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Record of the Week: Karma Sutra - Be Cruel with Your Past... 12"

Karma Sutra: Be Cruel With Your Past And All Who Seek To Keep You There 12” (Sealed Records) Karma Sutra was an anarcho-punk band from Luton, England that formed in the early 80s (their first cassette, compiled here, came out in 1983) and dissolved somewhere around 1988. I’d seen the band’s name before and never heard their music, but this collection LP on Sealed Records reveals them to be a buried treasure of the anarcho scene. With a long tenure as a band and a lot of lineup changes, Karma Sutra’s sound covers a lot of ground on Be Cruel With Your Past, which takes in everything from the band’s earliest work, which has a heavier sound akin to Amebix’s early singles, to their final recordings, which remind me of post-punk-informed anarcho bands like Zounds, Hagar the Womb, and Chumbawumba. Despite the stylistic shifts, these tracks are marked by strong songwriting, with catchy choruses (particularly on “Intelligent Life” and “It’s Our World Too”), nimble and energetic playing, and more adventurous moments like the flute-infused “Poll Tax.” The more I listen to this collection, the more I’m astounded that something this good has remained under the radar for so long. Perhaps that’s because the band’s best-distributed release was their LP, which isn’t included here, presumably because the members feel it was rushed and was their weakest work. I can’t speak to that, but Be Cruel With Your Past hangs together remarkably well as an album, and if you’re a fan of that old anarcho sound—particularly the more melodic end of the spectrum—you’ll love it. Even better, it comes with a massive booklet that compiles what seems like every scrap of ephemera relating to the band, including photos, flyers, fanzine interviews, the many informational pamphlets, booklets, and inserts that were de rigeur in the anarcho scene, and Lance Hahn’s excellent article from his series of anarcho punk histories that appeared in Maximumrocknroll. With excellent music you almost certainly haven’t heard before, eye-catching packaging, and a booklet that fills out the record’s history and context, Be Cruel with Your Past has everything I want from a punk reissue.

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