Bad Brains: Rock for Light 12” (Org Music) The ongoing Bad Brains official reissue campaign has arrived at their second album, 1983’s Rock for Light, and I have a lot to say about it. I’ve always felt like Rock for Light was obscured by the lengthy shadows of the two monumental albums that stand on either side of it in the Bad Brains’ discography: their self-titled cassette on ROIR and 1986’s I Against I. You’ll find plenty of people who name one of those two records as their favorite Bad Brains release, but it’s rare to find someone who rides hard for Rock for Light. This is understandable, because the album has some flaws. The most egregious is the recording, which doesn’t suit the band at all. The Bad Brains were one of the most powerful bands ever to pick up instruments, and a great producer would have just thrown up some microphones and gotten the fuck out of the way. Rock for Light, however, throws a ton of very dated-sounding reverb on the drums and mixes the bass so low as to be nearly inaudible. It sounds so much worse than the more primitive and lower-budget recordings on the ROIR tape and the great, underrated Omega Sessions, and listening to it makes me wonder how anyone, at any point, listened back to it and thought to themselves, “this sounds really good.” But you know how you can make a thin, uneven recording sound even worse? By speeding up the tapes and pitching everything up half a step, which is what happened when Rick Ocasek and Daryl Jennifer remixed the recording for Caroline Records in 1990. That recording sounds odd, inhuman, and significantly worse than the original mix, and of course that was the version that was pressed throughout the 90s and 00s, and that’s still the version of the album on streaming services. (For good measure, they also shuffled around the track listing, butchering the original sequence’s flow.) Now that I’ve gotten all of my shit-talking and complaining out of the way, I want to insist that Rock for Light is still a great album that every Bad Brains fan should love. Despite the flaws in the production and recording, Rock for Light is a recording of the Bad Brains, who were still one of the greatest bands ever to walk the earth, and that shines through these flaws. The band is fucking blistering, at the top of their game, and Rock for Light captures them at an incredible moment. They were clearly headed toward the intricate, metallic I Against I material, but they were still playing that complex material at warp speeds. When I think of Rock for Light, I think of tracks like “Coptic Times” and “Joshua’s Song,” intricate mazes of music dense with tempo and rhythmic changes, most of it delivered with inhuman speed and precision. Interestingly, Bad Brains choose to contrast these more intricate songs (which I assume they must have written later), with a handful of bangers re-recorded from the ROIR tape (which, to be fair, hadn’t come out on vinyl when they recorded Rock for Light) and new recordings of some of their earliest songs like “Attitude.” The reggae tracks on Rock for Light are also some of the band’s best, with “Rally Around Jah Throne” and “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth” sounding much more distinctive and memorable than earlier reggae songs like “I Luv I Jah.” While the track listing might look like a hodgepodge from our 2021 perspective, the result is an album that is intense but brimming with variety and expression. If it weren’t for the production missteps, I think most people would regard Rock for Light as the Bad Brains’ crowning achievement. While the remixed / sped up version is a crime against hardcore, when you listen to the original version (which is what you get with this new pressing), it’s easy to listen past those flaws and appreciate the greatness captured here. And since many of these tracks don’t appear anywhere else, it remains an essential piece of the Bad Brains puzzle.
Why Bother?: A Year of Mutations 12” (Feel It Records) Sam at Feel It Records has a knack for finding innovative and exciting new bands that are (at least before he puts them out) flying under the radar, and Why Bother? fits the pattern the label established with bands like the Cowboys, Sweeping Promises, and Smirk. Like those groups, Iowa’s Why Bother? sounds fresh and exciting, making music that’s grounded in the past without being bound by it. A Year of Mutations (which compiles tracks from previously released DIY cassettes and lathe cuts along with several new tracks) encompasses everything from driving, Spits-esque punk (“Buried in the Landfill (of My Mind)”), Electric Eels-style art-punk (“There’s Something Out There”), 80s-sounding indie rock (“Hum Drum”), and surf-inflected, California-style punk (“More Brains”), the disparate styles linked by the band’s restless creative energy and the charmingly lo-fi recording style. While I’m all for a band finding a formula that works and sticking to it, Why Bother?’s eclectic sound makes A Year of Mutations feel rich and fleshed-out in a way that much of the underground and DIY music I listen to doesn’t, yet everything still coalesces around the energetic and driving rhythms you want from punk. A standout release even within Feel It’s impressive catalog.
Death Gasp: Executioner cassette (Audacious Madness Records) This new tape from Pittsburgh’s Death Gasp caught me by surprise. While the artwork might lead you to expect straightforward crust, Death Gasp’s sound is heavier, gnarlier, and more interesting, incorporating metallic elements that remind me of bands like Amebix, Rigorous Institution, and (later-era) Crow. I love raging crust, but a track like “Ghost of the Bombs” illustrates how it can be even more effective when it’s contrasted with something else, starting with a writhing, Amebix-esque chug and building toward the main part of the song, which charges along at a Doom-style clip. Death Gasp’s sound is powerful on the metallic parts, with the guitars hitting gnarly low frequencies that even the heaviest doom bands would envy. Executioner is a real standout, and I hope we get some vinyl from Death Gasp in the future.
Barren?: Distracted from Death… Diverted from Reality 12” (Symphony of Destruction Records) You may remember Paris’s Barren? (the second band of this week’s update with a question mark in their name) from their contribution to Symphony of Destruction’s 4-way split 12” with Douche Froide, Litovsk, and Alarm, and now they’re back with their own full-length record. While the label describes Barren? as peace punk, they’re a long way from the skittering, Penny Rimbaud-inspired rhythms or the blaring hardcore of many bands who adopt that moniker. Instead, Barren?’s sound is straightforward and streamlined, bringing to mind another great 3-piece political punk band, the Mob (the English one, not the New York hardcore band). Like the Mob, Barren? build their songs around soaring, anthemic vocals that bring an emotional dimension to the political and social topics they address in their lyrics. There’s very little in the way of flash; no guitar leads or dramatic breakdowns, just driving, anthemic punk with big, shout-along choruses. Distracted from Death also features beautiful packaging, including an eye-catching Crass Records-style poster sleeve and obi strip.
My War #9 zine Belgium’s My War zine is back with their 9th issue, and this zine only gets better and better. It takes a big commitment to make a print zine nowadays, and Kristof’s passion for punk and hardcore is evident on every page, through both the visuals and the dense and lengthy text. My War is printed in full color, and takes advantage of that format with large, full-color photographs that set the scene for the informative writing. As usual, interviews are the near-total focus of My War, and Kristof’s interviews are thoughtful and deep. In a world of content meant to be digested in half a second as you scroll past on your phone, I come to print zines looking for depth, and My War delivers. This issue features interviews with Leper, Ian Mackaye, Bad Breeding, Bootlicker, and more, plus a short diary of Kristof’s experience at this year’s K-Town Fest. Nothing here feels shallow or perfunctory, and anyone with a deep passion for punk and hardcore will love it. Please never stop, Kristof. The world needs you!
Distort #58 zine The fifty-eighth issue of the long-running Australian zine Distort is out. I’ve been reading Distort for a long time (since close to the beginning I’m sure), and I’ve always admired this zine’s unique voice. Where a zine like My War takes a documentary approach to hardcore punk, DX at Distort (true to its name, I suppose) seems to delight in making things cryptic and slightly illegible, in keeping with his emphasis on what he calls “cult hardcore.” The band interviews are impressionistic and brief, but always leave me with a curiosity that sends me back to the music. This time around there’s a retrospective on the UK magazine Class War, interviews with Australian groups Prostate, Perspex, and Oily Boys, and (my favorite part of this issue) a feature on artist Sam Ryser about the one-of-a-kind band shirts he makes with magic markers. This piece includes color photos of the shirts along with Sam’s brief but interesting reflections on the pieces. Distort consistently pushes back against the rote and the conventional, and I’m always happy to see the current punk scene refracted through DX’s unique lens.
Blammo: Onomatopoeia 12” (State Laughter) State Laughter brings us the first release from this young group from Atlanta. Onomatopoeia’s beautiful DIY packaging will draw you in, but the music will keep your turntable busy, as this is unique and exciting stuff. Blammo’s minimalistic, bass-led sound might remind you of arty post-punk bands like Kleenex or As Mercenárias, but Blammo wanders out way further on the artistic ledge. The main vocalist alternates between a mocking baritone and a slurred speak-sing, often repeating incantatory phrases like “fortune favors the bold” until their meaning twists, inverts, and eventually dissolves. The rhythm section is the star of the instrumental show, grooving and hiccuping while the guitar, way back in the mix, pushes the limits of “thin and scratchy.” Blammo can be subtly poppy on a track like “Bad Advice,” but they’re as likely to be inscrutable, as they are on “The Wall.” It’s an intriguing mix, and if you like underground, contemporary art-punk like the Cochonne 12” on Sorry State or the recent album by XV we raved about, give this a shot.
Anti-Metafor: Kommuniké 12” (D-Takt & Råpunk Records) Anyone who has spent a little time with the Sorry State newsletter knows we love a straightforward hardcore ripper, but even more, I love when a band makes something unique within a genre that many assume long since ran out of ideas. On one hand, Kommuniké is definitely a d-beat record, not out of step with the typical stuff that Sweden’s mighty D-Takt & Råpunk Records puts out. On the other hand, though, it doesn’t sound quite like anything I’ve heard before. The closest point of comparison I can come up with is Montreal’s Absolut (incidentally, another D-Takt & Råpunk band). Like Absolut, Anti-Metafor doesn’t so much combine punk and metal as they exist in a liminal space where distinctions between the two genres dissolve. On the hardcore end, we have the pounding drums (right at the front of the mix, as they should be) and the harsh vocals (which remind me of Bastard), but the bass and guitar have a thin, trebly sound that is more like the production on Norwegian black metal records. The songs themselves also dance across these lines, with raging verses and choruses giving way to long instrumental passages centering on lengthy guitar leads that are at once melancholy and triumphant. It might sound like stadium crust if it had stadium sound, but that thin and trebly guitar sound again brings to mind the trance-inducing atmospherics of the Norwegian black metal scene. These subtleties might fly over the head of the d-beat novice, but those of us with a collection full of black and white covers and an inordinately large “D” section in our alphabetized stacks will appreciate what Anti-Metafor has accomplished here.
