As reported on by basically every publication ever since bourgeois liberals were forced to learn the name ‘Bad Brains‘ by the graceful ascent of nebulous DC Rastagandist hardcore act into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reject status, singer H.R. (Huge Rasta) is preparing to undergo brain surgery to correct SUNCT (Section-8 Unemployed Nation-of-Islam Crackrock Tension) on February 21. Huge Rasta has been using “holistic substances” to treat his bad brain. I asked my girlfriend what she thought, given that she listens to music that is thematically much more similar to Bad Brains (i.e. Minor Threat, Black Flag, MOI, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Kelis, Lady, et al) and she pointed out that the guy from Bad Brains has a bad brain. In addition to being a woman, she is wrong inasmuch as the soberly considered thematic direction of the album is that of facilitative Afropunk proto-nationalism. H.R. even managed to upset the singer of Cro-Mags by playing Louis Farrakhan tapes in the van.
Metalheads tend to be wary of punk, recognizing it only for its role as an influence on metal. This attitude obscures the fact that the best of punk is worth exploring on its own terms and merits, starting with perhaps the greatest influence of punk technique and heightened aesthetics in that genre, hardcore punk‘s The Misfits.
Metal — in any meaningful version of the word — has been dead for twenty years, but the death keeps accelerating, as if trying to achieve absolute zero of interest for people with souls. This has prompted a number of long-standing metal bands to explore hybrid genres, so they can carry on the spirit of metal in another form.
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 Tau Cross’s debut made our best of 2015 list. That should make their upcoming short tour a worthwhile endeavor; time will obviously tell us whether that was an accurate appraisal. This group (featuring members of Amebix and Voivod amongst others) will be playing a few dates in the USA on the boundary of March and April, as well as two in Canada. Furthermore, they’ll be following it up with a performance at Roadburn in the Netherlands. While this doesn’t provide all that many options for seeing the band perform live, it’s still something to consider if you have an opportunity to see live shows. No supporting acts have been announced yet, but the dates follow:
Mar. 31 – Chicago, IL @ Cobra Lounge
Apr. 01 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Cativo
Apr. 02 – Toronto, ON @ Coalition
Apr. 03 – Montreal, QC @ Katacombs
Apr. 04 – Boston, MA @ Middle East
Apr. 06 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot and Saddle
Apr. 07 – Washington, DC @ The Pinch
Apr. 08 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
Apr. 09 – Brooklyn, NY @ Acheron
Like the band with whom it shares members, Cóndor, the hardcore/thrash band Personal Device — the name refers to “antipersonnel devices,” not Fleshlights — makes music with a lot of promise that sells itself short by demonstrating theory instead of creating experiences.
Art contains ideas as much as any essay, and those who deny that are morons, but it is encoded through the sensual, emotional and intellectual experience of appreciating something of great beauty and power. This is how metal makes beauty out of ugliness and reveals to us the forgotten ideas of ancient history in a form we can now recognize. It is also why Christian, Nazi and SJW music falls short, because it is preaching and illustrating theory more than it is taking us on a magic ride through the world of its ideas in application.
Personal Device thrives when the band members get in touch with their inner rebellious but sensible youth. They bash out hardcore-based tunes with metal riff framing, sounding like Emperor covering Iggy Pop or G.G. Allin sometimes, and put these in songs with some breathing room a lot like early Suicidal Tendencies. Riff quality is very good. So is their ability to know when to bring on the power and when to let a rhythm ride to its natural conclusion. Moments on this album, like on Cóndor’s works, are so good they burst with potential and make you think you have discovered a new classic.
It is interrupted however by a tendency to demonstrate. Either they show how they can fit in a blues part, use an unnecessary spoken word piece, or expand song structures to include the non-relevant for the point of making a point, but it breaks the flow of the album and adulterates the good stuff. This also blighted Cóndor Duin: theory is only good when put into practice, in a way that converts the cerebral into the existential and experiential. At the risk of ruining this review by doing the same, I will step off that soap box and summarize.
