Saturday, April 07, 2018

Suburban Voice blog #129

TIM (right) and MARTIN SPROUSE, 1987
(from MRR site)


This month marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Tim Yohannan, one of the founders of Maximum Rocknroll. Tim passed away on April 3, 1998, from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was only 52 years old. I’ve written about my interactions with Tim in different print outlets in the past but I'll re-tell them in case you missed it the first time around. 

I stayed at MRR headquarters a few times, in March 1985 when he was living in Berkeley and again in October 1986, when they were on Clipper St. in San Francisco. That has to have been one of the steepest hills I ever walked up. My shins still ache just thinking about it. I even got to be a shitworker when I was there, helping to pack up and ship out a new issue, which was #43. I just took the issue out and there I am, forever immortalized. Maybe “got to be” wasn’t the right term. I think drafted might have been more appropriate. I suppose it was a fair trade for the free lodging and being able to tape a bunch of the records in the MRR collection. I mean record them—not actually put the legendary green tape on the record covers. That was one task I didn’t get to take part in. 

Tim had me on the radio show a couple of times. In case you don't know the story of MRR, it actually started as a radio show in 1977 and the zine began in 1982. I have a tape of my first appearance and listened to it awhile back. No wonder he made fun of my Mass. accent. It was pretty bad back then. I’ve managed to rein it in a bit over the years but it still slips out. The second time Tim had me on the radio show, he came up with the brilliant (devious?) idea of having me interview the Virginia band Unseen Force, even though I’d never heard their music and only knew at least one of ‘em had been in White Cross. Incredibly, I managed to get through it without making a complete idiot of myself—at least I don’t think I did. I remember Tim also took me over to the as-yet-unopened Gilman Street Project and had me get up on a ladder and hammer in a few boards—“now you can say you helped build this place.” 

Even though we didn't agree about everything and he could be intransigent in some of his beliefs, he always treated me very well and made me feel at home. He was supportive of my work over the years, something I’ve always appreciated. Before my first trip to the Bay Area, I was already contributing to the zine, doing scene reports and the occasional interview, so I was already acquainted with him. People would always mention his hilarious seal-like laugh and that was one of the first things I also noticed when I met him. I wasn’t really following baseball at that point, but he seemed excited that the Red Sox were in the ’86 World Series against the Mets (let’s not mention Bill Buckner, OK?) and, now that I’m more of a diehard Sox fan than ever, I’ll note that any native of New Jersey who roots for the Sox is OK in my book.

Tim did give me crap about being a fan of Agnostic Front and the FUs—I think he believed I was some kind of right-winger or at least tolerant of those elements because of the reputation of certain segments of Boston and NYC’s hardcore scene. That was far from the case, though. Even back then, I knew how dumb AF’s anti-welfare song “Public Assistance” was. And when my politics took a sharper turn to the left after the ’94 Republican takeover of Congress and their Contract ON America, he made a positive note of it in a letter to me just before he passed away. 

I always appreciated MRR, period. People like to rip on it, question its relevance, question its dogmatism. One of my dear friends originally contacted me on-line because she was a fan of my column in AMP, which I wrote for for a number of years. When I told her that I felt more privileged to write for MRR, she sniffed that the ‘zine is elitist. I told her that she was entitled to her opinion but getting the opportunity to take up 2000 or so words of valuable space in each issue was something that I truly appreciated.

MRR really meant a lot to me during those first few years after college, where I had a lot of confusion/anxiety over what direction my life would be taking. Was it going to be a so-called straight career path? Within six months after graduating, that was clearly not the case—or so I thought. I still ended up taking a job at a bank as a teller and simultaneously got a one-room studio apartment in Lynn. 

By then, hardcore and punk had become a much bigger part of my life. I remember bringing my copies to work with me at the bank where I was employed and I’d peruse it in the lunch room—wondering if I’d be in trouble if one of the bank’s officers came in and saw the cover of whatever issue I was reading. How would they react to the cover of issue #6, the infamous “The Dicks: A Commie Faggot Band???!”? Nah, one of ‘em, Tom, was probably too busy harassing female employees. I found out later on that he got into some hot water over that. Anyway, all of those issues are in plastic bags but quite yellowed since I didn’t take care of ‘em for a long time. That musty newspaper smell isn’t all that pleasant on the occasions when I’ll pull them out of the plastics but it’s more than compensated for by having an opportunity to once again read a first-hand history of hardcore as it was unfolding.

TIM IN HIS VOLVO (from Lavella-Blog!)