Stingray: Feeding Time 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus) LVEUM brings us the debut EP from this new London hardcore band featuring Tin Savage, whose artwork you know from countless underground hardcore releases over the past several years, on vocals. With a membership that pulls from the New Wave of British Hardcore’s A-list, Stingray has a heavy, powerful hardcore sound that shows more than a little crossover peeking in around the edges. While that’s not too different in principle from what Power Trip (and the loads of bands they have influenced) do, Stingray’s take on crossover has none of that Bay Area Thrash polish, sounding more like the bands from mid and late 80s New York who had a grittier, nastier take on the sound. Feeding Time makes me think of records like Agnostic Front’s Cause for Alarm and Crumbsuckers’ Life of Dreams, but with the jackhammer production that you hear in the best underground hardcore of today rather than the (often awkward) bigger-budget studio recordings on those records. Totally punishing.
Dorothy: I Confess / Softness 7” (Sealed Records) Sealed Records digs up another obscurity, and this time it’s the one-off single by Dorothy, whose sole single came out on Throbbing Gristle’s label, Industrial Records. Along with Dorothy (who played drums in the band Rema Rema under her middle name, Max), the lineup on this single includes Genesis P’Orridge and Alex Fergusson, who would shortly form the group Psychic TV. (According to Discogs, Dorothy / Max was also invited to join Alternative TV but declined, though she briefly joined the group many years later.) “I Confess” sounds to me like a novelty pop song, its primitive synthesizer and faux-naïve vocals sounding like something they’d play a clip of in a documentary about punk to stand in contrast to the “authenticity” and “realness” of the new punk scene. This being Genesis P’Orridge, there is an element of subversion, though. The song’s lyrics are a Catholic-style confession in which the singer owns up to liking the things teenage girls like—boys and pop music—though there are hints of seediness, like the “magazines in shrink-wrapped covers.” Like Crass’s “Our Wedding,” it sounds like a troll, but also a total earworm. The b-side is probably a little more palatable to your average Industrial Records fan. While the synth sounds are still a little cheesy, the tough-sounding disco beat make it a secret weapon in any goth night DJ set.
Jack Pitt: Forever Punk photo book Forever Punk collects the work of UK-based photographer Jack Pitt, spanning the years 2011 to 2020. While Pitt was based in the UK during much of this time, he also spent some time in Vancouver and attended a bunch of important punk fests during this period, so rather than a document of a local or regional scene, Forever Punk feels more like a comprehensive overview of the underground punk and DIY scenes over the past decade. The bands Pitt was seeing are right in line with the stuff Sorry State covers, and you’ll see lots of our favorites represented here, from Torso to Extended Hell to Framtid to Public Acid, along with legions of other bands… the book is 230 pages, with several page spreads featuring multiple photos. Pitt also includes a few pieces of reflective writing about his photographic process and how it has developed alongside various changes in the punk scene. While these pieces are brief, they color the way I look at the photographs, giving them more of a documentary feel than your typical punk rock live shots. Anyone who closely follows underground punk and hardcore will enjoy Forever Punk’s documentation of the scene, but photography nerds (and/or people who really enjoy Razorblades and Aspirin zine) will get the most out of Forever Punk.
Vatican Commandos: Just a Frisbee 7” (Radiation) Vatican Commandos released their humorously titled Just A Frisbee 7” the same year as their debut Hit Squad For God in 1983. Even in the small time between these releases, the band went through some serious changes. Firstly, Moby is no longer in the band and is replaced by guitarist Mike Pollock. With their Connecticut hardcore elders CIA at the helm as producers, you can hear a lot of the CIA influence creeping its way into Vatican Commandos’ sound. Decidedly less raw and turbulent, the band heads in an even more anthemic, sing-along direction that there was an inkling of on their first EP. The band doesn’t seem to fear musical experimentation, incorporating some funky bass lines and auxiliary percussion from time to time. Predominantly mid-tempo songs feature light-hearted lyrical themes about cow-tipping and the like. The final track on the EP, “Let Down Again,” is a fast-paced ripper more akin to the first 7”. Just A Frisbee is a different beast than the ferocious first EP, but still a stone cold US hardcore classic with a plenty of ear candy and catchy riffs. Not to mention, the cover art was drawn by a young Rob Zombie. Pretty wild. Vatican Commandos were just a blip on the radar, only releasing one more 12” EP before disbanding in 1985. Definitely worth grabbing this EP if you’re a fan of the more melodic side of 80s US hardcore.
Soup Activists: Riling Up the Neighbors cassette (self-released) I saw this tape being passed around the digital punkosphere, and when I checked it out, I was really surprised. The first track Soup Activists hit us with is “Subdivision,” a pretty conventional, poppy punk song that deals with familiar punk subject matter. Its zippy tempo and off-key vocals remind me of the many bands who emulated their Screeching Weasel records in the 90s, but after that first track, Soup Activists go in very different directions. Tracks like “TVs in the Orchard” and “Q+A at Disneyland” remind me of the Dead Milkmen with their thin, jittery sound and lyrics and vocals that toe the line between sarcastic and more introverted and heartfelt. However, “I Surrender,” “Plenty of Garbage,” and “Send Me a Butterfly” stray even further from the conventional punk template. “I Surrender” is a pain-drenched ballad built around emotive vocals and a melodic, descending riff, and while it reminds me of UKDIY groups like Cleaners from Venus or the Television Personalities, the presentation differs totally from the anglophilic groups who take inspiration from those bands. For instance, Soup Activists rely on a similar aesthetic framework as Itchy Bugger, but the presentation here is even more raw and ragged. While I can dig deep into my record collection for a few reference points, Soup Activists sound nothing like anything I’ve been listening to for the past several years. I’m sure some people will hate something that sounds so different, many people will ignore it, but I could also see this clicking with a large contingent of people and starting a whole new trend.
New Vogue: Volume 2 12” (Casbah Records) Canada’s New Vogue caught my ear with their two cassette releases, and now the latest of those, Volume 2, has been pressed on vinyl. Here’s what we had to say about the cassette when it came out: “I flipped over New Vogue’s previous cassette when it came out back in 2018, and this follow-up reminds me why I love this band so much. New Vogue reminds me of bands like GG King, ISS, Predator, and Blood Visions-era Jay Reatard, all of whom bring to noisy punk a talent for writing dark pop songs. This self-titled tape (like their previous one), is just hit after hit. Take a track like “Safe on the Autobahn,” which starts with a brooding bass line and robotic-sounding verses, leads into a pre-chorus section that builds the tension and introduces a little melody, then—BAM!—explodes into an anthemic chorus. I can’t help but yell along, “I feel safe on the autobahn / I feel safe!” As I do this, my mind wanders to seeing Jay Reatard several times throughout 2007 and 2008 and doing the same thing along with “My Shadow” and “Nightmares.” And as I let the track play through, I’m reminded “Safe on the Autobahn” also has whole different middle eight and outro sections that are just as good as the other parts… and tracks like “Birdman” and “Reptile” are just as great. I can’t get over how awesome this tape is. Get this now, but someone needs to step up and give the world some New Vogue vinyl.”
DYE: Rules cassette (Dirtbag Distro) Rules is the second cassette from this band from Kansas City, Missouri, and with fourteen tracks of blistering US-style hardcore, it feels more like a cassette full-length than a demo. DYE’s sound is raw and drenched in snot… too fast, dangerous, and nihilistic to be called anything but hardcore, yet avoiding the tough-guy attitudes and reliance on musical cliche that marks so much hardcore. While the sound is raw, the playing is super locked in, with sudden and precise rhythmic shifts that remind me of powerful players like Damaged-era Black Flag or early Poison Idea. Pick Your King and Record Collectors Are Pretentious Assholes are the closest reference points for Rules, particularly the way it offers you a choice between appreciating the sophistication and precision of the music or diving into the dark and unhinged world articulated by the lyrics and vocals. Classic USHC heads should make sure not to skip this one.
R.O.B.O.: Contaminas 7” (Discos Mecago En Dios) We’ve been following Madrid, Spain’s R.O.B.O. for years here at Sorry State. They’re about to release their third album, but in the meantime, they dropped this four-track EP to whet our appetite. According to the label, 2 of these songs will be re-recorded for the full-length, while the other two will remain exclusive to this release. If you haven’t heard R.O.B.O., they play snappy, upbeat punk rock that borders on hardcore. While the songs are catchy, they’re constructed on a hardcore template, with two of these tracks clocking in under a minute and the other two barely any longer, all of them buzzing along at an energetic clip that never gets so fast the melody gets lost. And the melodies are great, reminding me of the Marked Men or Radioactivity, but shorter, faster, and leaner. With only four minutes of music, this EP packs a lot in a small space and has me suitably curious about the coming album.
Various: Flip: Sorry OST 12” (Euro Import) Part of me wonders how niche the demographic is for a skate video soundtrack. That said, having been heavily into skateboarding myself, Flip: Sorry stands out as one of the most memorable and iconic videos from the 00s era. It’s hard to forget Johnny Rotten’s role as master of ceremonies, takin’ the piss as he introduces each skater’s segment. In my mind, the idea to detach the music from the iconic visual of the Flip team destroying handrails is an interesting concept. The back cover of this LP doesn’t mention any musical artists. Instead, the track listing shows only the name of each skater and the title of the song featured during their clip. While there are some famous artists whose notoriety is not linked to Flip Skateboards, there are a few songs that seem deservedly contextualized as part of this skate video. I’m sure there are die-hard Placebo fans out there, but I have a hard time associating “Every You, Every Me” with anything but Mark Appleyard skating. A couple of my favorite skaters like Geoff Rowley and Ali Boulala both tear it up to Gray Matter songs. For a change of pace, Rune Glifberg skates vert to a cold, electronic and more era-appropriate number from Prodigy. Looking back, if the Flip company could get permission for their usage of all these songs, then they locked down an impressive roster of heavy hitters, which I would prefer to most Hollywood movie soundtracks. I’d almost forgotten the video features legendary classics from The Stooges and The Velvet Underground. One of the most memorable scenes from the video is the animated recreation of Arto Saari’s epic bail on a handrail, which apparently almost killed him. That chilling moment is followed by back-to-back bangers from Bowie. Sure, you’ll have to imagine the sound of spinning skateboard wheels while spinning this yellow splatter vinyl, but at least you get a diverse collection of hits on this LP. Plus, you get a bonus sheet of stickers to plaster all over your skate deck! …or more realistically, your turntable.
