Maryland Deathfest once again has visa troubles forcing the cancellation of a headliner. Sodom‘s visa troubles last year led to the cancellation of their headlining appearance on the main stage of the parking lot festival. Now, British hardcore legends Discharge (the originators of d-beat hardcore) get the short end of the stick from the Baltimore festival’s disorganization.
“Punk’s not dead,” goes the old joke, “It’s only sleeping.” Since the mid-1980s, very little of interest has come from the punk community as it has struggled to deal with its popularity. Teenagers want rebellious music, but they want it to be safe enough that they can use it for those difficult teen years, then move on to lite jazz and album-oriented rock as they age.
As a result, punk became a market, and that market favored brain-dead angry rebellion that did not shake any actual foundations but simply attacked socially-acceptable enemies with a more angry approach. Punk went Leftist in the 1980s, but it is more accurate to say it “went bourgeois,” or searching for targets it could bash without really offending anyone. It is always acceptable to target cops and Hitler, but not so much to mention anything which could make us all doubt our participation in society.
The Cro-Mags were a breath of fresh air in this dying scene. Like other classics of hardcore punk — Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, Black Flag — they paired a Leftist distrust of the profit motive with a right-wing view that human culpability at the individual level was destroying our society from within. This complex view makes for uneasy coexistence with people who depend on both profit motive and patriotic views of strong defense and economy.
Harley Flanagan, bassist and founding member of the Cro-Mags who identifies Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead as his greatest influence, drove his band to create a form of punk that was actually rebellious. For many of us, “World Peace” was an early Red Pill, awakening us to the fact that the most cherished values of our society were in fact moronic illusions that were consequently quite popular. People love an excuse to turn off the brain and go with the flow.
Nothing as intense as the Cro-Mags could last, and after a brilliant first album (The Age of Quarrel in 1986) the band struggled with internal instability, putting out a speed metal influenced album (Best Wishes in 1989) and a softer, more contemplative and Hindu-influenced take on punk with Alpha Omega (1992) and Near Death Experience (1993). One version of the band released a followup in 2000, and several compilations have tried to resurrect the early material, most notably the demo/live compilation Before the Quarrel (2000).
Cro-Mags, the most recent solo offering from Flanagan, channels quite a bit of rage at the personality conflict behind the collapse of this once-great band, but also at the collapse of hardcore itself. Interestingly, it merges the speed metal era Cro-Mags with their earlier intensity to come up with a metal-influenced (but not metal-flavored) blast of rage and melancholic isolation.
Songs on this album take a form of simple riff loops with introductions and interludes, often fading out in explosive and sometimes bluesy solos. Musical focus targets a good solid riff and a strong chorus that plays off the tension in that riff, guided by the vocals of Flanagan which vary between angry riot shouts and a type of unnervingly emotional but aggressive singing that has never been done successfully in hardcore before.
Like most return albums, this is a foray that tests different waters. The band experiments with — or mocks — Pantera-style riffing on “I’ll Fuck You Up” and revisits punk and metal riff archetypes with earlier songs. None of these are off-the-shelf however; in each one, the riffing remains distinct enough to be its own entity, a hybrid of Motorhead and punk hardcore and the aggressive speed metal from Slayer, Exodus and Metallica with a voice unique to itself.
The question before the reviewer is not whether Cro-Mags is a decent comeback album or an acceptable substitute for the Cro-Mags, but whether the music stands on its own. Over the course of several listens, I have concluded that it deserves listening on its own merit. These are aggressive but thoughtful songs with a core of dissident outlook not toward politics, but toward humanity and its default impulses as a whole, and in so doing it continues and enhances the best of what hardcore punk had to offer.
So famous that you might’ve just heard of them right now for the first time. Magrudergrind is back after a hiatus with an album that makes a potent case for keeping simplicity tightly under wraps so that we don’t risk every band with half a half-hearted interest in songwriting nabbing it from the medicine cabinet and hoarding it all for themselves.
I don’t exactly listen to much straight up ‘grindcore’, which adds to the holes in my listening experience, but II sounds pretty much like what I’d expect any half-proficient band in the genre to put out. It’s understandably a little slicker than most of the formative efforts in the genre (Napalm Death, Carcass, Repulsion, etc.), although from what I’ve heard this album trades in some of the bits of schlock comedy that “distinguished” previous Magrudergrind content from its contemporaries for more standard, basic, banal grindcore. On some scales, this is really a perfect 5/10 album; it’s exactly what I expected aesthetically, it does nothing particularly interesting, and it doesn’t even have the temerity to offend me even slightly lest I end up shaming Magrudergrind on the internet; does this sound like anybody we know? II is basically the equivalent of a blank cassette waiting to be recorded to for the first time, but like most albums of little musical merit, we can at least learn a few lessons from the circumstances surrounding it.
