Noel’s Straight Hedge: Punk & Hardcore In Review For October

Noel Gardner is back once more with all that is belligerent, resonant, caustic and pummelling in the righteous world of punk, hardcore and beyond. (Those who hate metal should tread cautiously...) High Command portrait by Bill Shaner

Are you here to read about ten crucial or at least noteworthy releases from the world of punk and hardcore in the last two or so months? Do you also like metal? Oh rotten luck! Because I’m starting October’s Straight Hedge with a fistful of it. The Quietus has a more than decent metal column already, it is true, but its overseer can’t catch everything, and should some of those things snuffle around the parameters of this section, that’s when I pounce. Except when Kez beats me to it and reviews the really good new Harrowed album, for example.

On debut album Beyond The Wall Of Desolation (Southern Lord), High Command, from Worcester in Massachusetts, pull off the tight-ropey trick of sounding like utter loincloth-clad heavy metal purists while also maintaining an audible metalcore and crossover influence. Of the numerous bands Southern Lord have signed who pursue some variation on the 80s thrash chug/crust punk beat/ “mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege” equation, High Command come closer than nearly all to the originals-and-still-best, Seattle’s Black Breath, with eight songs of hellish swagger – and then add extra lyrical swordsmanship for good measure.

Unless singer Kevin Fitzgerald has an incredibly deadpan approach to metaphor, the yarns spun here are not allegorical social commentary as might be deduced in, say, the first Bolt Thrower album. ‘Devoid Of Reality’ lasts almost nine minutes and, in addition to having spoken word and instrumental piano sections, mentions characters and locations, Secartha and Vitrallion, which appear to have been created by and for High Command specifically. Dikeptor, a name introduced on the band’s 2016 demo tape, returns on ‘Merciless Steel’ and the title track. Things are frequently either on fire or forged in it. If this sounds like everything you listen to punk to avoid, there’s a good chance it is. And yet: the gleeful froth of divebombs, mane-shaking bass runs and lumbering mosh sections are raw and jagged in a way unmistakably rooted in mid-80s skate rats, 90s NYHC toughs and wheedling crust punx like Wolfbrigade. I for one would ‘crossover’ the road to see these fellows if they came to the UK in 2020!

Candy’s niche – and it definitely is a niche – has surface-level similarities to a band like High Command but feels very different. On ‘Super-Stare’, a two-song 7-inch that’s the American east coast group’s first release for metal label Relapse, they dare us to imagine the cursed nexus of crossover thrash, Integrity and, let us not be shy of this, nu-metal. Not, granted, as much as the ‘second support for Raging Speedhorn in 2001’ sleeve art implies, but (a) Candy’s record covers are consistently and spectacularly hideous; (b) the title track’s flap-stringed tuning and bizarre mixing choices are liable to reignite suppressed memories for those of a certain age or disposition. (B-side ‘Win Free Love’ is more hardcore-for-the-hardcore, while recalling hybridist heroes Discharge and Venom.) They are not the only band to attempt something like this – see also Code Orange and Vein – but they are surely the weirdest, and where my introduction to the band, 2018’s Good To Feel, turned my head quizzically, this release has me grinning like an idiot with its wrongness.

Sorcerer are neither as ridic as Candy or as actually into sorcerers as High Command (I would assume), but this murky London entity further blur the forever-blurred punk/ metal lines on their self-titled demo tape. Seemingly from the punk side of the tracks, with members of Permission and Snob supposedly herein, these five songs are the kind of splenetic chunter that, you might think at various times, could have sprung from the late-80s Britcore scene, post-Bone Awl blackened Oi!, super early rehearsal-cassette-only death metal or teenage terror Swedish hardcore from the Shitlickers onwards. I mean, I do have an idea of which track(s) I mean for each of those categories, but as a singular listen it’s all winningly grotty and inchoate enough for such precision to feel counter-intuitive. Produced by Jonah Falco of Fucked Up, Game et al, I suspect with a view to sounding deliberately horrible given the relative clarity of many of his previous jobs.