Various: Between the Coasts cassette (No Label) Between the Coasts is the first release on the new Milwaukee label No Label, and it’s a compilation of contemporary midwest hardcore and punk (well, mostly midwest… LA’s Rolex appear for no apparent reason, other than that they rip). The vibe reminds me of 80s cassette-only compilations like Charred Remains or Barefoot and Pregnant, which were heavy on content and packaged with the aesthetic sensibility of a DIY hardcore demo tape. There are a handful of names I know—Slogan Boy, Big Laugh, and Deodorant among them—and a bunch that are new to me. None of the tracks are duds in my book, but the standouts include Eggnort’s knotty hardcore, Slogan Boy’s vicious, Poison Idea-influenced USHC, and Deodorant’s Minutemen vibes. With twelve tracks for only four bucks, you can’t go wrong with this one, so get hip to what’s happening in flyover country.
Kohti Tuhoa: Väkivalta 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus) Helsinki band Kohti Tuhoa has cemented themselves as mainstays of Finnish hardcore. Since their emergence onto the scene 7 or 8 years ago, the band’s discography boasts 3 full-length LPs and a couple of 7”s. Their self-titled first release on Svart Records presented listeners with 6 blazing tracks of noisy, chaotic raw punk. Even from the beginning, it was clear the band was hellbent on dismantling any notion of formula. Over the course of their 3 LPs, you can hear Kohti Tuhoa expand their sound and bring a fresh sonic identity with each release. I remember hearing the Elä Totuudesta EP from last year and thinking it was their strongest release. Their songwriting seemed to move in a more tuneful direction, but Elä Totuudesta only hinted at the experimentation on their brand new EP Väkivaltaa. The opening track “Suden Hetki” is a minute-long instrumental that functions like a brooding, ambient mood piece to set the tone. Then we launch into “Häpeä,” which is unique to any song Kohti Tuhoa has ever released. Drawing more inspiration from anarcho and post-punk, the propulsive, driving drum beat and cold, melodic sensibility recalls early Killing Joke. In direct contrast, the B-side serves up 3 tracks of explosive and chaotic hardcore—but not chaotic like the noisy, crusty sound of their previous releases. The band seems to have broken down creative barriers, throwing ideas against the wall and, as a result, they’ve put together a batch of inventive and well-orchestrated crushers that feel unusual and exciting. Kohti Tuhoa has found a killer stride with Väkivaltaa, and I’m itching to hear an LP’s worth of material heading in this new direction.
Malevolence: Apparitions 12” (Supreme Echo Records) Between this and the Eve of Darkness book I wrote about last week, I’ve been immersed in Canadian metal for the past couple of weeks and, I must say, I’m not mad about it. While Eve of Darkness focused on Toronto-area metal from the 80s, Malevolence was from the west coast (Victoria, BC) and was mostly active during the 90s. The material collected on Apparitions originally came out as two cassette-only releases in 1992. While these releases are referred to as “demos,” they’re very well recorded and polished, standing toe to toe with the highest-profile thrash releases of the late 80s. The material on Malevolence was recorded during one session, with the two cassettes devoted to the band’s newest material (Apparitions) and re-recordings of songs from the previous lineup (Race to Infinity).I’d describe all the tracks here as heavy thrash with a technical bent. They remind me of Forbidden in that Malevolence’s technical proficiency set them apart from the thrashing masses, yet they keep the focus on speed and heaviness and never descend into prog (an accusation you could level at some technical thrash bands). Malevolence could have lit up the world if these recordings came out in 1986 or maybe even 1988, but when I listen to Apparitions with my 1992 ears, it’s easy to see why Malevolence didn’t gain more traction. By 1992 (a year after Nevermind came out), thrash was in its death throes as a genre, and beyond that, the public’s taste in rock music was trending toward the more visceral, even primitive… the more commercial end of metal got consumed by grunge, while the extreme end of metal moved toward death and black metal. Removing my 1992 ears, though, in 2021, Apparitions is just a ripping, accomplished album that anyone into that late 80s thrash sound will enjoy. Further, like their recent Neos reissue, Supreme Echo rounds out the cool artwork with an LP-sized, full-color booklet where drummer Loran Werrun tells the story behind these sessions, the picture rounded out with heaps of photos and flyers.
Languid: A Paranoid Wretch in Society’s Games 12” (D-Takt & Rapunk Records) We last heard from Edmonton, Canada’s Languid with 2018’s Submission Is the Only Freedom, a bass-heavy record that fused Celtic Frost’s lumbering low end with Cimex-style riffs and songwriting. While the songwriting is similar on this new LP, the production this time around is more refined, dropping the blown-out low end in favor of a crisper sound that reminds me of Anti-Cimex’s Absolut Country of Sweden. As with that album, the clear sound and the steady, fast-but-not-blistering tempos emphasize the riffing, which deserves the spotlight since it is both catchy and inventive. All of A Paranoid Wretch in Society’s Games is strong, but given the more composed vibe on most of the album, it stands out when Languid deviates from the formula, however slightly. Thus, the mid-paced tracks “Government Power” and “Tattered Minds” are the standouts for me. If the zombie viking on the cover (also featured on the giant poster insert) draws you in, I doubt you’ll walk away disappointed.
Paprika: S/T cassette (Iron Lung Records) Funny story, I actually offered to put out this tape, but Iron Lung beat me to the punch. No hard feelings… if I had the choice between Iron Lung and Sorry State, I’d choose them too! I thought I’d share that factoid to emphasize the point that New Orleans’ Paprika bears both the Iron Lung and Sorry State seals of approval. Paprika plays a style of dense, dark hardcore with inventive, complex riffing, vocals drenched in delay, and a mid-range-y guitar sound you can feel in your teeth. Like Public Acid or Drugcharge, Paprika takes bouncy, pit-provoking hardcore and fuses it with darker undertones that seem like they’re borrowed from black metal or underground death metal, though it’s difficult to point to specific musical similarities to those genres. With six songs in about as many minutes, this tape leaves me wanting more. I hope we get it too, because if Paprika is already this fully formed at their starting point, their next steps will definitely be worth paying attention to.
Maximum Joy: Stretch 12” (1972 Records) Maximum Joy… who doesn’t want more of that, right? Fortunately, this late 70s / early 80s post-punk band from Bristol, England’s name isn’t a misnomer. Maximum Joy drew personnel from Glaxo Babies and the Pop Group, their sound of a piece with dub- and funk-informed post-punk bands like Delta 5, Gang of Four, and Essential Logic (a band I’ve been digging hard for the past several months). This is a reissue of their first 12” single, Stretch, a record so infectious that the New York label 99 Records pressed it up for the US market in 1981, where Maximum Joy fit right in with 99 bands like ESG, Liquid Liquid, and Y Pants. The single’s A-side, “Stretch,” centers on a heavy funk groove, fast-paced and danceable, with a semi-skronky saxophone providing extra grit. The b-side, “Silent Street / Silent Dub” swaps out the funk for reggae, placing the heavy bass at the front of the mix and bringing in a delay-effected trumpet that reminds me of Miles Davis records like Live Evil. Adrian Sherwood later produced Maximum Joy’s debut album, and this track sounds a lot like what the artists on Sherwood’s On U Sound label (Creation Rebel, African Head Charge, New Age Steppers, etc.) were doing around the same time. Stretch may be short, but it’s long on power and historical significance.
Nasti: Life Is Nasti 12” (Iron Lung Records) It’s been four years since Nasti’s previous LP for Iron Lung came out. They’ve dropped a few limited cassettes in the interim and undergone some lineup changes, but this new 12” shows them no worse for the wear. Besides being from the label’s home state, Nasti fits right in with Iron Lung’s roster of original, forward-thinking hardcore bands. While there are some ignorant, wall-demolishing riffs on Life Is Nasti that might remind you of their label mates Gag, they counterbalance those crowd-pleasing riffs with a propensity to get loose. Just listen to the way the opening track, “Self Sucker,” alternates between a locked-in, almost industrial-sounding march and another section where the guitars wander off into space. This tug of war continues for Life Is Nasti’s entire 15-minute runtime, taking in moments like the triumphant, guitar-solo-over-mosh-part in “Stud Gods” to my favorite part of the record, the bit in “Lip Licker” where Nasti lays down a gripping melodic line composed entirely of feedback. Fucking wicked.
Echo & the Bunnymen: Ocean Rain 12” (Rhino Records) The wait is over, and now several classic albums by Liverpool indie darlings Echo & The Bunnymen are back in print as part of Rhino’s Rocktober series. As the flagship band for small UK imprint Korova, Echo emerged alongside bands like The Sound as part of the wave of exciting and interesting, but more radio-friendly, side of post-punk. Their fourth album, Ocean Rain, released in 1984, was Echo’s last release on Korova before signing with WEA. Held by many Echo fans as one of their best and a landmark album, Ocean Rain adds ambitious and lush orchestral arrangements to Echo’s signature melodic pop hooks. This album had huge hits in the charts in the UK and garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. “Silver” and “Seven Seas” are among the notable cuts, but in retrospect, the huge number off of this album (and one of the band’s most recognizable and definitive songs) is “The Killing Moon.” With the breakout strength of this album, it’s a shame that Echo & The Bunnymen aren’t a primary recommendation compared to indie giants like The Smiths or Jesus and Mary Chain. Certainly, Echo must have had a huge impact on the burgeoning Britpop movement to come. That said, for all their success, Echo always seemed like a black sheep of sorts. Within all the beauty and memorable melodies, their music can also be quite haunting and dark. But if you’re looking to hear a moody indie classic that captures a band just before their rise to mainstream success, Ocean Rain is a must.