While Tim could be dogmatic and had a narrow definition of what was or wasn’t punk, his knowledge and passion always came out in his writing. Who could forget his review for Die Kreuzen’s first album—“This is fucking great! This is fucking great! This is fucking great…” repeated nearly ad infinitum. Sure, it didn’t exactly convey the musical contents but you had to figure if it had such an enthusiastic stamp of approval, it was probably at least decent. Same for New Bomb Turks' !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!!” album. Tim’s 1993 review said it was the best record of the past five years. Once again, I figured it’d at least be halfway decent and that was an understatement. From the opening buzzsaw chords of “Born Toulouse-Lautrec,” it was like all the shitty music I’d been listening to in recent years got blown away with one sonic blast. It’d take a few years before I stopped listening to godawful grunge music and warmed-over cock rock and get rid of the long hair but it was definitely a step in the right direction. So thanks Tim. Thanks for giving me a shot as a writer and thanks for the musical recommendations. It’s time to pay the best tribute I can—put on that Turks album nice and loud…



BIG CHEESE-Aggravated Mopery (Quality Control HC, 7")
There's a less-than-subtle late-80s NYHC sound in this band's oeuvre but damn if they don't have it down, drawing from Sick Of It All and Leeway in particular. I’m reminded of the former due to the vocal delivery and the latter from the metallic riffery that pops up here and there. The production even has the cavernousness of that era of hardcore but it’s not a detriment. Bringing back the floor-pounding Sunday matinee sound. Nicely packaged with a foldout lyric poster. (

CLUSTERFUCK-Losing The War Of Ideas (self-released, 12")
This was released in mid-2016 (just got it recently, though), right before that dark day in November and maybe the war of ideas has been lost since then. Clusterfuck reconvene from different parts of the country every few years--they've been doing the band since 2003--and this was actually their first 12" since 2009. More spirited and tuneful hardcore with a good amount of sarcasm and absurdism in the lyrics. Not overtly political, reading more as prose than any sort of standard verse/chorus/verse structure. At times, it comes across like a less-frenetic Flag Of Democracy i.e. there doesn't seem to be as much caffeine involved. Donny's vocal range goes from hyper to soothing and the brief compositions showcase solid chops that navigate through the high energy songs--fifteen of 'em in a bit over 14 minutes. Ideas are a potent weapon in Clusterfuck's hands, although you have to read between the lines a bit. The music is equally potent. (

COMBATANT-Sick Plot (Not Like You, 7")
Haven't heard a ton of quality hardcore out of the state of Maine over the years but here come Combatant to raise holy hell. Mean, full-speed ahead old-school bile with a meat-cleaver riffs and in-the-pocket arranging, along with bellicose vocals and sentiments. The production brings out the power without being too slick. Yeah, by the books, but with a savage edge. (

CYBERPLASM-What Is Flesh? (Fuckers Will Pay, demo)
Heady noise-mongering creating a buzz-stun effect. Chrome and Metal Urbain figure into the equation, with drill-press guitar and mechanized rhythms infused with punk speed, but there's also the nightmarish industrial excursion of "Perfect Body." The entire second side of the tape is taken up with a twelve-and-a-half atmospheric/ambient piece, "The Psychic Hologram," that's pretty unnecessary. The rest is prime, ear-wrecking scorch. (

DEVILS-Iron Butt (Voodoo Rhythm, CD)
For a two-piece, The Devils make one hell (pun intended) of a racket and that continues for their second album Iron Butt. This ain’t no White Stripes garbage, this is raw, nasty garage/blues/punk slop done at a healthy clip—or maybe unhealthy. Sure, there are traditional blues influences--that really comes for the slow cookin’ “White Collar Wolf”—but they harness it to a wanton, high-octane fuzzed-out attack and take you for one nasty hellride. A few different wrinkles here and there, such as the numbing cacophony of “Red Grave,” with an unholy rant from drummer/vocalist Erica Toraldo. To quote a quite different band, the sound of an enormous door slamming into the depths of hell. (

DIATRIBE-The Black Parade (Rancid Cat, LP)
San Diego band Diatribe’s history goes back to the 1980s. Their 1985 Aftermath demo came out on vinyl in 2007 on the Get Revenge label and they’ve been an active band again in recent years, with vocalist Vince Udo the sole original member. Their new 12”, The Black Parade, was recorded between 2012 and 2014 and is finally out, with a limited pressing of 200 copies, on splattered vinyl and with a screened cover. A blunt, rough hardcore punk sound embracing crust, thrash and d-beat and harnessing it to still-angry sentiments. This is all spat out in angry bursts, particularly on songs like “Fraternal Order Of Hate” and “Emblem.” Three decades later, there’s still a bone to pick with the world and raw musical emanations remain a suitable weapon of choice. (

