Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For October

Your buyer's guide to the best new punk and hardcore releases from around the world returns for October, with reviews of High Vis, Long Knife, Zero Again and more. Homepage photo: Balcanes by Sara Roca

People (in punk) hate it when their friends become successful, this much is established, but what they do like is when those friends make huge honking records fit to be blasted into rusty arena rafters everywhere… while, crucially, not actually going on to do so. Well, I like that, at least when it ends up sounding like this month’s first two albums.

Were we to hackily call Curb Stomp Earth (Beach Impediment/Black Water) the record that Portland’s Long Knife always wanted to make, this would be to pass over their earlier career, where they wanted to make records that sounded like Poison Idea and very little else. Having established their prowess in that one discipline – and also having joined up with Poison Idea drummer Steve Hanford in a spinoff band, Fetish – the four-piece’s horizons have expanded. Here, they move at brisk punk tempo but crib groove and swagger from classic rock, radio metal and vintage soul, to epic, epochal effect. Normally, it’s no compliment to suggest an album feels longer than it is, but Long Knife pack so much into these 13 songs that the 25-minute running time is worthy of a double take.

There are pianos and choirs on song intros, guitar solos like Thin Lizzy if they’d transformed themselves into a straight-up NWOBHM band, sax parts as good as any to come out of American punk since Rocket From The Crypt (sorry, ska fans), layers of synth that somehow lend both prog and garage touches simultaneously… and is guitarist Scott Goto channelling ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on ‘The Curse’ or am I away with the fairies? Any road, Curb Stomp Earth is a play for the big leagues – crucially, not a shit or cynical one – on a par with Turbonegro’s transition between Ass Cobra and Apocalypse Dudes, Fucked Up’s between Epics In Minutes and Hidden World or, yes, Poison Idea’s between War All The Time and Feel The Darkness.

On the subject of Fucked Up, their 20-year evolution has included albums whose guitar tones, arrangements and production values gave the feeling of erstwhile hardcore kids with ambitions of being Oasis. Here, and elsewhere, there’s been a drip-gradual sea change concerning the perception of that band in a punk context: it’s definitely got more ‘acceptable’ to like them, possibly because everyone in Britain no longer gets force-fed Oasis songs every day. This brings us to Blending (Dais), the second album by London group High Vis, which touts posi anthems for the downcast over a swirling sound built from many parts – shoegaze, big coat post-punk, 90s-era Dischord Records and, for sure, the obscene self-regard of Gallaghers N. and L. – but remains commendably, dreamily out of reach when it comes to easy categorisation.

High Vis’ relevance to this column, then, comes in large part from their members’ British and Irish hardcore background: vocalist Graham Sayle in Tremors and Dirty Money, guitarist Martin Macnamara in Crowd Control and Frustration, to give an incomplete list. Sometimes, that coiled-spring ire is audible on Blending: ‘0151’ finds Sayle uplifting his Liverpudlian roots on a song that’s like U2 and Dinosaur Jr hooking up for a Blitz tribute. Lyrically, the vibe is more often a late thirtysomething taking stock of a fitful life and realising that he has it in him to push upward.

That High Vis couch things near-perpetually in walloping choruses and savage hooks mean listeners – especially those seeing them live – can gloss over these depths. “Now we all join hands and make a wall,” goes the stirring ‘Join Hands’, its MBV/Sugar guitar noise suitably wall-like itself, and does anyone write a line like that without idle dreams of seeing a room of kids take them at their word?

If any kind of wall gets spontaneously erected while Arma X are kicking it live, expect it to be the ‘of death’ type. This Madrid band have a truly crucial way with demonic straight edge hardcore thrash – even by the standards of Quality Control, who’ve released their debut LP Violento Ritual, this goes unrelentingly hard. The quintet released a couple of demo tapes prior to this, but this is in a different league as regards speed, precision and sheer dynamic satisfaction.

Opening track ‘Heavy Straight Edge’ – all subsequent titles and lyrics are in Spanish – lasts all of 44 seconds and manages to blueprint Arma X’s steez with a chugtastic crossover thrash intro, boisterous bass breakdown and a guitar solo that doesn’t so much divebomb as swoop to conquer. Their other songs are longer, the result landing somewhere between the Cro-mags, Slayer-worshipping Euromosh and the 90s Cleveland metallic hardcore scene. Vocalist Leo occasionally slips into a near-rap-like cadence, as on the midsection of ‘Culpables De Tu Odio’, though naturally there’s an unearthly breakdown and steel-handled axe invasion right round the corner.

