Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For August

Noel Gardner is back with this Summer's best punk, hardcore and 80s focused French Oi. (Home page portrait is of All Hits)

“I’m twice as strong as steel/ And twice as fucking cold/ I’m a young white male/ Aged over 20 years old/ The clouds drop rain for me/ And stop at my instruction/ I’ve been told my statue/ Has just started construction.” Serve To Serve Again (Upset! The Rhythm), the third album by Vintage Crop, has several stick-in-your-head good lyrics like this’un from ‘The Ladder’, mostly a little more subtle in their lampooning.

From Geelong in Australia, home to a tidy-looking subterranean scene with the likes of Ausmuteants at its centre, Vintage Crop are mildly anomalous in being a largely self-contained entity, rather than one of the innumerable Aussie punk groups formed from another band’s ashes and with umpteen side projects on the go.

UK-based readers might be most likely to know them from the Company Man single released by Drunken Sailor in 2019; Serve is a grand step up from it, to my ears. You’ll have heard its pared-down arrangements and conversational vocals, or something like them, before, but when it’s done right, it feels dang right.

Past Vintage Crop releases were tagged as garage rock, broadly speaking, though they were always a little too scratchily post punk for this to sit too cosy-like. Serve To Serve Again offers the inverse: Jack Cherry and Tyson Harper’s guitars achieve a collective poise that could almost be called elegance, but their particular clang is too hairy and rawkus to come off like some geeky redux of late-70s semi-knowns. This in itself is something Australian underground bands have nailed repeatedly in the last decade or so, from Eddy Current Suppression Ring to Constant Mongrel – who Upset! released a single by last year.

So the stern jangle of ‘First In Line’ is a vehicle for Cherry’s snarky musings on the leverage of privilege (“You gotta take what you got … get ahead of all the silver spoon cocks”); middle class minutiae gets a gentle pouring of scorn on ‘Street View’ (“Maybe when he finishes university/ He’ll finally kick that cocaine habit”). Jobs are shit, traffic jams are frequent, neighbours aggravate and none of Vintage Crop’s eyeing of minor issues suffer from being released into a world where we are largely expected to be wracked with guilt for caring about anything other than major ones.

Seattle’s Iron Lung Records – the not-generally-grindcore label of the grindcore band Iron Lung – just doesn’t stop releasing fire, and even better it’s often by first-timers, or acts with maybe a scarce demo alone to their name. All Hits, from nearly Portland, are first of three ILR releases to fit this description: two songs from their 2019 cassette have been rerecorded as part of 12-inch debut Men And Their Work, and as an introduction to the trio’s hardcore-brisk post punk ire, this 20 minutes has left me cuckoo. In absence of knowing who precisely to credit for what (I think lead vocals are shared by at least two members, though wouldn’t swear on my life or that of someone more valuable), best to laud equitable division of labour for All Hits’ fearfully sharp axe, grittily insistent rhythm section, occasional gothic/anarcho outbreaks on cuts like ‘Sugar Supply’ and impeccably relevant lyrical tack. Scene creeps, harassment, employment status, bastard cops, war and – pasted over each of those subjects like ‘FRAGILE’ stickers – machismo, patriarchy, men and their work in short. Musically, this most consistently reminds me of recently regrouped 80s Boston band The Proletariat, with slightly more recourse to alt-rocky crooning, but MATW has proverbial hooks for proverbial days and a lot more people might like it than probably know about it currently.

With Confusione, Milan’s Kobra graduate to big disc school after a 2018 tape on vocalist Francesco Goats’ Occult Punk Gang label. They’re a noisy hardcore band who, as Iron Lung note, are no relation to Kobra, a noisy hardcore band from early 80s Milan. I would have simply chosen a different name, and maybe that means I lack the ‘tude to produce something with the barking sandblasted grot of Confusione, whose recording legitimately had me poking behind the preamp to check the cables – nope, that persistent sheet of static is part of the package. As is a saxophone, the doing of guest performer Luigi Monteanni and as complicit in this din as the horn employed by Flipper and Brainbombs betimes. Kobra are more energetic than that dirgey pair, though midpaced by HC metrics, with the sort of military-drill drums beloved by bands like Flux Of Pink Indians a frequent feature; what obvious ‘Italian hardcore’ (as opposed to ‘hardcore sung in Italian’) influence there is lurks mainly in the splurgey soloing on, say, ‘Incubo’. If this was produced in a completely different way, I might have even described songs including ‘Credi’ as melodic… but we’ll never know for sure.

