Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For February

Your essential guide to the best new punk and hardcore returns, with reviews of blistering new records from Heaven's Gate, Speed Plans, Nervous Eaters and more. Homepage photo: Skitter

I’m opening the 2023 Straight Hedge account with the first of a few selections for any metal maniacs in tonight – wimps and posers are also catered for, don’t worry – and slightly ahead of being able to go into a shop and buy it. The self-titled debut EP by Heaven’s Gate is a “one-sided 12" with a marvelously etched B-side adorned with the band’s logo” on translucent purple, yellow or black vinyl. I’m sure that will look good when label Beach Impediment have them to ship out, but for now all must stream it online, for equity in listening.

Heaven’s Gate are from Tampa Bay in Florida and comprise various guys you would be fairly unsurprised to find doing a band together, just not all four of them together. Vocalist Tony Foresta is best known for crossover revivalists Municipal Waste and has been featured in this column with Iron Reagan; Mike Gorup is a major dude of 2010s NYC hardcore, most lastingly as Warthog’s guitarist, and lives in the limp penis-shaped state to teach politics. Jeff Howe’s bona fides derive chiefly from late-90s ‘emo violence’ pioneers Reversal Of Man and Paul Mazurkiewicz has played in Cannibal Corpse for 35 years, this new project finding him keeping time for a singer whose bandmate also plays in ‘enduring’ weed-themed homage Cannabis Corpse. Funny.

If anything, Mazurkiewicz probably has to drop down a skill grade here, but Heaven’s Gate simply bangs front to back. Late-80s C-tier thrash artwork foreshadows slavering, gag-free crossover ‘core with room for Warthog-worthy solos from Gorup on ‘Smear Crusade’. The intro to ‘Cinder Woman’, whose title I keep hoping is going to somehow change onscreen to ‘Cider Woman’, and the second half of ‘Skyway’ are punk rock headbang fodder in ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ models; ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ is unadorned, metal-free hardcore with a weird/wonky/cool sound on the verses and a big anthemic chorus about cult leaders or something.

The debut demo by Kinetic Orbital Strike is out there as a tape but I’m not expecting to snag one any time soon, and I don’t think the band have even played live in Philadelphia, where they live. It’s matching the above release all the way for most apocalypse-summoning drum rolls of the month, however, and its seven minutes of blackened crust bombast offers heroic lethality in general. The ‘name’ in this lineup is Chris Ulsh, on guitar here but best known as a drummer in Power Trip and Devil Master; my favourite band of his, Impalers, are also the one which most closely resembles KOS’ radioactive barrage, although there’s more Venom and Skitsystem on this tape to my ears. Vocalist Trey Stallings has a pretty solid noise punk grounding as well as a time-honoured ‘Cal from Discharge, but standing further away from the mic’ style and Dan Cox, tasked with drumming well enough that people don’t suggest Ulsh does it instead, tears up that notion over five outrageously efficient fistpumpers.

There are 16 songs on Statues Of God, the third LP by Speed Plans and first for Iron Lung. This feels like an unusually high figure for contemporary hardcore albums – I haven’t run the numbers or anything, no – yet, with nearly all comfortably under one minute, this could have fitted on a 7-inch if involved parties were OK with sacrificing some sound quality. Statues… might not exactly be audiophile catnip, but I’d wager it came out pretty much how it was supposed to: loud, frantic, cut-to-the-bone thrasherama with a real ‘demo tape from 1984’ obscurist feel (‘Redemption’ and ‘Cleveland’ are as close as we get to a rocking sound) and the distinct sense that at least one member has a crayon permanently stuck up their nose.

For all its brevity, you get a lot of content for time invested with this band: a fully wacko guitar solo, a drum break likely first played outside a prehistoric cave, a vocalist (Matthew Maitland) blowing his top in a pretty convincing manner, a song called, perfectly, ‘Bald Boss’. Pittsburgh, where Speed Plans are from, currently has a glut of bands playing ignorant HC of this ilk – I reviewed a member-related one, Little Angels, in 2021 – and this release might be the apogee of that scene’s whole carry-on. It says here Statues… was conceived as “15 fast ones and one slow one”, except I have no idea which the slow one is supposed to be. Maybe it’s like that prank where you write nonconsecutive numbers on pigs and make people think one’s gone missing.