Zanjeer’s debut release, a six-song 7-inch on Breton label Symphony Of Destruction titled Parcham Buland Ast, is one of the year’s more interesting hardcore punk releases. Now, the music isn’t the ‘interesting’ part, by which I mean it’s really good: snarling crust rammage with metal hints and Japanese noisepunk genuflections, fresh flesh for fans of (say) Framtid or Extended Hell and all but one cut under 90 seconds.

More atypically, Zanjeer’s members come from Pakistan, Colombia, the UK and Germany, the latter their current location. You might know guitarist Zuri from his time in Bogota’s Muro, drummer Steve Lucas from Nottingham heavyheads Beast As God – or frontman Hassan Dozakhi from Pakistan’s punk and rap underground, which would arguably make you more qualified than me to write this review. I did though find out, wholly by chance, that on Parcham…’s opening song ‘Hamdullah’, Dozakhi references a couple of bars from his MC gig in hip-hop trio Daranti Group. Pretty cool, but you’d hardly know it’s the same dude here, blowing his top with some Urdu-language invective that properly goes for it. ‘Taliban Murdabad’ translates as ‘death to the Taliban’, so you get the idea there; ‘Ijtimayi Bemaari’ concludes “Fuck my country / fuck my motherland” after targeting theocratic bullies and Islamic zealots blaming the West to distract from their own failings.

Ättestor and Zero Again have each had a couplathree releases before this split 7-inch offered me a convenient opportunity to appraise them together. The Ä To Z Of Ignorance, Indifference And Idiocy is co-released by four labels (Carabrecol – which mainly seems to be a vegan food pop-up – Dead Invoices, DIY Koło and TNS), three less than the Ättestor LP from earlier this year. A Brighton assembly, Ättestor are fronted by Darren Bourne of Tadpole Records, include two members of Unease whose possibly one-off tape I reviewed a while back, and play efficient bassline-forward stuff that’s a bit UK82 and a bit anarcho’s Conflict wing with, maybe, some crusty Motörheadisms in there too.

Zero Again, scattered between southwest England and south Wales, are named after a Rudimentary Peni song but sit a fair distance from soundalike territory – though you might still hear flashes in the higher-pitched parts of Dean Evans’ vocals and Ian Glasper’s fast, tricky basslines. ‘Damaged Goods’ opens as a gothic punk brooder that betrays their Killing Joke jones, and finishes at breakneck pace and with manic fervour; ‘Passing Ritual’ is top gear for all its 80 seconds, not Zero Again’s first full-on hardcore song but maybe their best to date.

Leeds twosome Belk had been going two years or so before I heard them, off the back of drummer George Chadwick making an ungodly racket in The Reflecting Skin. The Committee (Human Worth), Belk’s first 7-inch, isn’t quite that gnarly, but it gives it a fair crack. Five songs, again sub-90-seconders more often than not, take the route of a lot of guitar/drums noiserock duos by having Alex Pearson’s guitar tuned to a decidedly rhythm-friendly, almost bass-like pitch.

Sludgy rockers ‘Big Body’ and ‘Warm Water’ hitch the heft of Floor to the blether of someone like USA Nails, and that’s cool, but I’m predominantly about the freakier thrashers on this EP, with ‘Ache Body’ relating a mental health patient’s tribulations navigating the medical establishment (the ‘committee’ of the title) over zigzag jazzcore. Nice packaging on this one too, akin to some Youth Attack Records singles.

More four-way kitty-pooling action has brought us the debut LP by Balcanes from Oviedo, in Spain’s Atlantic northwest. Of the labels involved – Flexidiscos, Humo Internacional, Màgia Roja and Pifia – it’s the third of those, helmed by Victor Hurtado of Dame Area, that plonked Gloria Eterna in my line of vision. Balcanes are heady, slurring sludge-punk with industrial inclinations that come to the fore on abstract wipeouts like ‘Futuro @!&*#’ and ‘Ciudad Campamento’, but more often hunker down in a groove and frack away to the point of widespread structural instability.