Eve of Darkness book (UXB Press) Back in 2018, Toronto’s UXB Press released the book Tomorrow Is Too Late, a beautifully designed, phone-booked-sized tome documenting the 80s hardcore punk scene in that city. Now they’re back with the companion piece, Eve of Darkness, which does the same thing for the 80s Toronto metal scene. As before, the book is large and thick, packed with photographs, scans of paper ephemera, and detailed text about the scene. About half of Eve of Darkness provides capsule histories of each band, proceeding in chronological order based on when the groups started, and alternating between oral history-style sections and more traditional band biographies, with the more popular and better documented bands getting several pages to tell their story with text and images. I can’t imagine any Toronto metal or hard rock band you wanted to read about isn’t represented here, from the biggest names like Anvil to well known underground bands like Sacrifice and Slaughter right down to dozens of bands who only played a handful of gigs or managed a demo session or a photo shoot. While the band histories are informative and entertaining, I like the other sections of the book even more. These sections address topics like key clubs, promoters, and important gigs. Eve of Darkness is a rich sociological account of this subculture, with a level of detail that allows the reader to feel immersed in the world of 80s metal. Since so much of the book is about how the local Toronto scene intersected with the national and international metal scenes, the book is fascinating for anyone interested in metal’s history, particularly how that history played out at the street level. If you’re looking for what the typical music book gives you—some cool stories and a list of new bands to check out—Eve of Darkness delivers, but it’s so much more than that… a real cut above as far as these kinds of books go.
Burning Sword: II cassette (Earth Girl) Hattiesburg, Mississippi lays another cassette on us, but this time there’s a wrinkle: Burning Sword doesn’t play hardcore or punk, but slow and churning doom metal. The riffs here are less Sabbath and more Sleep, slowed and deconstructed to the point where the structure dissolves into a maze of thuds, bordering on Sunn’s abstract, heavy drone. While Burning Sword’s tempos and heaviness are par for the course for doom metal, the lo-fi sound and the short songs (most around two minutes or less) connect this to other Hattiesburg acts like Judy & the Jerks and Bad Anxiety. If you’re one of those people who complain that their attention span is too short for doom metal, give this a try, as it packs all the trippy heaviness into a tight, six track / twelve minute container.
Maggot Brain #6 zine (Third Man Records) I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Maggot Brain is killing it, and it’s an essential read for anyone into the sounds of the underground. Maggot Brain reminds me of late 80s-era Forced Exposure in that they cover what they’re passionate about without regard to how many units it’s moved, focusing on out-there sounds from the fringes of the underground. Rather than hailing things for obscurity’s sake, Maggot Brain is devoted to widening their readers’ musical horizons, pushing against all the algorithmically generated recommendations designed to give you more of the same. Maggot Brain is also just good reading; I read every issue cover to cover, and even if a particular artist isn’t something I’d check out on my own time, it’s cool to know a little about who they are and what they’re doing. Oh, and there is always some punk rock content, of course! This issue features an interview with Zigyaku from Gudon, Bastard, and Judgement (an abridged version of a piece that appeared on General Speech’s website a few months back), a conversation with / about Aaron Cometbus, and a photo spread with a bunch of unseen photos from the late 80s / early 90s punk / indie scene, alongside content about genres as diverse as jazz, new age, country, and classic rock, among many others. Like I said, Maggot Brain is essential reading for the open-minded music fan.
Sistema En Decadencia: Nuestro Legado 12” (Hardcore Victim) After a handful of tapes and EPs, Australia’s Sistema En Decadencia brings us their first big vinyl, and it is a total fucking crusher. Sistema En Decadencia takes inspiration from Kyushu noise-core a la Confuse and Gai, but like more recent groups such as D-Clone and Horrendous 3D, they pay close attention to the dynamics of tone and texture (as opposed to riffs and rhythms) and push the recording technology to its 21st-century limits. This is the type of record that, if you’re blasting it while your housemate or partner walks into the room after a long day of work, they will almost certainly tell you to turn it the fuck off right this second. Since the sound of Nuestro Legado is so important, if you are interested in this record, I recommend you experience it on vinyl. While most of the time I don’t feel like there’s a huge difference between the digital and vinyl versions of a recording, the cut they got on this record is insane… it sounds like a dump truck unloading a couple tons of bricks onto a trash compactor that’s crushing hundreds of television sets, all of them blaring white noise at maximum volume. Not only is it louder than the digital version, it’s more dynamic too, with the manic kick drum becoming the focal point of the mix in a way that’s very different to what I hear via Bandcamp. If all this sounds like your cup of tea, I recommend snagging a copy of this limited-to-300 pressing while you still can.
Collapsed: S/T 12” (Phobia Records) Phobia Records brings us the first LP from this metallic crust band out of Montreal, Canada. Like their labelmates in Warcollapse, Collapsed’s sound takes cues from the heavy, metallic crust bands of the 90s… think Doom, State of Fear, and bands of that ilk. Collapsed’s sound is heavy on the low end, in line with the massive sound of big 90s death metal records. Collapsed’s gutteral vocals and catchy mid-paced riffs also remind me of classic death metal, but they replace death metal’s blasting and thrash beats with driving d-beats. That’s pretty much the story with this album… a spooky death metal intro here (“To the Last Breath”), a total crust pounder there (“Recurent Saga”)… it’s a Frankenstein monster built out parts taken from two different species, but Collapsed reveals their fundamental compatibility. If your tastes span that crust/death divide, this will get your fist in the air.
Echo & the Bunnymen: Heaven Up Here 12” (Rhino Records) Rhino Records has been reissuing a bunch of Echo & the Bunnymen albums on vinyl as part of their annual “Rocktober” reissue series. Since we’re big fans of Echo here at SSR and listen to their records all the time in the shop, we grabbed a stack of each of them, since the originals don’t turn up as often as we would like. Here we have Heaven Up Here, Echo’s second album, originally released in 1981. The band emerged from the same Liverpool scene that brought us the Teardrop Explodes, and while psychedelia played a big role in both bands’ music, for their first couple of records, at least, they were riding the post-punk wave. Heaven Up Here might be Echo’s most post-punk album, jettisoning some of the punky poppiness of the first album, Crocodiles, and focusing on a more drum-centered sound that took a lot from Joy Division. While haters might nitpick about Echo copping so much from Joy Division, it’s hard to deny the band could play their asses off and injected heaps of invention and excitement into that framework. The drums are dense, inventive, and sound fucking incredible, while the guitars eschew the rhythmically focused style of many post-punk bands in favor of a melodic, psychedelic maximalism. While the band’s ability to construct a great pop song hadn’t quite hit its peak, as this style of brooding post-punk goes, Heaven Up Here is top shelf.
Vains: You May Not Believe in Vains But You Cannot Deny Terror 7” (Dirty Knobby Industries) If you’re itching for yet another obscure 80s punk gem from Seattle, look no further than The Vains. With a title like You May Not Believe In Vains, But You Cannot Deny Terror combined with the vintage, horror movie poster-style picture sleeve, the presentation of this EP screams Killed By Death. And rightfully so, since each song on this EP featured on a KBD compilation at one time or another. Originally released in 1980, these 3 tracks of explosive, high-octane punk rock sound like a stepping stone to the burgeoning wave of American hardcore just over the horizon. Under the radar as it may be, all 3 songs feel like classics in their own right. For being a young band, Vains do not sound primitive by any means. The band knew their way around writing a song, and the production on the recording is crisp for a snotty 80s punk band. The teen angst opus “School Jerks” is instantly memorable with the hooky refrain “It’s a pain in the ass/to try to get to next class” and out-of-control guitar wankery. “The Fake” credits bassist Nico Teen as songwriter and vocalist, which is the alias for a young Duff McKagan. If 10 Minute Warning, The Living, and The Fartz weren’t enough, then you can add one more great early Seattle punk band to McKagan’s resume. This 7” is a must-have for anyone looking to experience a snarling transitional record in history of hardcore punk.
Personal Damage: demo 7” (Test Subject Records) From afar, LA’s Personal Damage seemed to make a big splash when they released their demo tape a few months ago. After that small run of cassettes sold out super quickly, these 5 songs of lean and mean hardcore punk have been re-released on a single-sided 7” flexi. Personal Damage appears to be the brainchild of just two people from the LA/Santa Ana area who also play in groups like Hate Preachers and Abuso De Poder. If you’re a fan of early 80s California hardcore, then you’ll feel right at home listening to this flexi. Like their contemporaries White Stains or Chain Whip, Personal Damage takes a few pages out of the book of the distinctly old school, snotty, punky side of LA hardcore. The first Wasted Youth LP or the Circle One Demo are suitable points of comparison. The 50-second opening ripper, “Shit’s Fucked,” is also a dead ringer for The Fix “Vengeance,” but with that unmistakable LA punk guitar rhythmic approach. The vocal performance oozes with charisma and personality, but is also seething with OC-style frustration and dark humor, all presented with a Cadena-esque lackadaisical aloofness. The flexi is also housed in beautiful DIY packaging. The cover art is screen printed in black and silver and contains a 12-page, risograph-printed lyric booklet stapled inside. Much like the cassette, this run of flexis is super limited, so snatch this ripper while you can.
Smirk: EP 12” / cassette (Total Punk Records / Iron Lung Records) With this new EP, Smirk has the unique distinction of having a simultaneous release on Iron Lung Records (cassette) and Total Punk Records (vinyl). That should be a clue for you that this EP is special. As Dominic mentioned in his staff pick a few weeks ago, Smirk’s EP offers seven crackling tracks of punk-infused pop. Not pop-punk, of course, but something far less stylized. While they don’t have the faux-English qualities of bands that emulate their style, Smirk reminds me of Cleaners from Venus, Television Personalities, and the Times, all of whom made homespun pop music informed by punk’s DIY aesthetics and emphasis on energy and drive. While I am, of course, a punk to my bone, it’s the poppiest moments of EP that hit the hardest, like the wistful closing track “Lost Cities” and the bouncy and sunny “So Original,” with its cool Wilko Johnson-esque rockabilly riff. Each track feels like its own little universe though, and the EP’s variety and brevity is an infectious combination.
