Monday, August 17, 2009

Murder By Death/O'Death Split 7"

"Murder By Death are releasing the first of 7 records in a 7" series where they trade covering songs with other bands they know. The second 7" will feature MBD performing O'Death's "Home" and O'Death performing MBD's "Brother"."
- via Murder By Death's official website

The split opens with Murder By Death's cover of "Home", a string-driven southern gothic carousel that would sound just at home on Who Will Survive... as it does on Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin.

O'Death's version of "Brother" follows, initially starting slower and more measured than the original, only to pick up to a frenzied, squealing pace come the chorus, sounding very much like the musical output of the barnyard band at a meth addict's country jamboree in the process.

Murder By Death/O'Death split

Monday, August 10, 2009

Air Raid Barcelona - Air Raid Barcelona

These guys put their demo up for free, and it's really good, and you should listen.

C'monnnnnnnnnnn. Do itttttttt.


Summary: Thick, jangly, Latterman-influenced pop-punk with hooks that sound pried from the cold, dead hands of Shorebirds (or perhaps some other band with a little more name recognition), with a little West Coast flare thrown in for good measure.

If that sounds at all up your alley, check it out.

Air Raid Barcelona

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Agnostic Front - Victim in Pain

she says she likes the agnostic front/they've got crazy fast guitars

A definitive attribute of early hardcore was its ability to push boundaries, be they political or musical. Hardcore advocated a different message and a different style with which to promote it, eschewing the almost glam sensitivities of late 70's punk rock for a more stripped down, back-to-basics approach. Shaved heads eclipsed the mohawk, and the ideals of punk shifted from pseudo-counter-culturalism to the notion of a scene based on acceptance (even if it didn't always abide by those ideals).

But as the 80's progressed, it became clear that the new flag-bearers of the hardcore landscape would not be the ones who played it safe and stuck only to the formulas established by the early luminaries of the genre; you can only re-hash Minor Threat so many times before people stop listening. And so hardcore pushed out of its box. Some bands experimented, infusing shots of country and Americana into their approach, crossing boundaries and gaining the closest thing hardcore had had to a major audience yet. Others slowed down the tempo and became more introspective, focusing their songwriting abilities rather than submitting to the 'harder, faster louder' approach borne by earlier bands. And others still went in the exact opposite direction, pushing the envelope in the only way they could, by taking hardcore and making it heavier, faster, louder and more aggressive than ever before. Agnostic Front belonged to this last group.

Unsurprisingly given their playing style, Agnostic Front hailed from New York City, a place whose hardcore scene they eventually helped define (alongside many other local bands) with their blending of grimy, down-turned punk and fast-paced thrash metal heaviness. In 1984, the band broke out with their seminal hardcore album Victim in Pain, which, for better or for worse, was hugely influential in the NYHC scene. This lead to further crossovers between hardcore and thrash metal, not the least of which by Agnostic Front themselves, that, depending on your point of view, either showcase hardcore at its most aggressive and fully realized or at its most mindlessly macho and insular. None of which takes away the fact that, as Victim in Pain shows us, Agnostic Front were a force to be reckoned with.

Listening to the album, the guitars are no doubt the first thing to be noticed. They have a very dark quality to them that seems universal in 80's punk, be it American or British, and the rate at which they're played borders on suffocation. Combined with the forceful and often relentless drumming, the whole package blares about like a sonic buzzsaw. While the song structures are fairly typical for hardcore, there's still something notable in the ferocity with which they're played. And yet, in spite of this when the band relaxes and takes their fingers off the button just a little bit, this results in Agnostic Front's best material. The typical Agnostic Front song volleys back and forth between the aforementioned buzzsaw-style passages and a selection of more measured parts that help to reel in the aggression, and thereby put a manner of emphasis on it. This isn't to say that the occasional straight-up barn-burner isn't there, nor to say that it doesn't absolutely kill - "Hiding Inside" is as strong a song as you'll find from the Agnostic Front. Just to say that when it comes to tracks like "Blind Justice" and "Last Warning", it's the comparably slower sections that make these songs notable, while the blast beat-style drum sections work only to de-sensitize the listener to the song's better sections.

Blink and you'll miss it - eleven songs, fifteen minutes are all that comprise Victim in Pain, but that doesn't make it any less of a hardcore classic. While their songwriting often suffered from immaturity, and while they may not hold up as well to modern ears as some of their more experimental and more influential peers, Agnostic Front still feel like the masters of their own niche: heavier than hardcore, more down-to-earth than metal, and as driven as anyone or anything else out there.

victim in pain

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Union Young America - Kill the Man in Everything 7"

This is an absolutely fantastic 7" from mid-90's Ontario hardcore band Union Young America. Originally made in 1995, this three song EP is the group's only known release to date, and it features a sound similar to Admiral, or Three Penny Opera, or maybe a gruffer Native Nod. Complex, powerful jams that mix beautiful instrumental sparsity with an ear for melody and a predisposition for intense, excitable crescendos. The guitars in "Dem's Be Fighting Words" make this worth a listen on their own, but each song has at least one part that makes you think "wow", including the gentle, sinewy breaks during "Kevorkian" and the soaring choruses of "What You Know".