Iron Lung say that southern Mexican four-piece Huraña seem to have “appeared overnight”, and inasmuch as I almost certainly wouldn’t have heard of them if not for seven-song 7-inch Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas I’m not at liberty to argue – although a two-year-old EP, I assume the band’s debut, is worth checking while you’re going about business. Concentrating on fresh produce for now, here Huraña kick out some wicked surf-goth hardcore froth with sludgerumble basslines and vox reverbed around the moon. ‘Mi Ggeneración’ is not a cover; ‘Me Gusta Ser Una Zorra’, which closes the record, is (by early 80s establishment-scandalising Spanish punk women Vulpess, though itself a translated take on ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’). Wonder if Huraña have heard esteemed ecofeminist punx Terra Soror, or indeed vice versa, because to me they sound like kindred spirits separated merely by the 8,755 km supposedly between Chiapas and London.

Certainly, Gumming’s vinyl debut – Overripe, an LP on the Vinyl Conflict label – appeared from the ether unto me just after I filed the previous Straight Hedge, but then I don’t live in Richmond, VA, where I’d like to think their jowl-shaking noisy punk damage has been pulling up trees for a while before that. Two prior cassettes (a self-issued debut, most of which was reprised for Human Values on Chicago’s Not Normal Tapes) slobber&growl with rare abandon, yet Overripe adds instrumental coherence which equates to rocking power rather than unwelcome slickness.

Vocalist Emilie Von Unwerth, meanwhile, increases its potency by an order of magnitude: skin-peeling bug-eyed rants which deploy lyrical repetition so as to make you the listener feel like you’re having demons cast out. Or in. Was transported back, either way, to hearing Megan Osztrosits’ voice on the first Couch Slut album, although Gumming lean more towards hardcore than that band’s metallic sympathies. Although most of the 14 songs on here are done inside two minutes, a lot happens inside those small temporal spaces – crescendos hailed by huge riffs; shifts of tempo taking the action entirely elsewhere – leaving Overripe as a noise rock album with one foot in the genre’s club-swinging caveman side, the other in its fiddlier, more mathematical one. Very high recommendation whichever side your tastes bend towards, and again I’d consider Gumming to have an audience in waiting among fans of Metz or Cocaine Piss, to give two popularish names.

Further statue-related chat courtesy of the second release by Impotentie: a duo who formed in Montréal, are currently split between there and New York and sing in Flemish. Eight-song 12-inch Leopold II Is Niet Dood Genoeg (RoachLeg) provides a platform for vocalist Spoiler to mull Belgian cultural identity and, as per the title (‘Not Dead Enough’), its genocidal colonial legacy at the behest of the man whose rule of the Congo was directly responsible for several million deaths. All of which has proved more timely than I daresay Spoiler and Matt Smith, who did everything else on the record, expected when recording Leopold II back in February: a statue of the king on horseback, located in Brussels and subject to global headlines when it was defaced in June as part of Black Lives Matter-related protests, features on the cover, with the city’s altogether more wholesome Manekin Pis draining his spuds from above like so many Calvin bumper stickers.

Both members are restless musical souls with multiple projects to their name, including the infinitely moshworthy Omegas and glorious psych-punkers No Negative; Impotentie gives itself the intentionally narrow focus of 1980s French Oi!, a scene typified by midtempo, almost post punk leanings (and saxophones, for reasons never adequately explained, although there isn’t one here). ‘Stille Rebellen’ is an impeccably belligerent shout-spoken anthem with garage-raw guitar tone, while the frantic ‘Een Wereld Zonder Bom’ offers the most evidence of the duo’s hardcore background and Smith weighs in on ‘Medemens’ and ‘Impotentie Vlaamsche Maatschappij’ with Duvel-spillingly good solos. Great release all round, this: tunes that might sink their hooks in more than suggested on first exposure, and a message that runs counter to the pea-brained nationalism which sometimes sullies this music.

Also on RoachLeg, the debut tape by Chileans Garrapata comes with precious little supplementary info, and arguably that all serves to up its wow factor. Two women from Santiago – one, Virginia Zwanzger, is an NYC resident I think – with a few YouTube clips of live sets to their name, it is at this point unclear what Garrapata’s exact motivation is for transmitting their message via the most primordially primitive lo/no/shit/fuck-fidelity punk noise I’ve heard in years. Who wants/needs to know? Drummer Zwanzger and guitarist Nicolle Zanetti share vocals roughly equally, not that there’s any concession to exactitude on this five-song, six-minute burst of holler, thump, flail and chaos – there are chords, certainly, and predetermined rhythms, but one is no more obliged to lock flawlessly into the other than a fight in a pub carpark is expected to resemble a WWE title match. Somewhere between Psycho Sin, Doo Rag, Towel and Crass Records’ Bullshit Detector compilations, Garrapata is Spanish for ‘tick’ (the bloodsucking insect) and a ‘tick’ (of earnest approval) is what they should get from all lovers of punk at its most fucked.

Parnepar are from Zagreb in Croatia, as are their label, the commendable Doomtown Records. Doomtown reckon that Parnepar’s primary vibe is the 80s postpunk scene in Yugoslavia, as was, about which I sadly know basically fuck all. Sadly, because Dobar Dan, Izvolite is a freaky peach and I could go for way more glumly scrabbling angularity like this. This 12-song cassette is often head-tiltingly odd in its arrangements, if relatively light relief after repeat plays of Garrapata.