And with that the patented metal variety hour ends, yet the brain-bleeding blister-popper that is Misery Guts’ debut tape offers precious little more letup. Before listening, Oxford ‘Ardkore (Richter Scale) is aesthetically notable for borrowing its title from a fairly obscure early 90s rave EP, and for a cover image depicting the city of that title’s Radcliffe Camera building whilst referencing Bad Brains in the manner of many before them. Past subjects of this column in Misery Guts’ four-person line-up include Oli Hewer of Basic Dicks and Joe Briggs of Scrap Brain, and when the tape opens with a sod-shovelling bassline by the latter it’s a sign of impending din. Vocalist Evie Sherry-Starmer, meanwhile, is the perfect conduit for the rage and scorn implicit in Oxford ‘Ardkore’s meld of monomaniacal D-beat and swirling, psych-adjacent noisepunk. Lyrically, ‘Weibermacht’ and ‘Feral Socialist’ are her most caustic tracts, concerning sexual abusers and bad eggs of the left respectively. Musically, I reserve the softest spot for ‘Sex Friend’, which starts with a slow tail-thumper riff that’s kinda metal, actually, and proceeds into tack-sharp melodic hardcore that reminds me, via prompt or otherwise, of Bad Brains. Actually.

Breaking, as I sometimes do, my ‘physical items or die’ rule to laud the demo by London four-piece Livid, which either hasn’t come out on tape (yet?) or has done so in such rarefied manner as to bypass interloping nobodies like myself. Although my enthusiasm for their particular queercore rampage stems in strong measure from helping to put them on in May, where they took the very low roof off a very small room in quarter of an hour tops. These six songs come in at less than nine minutes; recorded in August by Bryony Beynon (who also did the Misery Guts cassette), it’s equal parts wyrd-hardcore flail, momentary creepy-crawl slowing down, churning fuzz bass and irate/joyful/joy-derived-from-being-irate vocals. Alex, responsible for the latter, is the sole member whose outer-Livid activities I don’t (think I) have a handle on, with instrumental roles being variously filled by Nachthexen, Woolf and Savage Realm personnel. Wish, as punk reviewers have written since the dawn of time, I had a lyric sheet: my reason being the assumption that a group who play in front of a banner saying CIS-HET FREE YOUTH pack a spicy line or two.

Max Nordile – an Oakland-based character whose present band Preening I reviewed last year, past band Violence Creeps in 2016 – posted me a surprise package of mystery tapes a while back, featuring himself in various guises. They are really cool if you like grody free improv kinda stuff, but nothing you’d identify as ‘punk’ stylistically in a million years, so I couldn’t really review them in Straight Hedge. Which made me feel bad, because American postage rates are some fuckery. What I can thumb into a crevice here is Hungry Freak In The Data Mine (Head Cleaner), an album-length tape by Hobocop which Nordile either sent me or got someone from the band to.

The second Hobocop release following a 10-inch on the often good Slovenly label five years ago, this is scrappy, ditzy and slightly curdled new wave/synthpunk that, by accident or design, sounds like it could have come from the (possibly now dissolved) north-west Indiana scene notable for bands like the Coneheads. A sense of melancholy, unknown to most of those goobers, pervades keyboard-tinkly Hobocop songs like ‘Death Wish Part Deux’ or ‘Ambient Abuse’, and as much as they might wish to conceal it via fidelity, they can whip up dashed pretty melodies – see ‘Clone Of A Clone’ and its Vaselines vibe, or ‘Exhaustive Discussion’s dishevelled schlep back to late-70s Akron. You might know Cody Blanchard, half of the main Hobocop duo along with film maker Owen Cook, as a member of garage-pop warblers Shannon & The Clams, or even stand-in drummer Lillian Maring from her time in Grass Widow, but Hungry Freak bears excitingly little resemblance to either.

Record of the column for me has to be the berserker hardcore of Haiboku’s Un Nuevo Poder EP (Rock SVB / Planeta Destrozado). A Mexico City trio, Haiboku aren’t total unknown quantities – this is their second 7-inch and members have played in bands of Mexi-scene note such as Aborticidio and Zotz – but if anyone in Europe manages to carry this so I don’t have to pay already-maligned shipping prices, that would be lovely.

On the basis of Haiboku’s name, their frequent script-flipping when they write it, the digital-bonus fifth song on this four-song EP being a cover of mid-80s Hiroshima band Gudon and their 2017 debut EP imitating some cover art by Gudon-related outfit Half Years, we can surmise that they are rather fond of Japanese hardcore. Rightly or wrongly, a Latino band carrying on like this definitely doesn’t feel as cornily dubious as when white Westerners do, but more to the point Un Nuevo Poder has plenty going other than pat nation-and-decade homage. Amaury Ochoa’s herberty (Spanish-language) vocal rasp and outrageous canvas-splattering metal guitar solos are a driving force alongside Javier Cervantes and Branny Tremor’s rhythm-section bulldozery, but at their heart Haiboku come off like a rock & roll band, just one playing very VERY fast and loose. I’m in love!

