Suffocating Madness: S/T 7” (Roach Leg Records) Two of the hottest labels in the game right now, Roach Leg Records and Active-8 Records, bring us the debut by this new project from New York. Suffocating Madness has a few Sorry State connections, with Jesse from Sorry State alumni Bukkake Boys (as well as New York’s Extended Hell) on guitar and Pancho, who plays guitar on the upcoming Scalple LP on Sorry State, on vocals. That’s a strong pedigree, and Suffocating Madness lives up to any expectations you might have based on the lineup and the awesome cover art. While Suffocating Madness is a hardcore band, they also have elements of UK82 and metal in their sound, reminding me of records like Broken Bones’ Bonecrusher and GBH’s City Baby’s Revenge that added a hint of musical sophistication to the punk/hardcore formula. This is particularly true of the two songs on the b-side, both of which have Motorhead-ish galloping rhythms that are as infectious as they are intense. More than just stringing together sick riffs or building punishing sound, you get the impression that Suffocating Madness writes songs, as these four tracks stick to your ribs more than most bands that operate as these tempos. As catchy and song-oriented as this stuff is, though, it’s still 100% hardcore, ripping and intense. I’m not sure if Suffocating Madness is a full-fledged band or just a project, but I’m hoping we hear more because these four songs smoke and I think this band could make an incredible LP.
Chain Whip: Two Step to Hell 12” (Neon Taste Records) This new 12” EP from Vancouver’s Chain Whip is a non-stop barrage of punk energy. Chain Whip’s first album, 2019’s 14 Lashes, was a corker, a whirlwind of catchy west coast punk meets 80s US hardcore that was tailor made for my tastes, but Two Step to Hell is, in the label’s words, “meaner, faster, and a bit more pissed off.” As good as 14 Lashes was, this 6-track jolt of energy is even more exciting. Chain Whip fits squarely in the tradition of bands like the Freeze, the FU’s, Career Suicide, and Government Warning, all of whom took the anthemic, song-oriented punk of early Black Flag, the Germs, and the Adolescents and melded it with the blitzkrieg energy of pure USHC like Minor Threat. It’s rare to find a band that can both write songs this great and perform them with this level of precision and energy, but Chain Whip sounds like a flawless machine on this record. The songs fly by so quickly that you barely have time to process how killer they are. Take a track like “Blank Image,” whose great, TSOL-on-Jolt-Cola riff builds into a manic call and response chorus, repeats itself, then climaxes with a melodic guitar lead straight out of the Buzzcocks’ playbook. Every track is a miniature fast-motion masterpiece, reaching a crescendo with “Death Was Too Kind,” the Subhumans (Canaduh) singalong that closes the record. I’m tempted to complain that it’s only 9 minutes long, but this record is so killer that I wouldn’t want to upset its delicate balance with any unnecessary filler. Instead, I’ll just keep playing it three times in a row every time it hits my turntable. If you like hardcore punk, this is not one to miss.
Heavy Metal: V - Live At The Gas Station 12” (Total Punk Records) If you thought Heavy Metal’s well of inspiration ran dry after they dropped their fourth album, a 24-track double, in late 2019, then think again. V - Live At The Gas Station pares things back to a svelte 12 tracks, but they are all certified bangers. Heavy Metal’s silly name, robust discography, and irreverent lyrics might lead you to think their music is inconsistent or underdeveloped, but there isn’t a moment I’d shave off this record. The shoegaze/Britpop song called “Motorhead,” the oi!-ish “Boots of 69” (I think I heard the lyric “skinheads break wind” somewhere in there), and the classic melodic punk of “Bored Into My Mind” are all essential, but even the weirder moments like “Centipede Venom” and the obligatory off the wall cover (“Burning Love,” retitled “Gebrannte Amore”) are perfect, and would be the highlights of a lesser band’s album. Like their spiritual brethren ISS, Heavy Metal’s music is poppy enough to have you singing along by the second listen, but so dense and intricately crafted that it’ll take hours of turntable time to wrap your mind around it. If you love punk rock with hooks, wit, and energy, you should listen to Heavy Metal. And if you’ve already been buying Heavy Metal’s records, V is certainly not the place you want to stop.