Prison Affair / Research Reactor Corp: Split 7” (Erste Theke Tonträger) You don’t see split 7”s as much these days; even rarer are splits like this one, which features two well-matched bands, great artwork, and an EP’s worth of non-throwaway material from each band. If you like either Research Reactor Corp or Prison Affair (and if you like one, you almost certainly like the other), you’re going to want this EP. If you haven’t heard them, both bands play that Coneheads-influenced style of egg punk, but they’re far from interchangeable. RRC is more abrasive, with harsher vocals, more manic grooves, and hooks that center on bursts of synth squelch. Prison Affair is more laid-back and melodic, building their songs around intricate, high-speed lead guitar riffing. Both bands offer three tracks, and if you’re a fan of this sound, it’s hard to imagine you won’t walk away satisfied.
Dog Flashback: demo cassette (Foreign Legion Records) Foreign Legion Records brings us the demo tape from this hardcore band from Chicago. According to Bandcamp, this demo came out in December 2019, but I’m glad Foreign Legion has given it a wider release. Longtime followers of Chicago hardcore will clock Ebro’s distinctive vocals right off the bat, and fans of his band Punch in the Face will love Dog Flashback’s pure hardcore sound. That being said, this recording is looser and rougher around the edges than the PITF stuff, but the approach is similarly streamlined. The guitar is a blizzard of power chords (punctuated only a couple of times with unison bends or chaotic bursts of noise), the vocals and bass charge forward without letup, and the drums pound away with power while leaving room for plenty of catchy rolls and fills. It’s very much in the style of SOA, Negative FX, and Negative Approach, but in the hands of these hardcore veterans, the style sounds classic rather than tired. The tape ends with a chaotic run-through of “Arms Race” by B.G.K. No bullshit here, just rippage.
Warcollapse: Bound to Die 7” (Phobia Records) Bound to Die is the latest EP from this long-running Swedish crust institution. While Warcollapse is a name I’ve known for many years (I often think about their memorably titled first album from 1995, Crust as Fuck Existence), I can’t recall hearing them. On one hand, they sound like I would have expected: heavy, Doom-style metallic crust with high production values and an emphasis on heavy low-end frequencies. However, while there’s plenty of fist-in-air, grooved-out banana riff action, there’s a lot going on in these four tracks to keep your ear interested. I love the rhythmic quirks in the chorus to the first track, “Manipulerad,” and the guitar leads are rocked out and drenched in wah-wah. My ear gravitates toward bands with a looser sound, but it’s hard to deny Warcollapse’s power when they lock into a groove, particularly on the memorable mid-paced parts. Maybe this sound would get tiring on a long 12”, but these four tracks are a long way from wearing out their welcome.
Judy & the Jerks: Live in NWI cassette (Earth Girl Tapes) Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Judy & the Jerks are back with this new tape, which captures them live in a basement in Hammond, Indiana. I’ve been a huge fan of Judy & the Jerks since I heard them, and this 10-song live tape is a welcome addition to their discography. The gig itself sounds wild… you can hear the crowd going off during the mosh parts, yelling between tracks, and dragging the band back for an encore at the end of the set. While some live recordings can seem sterile, this one crackles with energy. And the band’s performance is spot-on. I’m amazed that the singer can keep up with those high-speed vocal acrobatics in a live setting, and while I hear a few flubs here and there (it’s a wild basement show after all!), they rip through their complex yet catchy songs with explosive energy. As I’ve said before, Judy & the Jerks always radiates pure fun, and that’s as true of Live in NWI as it is of their studio releases.
Koma: Internment Failure 12” (La Vida Es Un Mus) I’ve been listening to this first LP from the UK’s Koma all week, and I feel like I’m only just finding my way into it. I had been listening to the record on streaming while taking walks in the warm (i.e. not unbearably hot) fall North Carolina weather, and the album’s subtleties have interesting corollaries with change from summer into winter, which seems to happen fast by the standards of geological time, but as a human you need patience to see and appreciate it. Things clicked for Koma when I sat down with the vinyl, as they do with a lot of records. The dense, monochromatic illustration on the cover where there are distinct skeletal shapes, but it’s tough to tell where one element ends and another begins; the dimly lit band photo on the back cover where you can only just discern human shapes in a dark, medieval-looking building; the murky production that refuses to cede attention to any one element, a writhing sonic morass; the fractured lyrics that touch on themes like isolation and the supernatural, but resist efforts to wrench easily summarizable meaning from them… Koma’s sound and visual aesthetic are woven from the same cloth. Their music feels introverted, troubled, even hard to listen to at times, which is a strange emotional register for hardcore to occupy. And Koma is hardcore… loud, fast, and heavy, but with none of the grandstanding or feel-good vibes you get from other points on the genre’s lengthy continuum. It might not be for everyone, but it’s a powerful statement.
The Freakees: Freakee Deakee 7” (House of Timothy) Freakee Deakee is the latest release from this prolific punk/garage band from Los Angeles, and it’s an all-analog production with no computers used at any point in recording or manufacturing the record. I don’t think I’d heard the Freakees before (though Sorry State has their earlier split 7” with Launcher in stock), and I’d describe their sound as restless and raw, but tuneful and memorable. The Freakees remind me of the Reatards in that the songs have a straightforward rock and roll / garage foundation, but they’re performed with a sense of total abandon. Listening to a ripper like “Republicans,” I imagine the singer starting the song with an ill-advised face-first stage dive, then climbing back onstage to perform the rest of the song through a veil of blood. Freakee Deakee drips with this don’t-give-a-fuck energy, at least until the last track, “Freakee Friday,” which careens into a stumbling, post-Funhouse druggy haze. If you like your rock and roll raw, loose, and visceral, this one’s for you.
Bad Anxiety: demo cassette (Earth Girl Tapes) Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Earth Girl Tapes brings us the 4-song demo tape from Bad Anxiety. Bad Anxiety is another one of those projects where one person plays every instrument, and the person in question here is Hampton, who also plays in Judy & the Jerks and a bunch of other Hattiesburg groups. The sound is full-bore hardcore punk with an emphasis on high energy and catchy songwriting. I hear a lot of Circle Jerks in Bad Anxiety’s sound (perhaps because “Police” bears more than a passing resemblance to “Red Tape”), but the vocals are snotty and carry a touch of melody. Maybe it’s because I just spun this record the other day, but the vocals remind me of Lumpy’s in Cal and the Calories, though the music is more akin to Fried E/M’s blistering hardcore. The first three tracks are sub-1 minute sprints, with the EP ending on a (comparatively) mid-paced note with “Big City,” a more rocking track with great, sarcastic lyrics that sounds like something the Controllers or Angry Samoans might have come up with. This would have made for a killer 7”, but this limited-to-100 cassette will have to do.
General Speech #10 zine I often say I’ll read pretty much anything having to do with punk, but a lot of the things I read—zines, books, or stuff on the web—are of poor quality, often with shoddy research, poor copy editing, and ugly and/or non-functional graphic design. General Speech is impeccable in these respects, an underground punk zine crafted with the obvious care and attention to detail that one usually has to shell out a bunch of money to a team of professionals to get. As note-perfect as General Speech might be in these respects, it still strikes me as the purest expression of the concept of the music fanzine that you can find in the punk underground. While most zines adopt, to some extent or another, the tropes of mainstream music publications, the editor Tom’s passion for music seems to be the guiding principle for what lands in General Speech. Tom revels in the details, both the small details of better-known releases and the minutiae of lesser-known punk. For instance, the biggest bands featured in this issue are probably the Damned and Chaos UK, but the articles delve deep into the recesses of those bands’ stories. The article on the Damned is a lengthy feature on Tom’s favorite non-album tracks, while the Chaos UK feature is an interview with the photographer who took the photo on the cover of the band’s Short, Sharp Shock album. Elsewhere in the mag there are features on the obscure Japanese cassette label X.A. Record, the Chilean band Ignorantes, and older groups Fallout, Six Minute War, and Private Jesus Detector. These interviews are rich in detail, Tom’s obsessiveness well matched with the interview subjects’ candor. The cover star and centerpiece of the issue is a long interview with Mune from Paintbox, and while many western publications that attempt to interview Japanese punk bands have trouble penetrating the language and cultural barriers, this interview is gripping for anyone deeply into Japanese hardcore. The writing in General Speech is beyond reproach, but the visuals are just as good, with Tom’s collection of punk ephemera and unimpeachable graphic design skills proving to be an unfuckwithable combo. If you’re anything like me, you’ll pore over every inch of this fanzine and return to it again and again. Totally essential.
Nekropolis Iluzija: S/T cassette (Doomed to Extinction Records) Nekropolis Iluzija self-describes this release as anti-war and anti-military themed. And at first glance, this cassette’s bleak, black and grey cover art along with peace punk symbolism led me to assume that this tape would sound like crust punk. But within 10 seconds of hearing the first song, it was clear that rather than guitar-heavy crust, this tape is a synth-laden electronic project. While this band is based out of San Francisco, none of the lyrics are in English. I believe the band’s name translates to “Necropolis Illusion” from Croatian, which is fitting, because their sound is totally reminiscent of 80s Eastern European coldwave and post-punk. The sparse, cold, but decidedly musical song structures are well crafted, and dense with electronic textures that feel authentically vintage. This tape sounds like a tribute to 80s minimal synth and coldwave that is so well done that it’s almost surgical. The lo-fi, mechanical drum machine is drenched in sweeping, high-pitched synth melodies that sit blaringly loud in the mix. While I don’t understand the words, the vocals are the focal point and have some surprising moments where they shift from restrained invariability to spine-chilling whispers to intense aggression. They sneak in an interesting cover version of a song by Serbian hardcore band Proces, which is a cool little thematic nod to the Yugo area. A must have for those anticipating the stark cold of winter.