Also from Mexico City, nearly as buckwild, and not frit of a fret-frotting solo themselves but with a greater emphasis on the hallowed ‘tune’ are Soga, whose 2018 demo tape lands here thanks to Iron Lung’s vinyl re-release. A trio of Nadia Cuevas, Violeta Hinojosa and Sara Norman, these three have solid punk pedigree (Cuevas is in Riña; Hinojosa was in the Siltbreeze Records-signed Ratos Del Vaticano) but this ten-song melodic hardcore rattle might be their cumulative superlative moment. Total energy with, by my reckoning, exactly one slow part (the first forty seconds of ‘Insecto’), every member chips in on vox and accentuates the already strong sense of girl-gangness. Norman is a revelatory guitarist, ‘Anuncios De Neón’ and ‘Resistir’ fully nailing that early-80s Cali beach-snot turbo-garage sound a la Red Cross/ Redd Kross while ‘Encerrada’ and ‘Me Persiguen’ tip into Circle Jerks-y proto-HC. If you dug the Minima LP on Static Shock, which I reviewed in my last Straight Hedge, you’ll likely get a bunch out of Soga too, albeit with any glum undertones barged aside by brilliant bouncy fun.

London’s La Vida Es Un Mus label has had a typically productive and vital year, although it seems that the last thing of theirs I mulled in here was Enzyme’s Aussie noisepunk stonker Howling Mind. Let’s partly redress that with two of its latest releases – actually, one on LVEUM and one on its archival offshoot, Sealed Records. Koszmar is seven new songs of cackling bad-trip night-dark hardcore by Ohyda, from Lublin in Poland, and follows a self-titled 12-inch of similar duration in 2016.

It’s a satisfying headache to pin down what they’re trying to do here. A lot goes on in eighteen minutes: meat and potatoes (mięso i ziemniaki, if you will) thrashing, dramatic goth desperation, overlaid FX that, call it industrial psych, fizz in a rainbow of grey. There’s also an elders-hailing cover of ‘Koniec Świata’ by Abaddon, a band who emerged from the nascent Polish hardcore scene in the mid-80s but covered fair ground in doing so themselves. Frontman Olo’s vocals are treated to so much delay, they should call them a cancellation – the last word of every line echoed eight times or your money back – and, in intermittently asking what would result if Killing Joke ingested tar fumes and pivoted to pogo thrash, provides the world of punk-based hypotheses a grand service. ‘Wieczny Cień’, the inevitably lengthiest closing cut, is a textbook ‘cram all our patented moves into one song’ type number, although neither it or Ohyda come off as overly busy.

The Sealed Records release, Domination Or Destruction, is a collection of everything presentable recorded by north LA’s Iconoclast, on 12-inch for the first time and with a big zine-style booklet of paraphernalia. Iconoclast were (I use the past tense, although they seem to be currently active in some form) one of a small coterie of ‘peace punk’ bands in the 80s US hardcore scene: bands who, as part of an interminable game of transatlantic swapsies, borrowed the black clobber, stencil & typewriter sleeve design and vivisection/ nuclear obliteration-themed lyrics from the UK anarcho movement, at the point where it was getting its head increasingly turned by foreign HC. In the case of Iconoclast (name sometimes prefixed by ‘The’), this yielded a demo tape, a 7-inch on the Flipside label and two compilation donations.

The music on their demo, from 1983, pretty much slots into the US hardcore continuum of the era – although the Discharge influence is highly clockable in the full-steam-ahead drumming, sneeze-and-it’s-done metallic solos and toxic-bubbly bass intros. I get an early Washington DC vibe from those six songs, in fact, and like the DC bands Iconoclast self-consciously matured. ‘Domination Or Destruction’, from 84, and the following year’s ‘Prisoners Of Existence’ proffer solemn spoken-word sections; the latter, opening song on their single, adds peculiar, proto-shoegaze jangling guitar, a gambit gazumped by adenoidal goth-rock ballad ‘In These Times’. That one really isn’t very good, but was also the last thing the band recorded, meaning Domination Or Destruction is a compact, largely vital snap of the under-underground in mid-80s California.

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