This is a great album within another album. Many good ideas ooze from the fabric of En Puerto. Their first album however had more of a feeling of a garage project designed just to be music that the musicians — enlightened as they are by theory, and their theoretical background is known to me and quite substantial — found themselves liking, not just in “body” (how it feels and sounds) but in “mind” (what it delivers) and possibly in “soul” (how it makes poetic the condition of life). The best albums do all three, and their first was closer because it was less obsessively engineered in the front-brain and more unleashed from within. Moments of En Puerto do the same, and if they cut the rest out, they’d have an album on par with DRI’s Four of a Kind or Cryptic Slaughter Money Talks. Here’s hoping for album three.
The Belgian frites in Possession stumbled upon Mayhem’s Deathcrush EP on Youtube a few years ago and falsely epiphanized that black metal is Black Flag with blast beats. Deathcrush was heavily hardcore influenced but Mayhem applied speed metal to the primitive sonic violence of Venom and Hellhammer to create a fierce breed of blackened thrash. Possession ignore their idols’ basic compositional achievements in chainsaw gutsfucking by repeating three chord punk riffs for four to six minutes. Celtic Frost, Sodom, and Sepultura theft continually occurs and bores as Possession demonstrate their limits as a house party cover band.
The droning powerchords are not composed into coherent metal songs but placed within autistic perseverations on historical witchery. Each release regales the listener with minutiae on a different witch’s life before lamenting her fiery death for deviant behavior. These incomprehensible lyrics are probably meant to provoke feelings of injustice in bearded liberal ex-punks who tattoo themselves as a sexual display of non-conformity to fat women in Brooklyn.
The problem is few pop-punk Wiccans tolerate unclean vocals, greatly limiting the potential market. Iron Bonehead has rectified this by dousing these waffles in corpse paint and commissioning Chris Moyen to pick the pockets of the Beherit crowd. Those monochrome goats have to sell or else next month’s supply of cost-reduced Fernsehbier will be at risk.
A supergroup comprised of members of Amebix and Voivod among other bands, Tau Cross emerged just a few years after Amebix returned with a radio heavy metal album named Sonic Mass in 2011 that used the Iron Maiden styled epic take on heavy metal to deliver a traditional Amebix point of view. That album also revisited the second album from the band back in 1987, Monolith, which showed a Motorhead influence repurposing the raw energy of the crust punk from earlier albums. Together, those two albums from after the “pure” crust era of Amebix demonstrate a direction toward heavy metal that combines the best of the early 1980s with the energy and concrete focus of punk. Tau Cross picks up from that point with a more varied approach, spanning from quality indie rock (non-emo) through modern metal like Filter with a host of minor influences as varied as Killing Joke, Metallica, Celtic folk music and Oi punk. This intensely varied album manages the best form of emotion, which is subtly built and keyed by a shift in the entire song, and not just vocals, creating an avalanche effect once it hits its trigger point and all of the previous material starts making sense in that context. Much of this will appeal to fans of Queenrÿche and other bands who specialize in taking mainstream styles, recombining them, and then dominating them with an ethos that originates in underground punk or metal but thrives in a more listenable form. Vocals are often reminiscent of Nirvana crossed with Minor Threat applied by Motorhead at a later Discharge pace, while guitars alternate between high-speed punk in the style of Cro-Mags but with more on-beat energy, but songwriting comes from the same intensely visual style that appeared on Sonic Mass, as if designed for an epic video that leaves the listener wondering for the next few days if they correctly interpreted the song. Song structures are formed of roughly verse-chorus patterning that is interrupted and redirected at key points, with interludes and pauses. Paranoid and cynical, lyrics seem to reflect a sense of total frustration with the modern condition converted into a bittersweet discovery of meaning in opposing it and going another way. First listen to this album let it be written off as hard rock, much like Monolith at first, but Tau Cross shows the benefit of years of experience in songwriting and working with melody, in addition to more flexible tempo changes and supporting instrumentals, and so takes that style in a more powerful direction. In many ways, this album picks up where the modern mainstream metal like Filter should have gone, which is to take the emotionality of alternative rock, the energy of hardcore and the epic structures of early 80s metal and blend them together into something terrifying and beautiful.