English Dogs: To the Ends of the Earth (Bomb-All Records) I’ve known about English Dogs for a long time, but I haven’t spent much time with their music. The only English Dogs record I owned previous to this reissue was their third album, 1986’s Where Legend Began, and the thing I remember most about that record is that it sounds a lot like Metallica. I think it might be time for a deeper dive, though, because I’ve been obsessed with To the Ends of the Earth since this reissue came into the store. It still sounds kind of like Metallica to me, but I have more of a soft spot for this style of punky thrash / thrashy punk than I did a few years ago, having gotten obsessed with Sacrilege’s second album, Within the Prophecy, which has a similar vibe. Beyond having cool style, though, the songwriting on To the Ends of the Earth is just perfect. The band builds their songs around chunky riffs with lots of palm muting, but what really makes the songs take off is how they come together and build from part to part. This sturdy foundation allows the lead guitarist to go on all the long, crazy lead runs, weaving in and out of the riffs and peppering the tracks with memorable leads that remind me of Randy Uchida’s in that there are a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs, but with a strong sense of structure and melody. With only four tracks there isn’t room on To the Ends of the Earth for anything but excitement, and it builds to a brilliant crescendo with the final track, “Survival of the Fittest,” whose anthemic chorus always gets me yelling along. Having grown up in the era when the scene frowned upon punk bands “going metal,” I glossed over a lot of records in this vein, but like the aforementioned Sacrilege LP, Broken Bones’ Bonecrusher, or the Exploited’s Death Before Dishonour, To the Ends of the Earth is a masterpiece of metal-punk fusion.
Grauzone: S/T 12” (40th Anniversary Edition) 12” (We Release Whatever the Fuck We Want) This double LP compiles all the studio recordings by this Swiss post-punk band, including their lone album from 1980 and their three singles, including the all-time post-punk / minimal wave banger Eisbær (see my description from a couple years ago for more info on that). Grauzone grew out of the Swiss punk band Glueams (whose reissue we named Record of the Week a while back), but left behind punk for forward-thinking art rock, a trajectory not unlike Wire’s. Like Wire, Grauzone took punk’s intensity and melded it with art rock’s progressivism and the mechanical rhythms of Kraftwerk, arriving at a sound that is cold and industrial on one hand, but dense, complex, and intellectually gratifying on the other. I don’t know this for certain, but it sounds like punk inspired these folks to play music, but once they got the instruments in their hands, they realized they like the b-side of David Bowie’s Low more than they liked the Sex Pistols or the Clash. If you like the basic touchstones of post-punk—Joy Division’s Closer, Wire’s Chairs Missing, PiL’s Metal Box, Siouxsie & the Banshees’ Join Hands—it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t love this album. And if you like the album, the singles are just as essential, particularly the dance floor smasher Eisbær. Oh, and if you’re a deep head, we’re also carrying a limited box set version that adds additional live material and a thick booklet that expands on the already-informative liner notes that appear on this 2x12” version.
