Friday, November 27, 2009

Moral Majority, Kiss My Ass

Death Sentence is one of the original Australian hardcore bands, but I didn’t know that until I’d already had a bootleg of their first 7-inch for at least three years. To this day, I have no idea how it managed to find its way into my collection in the first place. Or how it survived without my ever listening to it, but I got sent for a loop when I finally put it on. Ryan…Thanks for the Support was released in 1985, and is a classic amongst die-hard “ultracore” fans. Named after Ronald Ryan, who in 1967 was the last person to be legally executed in Australia. His unfair trial and execution led to the biggest public protest in the country’s history, ensuring that the Australian government would never enforce the death penalty again. Ryan… was released the same year the death penalty was officially abolished.

To some, Death Sentence was considered Australia’s answer to DRI in their day. Their brand of atonal thrash gave better-known bands like Lärm and Siege a run for their money. And these weren’t clean-cut kids with neatly folded bandannas either. Their singer Peter McGrath had grown up on the streets and did time in maximum-security prisons at a young age. His hatred for Nazis was intense to where he would attack them in the crowd mid-song.

Peter also managed to establish a connection with the Bay Area punk scene in the mid ‘80s. A US tour had been scheduled, but the rest of the band pulled out at the last minute. Peter went to San Francisco anyway and hung out with members of DRI, MDC, and Verbal Abuse. During that time, he apparently saved Keith from Condemned 2 Death’s life in a bar fight and was asked to stay and sing for MDC. But Peter went back Down Under and continued with Death Sentence. Shortly after, they lost their drummer Scott to a drug overdose. Repaying the favor from San Francisco, Keith moved to Australia to become their new bassist. But things didn’t work out for Condemned 2 the Death Sentence. Apparently, Keith had a hard time playing fast enough to keep up and they parted ways. Death Sentence would continue with changing lineups until the early ‘90s.

If you ever find this record for a good deal—bootleg or not—be sure to grab it. Burrito Records also reissued it on CD with the rest of the Death Sentence studio output just before they went under. A fine piece of nasty hardcore noise that stomps all over today’s happy-go-lucky gentrified version of the real thing.

Get sentenced here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dissed & Dismissed

“Kicking, grabbing, fighting to get out. My only release is when I get smashed. I gotta rid myself of liars and cheaters, and anyone in my way is gonna get bashed!”

Most people I know who listen to hardcore punk have a soft spot for at least one NYHC band. And I don’t mean Urban Waste and Antidote either. I’m talking about bands you lump in to the tough guy mosh category. Usually it’s a guilty pleasure. You hate macho assholes that like to fig
ht a lot, but there’s always that one band that gets to you. While you may not enjoy violence at shows, there’s a part of you that yearns for the days when you felt a sense of danger at a show. This is the void that tough guy hardcore fills, and you like it when you hear a band thinks you’re too much of a pussy to listen to them. For some people, it’s Madball or Sheer Terror. But my main NYHC soft spot is for Breakdown.

“Sometimes everything sucks and you fight all alone. No one’s on your aide, feeling rotten to the bone. Things will change; they always do, wait and see. Just fight for what you know is right. Be who you want to be.”

In Effect was a mid-‘90s NYHC zine that used to pop up in stores and distros around here from time to time. I always enjoyed reading their interviews, even if I wasn’t interested in a lot of the bands they covered. When Breakdown started playing shows again in 1997, In Effect interviewed vocalist Jeff Perlin for issue #10, and that’s where my interest in them began. Breakdown started in 1986 and released a demo a year later that becam
e a huge influence on the NYHC approach. You can thank or blame them for starting that tough guy moshcore thing that exists in some form or another today. Even Hatebreed owes a bit to them and they’re huge now. But the Breakdown demo was more filthy and grimy-sounding than the more polished metal mosh bands, and thus better to me. Like Sheer Terror, Breakdown was the antithesis to straight edge posi-core crap like Youth of Today. A lot of political punks in the New York scene didn’t care for them very much. Apparently, they saw Breakdown as drunken white trash tough guys. They used the word “faggot” in the song “Safe in a Crowd.” Their shows often drew a crowd of crazed urban rednecks from the woodwork that would turn the pit into a war zone and destroy the club.

“Abused, cheated, fooled and betrayed. Now I’m going on a rampage. Sick of shit being thrown in my face. I’m gonna quit being nice.”

Despite the criticism, Breakdown still managed to cross dividing lines when most bands didn’t care to try. Check out the video at the end of this post. Breakdown is playing at Tompkins Square Park in 1988, and the pit consists almost entirely of skinheads and random homeless
dudes moshing it up. They knew what hardcore was about. It was all music from the streets to them, so they were regulars at the CBGB matinees as well as crusty punk shows for Squat or Rot. But make no mistake about it; these guys would bring the streets to you if they deemed it necessary. The In Effect #10 interview tells some stories about the band members roughing up rip-off promoters and stealing parts to repair their broken-down van.

“No one cares where you went last night. Or who you were with, or if you started a fight. Bragging about things that are untrue, no one gives a fucking shit about you.”