In past times, Perth band Gaffer’s singer Chris Shoulder cut about calling himself Chris Cunt, but has left swear language behind, and the insert for Gaffer’s debut LP Dead End Beat lists him as one of two C-Holes, alongside an A-Hole and a K-Hole: names listeners of all ages can enjoy. I don’t see why punk rock with this kind of arrow-straight swagger and relatable lyrical content shouldn’t be enjoyed by anyone from the applecheeked and curious to the craggiest and most jaded lifer, either – though in practise, the four-piece’s signifiers, reference points and peer groups will probably mean this album finds most favour among people who could give you a working description of Aussie punk’s half-century evolutionary timeline.

With Kyle Gleadell, whose guitar playing is an essential component of the essential-in-general Cold Meat, and Caitie MacDonald of Nerve Quakes and others, there’s an Antipodes-specific element to Gaffer’s buzzsaw rock & roll. Conversely, Shoulder’s vocals – tersely barked Estuary English, a modification of his style in shortlived postpunk ‘erberts Structure – help to underline the amount of UK DNA sloshing around here. ‘Storm In’ repeats its title in the cadence of ‘Dot Dash’ by Wire, but its power chords and general belligerence is more like Crown Court, and seeing as three-sevenths of the self-titled Gaffer demo from 2020 has been rerecorded here, it’s logical that the Crisis vibe apparent on that carries over to Dead End Beat. Another smash hit for Staffordshire’s ongoingly good Drunken Sailor label, who’ve come out swinging in 2023 with a schedule also including fellow Australians Punter and dark, scrawling south Walians Can Kicker.

Marco Palumbo-Rodrigues’ label No Front Teeth has released punk records at a prodigious rate for more than 20 years, and I’ve heard next to none of them, nor his lengthy roll call of bands past and present. The new 7-inch by Zanzara, a one-man project with songs in Italian (the language of his parents, though Palumbo-Rodrigues is a native Londoner), amounts to an imperceptibly small chip in that mountainside – but I’m glad I found it, as it’s a glowering treat.

Released via LSM, an American label specialising in Oi!, these two numbers approach the style at midpace and with postpunk airs. ‘Tutto Quello Che Hai Non Vale Niente’ is an instant stomp, with an opening riff that could hail a song from any of several punk subcategories, but the combo of slash-and-squeal guitar and call-and-response vocals (between, presumably, himself and himself) seems to be gesturing towards the 1980s French skinhead scene. ‘L‘Appetito Del Fiammifero Acceso’, on the B-side, is faster than its compatriot and boasts maybe three distinct and great guitar parts: the one which appears about 20 seconds in almost feels like the midpoint between Blitz and Drive Like Jehu, although I doubt this was the specific intention.

Mide Tus Penas, an eight-track tape (not that kind) by Pissy from Berlin, doesn’t yet appear to have been picked up by people who check for synthpunk, Devocore or, if you must, ‘egg punk’, but is a really fine example of the form. If I write things like “best synthpunk 2023”, “best new egg punk”, “bands like the Coneheads” maybe people will find this via Google, as might German piss enthusiasts, who of course are also welcome.

Pissy are a duo of Seb Ymai – previously of Anxiety and other Glasgow bands, presumably the one singing in Spanish here – and Aahnt, who I smuggled into my New Weird Britain column a while back as part of Lavender Hex. Drummer Aahnt brings the nowt-but-the-essentials hardcore-adjacent chunter from another duo, Mülltüte; Ymai a swirling soup of effects that characterised his guitar style in Anxiety (full disclosure, I’ve used ‘synthpunk’ without being entirely certain how much synth is actually on this release). On occasion, ‘Dinosaurios’ for example, the rhythms have a militaristic rattle akin to early anarcho punk, and while there are bags of hooks within these songs they’re doused in more noise than anyone demanding melody from this sort of thing might desire. Not happy music, but music that might induce joy in its listeners.