As I hinted at in the intro, Magrudergrind’s latest is a very simplistic album that isn’t far removed from the starkest, most deconstructive efforts in its genre. The problem working in such a limited palette is that most of the time, it’s only a sign of low effort; it takes surprising amounts of skill, ambition, or at least luck, to cut down your music and still retain some shred of coherence and communicative value. Grindcore, as a genre, is especially vulnerable to the dark side of these tendencies; once you reach maximum violence and intensity there isn’t much left to do in the confines of the genre. The various famous bands of the genre all found their coping mechanisms; I’m personally most familiar with Carcass’s rapid pivot towards pop music. Magrudergrind’s, on the other hand, was apparently to go on hiatus for a few years and then return when everyone had forgotten not only them, but also the very knowledge that they had forgotten about Magrudergrind.
Neurosis is going to record their next album at Electrical Audio Studio with Steve Albini starting on December 27th. This former hardcore punk band quickly evolved into one of the most influential voices on the indie-sludge-post sort of metal that was more popular a few years ago, and yet they seem to have earned some praise from site staff in the past. Going merely off the producer (Steve Albini has worked with the band for many years), I wouldn’t expect major changes to the band’s approach, but exceptions can always happen. The band’s official site claims that in 2016, they will play a few tour dates to celebrate their 30th anniversary – two in San Francisco, three in the Netherlands, and a few more in other parts of Europe.
In other news that beats trying to explain why My Dying Bride’s latest LP is a borehole and a psychic drain (more on that later today if all goes well), Dave Lombardo of Slayer fame has started a hardcore punk band, adding to his already substantial roster of projects. Besides Lombardo, Dead Cross also features Justin Pearson from The Locust and Retox. If the band’s lineup and announcement on Vice are any indication, Dead Cross may take more after modern hardcore punk and metalcore than older substyles of the genre. If you particularly need to hear members of Slayer performing classic hardcore punk, there’s always Slayer’s UndisputedAttitude, although Lombardo was out of the band when it came out in 1996.
Wisconsin-based speed punk crossover quartet, Deathwish, has released the title track to their debut album, Out For Blood. The band’s music comes off as a less competent copy-cat band taking heavily from Discharge in their second album Hear Nothing, See Nothing Say Nothing. Casual hardcore punk listeners might enjoy this.
Yes, this is a metal blog, and yes, this is a punk album and also yes, people who try to be ironic are annoying. Nausea Condemned to the System is worth your time if you enjoy energetic and powerful music of any kind. Born out of a punk album, this half-hour terror extends to grindcore and the type of speed metal touches that influenced later 80s hardcore. Unlike most hybrids of this nature, Nausea fuses its influences into a singular voice.
Condemned to the System distinguishes it from thousands that wish to be like it by maintaining a high degree of internal contrast, dialogue between riffs, and compelling tempo changes in songs that develop from a central conflict and by doing so avoid the dual extremes of riff salad and endless loop that make many minimalistic albums as boring as listening to a diesel engine idle. Instead, these songs launch into verse chorus pairs shaped around a central conflict with discursive and transitional material allowing the central loop to take more form. Grindcore-style layering of riffs and instruments gives these songs additional power.
For punk purists, there may be too much emphasis on muted chords used to end phrases, and for metal purists, there may be too many straight-up punk riffs of the 1970s style, but when looked at from a distance, the singular voice of this band emerges. Tempos stay high and vocals incoherent, keeping the guitars and drums as the center of the band with guitars leading and drums producing a pulsing violence behind. Avoiding technical playing entirely, Nausea focus on paring down their songs until a unique form emerges, then playing it with full intensity. The result is an album of short glimpses of life portrayed with the manic intensity of a paranoiac on a four-gallon coffee break, capturing the alienation of punk without self-pity and the willpower of metal without posturing.
Imprecation composer/vocalist David Herrera unleashes his new project, Wülfskol, with a 7″ entitled Hellshock which has been released in time for Record Store Day (today). To kick off the release, the band is handing out free copies of a CD version of their songs at local record stores in their hometown of Houston, TX.
If you are at Vinyl Edge or Sound Exchange tomorrow, pick up a free Wülfskol cd while you are there. There will be 20 copies at each store, with 2 songs “I Am The Devils Blood” and a cover song of the Dwarves “Satan”. Hails!
The band, which describes its music as “songs in the tradition of early Bathory, Sodom, Misfits and Broken Bones. All about drugs, death, and the Devil,” also released cover artwork for the new release by underground artist Daniel Shaw:
This might kick off Record Store Day 2015 with a bit of a celebration.