DShK: Power for Them, Pennies for You cassette (Bitter Melody Records) Five-song demo from this project based in Asheville, North Carolina. DShK formed during lockdown as a response to the anger and frustration the surrounding events provoked, and the feeling is palpable… there’s an undeniable electricity running through these songs. The Herätys cover is a nice tip of the hat, as DShK has a similar knack for fusing inventive, complex riffing with a sonic template that leaves room for nothing but total assault. Fans of modern mangel, this is right up your alley. I’m unclear whether DShK is a continuing concern or just a onetime thing, but I hope they stick around because this rips.
Rearranged Face: A Rare Caged Fern 12” (House of Timothy) I first saw A Rare Caged Fern circulating on Bandcamp, where the cover art captured my attention. I gave it a listen, liked it, and ordered some copies for the store. Since the vinyl arrived, I like it even more. While Rearranged Face has some of the superficial trappings of egg punk (like jittery rhythms and mutated rock and roll riffing), A Rare Caged Fern is too unique to sum up with a simple genre description. The closest thing I can think of to Rearranged Face in overall vibe is Suburban Lawns; moments also remind me of early B-52’s (without so much camp) or Uranium Club (but less distant and cerebral). Rearranged Face builds songs around catchy, repetitive riffs, but spice things up with weird sci-fi noises, a yelpy vocalist, and jammed-out parts that edge into Can territory. “History of Things to Come” has some of the angular drive of Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction,” while “Chain Brute” breaks up the vibe with a cool disco beat. I’m struggling to get across what Rearranged Face sounds like, and while that can make for a frustrating writing experience, I love that this record’s sound isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever heard before. Fans of the more Rough Trade-informed end of the DIY punk spectrum (think the World or M.A.Z.E.) will love this, but A Rare Caged Fern is unique and charming enough that it will catch ears outside that world, too.
Razorblades & Aspirin #13 zine The latest issue of Razorblades & Aspirin is out! Hopefully most people who are into Sorry State are aware of Razorblades & Aspirin already, but if you aren’t, you need to check it out. You may think to yourself, “why do I need to spend money on a physical zine when I spend half my waking hours scrolling on my phone?,” but this magazine is a showcase for the richness of print. The zine’s focus has always been on beautiful photography reproduced at large scale, high detail, and full color (where appropriate), and if you think the experience of poring over every detail of one of these images is functionally the same as scrolling past something on Instagram, then the two of us have very different ideas of what makes for rich engagement with a piece of art. As with previous issues, the writing in issue #13 is just as interesting as the visuals, including interviews with cover stars Zulu, Jerry A. of Poison Idea, the director Otto Buj (who did the recent Dope, Hookers, and Pavement film about the 80s Detroit hardcore scene), and several others, including several punk-affiliated photographers, who always offer an interesting and under-appreciated perspective on punk. I’m also amazed that a quarterly publication can turn me on to so much great music… I spend every day of my life looking for new music to listen to, yet each issue of Razorblades & Aspirin adds a big stack of artists to my “to check out” pile. I’m not aware of a current punk zine that offers anywhere near this much bang for your buck.
Soul Patrol: Mara 7” (Feel It Records) Feel It Records brings us a reissue of this rare and obscure punk single from the small town of Many, Louisiana in 1979. While a handful of copies of the sleeveless original exist, most everyone will hear Soul Patrol for the first time here, with Feel It adding snazzy new sleeve artwork (courtesy Drew Owen of Sick Thoughts) as well as an insert featuring brief liner notes and a few archival clippings. While, by 1979, the US punk scene was in full swing (or even over in some people’s eyes!), Soul Patrol sounds more like a proto-punk band, their music rooted in the regional garage-punk bands of the Nuggets ilk, but grown more aggressive and confrontational, dropping the beads and flowers in favor of shitty beer and denim. Think of bands like the Dogs (Detroit), Crime, and Destroy All Monsters and you’ll be in the ballpark, but there’s a don’t-give-a-fuck hopelessness here that captures something unique about being a rocker in the deep south. Only two tracks, but they’re both quality KBD bangers.
Prision Postumo: Live in LA cassette (No Solution) The No Solution tape label brings us the latest release from Santa Ana’s Prision Postumo. After carrying their demo 7” and debut LP Amor, Salud, y Dinero, this new tape Live In LA!! provides some insight to Prision Postumo’s energy as a live band. The DIY, black & white presentation has the feel of a home-dubbed live tape that would be passed around among punks in their local scene. No frills—there’s not even a track listing, which forces the listener to immerse themselves in the experience of attending a SoCal punk gig. As we’ve mentioned in our previous descriptions about Prision Postumo, they definitely fall into a more tuneful, melodic category of punk and hardcore. I’ve heard them compared to the Peruvian Rock Subterraneo scene, but when I hear the umpa-umpa drum beats and anthemic, hooky choruses, my mind immediately reminisces about the Oi!-inflected street punk of early 00s Punkcore. The sound of the live recording is raw, but clear enough to decipher what’s going on. It’s apparent that Prision Postumo played super tight at this show. It’s cool to hear moments of chatter in the crowd between songs and also to hear the audience sing “whoa-ohs” along with the band on the slower, sing-along numbers. It’s easy to imagine a group of punks with their arms around each other’s shoulders, drunkenly unified while stomping in a circle pit at this gig. I know I would’ve had my boots strapped on and ready to pogo. Definitely a cool listen.
Set-top Box: Max Headroom 7” (Polaks Recorxds) Set-top Box previously released a compilation of two cassettes on Erste Theke Tonträger; now they’re back with a new, stand-alone 4-track EP on France’s Polaks Records. Max Headroom continues with the style Set-top Box established on their earlier cassettes: a jittery, pop-infused, yet homespun take on what we now call egg punk. I know everyone hates that term, but when something has this trebly lo-fi production, robotic-sounding rhythms, and Chuck Berry riffs twisted into angular shapes, you have to call a spade a spade. While Set-top Box’s sound is consistent with the egg punk world, their songwriting is strong, with the synth-led “Climb the Latter” summoning the pop sheen of Freedom of Choice-era Devo and “DNA” reminding me of Ausmuteants’ nervous synth-punk. A solid grip for those of us who like catchy punk tunes with grit and personality.
Strong Boys: Homo 7” (Static Shock Records) If someone played me Strong Boys for the first time without any prior knowledge of the artwork or the lyrics, I might assume they were a bunch of aggro boneheads playing tough as nails hardcore. With the deep, gruff vocals and the mosh-worthy, yet jangly, Oi!-infused hardcore styling, Strong Boys sounds eerily like 86 Mentality. The band also reminds of me the slightly more regional ilk of laddish bands like The Flex or Violent Reaction. While the tough as nails descriptor rings true musically, Strong Boys is a band that defies expectations. With their quite frankly titled new 7” Homo, Dublin’s Strong Boys are an unabashed gay hardcore band with lyrics confronting the church, ignorance, and homophobia, among other topics. This band combines a powerful variety of seemingly disparate ideas to make one explosive cocktail of a hardcore band. If you were to take an across-the-pond lad sensibility, mix it with the leatherboy presentation of Limp Wrist, add some thoughtful and confrontational lyrics, maybe a Number One for good measure, and then make it sound more like Negative Approach, then you’ve got Strong Boys. An essential slammer for a multitude of reasons.
Amyl & the Sniffers: Comfort to Me 12” (ATO Records) The name Turnstile is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, with half the punk scene apologizing for liking them and the other half offended by their very existence. The controversy reminds me, in some respects, of the debate that surrounded Amyl & the Sniffers a few years ago. I’m not sure to what extent that debate is still happening, though Amyl’s singer and lyricist Amy seems to address it on the track “Don’t Fence Me In” (my favorite line from that song: “Bah! Binaries”). If one still needs to take a position on Amyl & the Sniffers, I am heartily in the “pro” camp. I fucking love this band, and I think I like Comfort to Me even more than their previous records. As much as I love punky hardcore bands (old ones like the Adolescents, later ones like the Carbonas and Career Suicide, and even recent ones like the Imploders, whom I also write about this week), sometimes I want something a little more pop, and Amyl & the Sniffers scratches that itch. That being said, the Sniffers can rip, and you could stack “Choices” up against just about anything from the world of DIY punk and hardcore. But Amyl & the Sniffers’ main thrust reminds me of punky rock and roll bands like the Boys, Slaughter & the Dogs, Generation X, or the Damned. Those bands were as much pop as they were punk, and a song like “Soda Pressing” or “Neat Neat Neat” is no less a reach for a hit than “Security” or (my favorite song on Comfort to Me) “Hertz.” It’s clear Amyl & the Sniffers aren’t trying to sound like those bands; rather, they have a pop group’s ambition to make great songs, but they also want those songs to be loud, fast, and hard. Looking back at what I’ve written so far, it sounds like I’m apologizing for liking Amyl & the Sniffers, but truth be told, I have no shame. I love this record.
Marv: Keyboard Suite I 12” (Enmossed Records) North Carolina synth duo Marv is back with their second vinyl release, and if you loved the spaced-out kosmiche bliss of their first album, you’re bound to love Keyboard Suite I too. As before, Marv’s music has a huge sense of space, with a wide-open mix that makes the lush synth sounds seem like they’re ping-ponging across the limitless vastness of space. While that sound is still the foundation of Marv’s music, there’s more melody on Keyboard Suite I, with pulses of tone sometimes coalescing into gentle melodies. While some passages are new age-y, mostly those melodies remind me of the gentlest, most delicate classical music, like Erik Satie. This is particularly true of “Tokyo TX,” the longest track on the record at eight and a half minutes and my favorite for its particularly melodic bent. Keyboard Suite I comes to us via the Enmossed label, which means it’s housed in beautiful silk-screened packaging with a debossed seed paper insert. It’s as much a joy to look at as it is to listen to.
Imploders: S/T 7” (Neon Taste Records) Debut release from this new Toronto band on the (West Coast) Canadian label Neon Taste. The sound is fast and snotty hardcore punk / punky hardcore with short songs and brisk tempos. I hear a lot of Angry Samoans and Circle Jerks in Imploders’ sound. Like those bands, Imploders sound liked they’re amped up on stimulants, but rather than getting violent, they get wired and antsy. Also, like those bands, there’s a rock and roll / classic punk approach to the guitar riffs, while the rhythm section blazes like a hardcore band. Fans of Career Suicide and the Carbonas will also be primed to love this. Five ripping, catchy tracks and I hear there’s already an LP in the works. Sign me up for that too!