EXILES-No Comply (Shredding Material, CD)
Sturdy mid-tempo punk with melody and incisive lyrics about personal travails and corrupt "democracy." The guitar has a whole lotta buzz and the vocals are earnest-sounding. Listenable, although not really providing any sort of full-on rush. Catchy, though. (

FLOWER-Violent Crusades (demo)
Nothing flowery about this music. It's a raw expression of rage, a maelstrom of fast hardcore and melodic, anarcho-punk shadings, complemented by impassioned vocals. The words aren't flowery either--they express dismay at the ravages of religion, nationalism and a system set up to grind you down. They're all part of an oppressive whole. Potent and powerful, both on this recording and live. (


FUTURA-Spit On The Flag (En Tu Kara, 7")
The words that Erika sings on some of the songs on this EP could very well have been written in the 1980s--at least the title track and "Boom," about nuclear obliteration. The other three songs deal with personal turmoil, especially "Eyes Wide Open," about the death of a relationship. Fast and peppy hardcore punk played with skill and ragtag spirit. (

GAME-Who Will Play (Quality Control HC, flexi) 
I really wish this had been done on vinyl—too much damned surface noise—but Game are a ferocious unit. Opening track “Game” comes charging full-speed out of the gates, coupled with Ola’s angry, raged-filled vocals. “Crush” threatens to stomp itself right through the floor, before kicking into faster gear with a Sacrilege inspiration and you can hear echoes of that elsewhere. Still, Game come down on the hardcore side of things and it’s a murderous attack. Five songs, two of them with Polish lyrics and one of them, the fast and ripping “Rząd i Osioł,” provides an obliterative conclusion. (

HAIRCUT-Shutting Down (Feel It, 7")  
No-BS, speedy hardcore punk with some early Poison Idea in the engines. Not exuding originality—what does these days—but they keep the energy level high. It does exude a pointed lyrical outlook, both in English and Spanish. “Fucked Up” is a song about sobriety that’s done without flying a “nailed to the X” straight edge flag, while “Boys Club” is about not needing acceptance from any group of people. Kicking up a storm. (

ISS-s/t (Sorry State, 7") 
A new four song 7" by the dynamic duo of Eddie Schneider (Brain F≠) and Rich Ivey (Whatever Brains). Hammering mechanized punk, but it sounds human, not robotic. "I Wanna Be Dated" has some serious guitar shredding. "Armchair Aryan (Richard Spencer's Gifts)," in addition to having one of the coolest titles of the year, is a spot-on perfect excoriation of the alt-right dickheads, calling them out for the cowards they are. "C.H.U.D.F.R.E.A.K. Swamp Meet" takes a moodier turn and the kill effect returns for "My Miata." And, yes, once again, there's clever sampling from old punk records, including Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" and Flipper's "Nothing." Fucking brilliant. Eddie told me they've only done a couple of live shows, since he and Rich live in different cities. I hope that changes, at some point. (


LAUGHING STOCK-Rough Crowd (Not Like You, 7")
The vinyl debut for these Massholes, who've been around four years at this point. Manic hardcore with cavernous production and it makes me think back in time to the Mystic Records compilations or the old Toronto band Youth Youth Youth (look 'em up if you've never heard them). There are a few double-speed rhythms, as well as melodic touches, singeing leads and even a split-second skank on "Just My Luck." Not bad at all. (

M.A.Z.E.-s/t (Abonormal Broadcasting, tape)
Jittery post-punk/garage minimalism from Japan, in glorious trebly low-fidelity. The brittle guitar lines sometimes have a nearly-traditional Japanese feel, but you get the feeling they listen to more Kleenex than shamisen records. For "Spread The Girmicide," it's a funkier arrangement, while "Pain In The Gum" is a sprightly frolic. Their previous demo had more of a poppy approach and, while their are some hooks, these songs sound edgier and rougher. (

NEGATIVE SPACE-Gestalt (Drunken Sailor/Always Restrictions, LP)
Classic post-punk from the UK that probably should have been in my top ten last year. They're not really sons of Gang of Four, although it's probably not a stretch to say they've listened to that band and Wire. Piercing guitar lines that also flame like embers at times, along with rhythmic perfection, interlocked and intertwined to create a gyrating whole. The bass-lines on this album are massive. The vocals are emotional but it's borne from anger, not lamentation, although the lyrics exude a dark-soul desperation and it culminates with the deliberate, brooding tension of "Payday Loan," that builds to a noisy conclusion, before going into the driving punk of "Without Jealousy." I like these guys for the same reasons I like Mod Vigil or Rank/Xerox. Nods to the past but given a powerful updating. (Drunken Sailor,; Always Restrictions,

