metal with a Rich Kids On LSD-worthy exactitude. All is polished off by frontman Razor Hardwick, who may not be trying to embody the Big Cheese himself as described on ‘IFMB’ (is he a self-made gangster or white-collar capitalist… or are they one and the same?) but whose remorseless hoarseness gives him his ideal voice.

Hackney’s finest, La Vida Es Un Mus Records, has sent enough tadpoles down the pipe this year already that even if The Global Situation puts their schedule on pause by May, they’ve earned the right to take the year off. Here are two of LVEUM’s latest, starting with Fried E/M from St Louis. First off, they’re an argument for there being too many bands nowadays, in that they released their first single in 2016 but until very recently I thought they were the same band as Fried Egg, from Richmond, which is definitely their fault and not mine. Secondly, and more definitively, their Modern World album is proof that there are never too many bands, because someone always manages to squeeze some droplets of pungent paste from the Killed By Death snot-punk tube, and if you think such efforts are a timesink in 2020… well this ain’t for you. As for those who live for gum-chomping Ramonic insouciance, mid-70s hard rawk riffs played at 78rpm, the Pagans, Zero Boys – heck even GG Allin – and what happened to Lumpy & The Dumpers after they crapped out (answer, or part of it: Martin Meyer, the erstwhile Lumpy himself, is Fried E/M’s drummer and has released this on his label in the US)? These four fucks have made a record just for you! Maybe it was focus-grouped.

The second LVEUM release of this issue is a split LP, and if you’ve popped a monocle with shock at seeing this truly mothballed format in the wild, don’t be surprised when they make a comeback as part of a wider resource-saving directive. Like sharing baths to use less water, or jumping into a volcano to free up space in graveyards. Muro, from Colombia, and Spain’s Orden Mundial take a side each of Sonido De La Negación, and stand as testament to the endurance of the international hardcore family: Martí Verí, bassist for the latter group, also features on Muro’s recording, and filled in for them on a 2018 tour. His death in a road accident last year means this will be Orden Mundial’s swansong, but he – and they – leave not only a great legacy but the most comprehensively sandblasted recordings in their discography.

‘Heridas’, a minute-long fuzz blowout, gears the listener up for a speed assault that never comes: instead, the psychedelic throb of ‘Marginal’ and the dirgey maelstrom of ‘Vais A Sufrir’, copping Greg Ginn’s guitar style as well as recalling their own ‘Son Fantasmas’, from 2014 LP Obediencia Debida. ‘Los Ojos De La Justicia’ cranks it back up for a textbook Dis-track that’s no worse for being relatively straightforward. Meanwhile, Muro not only remain in the game, they’ve just released their second album Pacificar and it smokes like a chimney – this, that, their debut LP Ataque Hardcore Punk (which I reviewed last year on its re-release) and the pandemonium of their Static Shock Weekend set in early March compiling a case for this Bogota band being one of the best to do it in this era. “It” being, well, music, basically. ‘División’ opens the scoring with a chainsaw bassline as savage as the ringing-ear guitar solos on ‘Desperdicio En Producción’ and ‘Universal’, the into-battle pummelled toms of ‘Infertil’ or Darcy Cabrera’s bugeyed, desperate vocal across all five Muro songs here.

Two now from the Hominid Sounds label, who also hail from London and have also started the year with a goodly burst of releases. Not all of them fit within the scope of this column, but Bruxa Maria do, albeit with the understanding that the din offered up on their second album The Maddening is a regurgitation of 80s industrial, hesher metal and wind-tunnel goth rock as much as punk or hardcore per se.

There is, though, a song called ‘Mr Hardcore Lives Next Door’ whose title may or may not refer to anything specific but which is an invigorating crust rampage with screechy noisepunk guitar. Few if any of the nine songs here can be pegged as any one ‘thing’: the title track’s huge euphoric riff puts it roughly in Melvins country, but preceding or surrounding that riff are bring-out-your-dead cymbals and blizzardy, improvised-sounding rockouts. ‘Love And Riots’ is equal parts black metal tremolo guitar, lumbering sludgepunk breakdowns and the hellion vox of Gill Dread (whose brainchild Bruxa Maria essentially is, the rest of the lineup having altered since their 2016 debut Human Condition). ‘The Void’ – which I’m pretty sure is still her singing, just in a very different register – is almost High On Fire-like in its epic swagger, but with a lethal injection of electronics by Robbie Judkins, whose role gets prioritised on the instrumental ‘Pushed To The Brink Of Madness Then Demonised’. Finishing with ‘Zaragoza’, not acres away from what Rakta were doing on Falha Comum, this might all sound like Bruxa Maria cover too much turf to establish their own identity, but there’s ample personality and wit amidst the brute force. An essential UK underground dispatch, or to quote Hominid’s blissfully optimistic take, “what we all need as we plunge into another year of the same old same old”.

Next up on the label, time to make like a cattle farmer with a grievance and subject you unsuspecting peons to a tank of Liquid Shit. YES they have given themselves a name that will undoubtedly make people assume they’re a comedy band, as I did. NO they are in fact deadly serious when it comes to the art of the sludge-grunge dirge barrage, ten minutes of which are captured on debut cassette Pillars Of Shit. At the risk of this sounding like a cry for psychoanalytical help – and if it is, they’ll need to get Hominid on the couch too, as they’re putting out their album later this year – Liquid Shit remind me of Leeds’ The Shits, specifically what I said about their first tape: that timeless Seattle sound, except if it had all imploded after Nirvana released Bleach. Eddy Frankel’s guitar solo on ‘Blossom’, in particular, is the very essence of Yxng Kobain, but where The Shits wrench matters in the direction of Kilslug and similar tackle, these Londoners swirl in some death metal of the slowest and drooliest ilk. Vocalist Gaz’s chosen style brings much of that to the table, but the scab-palmed downtuning and impeccably muddy production (by the band themselves) are vital factors too. If you think Jack Endino producing the first Autopsy album sounds like a bonzer alternative timeline, then you’ll likely rate this EP.

