Friday, December 11, 2009

New Age Witch Hunt

One of punk rock’s original ideas that are often forgotten is changing things when they get boring. Although revisionist history states otherwise, the standard hardcore approach had gotten quite stale by the late ‘80s. Things needed to change for the underground punk scene to survive, so the process of redefining itself was underway. Throughout the 1990s, bands began exploring new styles and ways of living. Sometimes the results were mixed. For instance, the punks often got caught up in silly political games that divided the scene and created a needlessly hostile environment. But the musical strides that a lot of bands took were often enough to make up for how unremittingly lame people could be.

While bands were exploring new ideas and sounds, they looked elsewhere for inspiration. Consequently, respect for non-American bands was at a high level, arguably more so than it was during the 1980s. Thanks to the attention paid by zines like Profane Existence, it was not uncommon at all to see true-blue crusty punks sporting T-shirts and patches of bands from random European countries outside of Scandinavia and the UK. As I remember, one of many bands appreciated by knowledgeable crustys during the ‘90s was a Belgian band called Bad Influence.

These hippie pagan punks formed in 1985, issuing a couple demos before releasing their New Age Witch Hunt LP seven years later. While Amebix and Zygote (bassist Tim Crow was a member at one point) were clearly their main sources of inspiration, Bad Influence also injected the occasional dose of faster-paced hardcore that put them in the same camp as bands like Mushroom Attack. But they had a more, shall I say, psychedelic approach to their craft that made them stand out amongst their fellow Eurocrust brethren. When Skuld reissued New Age Witch Hunt with their “Wake Up”/“Unacceptable” 7-inch in the mid ‘90s, more people had a chance to check it out since they had a good distribution deal with Profane Existence at the time. I like to think that older crustys still remember Bad Influence as being a somewhat necessary part of their music collections at the time.

I finally acquainted myself with this album in the summer of 1996 through nefarious means. While being ignored by snobby Oakland crustys at a house party, I went inside to use the bathroom and noticed a substantial collection of CDs in the living room. Out of dislike for the party crowd, I decided it was time for an impromptu shopping spree. When no one was looking, I managed to snatch the Bad Influence disc from the shelf, plus a copy of ABC Diabolo’s Last Intoxication of Senses CD and maybe one or two other choice Eurocrust jams that I was interested in. I then made a quick exit for home and felt good blasting my new tunes on the stereo. Mind you, this isn’t something that I would do now, but I felt justified at the time. If they could spend more money on their wardrobes than most people I knew did for their rent then; they could also afford to throw a few bucks towards replacing a couple missing CDs.

As modern crust becomes less and less distinguishable from straight up metal, it’s nice to go back in time and revisit this album as a lesson in how it should be done…and should still be today. It’s also something worth keeping in mind when you listen to yet another band paying “tribute” to a bunch of old hardcore bands that were considered third-rate hacks in their day. As of last year, Bad Influence was back at it; playing shows again and working on a new album titled Preaching to the Perverted. While I never felt like their other releases were able to travel the same sonic path as New Age Witch Hunt, it’s nice to know that these guys are active again and even contemplating a US tour after all this time.

We dance happily around the fire here.

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