RADIO SILENCE: A Selected Visual History Of American Hardcore Music (Nathan Nedorostek and Anthony Pappalardo, MTV Press)
Add this book to the growing number of archival treatments of hardcore. “Radio Silence,” compiled by Nathan Nedorostek and Anthony Pappalardo (ex-Ten Yard Fight/In My Eyes guitarist), approaches hardcore with more of a visual emphasis, in case the title didn’t tip you off! The images have catalogue numbers for each “artifact,” like in the sort of book you’d get from an art exhibit. But those items alone can’t provide a complete presentation of US hardcore punk throughout the 80s and 90s, in its different incarnations and dispersal into various permutations. That comes from reflections from the participants and the photography that accompanies the ephemera that’s “survived.” Blessed be the pack rats so Anthony and Nathan could, for instance, borrow my original Siege demo and hand-written lyric sheet that one of the guys had given me before it had even been officially released. And I’m grateful to have gotten it back in the same condition or this book might have been a posthumous effort from those two! The leather jacket with hand-painted logos that hangs on the front cover is nothing by itself—it has to be filled in by a human, breathing entity and the photographs that follow manage to present it in at least a two-dimensional form and the stories flesh it out further although, as I said, that’s more of a sidebar than in the “oral history” type books about this music. And they’ve collected an impressive array of stuff—original layouts for milestone records like Minor Threat’s “Salad Days,” personal letters, t-shirts and records. Not flyers, though... and that’s been covered more extensively in other books, anyway.
One of the more interesting pieces is on the graphic design of hardcore, written by a designer/artist/filmmaker named Mark Owens. In his piece “On To Greener Pastures,” Owens traces the evolution of Dischord Records’ visual presentation, pointing out the block, rub-on letters used on the early releases to the transitional nature of the “Salad Days” sleeve. And the lettering sheet is pictured across from a Dada journal from 1923 and it features an X with “DA” in the four quadrants. I don’t know if that was intentional on the part of Dischord co-founder and Minor Threat drummer Jeff Nelson but it’s interesting, nonetheless. And I never knew that the Dischord logo itself was inspired by the Saints’ logo but it’s true.
A lot of ground is covered—the birth of independent punk itself, in the LA and SF scenes, the early 80’s origins with the DC bands, of course, Boston, NYC, LA, the nexus of skating and hardcore, the introduction of graffiti style and the late 80s sXe eruption. Then it goes in different directions in the 90s, such as with the more chaotic-sounding hardcore created by bands on the Gravity label, for whom the visual packaging was just as important as the music inside. There’s a gallery of records and t-shirts that show similarities of design, the use of certain icons, such as the American flag, which is used for more of a patriotic purpose on an Agnostic Front record, but the flag-covered coffins on Hüsker Dü’s “Land Speed Record” and Born Against’s “Nine Patriotic Hymns For Children” cover show how it can make a not-so-subtle political statement in the former’s case and an ironic one in the latter.
A combination of coffee table book (although not really big enough to fit that description) and written history, with a good ratio of each and the book does a pretty decent job covering the subject matter.
REKKIDS AND SUCH...