Sial: Zaman Edan 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus) This record is so good that, earlier this week, it single-handedly pulled me out of a deep funk. Feeling exhausted by the treadmill of work, I had trouble getting enjoyment from music. I spent most of my free time sitting in silence, reading and searching for something interesting or exciting. I was in a negative headspace, but as soon as I listened to this record, I felt energized. This record is so exciting, so daring, and so powerful. Singapore’s Sial has always been on the artier end of the spectrum, pulling from the same well of inspiration as bands like Lebenden Toten or Horrendous 3D, taking Confuse and Gai-style noise-punk and emphasizing that style’s psychedelic elements. However, the two tracks on Zaman Edan go way beyond that. Some of its power undoubtedly comes from the fact that, rather than just a stylistic experiment, the record is a thoughtful and passionate response to the current state of the world. As the description puts it, “Side A and B features one song each, which translates to “You are born to fight” and “You are born to die”. “Zaman Edan” itself means Age of Craziness or Mad Times in English. To put it simply, this record is about all the broken promises that the state made towards minority voices, and continues to make in this perpetual Zaman Edan.” Even though I don’t understand the lyrics, the music says plenty on its own. Like the Pandemic, as soon as you think you have your footing, this record throws something new at you, keeping you on your toes. And it is long; you might assume a two-song single would be a concise statement, but Zaman Edan has a stretched out, epic quality; a maximalist single… a contradiction in terms… a paradox. And while the record is eloquent, it is also (and this is another way they resemble Lebenden Toten and Horrendous 3D) fucking RELENTLESS, a total in your face barrage of hardcore punk. For me, this is one of the essential hardcore punk records of 2021.
Bootlicker: S/T 12” (Neon Taste Records) After several attention-getting EPs, Canada’s Bootlicker released their first 12” record, and it’s a beast! I’ve liked all of Bootlicker’s previous releases, but there’s no denying the band has a certain spring in its step for this 12”. Soundwise they haven’t changed much—they still bring together the best parts of driving UK82, classic USHC, and a touch of d-beat—but everything feels totally locked in here. The production is strong too. Interestingly, the guitar tone is quite thin, scratchy, and undistorted, sort of like Regulations. This might seem like a strange choice for music so brawny and powerful, but it works, leaving the bass and drums plenty of room in the mix to deliver an extra helping of wallop. As with all of Bootlicker’s previous releases, there’s an emphasis on strong songwriting here, with dynamic arrangements that keep you on your toes and no shortage of catchy, chant-along choruses, climaxing with the anthemic closer, “Jackboot.” This is a flat-out rager, balancing power, precision, and catchiness in a way very few bands can match.
Psico Galera: Le Stanze Della Mente 12” (Beach Impediment) We last heard from Psico Galera back in 2017 when they released the Senza Via Di Fuga 7” on La Vida Es Un Mus. That record was cool (check my description from back then if you need a refresher), but this new one is something else, a knock-you-on-the-floor monster of a hardcore record that doesn’t sound like anything else in your collection. Yeah, there are reference points; the ones I hear most clearly are that style of “spooky” hardcore that came out of Italy in the mid-80s on records like Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers’ Furious Party, Wretched’s La Tua Morte Non Aspetta, and Indigesti’s Osservati Dall’Inganno. However, Psico Galera is not a worship band, taking that sound and turning the “weird” knob until it maxes out and then breaks the fuck off. They do this mostly with heavy use of effects on the guitars and vocals, so heavy that the effects often overwhelm the hardcore elements, spilling into the kinds of screeching and crackling I associate with power electronics and harsh industrial music. Combining those two things isn’t entirely new (see New York’s Uniform among many, many others), but the way it comes together here feels distinctive, natural, and uncontrived. And it works even better because there are great hardcore songs at the center of these tracks that would still make for a fantastic LP even if the production was more straightforward. However, Psico Galera wasn’t willing to let us off that easy, warping and obliterating these songs until they sound like a Borg colony that’s experiencing network errors and is about to collapse. It’s fucking wild and exhilarating, and I cannot stop listening to it.