If the name alone doesn't intrigue you into giving this a listen, then I don't know what else I can say.

you bet i fucking tried

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One Year of failing [the rorschach test]

that's right everybody! it's been exactly one full year since i had anything better to do with my time.

fuck yeah

and to celebrate, i'm having cake.

i do not know how to draw cake.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Modern Life is War - Modern Life is War 7"

Early Modern Life is War release, a three song 7" of noisy, aggressive, and above all else, passionate hardcore punk. From the throwback hooks and infectious chorus of "Destination Death or Better Days", to the fist-pumping chants of "Fakes Like You (Make Me Sick)", this EP shows off Modern Life is War at their most anthemic. And while their sound isn't as ground-breakingly fresh or well-developed as it would become, there is plenty of intersting work on display, with the dense riffs and seething desperation of "The Farmer's Holiday Association" sounding a lot like the band circa Witness. This is a great, blood-pumping release from one of the best hardcore bands of the decade. Raise your voice (and your fist) and sing along.

Modern Life is War 7"

Friday, July 3, 2009

Admiral - Admiral 7"

Admiral was a short-lived emo/hardcore band from the early 90's, the members of which would on to play in Navio Forge and Hoover as the decade wore on.

The group maintains the atmosphere and wall-of-sound guitarwork that would be prevalent on Navio Forge, but here it is imbued with a sense of melody and songwriting mechanics that make the final product as catchy as it is moody. Sounding at times equal parts Naked Raygun and The Hated, the band merges post-punk despondence ("Brother Can You Spare a Dime") and D.C.-influenced hardcore nostalgia ("Horns Lay Silent") into a dynamic and interesting listen.

This is really great stuff for anyone who likes Rites of Spring, Gray Matter, or any of the aforementioned bands.

Admiral 7"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Killing Joke - Killing Joke

Killing Joke is one of those bands that are made an enigma by their own inconsistency. At times, they are electrifying, a post-punk/proto-industrial hybrid that feels a full decade ahead of their time, playing moody, driven music loaded with political and existential angst. The band’s combination of ‘doom-and-gloom’ metal heaviness with the faster tempos of the burgeoning punk rock scene was notably different from the parallel direction hardcore bands were taking in order to further push the envelope in its stress of mood and atmosphere, as opposed to the catch-all hardcore solution of ‘just play a little faster’. Not only was this combination unique for post-punk, a movement splintering more and more into arty, futurist-aping synth bands, but it was a direct precursor, both spiritually and sonically, for the industrial metal movement of the late 80’s and 90’s. Listening to their self-titled album now with the benefit of almost 30 years of hindsight, Killing Joke practically define industrial as we now recognize it, even though they pre-date our current understanding of it, existing in a time when industrial was an often radically experimental genre lead by the Throbbing Gristles of the world.

And yet, for a band so well ahead of their time, Killing Joke is as much an object of frustration as they are an object of adulation. The group seems to exist so much better in singles and playlist snippets than they do on a full album listen. Sure, a track like “The Wait” is the kind of thing that will force you to take notice, comprising of an infectiously brooding buzz saw guitar line and a rapacious tempo that once again heralds industrial comparisons. The song is noisy like a steel mill and excessively bleak, yet there is no denying its inherent catchiness. And it’s not the only highlight: Opener “Requiem” is EBM at its most anthemic, a dance-y affair where the appeal transcends the no doubt gothic core of Killing Joke’s audience, and “Wardance” is an echoic, strongly-paced synth-metal track where the vocals are spitted out in a guttural, Germanic rasp.

Ultimately, what makes these songs great is their sense of urgency. Not only are they the fastest-paced songs on Killing Joke, but they just carry with them a feeling of intensity. Elsewhere, however, the band lulls about far too much to keep up this feeling. “SO36” is a plodding gothic waltz that never goes anywhere interesting, content just to linger awkwardly and take up space. This is symptomatic of a greater problem at work in Killing Joke. Too often the focus on atmosphere comes at the expense of listenability, and while it is this unique dynamic that makes Killing Joke so fresh and different, you get the sense that they don’t really know what they’re doing with it yet. Which is a shame, considering that just a few years later they’d be moving in the opposite direction, with their sound coming off as overdramatic and cheesy as opposed to overly insular.

So while it is flawed, Killing Joke remains a landmark, both for its influence and its ingenuity. Great at times yet occasionally middling in quality, as an album, it still manages to hit more than it misses. With their debut album, Killing Joke escaped the routine experimentation post-punk was mired in, and instead created something new, something rough, yet something genuine enough to be the launching pad for an entire generation of artists. And while it’s easy to get frustrated by what could have been, it’s just as easy to think of what couldn’t and wouldn’t have been without a jumping off point to begin with.

Killing Joke

Sunday, June 21, 2009