FPO-Ne/Znaes/Sto/E/Toa/Covek (Third Party, LP/Junk Cola, CD)
FPO/SEEIN RED-Split (Refuse, CD)
SMART BOMB-demo (CD-R)
Wow—“Ne Znaes etc...” is the best stuff I’ve ever heard from the Macedonian band FPO (Forever Positively Obsessed). While the velocity remains from previous material, there’s not as much of the warp-blast and things are kept musically interesting within the band’s hard-edged framework. There’s a tough rock’n’roll quality to “Do You See, Do You Hear?” and “We’re Not In ‘17/’77/’99” (both are English translations). “It’s Other’s Fault” bounces back and forth between medium speed and “Seein’ Red”-inspired thrash. Vasko’s voice sounds like a cross between Kurt from DRI and Vic Bondi of Articles of Faith. Speaking of Seein Red (the band, not the Minor Threat song), FPO’s split CD with the long-time Dutch band came out around a year ago but I got it at the same time as “Ne Znaes.” FPO’s portion is a 14 minute untitled song or “suite” or whatever you want to call it since one segment flows into the next without any separation. The totality of their hardcore musical arsenal appears, ultimately hitting a chaotic conclusion and fading out with a spoken segment in their native language. Seein Red’s speed attack has always been hit and miss and that remains the case here although it’s still a powerful approach. One thing I really enjoyed about this package, though, are the essays written by Vasko from FPO, the guys from Seein Red and Robert from Refuse Records, who lives in Poland. They tell their life stories, talk about their countries and relate it to their love for punk. Vasko comes from the former Yugoslavia and talks about the fall of communism, as does Robert, and how capitalism in each of their countries have had a worsening effect. Finally, Vasko has a new band called Smart Bomb and their four song CD demo is a fairly good start, although they could work on their tightness a bit. Basic, stripped-down old school hardcore. (Third Party: www.myspace.com/thirdxpartyrecords, Refuse: www.refuserecords.prv.pl, Smart Bomb: www.myspace.com/smartxbomb)
KUNG FU KILLERS-Fists Of Fury (BGT, CD)/5 separate 7” singles (Zodiac Killer)
This “mysterious” New Jersey band did an EP on TKO Records in 2001 and are back from... well, somewhere. Rumor has it some people have played in Electric Frankenstein, the Undead and Slap of Reality, to name just a few bands. You have your choice of formats here—13 songs on CD, including three cover songs (Bad Brains, Adolescents and obscure 80s power poppers the Monroes) or 10 of ‘em (sans covers) spread over five 7” singles, limited to 300 sets and, if you put the covers side by side, it forms a panoramic illustration of a ninja attack on the band. The Moby Grape’s record label did that in 1968, simultaneously releasing five singles and an album but KFK don’t sound anything like that. No hippie shit here—in fact, they don’t much care for “Hippies In Punk Clothing.” It’s hardcore punk with a number of older influences, including a strong west coast bent. Naming one of their songs “Raise High The Black Flag” shows the hand a bit—quite a bit with the name-checking of old-school bands. “Fairly energetic and catchy in spots, though hardly groundbreaking. I like the lyrics, “Welcome To The Prison Planet,” about the encroaching police state. (PO Box 294, Whippany, NJ 07981, www.myspace.com/thekungfukillers or www.zodiackillerrecords.com)
LIMB FROM LIMB-Death.Famine.Plague (No Options, LP)
Cheery and heavy sounds. Voetsek had a song about not getting a record if the band’s logo was illegibile and I had to cheat and check the spine to make it out but that’s just a trifling detail. Plenty of volume and the sound is forged from a band like Sacrilege. After the Bombs do a similar thing but there’s no echo on the vocals and the microphone is commanded by a guy (Barnical Byron) and he has an unholy growl Sure, there’s an apocalyptic vision on some songs but, within these dark musical trappings, there are also laments about the day-to-day existence and how people get conditioned and ground down by it. The riffs are bludgeoning and, even if there aren’t really any hooks, Limb From Limb’s sonic pound is more than enough. (PO Box 22285, Oakland, CA 94623, www.myspace.com/nooptionsrecords).