Basslines slither haphazardly like snakes on gravel, a cowbell – or still more esoteric percussion – might shoot through the dank; guitars chunter away in a fashion familiar to fans of The Ex, in their earlier years especially, and the strange marriage of vocal mope and instrumental excitability could have found a home on mid-80s UK label Ron Johnson alongside bands like A Witness. Heck, the genuine unpredictability and almost prog-folk rollicks contained within ‘Kad Sinusi Odu Na More’ and a couple others edge towards Cardiacs territory. No credits are listed on either the cassette or any of Parnepar’s online portals, but the singer seems to be given to florid metaphors and introspective musings which their surly delivery suits rather well. There are, obviously, still a lot of bands making post punk of this stylistic vintage, but I know of very few which sound much like this. Dig in!

On self-released cassette after nearly six months as a Bandcamp-only tease (with the artwork clearly designed for tape-case dimensions, so you know they’re getting round to it…) is the debut demo from Arson, Savage Butchery. It’s a purely belting five-songer that justifies its title by making regular butchery look positively genteel, or more specifically bagging up D-beats and snare rolls, Boston-circa-‘82 full-steam chug, metallic overtones in Rob Tyers’ guitar and Thomas Campbell’s gruff vox, all the nihilistic imagery you might want/expect from a band of this nature, and an impeccably unvarnished recording from Patrick Carley. Arson’s lineup have pretty much been the spine of this reviews column throughout its decade of regression – Tyers in Perspex Flesh (with bassist Liam Fox) and Whipping Post, Campbell in Mob Rules, drummer Callum Howe in No Form and The Shits – and they remain totally and completely on it here. Their set at Static Shock in March banged too, and the label of the same name promise an Arson single somewhere down the line.

If this was a review of an older release by Terminal Nation, I could have constructed one of my time-honoured ‘bridges’ by observing that frontman Stan Liszewski, like Arson’s Thomas Campbell, sounds very much in thrall to Infest vocalist Joe DeNunzio and his foe-throttling bark. We are however here to chew on Holocene Extinction, the Arkansas band’s debut album, and its release on 20 Buck Spin – a label whose taste in death metal, including Tomb Mold and Ulthar, probably comes closest to defining it at this point – is rendered logical via 13 songs of murderously heavy metallic hardcore. Liszewski’s voice, notably more grind/death register-wise than before, is but one prominent part of a fine recalibration.

Terminal Nation’s two EPs for the Deep Six label got them pegged as power violence, and that’s by no means been eliminated on Holocene Extinction: see the frenzied ‘Revenge’ and, with its blackened, tremoloed-out guitar sound, ‘Master Plan’, as well as some dead fucking on left-wing lyrics (“To advocate for reform of these violent institutions/ Implies that they have failed, but they have not failed/ This is exactly what they were always meant to be”). But there’s also stuff going on that was scarcely indicated as being present in their locker. Songs can be flash-past compact, like ‘Thirst To Burn’, but more commonly use the format’s freedom to luxuriate in grandiose intros and sail past three, even four minutes. ‘Expired Utopia’ segues into ‘Death For Profit’, transitioning from DM-laced epic doom to Celtic Frost-y atmos-building to grind with a crossover guitar sound and justifying the ambition of nu-Terminal Nation in doing so.

In the last Straight Hedge I wrote about A World Divided, a Montreal-based label whose M.O. is repping Mediterranean-area DIY music, and more specifically Mara’a Borkan, feminist punx from Tunisia. Since which AWD has released another cluster of tapes, including Mara’a Borkan again – rad, again – and two by another Tunisian project named Caged Bastard. The brainchild of one man, Muhammad Oun from Africa’s very northernmost point, Bizerte, Caged Bastard’s debut Straight Hate To God (originally a Bandcamp-only release in 2018) was recorded as a three-piece with Australian vocalist Mariam Benjemaa and American drummer Lee Fisher. I’ve elected to review this, rather than the project’s latest and fully solo album Scour, because the former fits the basic vibe of this column more than the latter’s smoggy blackened industrial, but they’re both TIP!s and mark Oun out as a dude with a fresh vision.

Straight Hate To God’s eight songs, or six if you discount the intro and outro, are assembled from fast thrashy sections, punishingly slow sludge parts, whiteout guitar noise, Benjemaa’s vocals – double-tracked for increased gnarliness – and a swift nod to black metal in ‘Recluse’, which was left off the tape for whatever reason. Although it’s not a precise sonic analogue, the combo of raw speed, slugging slothfulness and electronic headfuck on songs like ‘True Colours’ and ‘Beyond Blue’ call to mind heroic power violence outliers Man Is The Bastard. This particular Bastard seems to be on a grind of his own, though, so big up both Muhammad Oun and A World Divided for markedly improving underground music in 2020 by existing.

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