Acid Casualties: Victims of Psychick Warfare cassette (Neon Taste Records) Victims of Psychick Warfare is the first release from this mysterious band from New Jersey, brought to us with the stamp of quality that is the Neon Taste Records logo. Acid Casualties has a raw and gritty sound that reminds me of a band deep in the track listing of The Master Tape Volume 2 or We Got Power: Party or Go Home, but this doesn’t strike me as generic. Acid Casualties’ songs swing and lurch with a variety of subtly different bash-you-over-the-head rhythms, and for every straightforward track like the YDI-ish “Against the Wall,” there’s something quirkier like “Back on the Chain Gang,” which works in a little rock riffing a la Eye for an Eye-era Corrosion of Conformity. 7 rippers, no bullshit.
Psyop: This Is Your Brain on America cassette (Pokeys Records) Psyop is a new band from Iowa City; hardly a hardcore hotbed, but I think they might be related to a band from there who caught my ear a few years ago, Beyond Peace. One reason I’m always excited to hear bands from outside the cultural centers on the coasts is because they often sound refreshingly out of sync with punk’s prevailing trends, and that’s the case with Psyop. The first track, “What’s in My Pants,” starts with a bright, major-key riff that could have started off a gritty underground pop-punk release, but it’s only a few seconds before Psyop reveal themselves as a hardcore band. While This Is Your Brain on America has all the thrashing and blasting you would expect, there’s a 7 Seconds-esque sing-song undercurrent running through everything that I really like. The tape is short and sweet with only four tracks, climaxing with the (primarily) mid-paced closer, “Secretary of Defense,” whose dramatic punches and dissonant riffing make it the highlight.
Celluloid Lunch #6 zine w/ Bubblegum Army flexi While there aren’t as many music zines as there used to be, the ones who have chosen to stick it out in that space really mean it. Case in point, Celluloid Lunch. This thick, square-bound half-size zine has a slightly different focus than Sorry State (they don’t seem too into hardcore, like the more adventurous stuff on labels like Feel It, and have one foot in the outsider / experimental end of the underground rock/garage scene), but the authors have a rigorously thoughtful approach to the music they are passionate about. This issue features bands like Collate, Leopardo, Silicone Prairie, and Crazy Doberman, along with other musings about music and records (including a review section). I was familiar with roughly half of the artists covered, yet I still read this issue cover to cover with rapt attention. Celluloid Lunch gave me new knowledge and insight about existing favorites like Collate that allowed me to revisit them with a new, deeper appreciation, and gave me a frame of reference for checking out a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about at all. What more could you ask of a music zine? Celluloid Lunch is essential reading for the underground rock fanatic.
Church Group: S/T cassette (Helta Skelta Records) Australia’s Helta Skelta Records brings us this cassette from Church Group, a new synth duo from the label’s hometown of Perth. Church Group has a sparse, minimal sound that reminds me of the early Human League records, where primitive sequenced beats provide a backdrop for intertwining synth lines that course through the mix like lonely spacecraft through the vast expanse. While the instrumental tracks are spacious and minimal, the vocals are expressive, even soulful, creating a dynamic contrast. It’s a solid formula for the first two tracks—“Joined” is particularly strong—but on the third song a second vocalist with a different sound enters the fray and ratchets the dynamism up another notch. While the music is unassuming by design, strong songwriting and vocal performances elevate this above the crowd of bedroom synth projects.
Blood Loss: Surviving Life in the Shadow of Death 7" (Convulse Records) Second 7” from this Denver hardcore band, following up the self-titled 7” they released on Convulse Records in 2019. While I hear a hint of youth crew hardcore in the singer’s style and the drummer’s 1-2-1-2 thrash beats, Blood Loss is definitely on the punker end of that style with their blistering tempos, rougher production, and emphasis on fast thrashing rather than breakdowns (though one of the four tracks, “Pawns,” has a breakdown). My favorite moments are when lead guitar overdubs come in; it’s super loud on both of the tracks with leads (which I always love), but it works well on the title track, whose song-closing lead is both creepy and epic, reminding me of Anti-Cimex’s “When the Innocent Die.” I like that Blood Loss doesn’t sound like they’re pandering to any club of internet record clubs, just playing fast, passionate hardcore with grit and guts.
Spitboy: Body of Work 12” (Don Giovanni Records) Don Giovanni Records collects the entire recorded output of 90s punks Spitboy on this great-looking gatefold double album. I missed Spitboy the first time around. I was an early teenager during the years when they were an active band, and with one foot on the Nirvana > Sonic Youth > Fugazi punk path and another on the Green Day > Rancid > NOFX path, I had little frame of reference for the music they were making. Add in the expected immaturity of a teenage boy and the fact that, by the time I heard Spitboy, elements of their sound like the grooving rhythms and dual vocals had been coopted by nu-metal (ironically the bro-iest of subgenres), and I didn’t have a way into their music. However, I know they were an important band to many people, so I was excited to give them another try with this collection. It’s funny, while I hear plenty of the grimy Bay Area hardcore that I expected, the comparison that came to mind most often when I was listening to Body of Work was Jawbreaker. While the vocals are very different, as in Jawbreaker’s music, Spitboy’s songs let the bass form the melodic and rhythmic backbone, with the guitars not so much riffing as providing texture through dense, complex chords. Spitboy’s sound trades Jawbreaker’s pop undercurrent for something more like early Neurosis’s apocalyptic chug, but there’s something similar in the approach. As one would hope, Body of Work’s packaging gives plenty of space to Spitboy’s lyrics, which were a huge part of the band’s appeal. I’d love to say that Spitboy’s lyrics feel ahead of their time, but the world is still a long way from catching up. I’m sure there’s space for this kind of expression in other genres, but I rarely see this style of personal, introspective lyrics in the current hardcore scene, and when you do, it’s typically from cis men. Reading through the lyrics, I’m struck by this sensation of feeling wounded, and the mix of dissonance and aggression in the music compounds that feeling. Spitboy’s lyrics and music are challenging, but the challenge is still worth taking up.
Repeat Offender: Summary Execution 7” (Shitkicker Records) We carry this LA band’s demo-on-vinyl release (on Spain’s excellent Mendeku Diskak label); now it’s time for their proper debut EP. Repeat Offender sticks to a similar style as that demo recording, applying a dollop of oi! groove to their hard-charging traditional US hardcore sound. There’s a lot of influence from your Negative Approaches and your Negative FX’s, but the distorted nightmare vocals give Summary Execution an element of eeriness that helps them stand out from the numerous bands who play in this style. There’s also the top-notch production (heavy but not slick) and killer riffs and songwriting. Check out the way the closing track, “Foul Play,” builds to a pit-clearing stomp, then drops out for a second before the second verse, a perfect setup for the knockout blow. Repeat Offender’s top-notch songwriting and execution make this EP a no-brainer for USHC purists, but there are more than enough new and interesting wrinkles to interest those of us who prefer some variety in our aural bludgeoning.
Totally Different Head #5 zine Latest issue of this music zine out of Portland. Totally Different Head is a pretty straightforward music zine: the author likes music, they write about what they think and feel about some of it and they interview some people who make it. The writing itself is thoughtful and engaging; you can tell Corby thinks and cares deeply about music, and their writing pushes you further into the music you already know and sparks your curiosity if you aren’t familiar. The music covered is on the artier end of Sorry State’s wheelhouse, with ink spilled about Kaleidoscope, Brontez Purnell, Special Interest, and several others. With crisp, uncomplicated, and readable layouts and thoughtful yet compact prose, Totally Different Head feels like an unpretentious music zine, but really what it does is get out of the way so the music can be the star. If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly on the same page, so check it out.
SSSSSSS: S/T cassette (self-released) SSSSSSS is a project from Clark Blomquist and Owen Fitzgerald, two longtime participants in North Carolina’s underground music scene. SSSSSSS is fast, noisy, and intense, but the project seems to come at punk and hardcore sideways, taking the paranoid sounds of early industrial music and dragging the BPMs into hardcore range. The drums are electronic, but rather than being sequenced, they’re played live on electronic pads which, along with the punky riffing, makes SSSSSSS sound like a hardcore band that’s been routed through the Matrix. While guitars propelling most songs are pretty straightforward and punk, the vocals are chopped and screwed, bathed in distortion and echo. The electronic drums and distorted vocals recall Big Black in places, but SSSSSSS isn’t coloring inside anyone else’s lines. I like the more straightforward punk songs, but my favorite track is “The Air,” which fuses the mid-tempo hardcore dirge with a sampled vocal track and a synth melody that reminds me of Neu!. If an alien species downloaded a text description of hardcore punk and tried to recreate the music from that, this might be the result.
Lacerate: S/T 12” (Konton Crasher) Konton Crasher brings us the debut record by this hardcore punk band out of Cleveland. Someone in Lacerate must have graduated from the Totalitär school of riff construction, because the catchy and furious riffage on this record is top notch. However, Lacerate differs from lesser Totalitär-inspired bands in their knack for constructing great songs. Like Feel the Darkness-era Poison Idea, these eight tracks aren’t just dishes of riff salad, but well-constructed pieces of music that have a logic to them, building to exciting climaxes and pumping the throttle in ways that make the ripping parts more ripping and the crushing parts more crushing. I also love the vocals, which eschew the normal d-beat growls and screams for a powerful bellow that’s half-shouted, half-sung, weaving another set of compelling melodies through the intricate riffing. This record is all power, all energy, and I keep flipping it again and again because I don’t want it to end. Killer.
