Saturday, August 21, 2010

Words On Power



In the lift at the office the other day, inamidst all the usual work hard / play hard bluster, some bloke from the corporate department was banging on with no little alacrity - and a certain, surely misplaced, sense of pride - about how 'twas all "unrelenting grind" up there. No, my friend, faffing around with shareholder resolutions and verification notes is *not* unrelenting grind: but let us show you what *is*. For the Power It Up label, pride of Lower Saxony, have recently been responsible for no fewer than three records that fully warrant the oxygen of publicity. Unfortunately, we don't have it in our power to grant them that, so we're going to resort to just scribbling about them here instead.

* * * * *

Kicking off with "A Tribute to Nasum". Prosaically enough, "A Tribute to Nasum" is indeed a v/a tribute to the legendary Nasum, indeed probably the ultimate tribute to Nasum in that over its course, some 53 mostly first or second division bands from across the grindcore spectrum try but in the end fail to produce a cover that quite lives up to the untrammelled quality of the Swedish band's originals. However, before you cross the compilation off grandma's Christmas list, that stat doesn't stop it being worth investigating further. After all, you could have said the same about the "Fortune Cookie Prize", "Snowstorm" or "Romantic And Square..." tributes, but it didn't stop them being eminently kissable in their own right.

Firstly, this tribute features a number of bands with a pretty solid rep in our eyes, combos that have either graced this blog, or would have done had we got round to posting up a greater proportion of we've written: Coldworker (of course featuring ex-Nasumite Anders Jakobson), Keitzer (authors of the mighty "No Justice No Peace"), Rotten Sound, Nashgul (q.v.), Total Fucking Destruction, Afgrund, Japanische Kampfhorspiele, Leng T'che, Mumakil, Misery Index, Kill The Client... The compilers have obviously decreed that for the benefit of punters short of staying power, most of these better-known names should be thrown in right at the start of the disc, largely leaving the last 40 or so tracks to comparative unknowns. Of the above-named, Rotten Sound do their best to make the chosen track ("Resistance") recognisably their own, and it's probably the most accomplished number here; TFD cheerfully give "Blinded" the slightly leftfield shakedown you'd expect; Leng T'che play things safer by choosing to cover the tip-top "No Sign Of Improvement" and net the ensuing open goal, although it's nowhere near their 2010 highpoint, "Totalitarian" (featuring guest vocals from Barney Napalm Death). And speaking of the sadly absent Napalm Death - perhaps Nasum's most celebrated fans - probably the closest we get to them here is Mumakil's excellent, bracing version of "Gargoyles & Grotesques".

Secondly, even aside from the "A-listers", there are plenty of individual tunes that contain sparks of interest, and it's not so hard to wade through them all, given that the average track length here can't be too much more than a minute. Rompeprop and Methadone Abortion Clinic stand out for the way that their pitchshifted Mortician-like vocals drag "Disappointed" and "Sixteen" away from the originals: you could be forgiven for thinking that neither band were fronted by humans at all. Indeed, the goregrind bands here - bands who are, by definition, usually pretty terrible - profit from at last having some decent ingredients to work with, instead of coasting on blood and guts or puerile in-jokes. There are also a few death metal outfits on board, who by and large moonlight effectively as born-again grind combos.

Thirdly, of course, is the indisputable T.R.U.T.H. that, Nasum having been a rather splendid musical ensemble, a large percentage of the original melodies were simply rather ace: this assists a number of the participants in producing something approvably listenable, such as Mastic Scum, Goregast, My Cold Embrace and Expose Your Hate who, respectively, cover the groovesome quartet of "The Masked Face", "Stealth Politics", ""Silent Sanguinary Soil" and "Shapeshifter". You can't go too far wrong with that kind of material, and they don't.

Fourthly, it's rather sweet to see how far around this globe the tentacles of Nasum's influence had spread before their premature demise: there are bands here from the States, Canada, Brazil, Singapore, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Norway, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Poland and, rather surprisingly, Saudi Arabia (Creative Waste, if you were wondering). It's a trifle disappointing, though, that to the best of our knowledge the only band on here hailing from our own sceptr'd isle are Aberdeen's granite grinders, Ablach ("Too Naked To Distort").

Fifthly, there's just our wonderment at the clutch of groups on display who bothered making it all the way to the studio in order to record a song lasting 20 seconds or shorter: given how half of the bands here seem to hail from Alpine regions, this conjures vivid images of them spending hours trekking through snowdrifts in order to make it to the recording session, before starting the arduous journey back only minutes later. Particular admiration is therefore due to each such hardy adventurer, but the real prize here goes to the indefatigible Bathtub Shitter, whose cover of "Rens" (duration: 3 seconds, at the outside) finishes the whole exercise off with a shouted flourish.

* * * * *

Next is Nashgul's newest, "El Dia Despues Al Fin De La Humanidad", the best work to date from the La Coruna four-piece. Now the fact that Nashgul had tracks on both the Repulsion and Nasum tribute albums tells you a little about where they're coming from, but closer parallels are probably their Spanish compatriots Looking For An Answer (more on that story later) and, somewhat inevitably, the increasingly legendary Insect Warfare.

