Monday, December 20, 2010
Trapped in a Scene: UK Hardcore 1985-1989
Trapped in a Scene: UK Hardcore 1985-1989: Frontline Reports from the Hardcore Punk Underground by Ian Glasper 2010
Finally someone put out a music book based on a scene I was actually into at the time it was going on. I got my copy and just finished the first part with Napalm Death, what a fantastic read... easily the most detailed and comprehensive early history of ND I've ever seen. I'm astonished how thick this thing is, bout 500 pages! that are not just taken up by photos either, but there is an absurd amount of text here and I like how each band gets a healthy amount of space too. For the record it doesn't feature every single UKHC band from the time, and unfortunately there isn't any Satanic Malfunctions or Legion of Parasites, but it wasn't due to a blatant omission but just unable to get a hold of certain bands over the 3 year period this book was written. I cant think of any others (aside from maybe a few minor bands) that were left out though. Damn, this books is well worth the $ and more!
Update: I've been skipping around reading the sections on all my favorites, ...like I said each section is basically an 'in brief' story on each band, partially told by the author and partially told by the band members. Some of the funniest ones so far have been Unseen Terror and Sore Throat. UT kick themselves for having 4 songs on the album dedicated to Garfield, its also a shame how they allowed themselves to be manipulated by the engineer to have such a shitty drum sound. And of course Rich Walker (also of Solstice and The Miskatonic Foundation) has always been a total prick, cant help but love the guy. Some of his tales of Sore Throats shenanigans are hilarious drunken tales.
A running theme with a lot of these bands is bad recording or disappointing studio efforts and not having the money to fix them or rerecord. Unseen Terror, Deviated Instinct, Heresy, all fell victim to this. Doom are also fucking heros if you ask me. Sure each one of their 1000 songs is essentially the same thing over and over and over again, but they sure did punch through and make themselves Punk legends!
Thoughts on these classic UK Hardcore bands, then and now:
Napalm Death - Them along with Carcass were the king of bands for me back in 89/90. I probably enjoy reminiscing about ND these days more so than actually listening to their classics. Not only did I listen to them thousands of times, the blastbeat just doesn't have the appeal that it once had. I really hated Harmony Corruption when it came out, It almost seemed like the complete opposite as to why I fell in love with ND to begin with. I spend many-o years hating on that album and made it almost a poster boy for why I started hating DM during the 90s. I think I've finally come to terms with this album though. The songs really aren't bad, they're just another step forward in the Death Metal direction from what they did on the Mentally Murdered 12", and the shit production on HC actually hinders the album's full potential. Blastbeats get old and I can't blame musicians who get better at their craft and want to expand their horizons. Honestly though I haven't really paid any attention to ND since this albums. Barney, eh....still cant take his vocals seriously....
Doom - Doom is a band that was as fun as a barrel of monkeys! I first discovered them buying their Total Doom tape. Which is about 40+ songs that are all pretty the same batch of Dis-riffs reconfigured over and over again. I probably took that tape with me to school more so than any other during my early high school years, damn it was so good!... to plug this in and get charged before class or walking home feeling muscled up by those heavy skank riffs! I used to play guitar to this tape as well being the songs were pretty simple and I could easily play the melodies on one string. Nowadays, I can only listen to handful of Doom songs at a time. Its better that way though, a few goodies for nostalgic reasons and for a quick burst of energy. Rush Hour For the Gods (their 1996 album) is a massive album, I only got turned onto it a few years ago, as I sort of lost track of Doom after they left Peaceville during the early 90s.
Sacrilege - There was always some confusion between this band and Sacrilege BC from Cali. I always assumed the Sacrilege BC band as the one people were talking about, as the UK Sacrilege had album covers that make them look like a some Power/Speed Metal band. So I never bothers with them and I used to see their albums in the used bins ALL the time during the 90s. So I pretty much missed the boat with this band, and even though I've heard a few tracks I still have yet to spend any quality time with the UK Sacrilege.
Filthkick - Always neglected their side of the ENT split, always seemed like a lesser version of ENT anyway. Their later stuff is supposed to be more bizarre but have yet to hear it.
Unseen Terror - Ah man, I used to listen to Human Error all time time, but even then to my young ears the sound on that album always seemed a bit "off." And of course the production on that album leaves much to be desired. Just cant listen to this album anymore mainly for that reason. Strangely I used to love their more comedic songs, yet in the book they talk about how they regret putting those quirky tunes on the LP! oh well....hey the Peel Sessions though is by far their best material. If only the album turned out to be that intense!
Heresy - I'll always be more of a fan of the Reevsy fronted material. My first experience with Heresy was the track "belief" off the first Grindcrusher comp. When shortly later got the split with Concrete Sox I always wished the vocals (on both sides) were less muffled. Later on I found out that Reevsy was indeed the vocalist for this recording but they went ahead and rerecorded the vocals with Mitch!...how odd. Thankfully the original vocal tracks with Reevsy can be found on the Never Healed Slit CD, (which was a hard to find Japanese only release, but should be easy to DL these days.) When I got Face Up To It, I absolutely loved it when I was about 16. I didn't know shit about production, so all I knew was that it's wall of blistering Hardcore and super fast! When I put it on recently...oh man that triggered drum sound is pretty bad, and it does sound like it was recorded in a cardboard box... the things you dont notice when you are young and have untrained ears!
Concrete Sox - Once again, first heard them on the split LP. Liked em but the vocals seemed to lack power in that lazy vocal "Eye for an Eye" sort of way. I did really enjoy their Whoops Sorry Vicar album. Its such a 'Thrash Metal' album, its not even funny. I think I kept turning to it during my youth cause it actually has some really catchy melodies. Triggered drums though, yikes! Mid to Late 80s was a weird time for recording Hardcore I tell you. Man bands wanted to make things sound better by using up to date techniques but ended up sounding worse! Their first proper album, Your Turn Next, is plain awful and boring IMO. Kind of reminds me of a more boring Attitude Adjustment, which is saying a lot cause I never really liked AA anyway.... I never heard Sewerside till way later when I DLed it. It actually really good and possibly their best work. Finely recorded with the same melodic flavor of Whoops, but heavier and crustier.
Intense Degree - When I first got War In My Head, I was jumping off the walls for weeks! It was like all I ever wanted in a Hardcore band in one frenzy of an album! Easily one of my favs of my youth and one of my top 20 Hardcore albums of all time. Listening to it now, it's really amazing how well this was produced. The drums are massive the guitars are strong and assertive and when played at a high volume it sounds like buildings are crumbling down all around you from the battery of sound. I think some of the early Grind heads might have been a bit turned off by ID due to the super clean vocal delivery and their more fast melodic punk approach. I actually thought that it added to their uniqueness and kept them firmly planted in the more Punk side of the early Grindcore movement - variety is the key to memorability. I also believe Frank Pendelbury has got to be the unsung hero of the pioneering blastbeat drummers. He went beyond just the insistent novelty of blasting, he brought forth more stop and go rhythm and explosive barrage of percussive accents in the form of rolls, fills and crashes falling all around you at unexpected times - making the music that much more 'Intense'. Brings to mind other brilliant Hardcore drum performances the likes of Negative FX years earlier, and No Comment years later. Anyhow this album definitely holds up for me and I listen to it every now and again always discovering something new about the album that I didn't quite notice before.
Doctor and the Crippens - I used to love these guys when I was a teenager, they played that humorous style of Hardcore that I always had a soft spot for, in a way I could relate to their tongue n cheek approach more so that the more serious politics of many Hardcore Punk bands. Both albums were grand but listening to them these days I have a hard time getting through an entire side of an album. Some of their songs are great and punctual while others can be a bit samey and drawn out. Like Napalm, I like reminiscing about the Crippens more so than actually listening to them these days.
The Stupids - Like the Crippens, they were a fun ass humorous Hardcore band and I loved them back then, When I first got wind of this band I knew I had to have an album of theirs just for the name of the band itself! Retard Picnic was the one I first had, love it and it was pretty much what I expected. I picked up just about all their other stuff during the years. Kind of like the Crippens can only listen to handful of tunes or just a select bunch of old favorites before I'm reaching for something else. Any self respecting fan of Hardcore should at least own one album from The Stupids!
Electro Hippies - The quintessential UK Hardcore band here, when I first saw their name mentioned in the thanks list for Scum, I couldn't wait to hear how this band sounded, with that goofy ass name...they just had to be good! Play Fast, was my first experience and it did not disappoint. I loved the more shouty vocal approach, and was actually a bit disappointed with the more chugga Metal outing of The Only Good Punk. I actually like it now but there are some parts that just drag with a smattering of boring ass Thrash riffs. The Metal influence really hindered this band IMO, cause really their strength is in their shorter fast punk songs. Peel Sessions will always be my fav from them and was lucky to score a copy of this early on which contains a lyric sheet (read their section in the book to understand why the included lyric sheet is a bonus!) Listening to them now I sometimes feel they drag in places which once again comes from the Metal influence, a symptom that dated back to even to some of their earliest tracks from the demos,. They could have cut some of that fat out of their songs IMO, but whatever, its all history now and EH are now classic as ever.
Jailcell Recipes - I really liked their first album at the time, even though the band hated it. Like I mentioned before, I had no clue about production, and all I knew was that it was a wall of blasting Hardcore with shouty vocals and it sounded good to me! It does sound pretty rough listening to it now, more like a live demo or something. I got their second album sometime later and was pretty turned off by it. It was along the lines of melodic midpaced Hardcore or something, maybe I would appreciate it more now but it wasn't what I was expecting and I ended up selling it somewhere down the line.
Hellbastard - my first experience with HB was their Natural Order LP, man was I pissed off! It was horrible, plain ol' Thrash Metal...a played out style that I hadn't bothered with for years. It was the first sign that Earache was on the outs with me as previous I had grown used to every single thing on the label being amazing. I couldn't comprehend why they would want to release something so plain and wimpy! I had heard of Hellbastard long before I got that album, and assumed it was Grind or Hardcore at least, but the album did not live up to expectations at all. I'd seen their other album around "Heading for Internal Darkness" but I got it in my head that perhaps it was a different band with the same name, (the Sacrilege symptom). Needless to say I finally heard the first album down the line, and got it straight in my head that it was indeed the same band, but even to this day I don't understand how they could have took such a radical turn for the worse on the scale of a Cold Lake atrocity. So yeah, their demos and the first LP is where it's all with this band, and proof as to why they are one of the main pioneers of Crust.
Civilised Society? - these guys were pretty cool actually. They didn't set me on fire like a lot of the other bands did, and I wasn't as experienced with anarcho-punk at the time so they were pretty unique sounding to me with the male/female alternating vocals, a nice change of pace. Scrap Metal is the only one I ever had from them. For years I always try to remind myself to listen to it more but I tend to forget about it. Its good though and I should, and maybe even track down their 2nd LP someday. An underrated band to say the least, and lets need not forget that 2 members of Civilised Society? along with Rich Walker of Sore Throat went on to form the mighty Doom band Solstice!
Sore Throat - hehe, speaking of the bastards...Disgrace is one of the top albums of my youth, and easily the one I would grab for to show anyone willing the most insane music around. And they, ST, undoubtedly did the trick, seeing the look on someones face experiencing Sore Throat for the first time was priceless! I probably wore down Side A of that album, I even fell asleep listening to it cause beneath the noise its actually a very psychedelic experience. I listened to Side B sometimes as well, but low and behold... these days its probably the Sore Throat I listen to the most! Its the complete opposite of the Noisecore they are most known for and its their most brooding and Doomy material they ever recorded. Saw Throat is good too, quite an experience actually, not only their most ambitious work, but I'd say they were onto something fresh with that album.
Extreme Noise Terror - the split with Chaos UK was the first thing I bought from them, (also the first time I heard Chaos UK, which was simply great! unfortunately none of the other Chaos UK material I've heard since matches the ferociousness of that material off the legendary split), I obviously was impressed at the time I first heard ENT though I thought they were going to be more Grindy. Which they weren't but the multi-vocal attack more than made up for it. Now I'm so glad they weren't a Grindcore band, cause I appreciate their more measured Dis-groove approach more so than the blastbeat saturation of old ND. And I do listen to ENT regularly these days (mostly the brilliant Peel Sessions.) ENT were definitely an original, when they first hit - they were like a mixture of all the extreme Hardcore Punk that came before, all wrapped up in one brilliant Crusty machine!
Deviated Instinct - I got this (Gutteral Breath tape which includes the 2 LPs and the EP) the same day I got the Total Doom tape (as well as the first Paradise Lost album.) Another band I assumed was going to be more Grindy, and was sort of disappointed when they weren't. I did like the gnarly vocals and the Celtic Frost DM vibe on some of the songs though. The Rock n Roll Conformity part of the tape is probably what I listened to the most during my youth, as it's the faster material. But as I grew older and Doomier in my tastes I really started to appreciate the slower side of the band. Nowadays I listen to DI on a semiregular basis. I especially adore the Terminal Filth Stenchcore demo, and think it's pretty much their best recording!
Axegrinder - Out of all the UK Hardcore bands of the mid/late 80s I think Axegrinder is the most visionary and far reaching bands out of that scene. Not only were they way ahead of their time but I think their (direct or indirect) influence will be felt long after many of these other bands are forgotten. They tapped into the realm of the Epic and Emotional style song that many of these other bands were completely oblivious too. Perhaps influenced by the likes of Antisect and Amebix, but took maybe what those other bands started and brought it to an new Epic level predating even Neurosis' slow grinding albums that began with Souls as Zero 1992. I was also lucky enough to hear Rise of the Serpent Men for the first time during the early 90s when I was delving more into the rising Black and Doom Metal scenes of the time and to me it was just another Doom Metal album and now I probably worship and appreciate it more now than I ever did before.
Ripcord - This band defined Hardcore for me. Everything about them from the speed to mean riffs to the yelling vocals... Defiance of Power is one of my favorite Hardcore albums of its time, although I confess to sometimes skipping past some of the longer more 'structured' songs to the quick one minute blasty ones. I was really disappointed with Poetic Justice (their 2nd album) cause it was much more melodic and had a new vocalist that just didn't match the intensity and anger of the dude from their first. Defiance of Power still remains one of my fav HC albums of all time, and I'll still listen to it on occasion and get that hyper feeling all over again.
Prophecy of Doom - I always seemed to want more out of this band, and they never quite sat comfortably with me. I got Acknowledge the Confusion Master, way back in the very early 90s and I was a mite disappointed with it. Although some of it was pleasing, at the same time I wanted it to be faster, more immediate and the vocals seemed to lack power. Like the dude was trying for a super low guttural approach but sacrificed some of the vocal power for the deep pitch he was attempting. And then there are these weird screamy parts on the album that seemed out of place too and downright awkward too. And not to mention some of the songs took a while to get going. Bah! A frustrating band indeed. Even nowadays I keep coming back to them hoping to have some sort of grand realization on how misunderstood I was about this band. I think they were trying for a more Death Metal version of Axegrinder but kind of failed at the attempt. I will say the Peel Sessions, give this band a bit of saving grace. The vocals seem more fitting and the general mix is better balanced. Still doesn't help the fact that some of their segments were just down right boring!
....Its actually been fun archiving my thought on all these bands of my adolescents 20 years later! Damn Im old! I only did it with the bands mentioned on the Trapped In A Scene book as it brought back fond memories. But there are many more associated bands with this scene like spazztic blurr, carcass, old lady drivers, righteous pigs, defecation, desecration, spermbirds, impulse manslaughter, and so forth that I might write up some thoughts later on.
These damned Ian Glasper books have been well worth it. This has been my bathroom read for about a month now and I still aint finished. I might even be getting more enjoyment out of this than the Trapped In A Scene Book. At the very least it acts as a great encyclopedia offering vast history and comprehensive discographies on each band - from the more well known to the most obscure. Good thick book too nearly 500 pages. Some of it can be kind of samey after a while as each band has similar stories about revolving band members, disappointing recording sessions and good + bad live experiences - but I also like getting a feel for how it was like during that era of Thatcher inspired Punk in the UK and their dealings with skinheads, and cops, and all that noise... I think every genre, subgenre, scene and era of music should have a book like this.
Im working my way backwards and Burning Britain will be next.