Chain Cult: We’re Not Alone 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus) We’re Not Alone is a new two-song single from this punk band from Athens, Greece, composed during the pandemic and reflecting the weirdness of our current times. While the lyrics address isolation, this isn’t anything new for Chain Cult, who actually titled their first EP Isolation. The music is also in the same vein as the band’s previous releases, a style of heavy, dark, and melodic punk that I don’t hear too often these days. Chain Cult reminds me of the melodic bands that Feral Ward Records would put out… bands like Complications, Masshysteri, and Criminal Damage. It sounds like music for old heads who might have a faded Leatherface or Jawbreaker shirt mixed in among their “concert grey” hardcore tees (I am very much part of this club). As with Leatherface, the guitars are heavy yet packed with melancholic melodies, and the songs are grounded in anthemic UK punk and oi!. Putting out a two-song single is a bold move but both tracks are strong, dense with hooks and with a sense of emotional and political gravitas.
Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons: Jazz 4 Johnny 12” (Feel It Records) Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons is a new name from the fertile Cleveland scene that has been giving us delightfully weird and/or raging music for several decades. Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons are on the weirder end of that spectrum, their sound characterized by meandering grooves, lyrics that might be mundane or surreal depending on how you look at them, and guitars and synths that sound usettlingly out of tune. While pop music typically strides in a particular direction, moving toward some sort of musical climax or resolution, Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons’ music wanders the streets aimlessly, perhaps picking up a piece of garbage, examining it for a while, then unceremoniously casting it aside. If you’re into that long tradition of skewed Cleveland bands from the Electric Eels to the Homostupids to Folded Shirt to Perverts Again, you know the vibe. Jazz 4 Johnny is another thread in that tapestry, another glimpse into the fractured reality our minds work so tirelessly to tame.
Direct Threat: S/T cassette (Iron Lung Records) If you’re wondering if the debut cassette from this Denver band sounds like it looks, the answer is yes; it sounds exactly like it looks. This is hardcore for bald guys with boots, taking the oi!-tinged style of Negative Approach and Negative FX and sprinkling it with violence-inducing mid-paced breakdowns from the Cro-Mags school. Direct Threat has three gears: fast and tough, slow and tough, and catchy and tough, and they’re equally powerful playing in each. The recording is nasty, but clear enough that the power comes across. Don’t expect any surprises, but don’t expect to be disappointed either. This one goes.
Cemento: Killing Life cassette (Iron Lung Records) Iron Lung Records brings us the debut tape from this death rock / goth / post-punk band from sunny Los Angeles. Cemento’s sound ranges from brooding death rock that reminds me of their fellow Angelinos Christian Death (particularly on the opening track, “Cash Grab”), to punkier, more melodic post-punk a la the Chameleons. Cemento relies on familiar tropes of this style, including chorus effects on the guitars and double hi-hat patterns on the drums, but there’s solid songwriting at the core and a knack for earworm guitar hooks. And with eight tracks clocking in at 23 minutes, Killing Life feels more like a cassette album than a demo tape or teaser.
Little Angels: demo cassette (Kill Enemy Records) Little Angels is another killer hardcore band from Pittsburgh. I’m not sure what social circle they come from, if they’re part of the Loose Nukes / Rat Nip / White Stains crew of old heads, the younger crowd like Illiterates and Speed Plans, or some other group, but like all the bands mentioned above, they have the snotty, unhinged US hardcore sound down pat. Little Angels reminds me the most of Illiterates’ loose, manic, and catchy take on the style, with a vocal approach that’s bound to put money in the hands of some lozenge company or another. The recording is raw and in the red and the band bashes out 6 songs in as many minutes, leaving me with nothing not to like. Ripping.
Lysol: Soup for My Family 12” (Feel It Records) Olympia, Washington’s long-running Lysol is back with a new album, this time on Feel It Records, which seems like the perfect place for them. The range of labels that have released Lysol’s music—including Deranged, Perennial, Total Punk, Neck Chop—hints that Lysol is one of those bands equipped with a passport to travel between scenes, and one listen to their music will show you why people into hardcore, garage, and (Total) punk all like them. Like older bands such as the Worst or Tales of Terror, Lysol’s music is firmly rooted in the high-intensity rock and roll of Raw Power-era Iggy & the Stooges, but rather than the retro rock and roll schtick that a lot of Stooges-influenced bands glom onto, Lysol’s music adopts the intensity and heaviness of hardcore. Tracks like “C-4” and “Can’t Win” crackle with the riffy energy of Teengenerate, while others like “Blessures Graves” and “Ego Death” lean into hardcore’s kinetic forward lunge. The closing track, “Soup for My Family,” is an epic (by comparison) three and a half minute rave-up that adds a saxophone and betrays that Lysol’s members probably have pretty well-worn copies of Funhouse rubbing up against their copies of Raw Power. If you get the chance to see Lysol in a sweaty basement or club, that’s the ultimate experience, but Soup for My Family can add that same ambiance to any occasion.
Exil: Warning 12” (Armageddon Label) Sweden’s Exil is a new band featuring familiar faces from a bunch of Swedish bands you know if you’re older than 30, like DS-13, Epileptic Terror Attack, the Vicious, and UX Vileheads, a few of whose records Sorry State released way back when. I was a huge fan of those bands when they were around, but Warning doesn’t sound like a throwback to some old glory days… it stands toe to toe with pretty much any current hardcore punk you want to throw at it. While the approach resembles the 80s USHC-influence bands the members have played in before, Exil’s music still sounds fresh, packed full of inventive riffs, memorable lead guitar lines, whiplash arrangements, and anthemic vocals. Exil reminds me of bands like Torso and Warthog because it sounds like they know exactly what they want to achieve as a band and they have the musical chops to execute on that clarity of vision. There isn’t a moment of lag on this LP; even when Exil drops to a less frantic pace, it only means the energy comes out differently, like on the tense “History of Cleanliness” or the driving, Killing Joke-paced “Security.” Whether you’re coming at this as a fan of the members’ previous bands or you’re just looking for some killer contemporary international hardcore, Warning will not disappoint.
Nancy: Goes Country 12” (Neck Chop Records / Erste Theke Tonträger) We’ve been singing Nancy’s praises for years here at Sorry State, and Goes Country changes nothing about my opinion about the band. Which is that they fucking rule! The core of Nancy’s sound is high-energy punk with a glammy, power-pop edge. That glam rock twinge to the guitar-playing and the vocal melodies makes me think of the Boys or Protex, but Nancy’s hyperactive tempos are more akin to the Dickies, and the songwriting is in the same league as all three great bands. If Goes Country just strung together a bunch of punk-pop bangers like “Take a Pikksha” or “It’s Never 2 Late (2 Be You)” it would be killer, but there’s also this whole other level to the Nancy experience. Nancy has an off the wall sense of humor that ranges from the satirical to the silly to the surreal, and even funny songs like the title track warrant repeat listens. There are very few bands out there who can make me smile and get me excited the way Nancy does.
‘O’ Level: The Malcolm EP 7” (Breakout Records) Breakout Records brings us a killer repro of this all-time UKDIY banger from 1978. Do you like idiosyncratic pop songs recorded in cheap studios by young British men in the late 1970s who couldn’t play their instruments very well? If so, you should know ‘O’ Level. If you’ve dipped your toe into the UKDIY scene at all you probably already do, since their credentials are impeccable. The first lineup of ‘O’ Level was the same musicians as the lineup of Television Personalities that recorded that band’s first single, 14th Floor, and ‘O’ Level even gets a name check in the Television Personalities song “Part Time Punks” (though the titular anti-heroes don’t buy the ‘O’ Level single, passing it over in favor of the Lurkers). If you’re a TVPs fan, it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t love ‘O’ Level too, since their approach is essentially the same, writing hooky pop songs that would be saccharine if they didn’t slather them in rawness and grit. There’s also wit and humor. Take, for instance, the title track, which adopts the contrarian stance of celebrating Malcolm McLaren’s contribution to the burgeoning punk scene. All four tracks are essential if you like this style, and The Malcolm EP stands alongside the first several Television Personalities records and the Times’ Red with Purple Flashes as certified UKDIY canon.
The Destructors: Electronic Church EP 7” (Distort Reality Records) Portland’s Distort Reality brings us this EP compiling four tracks the Destructors recorded in 1982. I had one Destructors record in my collection before hearing this, 1983’s Forces of Law EP. I bought that record just because it looked interesting and punk, which it is, but I never looked into the band further. I was surprised to see 31 albums listed on the Destructors’ Discogs page, though most of them are from a post-2007 incarnation of the band that, based on the graphic design and song titles like “Butt Plug, Gag And Tit Clamp,” I probably won’t be checking out soon. The 80s incarnation of the Destructors, however, is well worth my time and yours. Their style is straightforward UK82-style punk, and if you like that sound, they deliver all the driving rhythms and catchy choruses you could hope for. All four tracks that appear here are solid, with “Electronic Church” and “Northern Ripper” shining a little brighter thanks to their sprightlier, GBH-ish tempos. If you’re a Destructors super-fan, the lack of info on the release might frustrate you. It’s unclear if these tracks have come out before, though “Electronic Church” sounds like the same version that appeared on a freebie single inside Trees and Flowers zine, albeit fuller and more powerful (the back cover notes these tracks have been remixed and remastered). However, if you’re like me and you’re coming to Electronic Church without intimate knowledge of the Destructors, you won’t find any reason to quibble with these four tracks of catchy, powerful UK82 punk.
Contempt: S/T 12” (Mendeku Diskak) If you’re a fan of modern oi!, keep an eye on Spain’s Mendeku Diskak label, which has been releasing some great current bands. While some of the label’s bands lean toward hardcore, Contempt’s sound is dark, melodic, and even sophisticated (at least as far as you can call oi! music sophisticated). The songs march forward at a steady, unhurried clip and the vocalist barks out the lyrics in a typically gruff style, but the music is unique, particularly for the style. The chord progressions have an epic quality that reminds me of Iron Maiden or something, but that triumphant feel in the riffing contrasts with guitar leads that are equally melodic, but with a slightly mournful sound. I’m reminded of some Leatherface songs (like “Dead Industrial Atmosphere,” for instance), but the band Contempt really recalls is Battle Ruins. While the vocals are gruff and earthy rather than soaring and melodic, there’s a shared approach to putting together the instrumental parts. Fans of Criminal Damage and Complications will warm right up to Contempt too.
- Page 1 of 14
- Next page