RATIONAL ANIMALS-Perception Becomes Reality (Feral Kid/Crotch Rot, 7” EP)
This is a musical mental breakdown announcement—with guitars, if I may be so bold to make a half-Clash reference (“Know Your Rights”—look it up). Rational Animals create a Flag-ish tumult to muck up your senses. Actually, I make the reference to the four-bar boys due mainly to the guitar slash but there’s a similar darkness, a lurking danger. Howling vocals on the edge of sanity and a shattering sound to give ‘ya nightmares. (29 Custer St., Buffalo, NY 14214, www.myspace.com/feralkidrecords)
RESIST-Resistography (Profane Existence, 2xCD)
With 50 songs and over a dozen live video clips, this is an exhaustive (and exhausting if you play it all at once) compilation from Portland’s Resist, whose heyday was in the early 90s. They definitely drew a page from Final Conflict and, being from Portland, some faster hardcore influences ala Poison Idea definitely rubbed off on ‘em as well. By the time they got around to recording the “Innocence Is Bliss” album in ‘93/94, half done with original vocalist Tom Nims and the other half with his temporary replacement Tony Mengis, they’d tightened up considerably and created some powerful music but all of it is pretty raging. As for the visual content, on the first disc, it’s taken from the early 90s. The stuff on the second disc is from some recent reunion shows and it looks as though that reunion will be permanent. Judging by the live footage, they still sound vital. (PO Box 18051, Minneapolis, MN 55418, www.profaneexistence.com)
RUNS-Piss and Shit (Criminal IQ, 7” EP)
Got this as a CD-R awhile back and now it’s been waxed on CrimIQ. Hmm... considering the title, should I use that term? Too late. This is silly, minimalist punk made by two guys from Ottawa, assisted by their loyal rhythm machine. In fact, there’s an ode to that on “Beatcraft Rules” (“I don’t need no fucking drummer...”) The pain exuded on “Constipation” is more real than any screamo-yowler could ever muster—fiber deficiency is as real as it gets. To quote the ever-quotable Spinal Tap, there’s a fine line between stupid and clever and the Runs know that. I’m not sure if it’s all that clever, but it’s fun, in a novelty sort of way. (3057 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL 60618, www.criminaliq.com)
SBV-Raw Nerve (Mankind, CD)
SBV have been around for a bit but this is their first album. The sound is upbeat, youthful hardcore with Chad’s Dubar-esque vocals, meaning they’re high and soaring but the problem is they’re also off-key quite a bit of time. The other problem is on the thrashier material, they sound disjointed, the problem being the drumming is on the stiff side (not the case for the slower tempos). Well-produced and with buzzing riffs but it doesn’t really hold together all that well. The two earlier 7”s I have featured the same sort of approach and the same weaknesses but the rougher sound quality actually worked to their advantage a bit. Not so much here. I’ll give ‘em kudos for the clever song title “Excuse Me, But Haven’t We Met Before?” and what’s funny is the scream from the song that leads into that one is very similar to the one that ends Minor Threat’s “No Reason.” Does that make sense? (PO Box 265, Bellflower, CA 90707, www.mankindrecords.com)
SAID RADIO-Tidal Waves And Teeth (Mankind, CD)
Well, they didn’t exactly go all-out on the artwork—just a black cover with the band name and title—but this record grew on me a bit after a couple of listens. The latest band for Eric Ozenne, late of the Nerve Agents, Redemption 87 and Unit Pride way back in the day and he’s joined by his Agents compatriot Dante Sigona. Said Radio retain some elements of the Nerve Agents’ dark, edgy hardcore sound and there’s also some TSOL-like nightmarish atmospherics in the guitar sound, as well. I guess the black cover fits the mood. Eric retains the bark ‘n bite but he also sings in a mournful timbre at times. “Cue The Crickets” is probably the closest thing to a throwback hardcore assault but the guitar lines float over the chorus. There’s nearly a self-improvement message to some of these songs—breaking out of life’s ruts, breaking free of self-medication or, in the case of “Killing Her Softly,” anorexia. Not a rerun of past projects but harnessing the intensity into different musical modes. (PO Box 265, Bellflower, CA 90707, www.mankindrecords.com)
SEASICK-Ouroboros (Soulrebel, 12”)
Interestingly, there’s another recent record with this title, that being the Germ Attak LP. It’s a symbol of a snake swallowing its own tail. An endless circle? People doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over? I don’t know crud about Greek Mythology (its origin, apparently) but there’s some heady, near-intellectualized lyrical matter here that cover issues of religion, economic division and even those who wish to separate the political from the punk, to simplify things a bit. This one-sided 12” (the other side has an etching of said snake) begins with a tribal intro called “Fallacies” that gradually builds up before careening into the speed bomb of “Leviathan.” The double-speed hammer assault for “Collapse” isn’t quite as effective but that’s only a brief misstep (and not even a major one) for this band’s dramatic, energetic hardcore sound. There’s a 90s era vibe for me, in terms of pairing musical intensity with esoteric lyricism but this is furious, in-your-face stuff, concluding with a lurching emanation about the “human anguish, pain and evil” brought on by religion. Amen. Incidentally, both this record and the Soulrebel comp reviewed below come with a download card so you can load up your MP3 player with these loud sounds. (www.myspace.com/xsoulrebelrecordsx)
TITANARUM-Spastis Progressivus Aggressiorum (self-released, 7” EP)
Vocalist Kenny Leek used to growl ‘n scream for the underrated Neighbors and this newish San Deigo band have a similarly fast, unfettered hardcore attack, although there’s a little more metal molt/damage in the guitar lines and jerkin’ tempo shifts. Along with the music, Kenny’s lyrics show a man unwilling to tone it down, as it says on “Aging Quickly”—and that’s both musically or in the way he approaches his life. Pessimistic, angry, doubtful, questioning but also maintaining a defiant individualism. A “Muckhead,” as he calls himself. Shit, did this guy just attend the same high school reunion I did? So what’s the coping mechanism? This music, of course—“the spastic bands I that I get to play in/That’s why I live life.” The music keeps him going. Same here. (www.titanarum.net)
VARIOUS-A Tribute To Unnatural Axe—Ruling The World From The Back Seat (Lawless, 2xLP)
The first release on Lawless Records (in 1997) was the “Unnatural Axe is Gonna Kick Your Ass” anthology and, if you need a history lesson, they were one of the early Boston punk bands and they still play out from time time. Their opening salvo was a mega-collectible debut 7” that featured the classic “They Saved Hitler’s Brain” and three other rippers. Snarly, snotty, nasty stuff. So Eric Law and the Axe’s vocalist Richie Parsons have put together a 27 song (plus intro by Rev. Nørb) tribute with bands from around the globe. I’m not too big a fan of tribute albums for the most part and not everything here is particularly mesmerizing but there are some ravaging interpretations. Since the Axe’s oeuvre wasn’t that vast, there are some repeats—four takes on “Summertime,” four “Hitler’s Brains,” three versions of “The Creeper” and a couple of “The Man I Don’t Wanna Be” a later, more melodic/introspective song. Unfortunately, those takes aren’t particularly good—one’s done by The Neighborhoods, who used to be the best live band in Boston ca. ’80 but, these days, sound like a lethargic bar band. Ditto for Classic Ruins’ rendition, another vintage Boston band who had their moments but, once again, it sounds too much like bar rock. Enough negativity. There are other local bands who have come out of retirement or semi-retirement for the occasion. Mission of Burma have actually been back for several years and they capture the seething nature of “The Creeper.” Stranglehold bash their way through “Big Noise” and Jerry’s Kids rock out for “Bombing & Burying.” Dim Stars, a band with Richard Hell and Thurston Moore, do a good job with “The Plug,” from that classic EP. It’s the younger bands (in relative terms) who really breathe life into the songs, though. There are super-raw takes on “Hitler’s Brain” by Italian bands Dick Dastardly and UFO Dictatorz and Germans “Demolition Girl.” Johnny & The Reforms add a Childish/garage bash for “Summertime.” The Mongrolls’ “3 Chord Rock” (another early Axe fave) has plenty of rawness, which is bound to happen when you do it on a four-track in your practice space, as they didOnly 500 of these suckas so you might not want to dawdle. (PO Box 689, Hingham, MA 02043, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
VARIOUS-The Right To Assemble Volume Two (Soulrebel, LP)
The first RTA comp came out in the late 90s and was a 7” EP. This time around, there are 21 songs plus a spoken intro about “unity” and “diversity” from a self-described Puerto Rican homosexual skinhead named Pedro Angel Serrano. The comp features bands from New Brunswick, NJ, aka the Hub City. There is musical diversity here and a variance in quality but I think the common thread here is passion, a sense of community, even with the accusations of being “too cliquey” or “too PC,” according to Craig from Degenerics/Kamikaze/Soulrebel. Truth be told, I think that happens in just about every town—certainly in Boston, where there are even factions in the DIY “community.” In any case, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of going through the motions with these bands. All the songs are unreleased New music from the hard-hitting Degenerics is always something to be happy about and that’s followed with an equally intense song from Seasick. Other stirring hardcore comes from the likes of Fanshen, Flash Attacks and RSO, who throw in some cool guitar damage. The Hunchback’s “Creepshow” fuses surfy punk with a near Minutemen vibe. The Ergs’ track is one of the better songs I’ve heard from them. Not as compelling are the more melodic stylings of Scream Hello and Rock, Star. Very few comps are going to satisfy everyone but there wasn’t that much that made me want to move the needle. (www.myspace.com/xsoulrebelrecordsx)
VITAMIN X-Full Scale Assault (Tankcrimes, LP/CD)
VX are back with their first full-length album since 2004’s “Bad Trip” and, even if it’s a cliché to use the expression, “Full Scale Assault” really is the best one they’ve done to date. It was recorded by Steve Albini in Chicago and there’s a boldness and richness in the mix. There’s also a guest appearance from Negative Approach’s John Brannon, who lends his tortured tonsils on a couple of songs. The speed and ferocity remain but there seems to be a slightly more prominent rock ‘n roll flavor here, especially in Mark’s hot guitar licks and willingness to “borrow” a bit, such as the “Detroit Rock City” quotation for “Deal With It.” “Whatcha Gonna Do” mixes some “whoahs” into a driving rock sound. “Time Has Come” favors a crossover tinge. The LP marks the recorded debut of their new drummer Wolfi (also from the Tangled Lines) and he provides a hard-hitting anchor to the sound. Kudos has to be given to the lavish packaging, as well—a gatefold sleeve featuring colorful artwork from John Dyer Baizley of Baroness, a poster, colored vinyl, cardboard inner sleeve, the works. It’s almost as cool as the gatefold for the first Bad Company album. OK, not really... I mean, how could it be? As for the contents inside, they’re quite cool or, more accurately, pulverizing. It’s available on CD but you really need the vinyl here. (PO Box 3495, Oakland, CA 94609, www.tankcrimes.com)
WAKING THE DEAD/THE SHINING-Thrash Attack (Dead Area/Pick Up, LP)
Two ravenous bands from the Netherlands. I’ve got a couple of EPs by the Shining, but wasn’t familiar with Waking The Dead before. Let’s start with The Shining—I would have said thrash attack even if I hadn’t seen the title. Looking at the band photos, I see a bandana, I see a denim vest with some patches and pins and, as expected, they play in a crossover vein. That’s something they’ve been moving towards since their first EP and this more less completes the transition. A streamlined, speedy sound with crisp execution and some hot guitar riffs ‘n licks. Covering the Accüsed’s “Slow Death” endears them to me, as well. This is definitely from the hardcore side of the street but, really, the lines were blurred (much to some HC purists’ dismay) but I never had any problem with it. Waking The Dead do something stylistically similar although it sounds a tad more metal to my ears. They’re also not quite as instrumentally-adept as the Shining but keep it convincingly-energetic. Bonus points for the purloined Exodus stage banter. (www.skateordiemotherfucker.nl/wakingthedead.html and www.myspace.com/theshiningtrash)
WARTORN-Tainting Tomorrow With The Blood of Yesterday (Crimes Against Humanity/Profane Existence, LP/CD)
Powerful crust-core with a sense of drama and foreboding, while Bitty threatens to tear his innards apart. The lyrics deal with certain topics from a personalized perspective, such as a friend’s suicide after being diagnosed with a terminal disease, dealing with Tourette syndrome and post traumatic stress order (members of the band have those afflictions) and another friend’s arrest on trumped up fraud charges—that were ultimately dismissed—while he was helping out with Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts. There’s a weight and gravitas to the band’s sound but it maintains a driving hardcore edge, as well, as they bash through Poison Idea’s “Taken By Surprise” (they also cover State of Fear’s “Bloodthirsty System”). The vinyl version has a gatefold sleeve and poster—I’m not really into the skeleton imagery although I suppose it matches the mood. The musical contents are fine, though. (www.cahrecords.com, www.profaneexistence.com)
THE YOUNG-s/t (Criminal IQ, 7” EP)
Inside this colorful sleeve that features a collage of birds on one side and sea life on the other, you’ll find record containing a scrappy combination of melodic punk done with a garage bash. The tunefulness emerges from the mess instead of being obvious and the last song, “Cemetery Song,” has chiming guitar and a dense swirl to bring a more primitive, stripped-down My Bloody Valentine to mind. It’s very poppy but with plenty of edge and that’s the case throughout. (3057 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL 60618, www.criminaliq.com)