NO BLUES-s/t (demo)
Members of Ontario ragers Born Wrong do a 180 into tuneful, ragtag punk territory with hooks galore. Bright, snappy compositions but there’s a snarl underneath and the semi-low fidelity gives it all an edge. Pop without the pap. (

NUMBER ONES-Another Side Of The Number Ones (Sorry State, 7")
Power-pop that's unafraid to lay on the glop a bit and, alas, it gets a little cutesy. When I say power-pop, I don’t mean the skinny tie variety but the kind of bands you’d hear from the UK and Ireland in the late 70s. Still, the production is rough around the edges and there’s sting in “Lie To Me” and “Long Way To Go,” but a little preciousness goes a long way. (


OPTION-The Hour Of Action (demo)
New Boston band with members of No Sir I Won't, Brain Killer, Innocent, Purgatory and others and it's one hell of a debut. Buzzing, burning Crass-inspired anarcho punk delivered with incredible precision and passion. Max sounds like he's playing two drum kits and locks in perfectly with Dan's nimble bass and Sam's razor-sharp guitar lines. The vocals, mostly from Dan, occasionally from Sam, have an outspoken fervor, particularly for "Four More Years." Even with the somewhat dour sentiments, there's still a musical uplift. This should be on vinyl. (

RAD-Sacramento Is Rad +1 (tape)
RAD's latest pays tribute to their Sacramento punk forebears, as well as Poison Idea (“Cult Band,” from Pick Your King is the “+1” selection). They tear through a pair of Rebel Truth songs, “Child Hosts the Parasite” and “All I Know” and one from Lizards, “Coke Up My Butt,” with reckless, yet precise aplomb. Rebel Truth tend to be a bit overlooked so it’s good to see them get the recognition. Maybe RAD could cover Square Cools or Tales of Terror on their next Sacramento tribute. (


RATS IN THE WALL-Warbound (Programme Sounds/Indecision)
RITW, with former F-Minus axeman Brad Logan, have been kicking around for about five or six years, with a number of releases under their belts. The latest is Warbound, a five song 7” that comes with a download that has a bonus track. Stomping and pounding hardcore punk that’s angry and damaged-sounding. It ups the level of intensity heard on their previous recordings. I’ve been using the term “heartfelt punk” as an epithet, lately, to describe beefy punk with an often-corny, heart-on-sleeve style. This really is heartfelt punk, coming from the gut and reveling in not fitting into life’s plastic molds… chafing against authority. Eva’s vocals are pissed-off and raspy and I’m with her when she yells, “and maybe our parents were right—maybe punk rock ruined my life/it’s the only place I’ve ever belonged, my chosen family—as dysfunctional as they come.” Preach! (Programme Sounds,; Indecision,

RIK & THE PIGS-Blue Jean Queen (Feel It, 7")
Three new songs from the prolific Pigs, branching into a rawk ‘n roll sound, without as much of the low fidelity. They’ve also added a saxophonist to the lineup and it doesn’t really add much to the songs. They redo “TV Bloopers” and I prefer the roughness of the original. The title track is a fired-up 70s-inspired rocker with vintage references—the Stones, Sonny & Cher, etc and is the best of the trio.“Off/On” is a dragged-out blooze rocker. Kind of disappointing. (

SECT MARK-Worship (Iron Lung, 12")
Relentless noisy hardcore, driven by killplow bass and burning guitar mangling, along with echo-laden vocal howlings. They're from Italy and it comes across like a mix of their native thrash forebears and Japanese-style hardcore. "Scouts" provides a slightly slower, thumping change of pace, although it mows down everything in its path. Flat out nasty, a fusillade of musical hell being unleashed. And it leaves you wanting more. (


SKINNED ALIVE-s/t (demo)
Even with the paucity of DIY venues around here, Boston’s hardcore punk scene keeps regenerating itself in different permutations. Skinned Alive fit that bill. People from Chain Rank, Combat Zone, Contingent, 2x4, Bloodkrow Butcher and many others plying, as you’d imagine, no-nonsense scorch. Their four song demo tape provides kick-to-the head hardcore buzz mainly in a loud/fast vein, with “Forced To Die” adding a bit of bootboy punch. (J. Damage, 12 Morton St., Somerville, MA 02145,