There are some excellent songs on display: first track proper (after the obligatory doomsday intro) "Hidrofobia" absolutely explodes into life, unsurprisingly carrying no doubt conscious thematic echoes of Insect Warfare's "Hydrophobia" but also setting a benchmark for the record as a whole in terms of its abrupt early-Napalmisms and rolling riffs. "Predicores De La Muerte", the obligatory broadside against organised religion's double standards, springs into life with a great little instrumental groove, and "La Plaga" for us is the best track of all, Nashgul singing about hiding from said plague "entre las ruinas del capitalismo" while interchanging riff-flecked passages with all-out grind attacks. There's "Olor A Napalm", with the whiff of Napalm (Death) you'd expect, "Crematorio", which pulls all Nashgul's tricks into a showboating single minute or so, and the pivot of the album, "El Dia De Los Muertos", about consumption, indolence, routine jobs and mediocrity, which slows down into a long, booming intro (think General Surgery's patented Carcass / Unrest blend) before the blastbeats kick back in. Hot on its heels is one of the faster ditties, the sung-in-English "Terrorist Warhead", which might do for some of you missing Insect Warfare as much as we obviously are.

The final flurry of tunes, for us, don't quite hit the same heights (even though "Street Trash" has some heroic punk riffing, "Planet Cancer" contains more welcome hints of I.W., and "El Vengeador Toxico" just has a brilliant title) but still show Nashgul settling in comfortably to their newfound role as premium quality grinders, a welcome move away from past dalliances with zombie horror shtick (Machetazo, take note). "El Dia Despues Al Fin De La Humanidad" is highly recommended.

* * * * *

And finally, there's an album that's already made our year-end top tens (in 2007), but which we've been listening to near-continually since and which now gets a more widely distributed re-release, in the manner of those Insect Warfare and Wormrot long-players. "Extincion", by five-piece Madrid powerhouse Looking For An Answer (motto: "grindcore is raw, veganism is law"), was originally released on the band's own Living Dead Society label: by any yardstick, it's a cracking release, one which from the opening slaughterhouse sample radiates the band's sheer energy and anger. Musically, the LP is a precursor to those later-recorded IW and Wormrot collections, being a pummelling aggregation of blastbeats, furious breakdowns and low-end growl (as distinct from Nasum's love of screaming high-register vocal): as we've ventured before, the band ape the best tradition of "Mentally Murdered"-era Napalm, somewhere between the tinny conviction of "From Enslavement..." and the Scott Burns-produced death metal of "Harmony Corruption", most tracks between two and three minutes long to allow them to mix things up a little. It's also no great surprise that Looking For An Answer, like their compatriots Nashgul, turned up on the Repulsion tribute record (with "Driven To Insanity", which also appeared on their excellent 7" EP for Relapse last year).

The opening salvo proper of the appropriately savage, stop-start staccato "La Matanza" ("Slaughter") is perhaps the best "meat is murder" song since THAT one, which soon crashes into "Vuestro Respeto Es Nuestro Desprecio", as LFAA line themselves up against "la justificacion del dolor inocente", itself a theme later picked up in "Repugnancia, Aversion y Odio" (animals as innocent victims of cruelty) and "Conciencia Genocida" (which mourns our "criminal indifference" to that). LFAA have no truck with the old canard that our capacity to reason justifies our maltreatment of animals ("Los Humanos Tambien Son Carne"), so it's unsurprising that "Demilicion A Sus Valores" debates violent action to protect animals, or that "Replica" ("Retort") contemplates revenge without compassion on those inflicting that pain. For animals, the call is for "la liberacion absoluta": on "Ruptura", one of the longer tracks, which contains some passages with a deathier feel, the band not-so-gently chide even the "protectionists" who regulate, and thereby legitimise, animal suffering.

As for what us human beings are doing to ourselves and to each other, the message is that we're all implicated: "integrados en un sistema de produccion global que camufla vuestra mediocre y vacia existencia" ("Fosa Comun"). "Sistema Social", musically the tightest of the three 30-second tunes on the album, resumes this school of thought, addressing the slightly wider target of "una tirania profesional" under which we cyclically labour and consume. The riff-heavy "Utopia Muerta", which unfolds a little like the instrumental sections of Napalm's "Scum", excoriates those recreational "revolutionaries" ("cuando mies de bastardos" - ouch!) who won't brook change to their comfortable lifestyles. Such decadence is our ultimate oppressor: that's the premise of "El Yugo De La Opresion", which boasts dollops of crustpunk and a killer Doom-like riff. Oh, of course there's nothing original about any of this: but that's a criticism that can levelled at most of the rest of our favourite music too. What is incontestable is that on this record, the music and the lyrics dovetail perfectly, all-too exquisitely, and the passion and the soul of the band shine bright.

In a sense, every message on the album is compressed into the obligatory one-chord (one word, one second long) number, "Escoria" (scum), but the real apotheosis of all these lyrical threads comes nearly halfway through, as the ambulating bars of "Marcha Hacia La Extincion" roll unsurprisingly into the title track and LFAA rail bitterly at how humanity's self-absorption is leading us to total wipeout, aided considerably by a blinding breakdown in the middle. The musically sublime "Cada Naciamento Es Una Tragedia" (also replete with a searing breakdown) then translates this idea, somewhat bluntly, from the general to the particular. So by the time you get to track 18, "Revulsivo", you may be feeling a little suffocated. The band has this one final chance to finish on a positive note; but despite their name, they can't bring themselves to do it. The song's message is frank; that hope is deception. It fades out, fades back into the sound of the abbatoir.

Which all makes "Extincion" as bleak as it is brilliant: as bleak as listening to the Field Mice's "Bleak" on the bleakest of bleak midwinter days, as bleak as you'd expect from an album whose sole theme is, well, extinction. But perhaps the very bleakest thought of all is this: there is very little of what LFAA say that isn't - if we're honest - completely spot on.

No comments: