THE GODLIKE POWER OF THE PAGANS
Those words are the god-danged truth, friend. In 1984, there was a student at Boston University who had just moved here from Cincinnati and I became friendly with him. He asked if I’d ever heard the Pagans and when I answered in the negative, he schooled me fast. He had an extra copy of their classic “What’s This Shit Called Love/Street Where Nobody Lives” 7” and we worked out some sort of trade. I’ve been a diehard fan ever since. That single, above everything the Pagans ever did, is their calling card. On the original LP anthology, “Buried Alive,” which included that single, there were testimonials from Tesco Vee and Byron Coley, whose little essay was called “Scorch” and that applies to that single and other songs from the band’s repertoire. Incidentally, not to namedrop, but the guy who turned me on to the Pagans was later the vocalist in the Chrome Cranks under the stage name Peter Aaron. For which I own him an undying debt of gratitude. This is snarlin’ and snotty punk rock with a high scuzz element. Mike Hudson spat out the words with phlegm-encrusted attitude and the “1-2-3-4” leading into the hornets nest of guitar buzz that starts “Shit” is one of those transcendent musical moments that stays with you for eternity. This was a rough-sounding band but, buried in there were 60s rock ‘n roll/garage/protopunk touchpoints and their covers included the Who, Stones and Velvets.
I stole the above title from a Pagans’ live album that came out on Treehouse Records in 1987. Incidentally, the back cover of that record features some rather hot-looking leather-clad dominatrixi (is that the plural?) and one of ‘em went on to be in Babes In Toyland. There’s your trivia for tonight. But I’m not here to write about forgettable 90s rock. I here to tell you about Hudson’s autobiography Diary of a Punk: Life and Death In The Pagans (Tuscarora Books, PO Box 987, Falls Station, Niagara Falls, NY 14303, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hudson’s book is unflinchingly honest. He’s up front with his sentiments and calls out those who wronged him. People who ripped him off, like their manager Johnny Dromette and Mark Trehus from Treehouse Records, who released several Pagans records for which the band received little if any compensataion. For one thing, he has no respect for the Cleveland rock ‘n roll “establishment” i.e. the press and radio, who never paid any attention to the Pagans when they were around. He particularly had it in for the big FM rock station WMMS. He writes about their buzzard logo and opines “I always thought that the station’s choice of a leering buzzard as its logo was unwittingly appropriate. It was the most honest thing to use that, a carrion bird picking over the rotting carcass of our mortally wounded but not quite dead metropolis.” He laments the death of the old Cleveland, writing about the gentrification of the Flats area that birthed the local scene. That story could be told about any large city.
Hudson’s intelligence and talent as a writer is obvious and it makes sense since he’s had a career as a newspaper reporter as well as a punk musician and this is his second book—the first was Niagara Falls Confidential, co-written with his wife Rebecca. With this autobio, you get a feel for what it was like then, warts and all—drugs, ripoffs, miserable touring experiences, homelessness, interpersonal squabbles and, sadly, the death of his brother, son and close friends. Somehow, Hudson has survived, even with his liver ravaged from years of severe alcohol abuse and he’s not sure how much longer he’ll last. This is all standard rock-bio jazz/boilerplate and well-worn ground but Hudson doesn’t try to romanticize it in any way. He writes that his aspiration was to be “Mick Jagger and Jack Kerouac rolled into one.” The thing is for all his bad-boy imagery, Jagger was a product of the art school universe; Hudson was a 10th grade dropout but carved out a journalism career in addition to a thorny, no-BS musical legacy.
Speaking of live albums, there’s a new CD release, “The Blue Album” (Smog Veil, 1658 N. Milwaukee Ave., #284, Chicago, IL 60647, www.smogveil.com). It was recorded in Madison, WI in 1988, during one of the band’s brief revival periods. I don’t know if you could consider it a companion piece to “The Pink Album”; that widely uneven release included various live, demo and unreleased recordings. I imagine this would be something to compare to “Godlike,” although it was recorded a few years after, in ’88. Sound quality is OK—not pristine but not bootleg quality either. Only nine songs and not hitting the 20 minute mark, which seems kind of odd, unless that was the whole set (my copy does have “Multiple Personalities” as a bonus track found on the “extras” section).Some of the band’s better-known songs aren’t here but they do include hard-hitters such as “She’s A Cadaver (And I’ve Gotta Have Her)” and “Real World” and slam through the Who’s “Can’t Explain” with a fiery recklessness. But this really falls into the “fans only” category and the best introduction for the novice is the one of their anthologies. That’s the soundtrack to have on while reading through Hudson’s tome.
BATTLETORN-Terminal Dawn (Mad At The World, CD)
Falling into the “came out awhile ago/just sent to me category, this one is a complete rager. A two band thrash machine, although not always relying on brute speed. In the main, “Terminal Dawn” (the CD is also appended with tracks from an earlier EP) stays to a fast, raw and aggressive route, straddling the hardcore/speed metal divide, albeit without any lead guitar lines. With the two piece bands, you wonder if it would benefit from having a bass-player but given the recording’s roughness, just having the guitar and drums makes this a piledriving musical outing. (PO Box 230367, New York, NY 10023, www.matwrecords.com)
BEAR PROOF SUIT-The Objects In The Mirror May Be Fucked Up EP (Repulsion, 7” EP)
Shit, seems as though this came out awhile ago and they’ve now got an LP out. But I’ll review the record I have and this doesn’t follow any sort of predictable path. “Past Tension” starts off in a conventional thrash vein but then a melodic rock influence surfaces midway through that song. I’m not talking about any sort of cock rock thing here but from more of a Black Flag point of view, as the roots remain in punk. It’s in the guitar approach and there’s some heady sputter for “Apothecary.” Not on a mind-blowing level yet but I’ve heard promising elements on both of their 7”s. (2552 N. Booth St., Milwaukee, WI 53212, www.myspace.com/repulsionrecs)
BLOWBACK-Living Vibration (HG Fact, CD)
A whizzle of feedback, a stomping intro and it announces the return of Blowback. This is a savage musical attack. There are some immediate Motörhead-isms at the outset of “Cut Off The World” and other rock-out moments but it’s wrapped up in a full-on sonic nailbomb. It’s relentless, pulverizing and whatever other adjective you want to attach to a band that has a huge, hard-edged sound. Searing leads, gigantic throbbing bass and vocals that sound as though the tonsils are about to burst. Yes, this is an exercise in hyperbole but it’s the only way to convey Blowback’s sheer power. New stuff plus re-recordings of a few earlier songs. (www.interq.or.jp/Japan/hgfact/)
BREAKS-… Are Broke (Firestarter, 7” EP)
I remember these guys being pretty good when they hit Boston with The Spark in ’05. A one-sided epitaph for this Midwest hardcore dynamo, five songs that were recorded at the same time as their previous 7”. Plying the thrash in short, agitated bursts driven by hyper drumming and the requisite nettled vocals. There’s not much to distinguish the Breaks from the endless parade of bands playing in this vein but they do it right. A non-stop charge. (2981 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD 21211, www.firestarterrecords.com)
CRUNKY KIDS-Hardcore Malarkey For Sure!! (Motorchest, 7” EP)
With the nasty vocals, dirty guitar/bass tandem, you’d probably guess this is a Cleveland band and you would be correct. The Crunky Kids have been bashing things around the entire decade and this is their latest missive. If you need a pedigree, it includes Bomb Builder, 9 Shocks, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers etc etc and the current lineup is a power trio with Thuggy Bearbomb, Wedge and Matt Upstab. Thrash and pure punk rock coalesce into a formidable elixir and they’re sure pissed off about things, starting with a certain overseas military conflict and also taking time to comment on a poor Christian Scientist kid who died because of huge amount of fecal backup on “Shit Out The Poison.” That could apply to what the band are doing here. (PO Box 725, Poplar Bluff, MO 63902, www.myspace.com/nocausepunk)
DOG SOLDIER-At My Throat (HG Fact, CD)
There are hellacious shrieks and screams to start things off here, appropriately titled “Chainsaw Intro” and I’m not so sure I want to know what’s going on there. Crust metal, for want of a better term, from this Portland, OR band. Basically, it’s crossover-style thrash metal with grunted, strangled vocals and somewhat echo-y production that brings Sacrilege to mind. One difference, though, is the brevity of the compositions. Pretty good, although I liked the sharper, punchier production of the previous 12” on Hardcore Holocaust. (www.interq.or.jp/Japan/hgfact/)
GLASS AND ASHES-s/t (No Idea, CD)
Heavy, driving hardcore/rock with a howling presence. Letting out the scream, in other words, but you won’t see me tacking an “o” onto the end of that word, even though it’s tempting. There’s an immediate surge for the opening songs “Seconds Before The Floor Drops Out” and “To The Point Of Paralysis.” At other points, there’s a twisting in the wind, melodic somberness that hurts the momentum, a bit. The final song, “The Rebuttal,” merges both properties—a full-on pummel that gives way to bombastic heaviness and a long, frayed fadeout. If there’s a theme here, it could be “dark days coming,” to borrow a line from the old DC band 3 and the stormy photo images on the cover and gatefold seem apropos. While hit and miss, the intensity is convincing. (PO Box 14636, Gainesville, FL 32604, www.noidearecords.com)
GOD FODDER-No Sleep (Motorchest, 7” EP)
Nice ‘n snotty hardcore stripping it all down to its essence. These guys could be a midwet counterpart to Acid Reflux in the rant department and a bright guitar sound working in their favor. Succinct? How about “got no money, got not job, dress like a fucking slob” on “Dead Weight.” Why get poetic when the direct route is more effective? There’s not a lot more to elaborate on here, except that you have to manually remove the needle from side one unless you want to be called a dumbass ad infinitum. Really—these kids today! The kids in God Fodder got it goin’ on. (PO Box 725, Poplar Bluff, MO 63902, www.myspace.com/nocausepunk)
JEAN MILLS SOCIETY TORCH-Start Tomorrow (Firestarter, 7” EP)
Double-speed thrashin’ from this oddly-named band and recorded in 2005. Some humorous and sarcastic lyrics—I like the sentiment about bringing back the old “Headbanger’s Ball” with “the old days of AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Slayer,” but, unfortunately, it’s only fair-to-middling from a musical standpoint. (2981 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD 21211, www.firestarterrecords.com)
PAINT IT BLACK-New Lexicon (Jade Tree, CD)
Over the past few years, I’ve really become bored with clean (for want of a better term) sounding hardcore. Not chug stuff but hardcore without any grit in the production. The type of music that attracts people with long sleeve t-shirts or hoodies, fingers pointed skyward, sometimes having X’s on the hands. I think you know what I’m getting at, here. In any case, Paint It Black have a clean sound but still grab my ear and there’s some originality. The songs surge and combine rage with unexpected catchiness—that happens with the chorus of “Past Tense Future Perfect,” where Dan Yemin’s rants are accompanied by background harmonies and melodic guitar. There are also some interesting transitions between songs with ambient effects. Maybe the fact that J. Robbins helped produce the album but there’s a Jawbox air to some of the songs—or if Jawbox’s arranging was fused to driving hardcore. The songs have a strong rhythmic base, with Andy Nelson’s bass lines forcing their way up front. You won’t find any rawness here, except in Dan’s frayed, hoarse vocals but there’s a presence and purposefulness here. (2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE 19810, www.jadetree.com)
2ND DEGREE-Chain (HG Fact, CD)
A compilation of 2nd Degree’s EP, including the songs from their recent “Tar” 7” and a re-recording of an older song, “Chain Of Rage.” There’s some power-rock on the newer songs (with a revamped lineup) but this band mainly have 80s era European hardcore (Upright Citizens, et al) and UK-82 trappings. Mid-tempo, catchy compositions with a gritty approach. Plenty of vocal rasp, boys-in-the-gang backups and razor-sharp riffs. (www.interq.or.jp/Japan/hgfact/)
WRETCHED ONES-Less Is More (Headache, CD)
An alternate title for this album could be “KISS” or “Keep it simple, stupid.” Wretched Ones are back with another collection of street punk rock ‘n roll, to steal a phrase. No nonsense, straight ahead both in a musical sense and lyrically. Buzzin’ rhythm riffs with some rockin’ flare-ups and Pit’s gruff vocals. Actually, there’s a little variety in the tempos and arrangements (but no fuckin’ ballads or emo or any of that shite) and Pit shows some vocal range, as well. They’re not above a bit of thievery either—the main riff for “Skin Neighbor” is lifted from “Gigantor,” but I won’t tell anyone. The theme here, if there is one, is don’t let life get you down, have a beer and a laugh and keep things uncomplicated. On the tray is a recycle symbol surrounded by the words “work, drink, sleep, repeat.” A regimen broken up by this type of sturdy, workmanlike musical expression. (PO Box 204, Midland Park, NJ 07432, www.headacherecords.com)