Knowso: Rare Auld Trip / Psychological Garden 12” (Drunken Sailor) I feel like I never hear people talking about them, but for me Cleveland’s Knowso is one of the most distinctive and exciting punk bands currently putting out music. Maybe they haven’t caught on because it’s easy to get into the weeds thinking / talking / writing about everything surrounding their music. (Like, for instance, that there are at least three bands—Knowso, Cruelster, and Perverts Again—that share members and sound very similar, or that all of Knowso’s releases feature distinctive artwork from cartoonist Nathan Ward, who seems to be the band’s driving force, handling bass, guitar, and vocals.) However, when I put all of that shit aside, when I just put on this record and listen to it, I am fucking blown away every time. While I’m not 100% confident in my ability to distinguish Knowso, Cruelster, and Perverts Again in a blind taste taste, the sound here is instantly identifiable and utterly distinctive. Just like when you see a red Coke can and you know what it is no matter what language or script “Coca-Cola” is written in, once you hear this nervous, jittery punk with the paranoid-sounding, speak-sung vocals, you know you have landed squarely in this different universe (via Cleveland). And not only is the sound distinctive, it’s fucking great. The rhythms are so precise, creative, and memorable, similar to what bands like Lithics or Fitness Womxn are doing but much tighter, faster, and more confrontational. The riffs are also outstanding, and Knowso has great two-guitar dynamics, something I’m always a sucker for. All of that would make for an excellent band or record, but what pushes Knowso over the top for me are the lyrics. I’ve trained myself to ignore bland and even bad lyrics, but that is not a problem here. Actually, these lyrics are so great that I’m happy to sit and read the lyric sheet without putting the record on. I love lyrics (and other types of word art) that present you with a potent image and just sort of leave it there for you to roll around in your brain. (I’m reminded of an interview with Ian Mackaye where he pointed out the line “the milk bottles stand empty” in Wire’s song “Ex-Lion Tamer,” noting how that image said so little but so much at the same time.) Here are some of my favorite cryptic bits of wisdom: from “Turning Planet,” “Turning planet / I see you spin / a hundred miles in my shoes;” from “Boredom in the Valley,” “Old neighbor in the night car / Gotta sloppy gait when he walk to the car / Two way radio no signal / Ke8dyv.” I love those more cryptic lines, but it’s not just free jazz word salad. “You Lick the Boot” engages with the whole BLM / Defund the Police conversation, while “The Plants” is the environmentalist anthem only Knowso could write. Long story short, the eight songs on this record are modern punk masterpieces. Maybe they’re too weird for you, but they’re everything I want from punk. All hail Knowso.
Nog Watt: Fear 7” (Final Doomsday Records) Fear, the 1985 7” by the Dutch band Nog Watt, is one of the greatest hardcore records of all time. Some records land on that list because of straightforward brutality (S.O.A., Negative Approach), some because of their nimble speed (D.R.I., Koro, Deep Wound), and some because of their unique vibe (Die Kreuzen, Wretched, Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers), and while Nog Watt has all of those characteristics to one degree or another, their claim to fame is the density and sophistication of their music. Their songs are lightning fast but densely woven with intertwining melodies and rhythms. The band has outstanding players on every single instrument. The bass, drums, guitar, or vocals might take center stage and as soon as it seems like they’re stealing the show another instrument comes in to do something even cooler. Fear reminds me of Dead Kennedys’ Plastic Surgery Disasters in that the songs have an over-arching pop structure that makes them instantly memorable, yet when you listen for the details you realize how intricate the songs are and how the performances have an almost superhuman combination of power and delicacy. Every song on Fear is great, but the “hits” like “Going On” and “Big Warning, Big Mistake” (your “hits” for this record may be different) are among the most perfect pieces of punk rock ever recorded by anyone, anywhere. Maybe this isn’t a record you need to buy before you get Black Flag, the Misfits, the Circle Jerks, or the DK’s, but if you are into hardcore punk beyond that level—if you’ve enjoyed compilations like P.E.A.C.E. or Welcome to 1984—this is a record that should, without question, be in your collection. I also want to point out what an incredible job Final Doomsday did with this reissue. When I compare this version with my original copy (subtle flex), it is almost eerie how alike they look. It is difficult to recreate the look and feel of records that were made in the 80s, but Final Doomsday knocked it out of the park. The audio, aside from the reissue being a hair quieter than the original, is similarly indistinguishable. To further whet your appetite, I’ll note the pressing sold out from the label instantly and Sorry State’s stockpile is dwindling rapidly. I hope there’s a repress because I want this on the shelves at the store forever, but given the current supply issues in the record pressing world, I encourage you to jump on this immediately if my sales pitch has won you over.
