Featured Release Roundup: August 6, 2020
Aus: II 12” (Static Age Musik) Second LP from this dark post-punk band from Germany. As before, Aus takes influence from bands like Xmal Deutschland and Siouxsie and the Banshees with their tom-heavy drumming, melodic bass lines and simple, hypnotic keyboard and guitar melodies. The rhythms are angular, and when combined with the icy, spoke-sung vocals my mind also goes to Lithics, though Aus aren’t as angular in their angular moments or as transcendent in their melodic ones. If you come to this record looking for big pop hooks, this might not do it for you, but if you throw this on at a healthy volume late at night with only candlelight, it’ll hit the spot.
Varoitus: Helvetin Hardcore 12” (Religious Vomit) Debut vinyl from this Swedish band with lyrics in Finnish. The a-side contains four new tracks (including a Kaaos cover) while the b-side collects their 2017 demo tape, which I can’t imagine many people heard. Varoitus plays Swedish mangel, but there are a few interesting wrinkles. First, Varoitus isn’t afraid to throw in an intense mid-paced part, the best of which happens on the first track, “Valitse.” For me, Warthog is the current gold standard for catchy, dance-able, and non-cheesy mid-paced parts, and “Valitse” is right in that same pocket. The second wrinkle is the Finnish lyrics. While the singer’s raspy shout isn’t that different from a lot of recent Totalitär-inspired bands, Finnish hardcore singers have this way of hanging on vowel sounds for a long time that makes them sound so intense and angry. The final wrinkle I’ll mention is the wah-drenched guitar leads, which aren’t rocked-out but give Varoitus a unique sound. While the a-side sounds a little brighter and more polished, the recordings on both sides are great: clear and punchy, but with a ton of grit. If you have a ton of Swedish and Finnish hardcore records in your collection, I guarantee you’ll find plenty to like about Varoitus.
Abyecta: Infrafuturo 7” (Symphony of Destruction) Debut 7” from this band out of Barcelona. I don’t know much about the inner workings of the Barcelona scene (I’ve only been there once as a tourist), but my impression is that there is a tightly knit scene there with a strong group of bands who seem to be in dialog with one another. Ten or twelve years ago there was a wave of raw d-beat bands that came from the city, and then you saw that wave splinter and the bands branching off, some getting artier and weirder (like Una Bestia Incontrolable) and others going in different directions. I mention this because Abyecta don’t fit with the other bands I’ve heard from Barcelona. Yes, they’re a fast and angry punk/hardcore band, but their sense of melody and their catchy, metallic riffing sound unique. They remind me of Burning Kitchen or Post Regiment, bands who played fast and hard, but also embraced complexity and melody, particularly gloomy melodies. Even regarding those comparisons, though, I hear what sounds like a Japanese hardcore influence in the riffing style that sets Abyecta apart. I can see how this sound would be an acquired taste, but as a huge fan of the bands I mentioned above, I’m all in.
Dame: S/T 12” (Beach Impediment) We carried the debut 7” from Boston’s Dame back in 2017, and now we get their debut LP. Despite the long gap, the sound is similar: brooding pop-goth with a rough and raw underground punk aesthetic. I imagine Dame takes inspiration from the same groups as similar bands—the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Chameleons, etc.—but they have their own take on the sound. The playing is loose and raw, and when they speed things up on the closing track, “Parlor Games,” they sound a lot like the first Iceage album, back when that band had a loose and ethereal style. Both the guitarist and the vocalist have a knack for straightforward melodies, and the most interesting parts of the LP are when those instruments weave through one another and create something greater than the sum of their parts. While there are a lot of players in this post-punk game, Dame’s punky sense of melody and scrappy playing style make them stand out from the pack.
Long Knife: Night of the Hunter 7” (Beach Impediment) Portland’s Long Knife return with this new two-song single, their first new material since 2017’s Sewers of Babylon EP on Beach Impediment. If you’ve heard Long Knife, you already know they bear an uncanny resemblance to Feel the Darkness-era Poison Idea with their driving, mid-paced style, rocked-out lead guitar, and (most importantly) vocalist who is a dead ringer for Jerry A. If you loved their previous records, I doubt you’ll be disappointed in Night of the Hunter, though there are a few new wrinkles. The a-side has some vocal parts that are almost crooned (!!!), while “Rough Liver” is overflowing with riffs that squeeze hints of rockabilly and neo-classical metal into the band’s well-honed style. There probably won’t ever be a piece of writing about Long Knife that doesn’t mention Poison Idea, but rather than just sounding like PI, they’ve taken to heart that band’s way of pushing at the boundaries of their sound without losing sight of what made them great.
Sick of It All: The Blood and the Sweat book (Post Hill Press) While I’ve seen them play some incredible live sets over the years, I’ve never counted myself a huge fan of Sick of It All. I am, however, a huge fan of punk books, so you know I grabbed a copy of this as soon as it came in. Rather than a dense academic analysis of Sick of It All’s music or an intensively researched history of the band and its members, The Blood and the Sweat takes a loose approach to chronicling the Sick of It All story. The book’s title and cover emphasize the Koller brothers, and the book is essentially one long interview with the two of them, interspersed with (very occasional) quotes from other band members, family members, and related parties. They divide the book into chapters that take you through a more-or-less chronological history of the brothers and their band, but there are a lot of digressions and asides. While it sometimes feels like you’re reading a lengthy magazine article rather than a book, the strength of this approach is that the Koller brothers are as experienced spinning a yarn as they are commanding a stage, and after having toured as much as they have, they have plenty of stories. I’m not sure how the SOIA diehards will feel about the book, but I thought it was a real page-turner. I plowed through its 300 pages in a little over 24 hours and I wasn’t bored for a minute.
Snot Puppies: S/T 7” (No Matrix) First ever release from this obscure LA area band. The band members were students at Beverly Hills High School when they recorded these tracks with Geza X in 1978, and while they never managed a release while they were together, they played clubs like the Masque and the Whisky with bands like the Germs, the Middle Class, and the Screamers (with whom they shared a member). The three songs here may not be on the level of the classics Snot Puppies’ contemporaries wrote, but they’re solid, aggressive punk tunes buoyed by Geza X’s always great production. A lot of time with obscure reissues, I hear them and I think, “yeah, I can see why this never came out before.” However, if you’re a sucker for the old SoCal punk sound like me, I think you’ll get good mileage out of this single.