Sure-bet adherents of the ‘bum ‘em out by playing slow’ musical philosophy, ‘La Paz No Durará’ is about as pacey as Balcanes get – keeping matters Spanish, it’s on a comparable tip to that Barrera EP I reviewed in February – and that’s overcome in its midsection by a storm of grotesque distortion. To that end, ‘Notorio Arraigo’ might be this disc’s most unfettered rager, well up there with Bloody Head or The Shits, and though they pull the time-honoured move of ‘going jazz’ for the closing track, the sax work by guest Kiko Flores on ‘Bona Nit’ is less abrasive than most of what comes before.

Dropped with suitably minimal warning, The Road To Nuclear Holocaust is the first release by Ä.I.D.S., five Swedes who’ve easily notched a century of collective dinmaking before arriving at this eyeball-melting climax. The Instagram page linked above (in addition to claiming the name stands for “anti ism dogmatic skepticism”) seems to have been doing cryptic teaser posts for the last two years, but if you weren’t hip to that you can still do the apocalyptic bodypop to this extraordinary 12-inch of electrofied crustcore.

Ä.I.D.S. comprise Wolfbrigade’s Johan Erkenvåg (I think another of their number features too, but pseudonyms abound), Anti Cimex founder member Charlie Claesson, Henrik Palm of In Solitude and plenty more, and Christian Berg from Malmö synthpop classicists Kite – so people whose teaming up is entirely on brand, people who like a bit of everything and one genuine un-scene misfit. Not sure who’s playing what, but the synth parts and programmed drums often imitate the rigid clatter of the D-beat most of these guys are more closely associated with as well as younger digi-punk bucks like L.O.T.I.O.N; ‘Blood On Blood’ is the biggest break from this, building from a D.A.F./EBM industrial pop shakedown into a scuzzy metal epic that Circle fans might dig. ‘Sadistic Gravity’, which follows it, is a beatless noise sculpture such as might be waiting for you at the end of the world. The most singular release of this column hands down!

Running the above joint and just about anything else close on the singularity scale are Mutated Void, from Halifax (Nova Scotia not Yorkshire). Reputedly recorded on a four-track and certainly sounding that way, Roses Forever is their debut LP, and if you fail as comprehensively as me to put these 14 jolts of blackened shit-fi in a box, you might still keep it pinned to your turntable. Iron Lung, its label, call Mutated Void “skate thrash”, and while I don’t disagree (in that it could soundtrack both skating and thrashing), that term brings to mind two or three semi-codified punk styles, none of which resemble this.

Cody Googoo and Ben Radford both have a shedload of other Halifax bands to their name together and apart, and don’t offer full credits here, but Ben’s a drummer by trade so I’m guessing the bestial goblin-like black metal vox are Cody’s doing. Songs are sequenced with almost no interspersing gaps, so you might miss the baton being passed between one minute-short banger race and the next – no bother! ‘Backyards’ is a lengthy outlier at 109 seconds, touching on melody in an early LA hardcore sort of way, and the dumdum rhythmic approach of ‘Isolate The City’ tips over into that BM-gone-Oi sound typified by Bone Awl. As rotten sounds go, Mutated Void’s is legit fresh, and they seem like tireless lynchpins in Halifax’s punk and skate scenes alike. (Oh, and they have a 7-inch out seemingly concurrently with the LP, and equally worth hearing.)

Churchgoers, a fairly new London band, are equally fast and scrappy on their seven-song demo tape (released through Static Shock) – if a little more cleancut, all things being relative. Their name presumably references early 80s Canadian teen HC blazers the Neos, and that kind of hyperspeed chaoticism is the sort of muck we’re dealing with here – songs as short as 19 seconds or long as 67, recorded with a lack of finesse by people who know exactly how this shit ought to sound. Mark MacCutchan brings street-level aggro on the mic while gear-humpers variously found in The Annihilated, Vile Spirit and Negative Frame bring the gawky ruckus and do one inside six minutes. Churchgoers are gunning for a very specific hardcore-nerd sound – North Americans trying to be the fastest band in the world before grindcore was invented, basically – but that’s a swish niche from my perspective; maybe yours too?

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