Liquid Shit and The Worms are linked (or can be, for the purposes of one of these forced segues between reviews I inexplicably enjoy) by the old ex-member boogaloo. Frankel’s Fair Ohs knocked out multiple releases of jammy indie-punk around the 00s-into-10s cusp, such as a 7-inch compilation which also included Brightonian peers Cold Pumas. That group’s quiet disbanding hasn’t meant retirement from music, though, with guitarist Oliver Fisher now fronting The Worms, and their new album-length cassette Back To The Bog. Other (C)old Pumas contribute artwork and mixing duties, too, so that’s great. As is this, a pared-back bundle of UKDIY and garage punk which sometimes nails the type of suburban obnoxiousness you might find on a Bored Teenagers compilation and, as with partway comparable acts such as Sauna Youth or Institute, sometimes employs repetition in a manner studied enough to betray their slightly more outré tastes. Fisher has a finely belligerent snarl on him, and although he plays guitar in a way that strongly suggests rhythm is his primary concern, bassist Flora Watters is the standout element on more than a few songs, ‘Frequency Of Behaviour’ for example.

Overwhelmed’s debut 7-inch comes about a year after the Glasgow band’s demo tape, although it’s one of those situations where it’s been sitting online for several months and is only now getting pressed. Good thing too, as it deserves physical existence (I told ya, these things are important, IDST!). Who Rules The World? (Kids Of The Lughole) is urgent, clanging quasi-hardcore that’s defiantly queer in a thematic sense – “Protect your sisters / Fuck your cis tears,” goes the refrain of ‘Thirty Five’ – and, to employ the more archaic definition, in the zigzaggy, just-outta-focus way the arrangements (barely) hang together. Feels like a band who’d fit well on the Thrilling Living label, or indeed Grace from Thrilling Living’s band Neon, except with oodles of downstrokey guitar instead of free-scree chordblur – ‘What Do You Want?’ is the EP’s standout rocker, in an Avengers/Dangerhouse Records kinda sense at least. Eilidh McMillan, until recently also of Scottish indiepop sorts Rapid Tan, is a fiercer presence on the mic than my acquaintance with that band might have left me assuming, and in short Who Rules The World? is the sort of thing I love to cover in this thing. Oh yeah, and the inter-review link: Flora from The Worms also plays in Es, whose bassist Katy Cotterell is also in Public Service with Overwhelmed’s George Garthwaite and Liam Nicolson.

The band’s name was Punter and take a punt is what I did, largely on the basis of their demo tape being released by the frequently belter Melbourne label Blow Blood. Eight minutes later I’d gone from having no dog in the fight to backing the winning horse – but remember, when the fun stops, stop. Not positive what personnel are in Punter, also Melburnians, although I believe there’s people from Enzyme (whose great 2019 album I reviewed) and Scab Eater (who’ve pretty much passed me by). Frontman Ash Wednesday, pseudonymous like his three bandmates, says this group is an outlet for his UK-centric pub-rock-into-first-wave-punk tastes and mentions AC/DC and Motörhead for good measure.

Filtered through their noise-fuckery grounding though that is, it checks out in the glammy guitars and backing harmonies; ‘Safe In The Bubble’ has a soulcore stomp akin to Hank Wood & The Hammerheads, ‘A Minute’s Silence’ starts off like Dead Moon before switching to aggro-dreamy almost-indie. Still an’all, I’d probably not be reviewing this if not for the lyrics, which are some of the sharpest I’ve encountered for a while. ‘Lockdown’ is a warning to affluent Aussie centrists that their ballot box complacency may later bite them (“There goes the dole / There goes the minimum wage / They gave it to you / And they can take it away”); ‘Safe In…’ addresses the futility of puritanical inter-left cancel culture, a topic which is perilously hard to address without ending up sounding like some Spiked magazine wanker but which is summed up shrewdly here in the line “Puritanical purge from the left / Is sure to only galvanise the right.”

And finally, another moderately mysterious demo tape, this time from northern England and by Louse. No credits on the inlay, of course, but it says here that people from The Shits (who I was just talking about, remember) and Foot Hair (who did a wicked sick LP on Box about five years ago and apparently still exist, just in a state of extreme inactivity) are involved. What particular fungal itch might Louse be scratching? “Kilslug/Drunks With Guns/Flipper/Brainbombs worship,” it also says here: a busman’s holiday in other people’s misery, to coin a phrase. Does it matter that the people from this band are already in bands which sound like those bands? Nah, fuck it. There aren’t medals on offer for eclecticism in creative output and if Louse want to channel their energies into pursuing the platonic ideal of club-swinging caveman rock, then I for one fully back them. Furthermore, it’s a sterling example of its own niche pursuit, packing a mite (geddit?) more pep and BPM than some examples of the style (including Foot Hair) – heck, ‘Slave Morality’ is practically midpaced. The singer occasionally sounds like David Yow or Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys, but mostly like someone trying to overpower the police officers who busted them with PCP, and I don’t think any of these six songs attempt a second riff, which is exactly what I want from this music. As should you.

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