SO BE IT-s/t (Deep Six, LP)
So Be It is a punk/noise/sludge metal/hardcore anti-war opera (whew!) created by Siege drummer Robert Williams, who wrote all the music and lyrics, with a few exceptions He enlisted the help of his Siege compatriots Chris Leamy and Ernie Kim, as well as a collection of vocalists from bands both local and around the world to sing the different parts. These include Ami Lawless (Voetsek, Cliterati), Dan Harrington (Fistula), Jeff Heyward (Grief), Stoffel (Yacopsae), Larry Lifeless (Kilslug) and Giulio (Cripple Bastards). The theme, as you probably already guessed, looks at the ravages of war from the perspectives of the dead and the living, all of them victims. You have grieving mothers, both American and Arabic. Ron Kovic from "Born On The Fourth Of July" (voiced by Giulio) makes an appearance. as do the ghosts of a soldier and the corpse of Uncle Sam. You also have a giddy president who can't wait to send more young men off to war.

Inserted into the musical battleground of volume-driven fodder are snippets of "Taps," "The Star-Spangled Banner," the World War I song "Over There" and early 60s R&B song "Soldier Boy." There's also a kick-ass cover of Alice Cooper's "Elected," sung by Jeff Heyward. The cacophonous conclusion, "Mission Accomplished," begins with Larry Lifeless, playing Uncle Sam who has just risen from his casket, intoning those words. According to the written narration, Uncle Sam is joined by the ghost of the soldier and one of the grieving mothers for a kick line. This is done over a dirge that degenerates into a mass of free-form skronk, with Ernie Kim letting loose on his saxophone over the guitar histrionics and hammer-to-anvil-like pound. I'll resist the urge to call it "A Corpse Line" and just say mission accomplished. War sucks and So Be It are here to remind you of that. (

STAGES IN FAITH-Forgiving Man (Quality Control HC, 7")
Stages In Faith draw inspiration from the melodic punk created by bands in the late 80s/early 90s on both sides of ocean whose members were rooted in hardcore or more aggressive punk but were opting for something more tuneful. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the songs have grit and drive. That’s not really the case here. Decently-crafted but a little too poppy for my liking, especially with the vocal harmonies. (

STALEPHISH-Pole Jams (Not Like You, LP)
Peppy, uptempo skate-themed punk. Musically, this reminds me of the 90s-era melodically-inclined bands. Not Green Day-type swill but music of the snottier variety, something that might have been on the Johann's Face or VML labels. Energetic, with hearty backups, although nothing all that distinctive. And what's up with the hip-hop pisstake at the end? (

THERAPY-Demo 2018 (demo)
Not to be confused with the 90s-era Irish band Therapy?, this band is from San Diego and the six songs on this tape pack a wicked punch. Fast, bruising hardcore punk with a crusty undertow and hint of Swedish hardcore. Loud production, bringing the band's meat-cleaver riffage and pulverizing rhythms into bold relief, along with Chris' scalding, nasty vocals. A fine debut. (

TRASH KNIFE-TK (Crapoulet/P.Trash/FDH, 7")
The newest Trash Knife 7" combines four of the songs from their 2016 demo tape with a couple more recorded last year. Slam-bang punk/rock 'n roll filled with both melody and anger, along the lines the Bags or, for a more recent reference point, Neighborhood Brats. Lauren's vocals have a sarcastic, pissed off edge, whether taking aim at self-absorbed selfie takers ("Kill Your Selfie") or abusive restaurant customers ("Tips"). Tuneful but with a razor's edge. (band contact:

UGLIES-Keeping Up With The Uglies (Nopatience, LP)
A couple of ex-Vaginors play in this loud, fast 'n nasty Australian band. Instead of the loopy punknoxiousness of that band, the Uglies stick to meat 'n potatoes ass-kicking hardcore punk. No wank, no bullshit, although there's a sick bass run on "(I Got No) Self-Control." No suffering of fools, either--that comes out most-blatantly in "Make Punk Great Again" i.e. it's not so much an anti-Trump protest as telling privileged so-called punks to fuck off. And that's just for starters. Ugly and proud? Where have I heard that before? Pure malevolence, gleefully delivered. (

VICIOUS CIRCLE-Born To Destroy (Not Like You, LP)
Back to destroy, although Aussie hardcore veterans Vicious Circle have never really gone away. In the 16 page, full-size lyric book that accompanies this record, vocalist/guitarist Paul Lindsay states that, "hardcore, punk, to me, is a way of life. Of being that I carry with me." And, after more than thirty years as a band, the sound is as vital as ever, as is the message. The lyrics speak out against injustices and life's obstacles and tribulations, while also trying to maintain an upbeat, self-empowering attitude. Rough and tumble hardcore, punctuated by Paul's super-gruff vocals, a few metallic licks here and there and executed in bare-knuckled fashion. Long may they rage. (