Neon Christ: 1984 12” (Southern Lord Records) I think this marks the first time Sorry State has chosen a Record Store Day exclusive release as our Record of the Week, but 1. I love this record and 2. as of right now we still have some stock, so it’s not like you have to stand in line for hours to lay your hands on this record. 1984 compiles two recording sessions by 80s Atlanta hardcore band Neon Christ. The driving force behind Neon Christ was guitarist William Duvall who, after Neon Christ’s demise, moved out to California to play second guitar in Bl’ast! and (after a bunch of stuff in between I’m sure, including a short-lived band with Mike Dean of C.O.C.) ended up as the singer in Alice In Chains, which is still his job today. Those connections are kind of wild, but I would love Neon Christ just as much if the members’ current resumes included little more than sitting on a couch and reminiscing about the good old days. Neon Christ’s Parental Suppression EP is a great slice of under the radar USHC with a unique sound. One thing I love about Neon Christ is that they had several different tricks up their sleeve. They were one of the fastest thrash bands around, rivaling bands like the Neos, DRI, and Deep Wound. However, they also made frequent forays into song-oriented punk. “The Draft Song” and “Neon Christ” have more in common with anthemic west coast punk bands like the Adolescents, and not only do these songs provide a welcome reprieve from the thrashing but also they’re great examples of the style. 1984 contains Neon Christ’s 1984 EP Parental Suppression on side A, while the b-side collects the songs the band recorded at a second session six months later. The latter tracks came out previously on a (semi-official?) double 7”. Being only six months later these tracks aren’t too different from the ones on the 7”, but “The Knife that Cuts So Deep” leans even harder into the pop thing than the songs on the 7”, with a kind of Homestead Records-type, “post-hardcore band trying to write songs that are a little more palatable” vibe. It was too much for me in my younger days, but I really like it now. That second recording isn’t as strong as the EP, with a muddier mix and some reverb obscuring the band’s power, but the songs are still killer. As for the packaging, while the cover art sticks out like a sore thumb, the rest of it is excellent. The LP-sized booklet full of photos, flyers, and a detailed oral history of the band is essential, and the sound is fantastic. According to the jacket, the release went through an all-analog process from the original tapes, and I can confirm it sounds great. Hopefully this is one of those Record Store Day releases that gets wider circulation, because this is an essential piece of American hardcore punk history that anyone with an interest in that style and era should get their hands on.
Reaksi: Esok Hari Kepunyaan Kita EP 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus) La Vida Es Un Mus brings us the debut EP from this new band featuring Yeap from Pisschrist on guitar and vocals. Before I give you my take, I want to direct your attention to Fahmi Reza’s words on the EP. I didn’t read what Fahmi wrote until after I’d listened to Esok Hari Kepunyaan Kita EP quite a bit, and I’m ashamed to say that most of what Fahmi said about the band and their lyrics went over this monolingual white American punk’s head. But that’s why we’re into this shit, right? The reason we search out records and bands from all over the globe is because we’re interested in those people’s perspectives… we want to understand better what the world looks like through their eyes. I was pretty fucking stoked on this record before I knew what the words meant. (To tell the whole truth, I wasn’t even sure what language they were in. They’re in Bahasa, an Indonesian language that Google Translate seems to have no trouble with. “Reaksi” means “reaction” and “Esok Hari Kepunyaan Kita” translates as “Tomorrow Is Ours.”) Reaksi cops a lot of moves from the No Future catalog (particularly the Partisans and Blitz), but they do it well, with the same anthemic sensibility of Rixe but with a tougher edge… I’d bet money these folks really appreciate the Ultra Violent EP. I also like the track “Awas” (“Watch Out”), which has a Ramones-y feel. Anyway, come for the music and the bad-ass alligator on the cover, stay for the education…
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