Seb from Pissy has another band with Bobby Glew from Nape Neck, whose bassist Claire Adams sings (and plays bass) in, Objections, alongside Neil Turpin and Joe O’Sullivan, also of Bilge Pump. Objections’ debut release, a 7-inch on Wrong Speed Records, sold out in less than a day, unless you can purchase in person at one of their two upcoming gigs in or near Leeds, where they live.

‘BSA Day’ is short for for ‘bad sex and argument day’, as revealed by its chorus, a sort of drudgeful frankness that has historical precedent in Delta 5 and the Au Pairs’ postpunk; Adams, who I don’t think has taken a lead vocalist role in a band before, has a singsongy kitchen-sink style which I like a lot while having a vague feeling it resembles someone relatively uncool, maybe Britpop-associated. Musically, the tempos and tunings are a little Jesus Lizard (Turpin’s drums being a major factor here) and a little more blues-rock, of the Groundhogs rather than Clapton type. ‘Better Luck Next Time’ is the more discordant of the two songs, though even as O’Sullivan spends most of its 190 seconds throttling feedback out of his guitar there’s a pop-friendly vocal melody running over it.

Crust punk is back (having appeared earlier on in this column)! That is to say Skitter from London have a demo out on the PMT tape label after about 18 months playing live, and it’s a fiery belch that sounds mighty bad in all the good ways. Not much trace of a metal influence in this quartet’s seven sallies forth, but plenty of crunchy rolls among the obligatory D-beats from drummer Alec Tullio, formerly of the terrific Maladia as is Skitter frontman John Weston. He’s switched out his previous, anarcho-ish vocal style for a beastly bark with tonal resemblances to John Pickering from Doom, although you can mostly make out the lyrics if that’s something you concern yourself with. The guitar and bass of, respectively, Shereen Elizabeth and Danny Stead are both so swamped with distortion they near enough fuse together in the mix, though when a riff hits it’s invariably a smasher, as with the tape’s most pogo-able moment ‘Death Cycle’. Personal reinvention corner: Stead featured in Heavenly Records indie/garage group Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs, whose debut album was described on this website as “a passable impression of a good record”.

Final Dose from London play hardcore with black metal leanings and began life as a solo project, which feels like a not uncommon scenario for this type of music. Now, Bruno Fusco has been joined by three more, enabling live performance, and their first recording as a plural entity is a two-song flexi disc which both solidifies and confounds their MO. ‘World Prisoner’ benefits from a musclier production job than Fusco’s two one-man-band EPs, in the realm of bands like Young And In The Way, though the drumbeats stay crotchbootingly direct and unmistakably punk, and the drop in tempo about 60 seconds before the end makes for an effective jolt.

‘Void Inside’, the other selection here, is a different proposition: a wistful synthpop instrumental with arguable concessions to big room mersh-house. The black metal to dungeon synth pipeline is pretty well established, but this… is not that, and until my copy arrived in the post I had cause to wonder if Final Dose had actually uploaded the track they intended. With that out of the way, it’s an entirely agreeable two-minute electronic meander.

And finally, an album by some oldies that doesn’t even slightly fit with anything else reviewed this month but which makes for some archetypal ‘and finally’ content. In the best way, to be clear! The Nervous Eaters are a Boston, MA band whose earliest recordings turn 50 this year, which is to say that when punk arrived in the region they were bundled up in it without that being a specific aim of theirs. In the vicinity of garage, powerpop and Stonesy rock and roll alike, they could share bills with the Ramones or The Police comfortably, though were promptly pushed into an anodyne pop-rock sound that stalled rather than advanced their career.

Later incarnations, with frontman Steve Cataldo the sole constant, were more faithful to the band’s protopunk origins, and the current lineup has just released Monsters + Angels, the fourth Nervous Eaters studio album. Wicked Cool Records, its label, is run by Stevie Van Zandt from the E-Street Band and The Sopranos, so you can appreciate we’re in slightly more ‘biz’ territory than usual here, but Cataldo still writes earworms for fun and is audibly having plenty of it. The jangly, harmonising fare that kicks off Monsters… gives way to tougher stuff – Iggy/Mott shakedown ‘Hop Sing Said’ and the knowingly horndogged ‘Want You Like Before’, notably – and even the occasional dip into hyper-anachronistic new wave production touches, as on ‘Last Chance’, has an indulgent charm.

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