A shortened version of the 1987 demo was reissued as a 7-inch, and Breakdown was recognized on seminal compilations like NYHC: The Way It Is and Where the Wild Things Are. But aside from that, they never really got their due outside of New York. Their constantly rotating lineup made it hard for them to do any serious touring or release any new records. Instead, they put out demos that were accessible only to the most die-hard of hardcore fans. When Lost and Found bootlegged a ton of late-‘80s hardcore bands in 1995, Breakdown’s demo and comp tracks were one of the CDs they released and that’s how I finally heard them. It’s been legitimately reissued since then. Breakdown has also continued their on-again/off-again existence, finally releasing new records in the mid to late ‘90s. I hear they started playing shows again recently, with a new record on the horizon.

“Locks on my doors, but there’s nothing to steal. It’s hard to figure out what’s fake and what the fuck is real. I’m fighting just to survive. Fighting every fucking day to try and stay alive.”

Dissed and Dismissed compiles Breakdown’s classic 1987 demo, plus the songs from the aforementioned compilations. When I was in my early twenties, I was bouncing around various couches, squats, and street corners in Berkeley and Oakland. The Breakdown CD became a big part of the soundtrack to that time when I dubbed it onto a tape with Agnostic Front’s Victim in Pain and Age of Quarrel by the Cro-Mags. Sometimes those three recordings remind me of things like panhandling on rain-soaked streets. Stale cigarette smoke and homeless body odor combined with the dust and filth of an abandoned house. Police flashlights and a stiff boot to the ribs. Soup kitchens. The line of decapitated meters when the tweakers decided that everyone deserved free parking for a few months. Urban, desperate, drunk and drugged out: the way hardcore should be.

Get dissed here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cold as Life, Harder Than You

I never cared much for suburban jock retards playing rap metal and calling it “thug core” because the lyrics were about fighting or whatever. But every once in a while, a band would slip through the cracks and get it right, and usually because they were actually legitimate thugs with guitars. With that in mind, Detroit legends Cold as Life define this genre for me and many more astute thug core observers.

They’d started out as a punk band doing what else but capturing the Negative Approach vibe, more so than most attempts I’ve heard. Their original singer Rawn Beauty was a legitimately violent and dangerous motherfucker to be around, and was even featured ranting against the NAACP on a local news expose about skinheads. After recording a handful of demos, Rawn was shot in the head while sleeping one night in 1993. Despite this setback, the band eventually regrouped with a new singer and forged on in Rawn’s memory; much like a gang would despite losing a vital member.

By the time they released Born to Land Hard four years later, Cold as Life had changed their sound to the heavier mosh metal style that they’ve become better known for, the original hardcore punk all but forgotten. Presumably, punk rock was no longer enough to contain the anger and rage the band needed to express in song. The new approach radiated violence from the stereo speakers, giving you the impression that the band members could have easily gotten caught up in some shit, ending up in jail or the morgue on the way to the recording studio.

Cold as Life is gangsta moshcore at its finest. Rust Belt hatred, pulling a drive-by on your show and not giving a shit about your PC punk sensibilities. Your punk ass got something to say about it? Step up here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Symbols, Signals & Noise

When I wrote about Black Army Jacket a while back, I gave them and Devoid of Faith credit for flying the real hardcore flag in New York throughout the mid-to-late ‘90s. It’s time for me to admit to a glaring error in that statement: I somehow managed to completely overlook the band that stood the tallest and represented New York’s brutal punk scene the most at that time: motherfucking Disassociate. Die-hard fans of extreme music in the 1990s should be familiar with them. The rest of you need to load the ice bong (it’s such a nice bong) and clear some space, because you’re about to wreck some serious interior. And what better Disassociate record is there to do that with than Symbols, Signals, and Noise, their second album?

The wayward traveler is broken down. Despite his pleas for help over the CB, nobody shows up to offer a helping hand. The RV broke down again. Suddenly, a quick hardcore beat spits out from the speakers. Guitars slash and burn their way into your soul. The bass is a beautiful thing. So thick. So sweet. At that moment, you love it so much you want to punch yourself in the face. And over the course of the album, you do so. Multiple times. Just to see if you can still feel pain. But you’re too high from this sick fusion of all things hardcore to feel anything but what Disassociate wants you to.

Hardcore in the ‘90s wasn’t about blindly imitating your favorite old bands. It was supposed to be about taking chances and seeing if it worked. If hardcore sounded good with variations like blast beats, brutal mosh breakdowns, or just slowing down and feeling the power, bands went for it. Not every result was successful, but plenty of bands did some amazing shit and have stood the test of time. Disassociate were one of the few bands that seamlessly brought together all or most of the musical disparities between hardcore’s sub-genres. As well as musically, they did it ethically too, playing shows with all kinds of punk and hardcore bands. Vocalist Ralphy Boy (who used to run the Squat or Rot label) was known for putting on free shows in NYC’s Tompkins Square Park where tough “hawrdcore” bands like Breakdown played with the ska/crust Choking Victim, and pro-pot activist/songwriter David Peel would somehow be involved as well. Just like the first song on Symbols, Signals, and Noise says, Disassociate has the plan: to bring together everyone who is oppressed and in need of a better life.

Bring us your punks and your hardcore kids. Your skinheads and your crustys. Your thrashers, skaters, and grindcore kids. And always your Mexicans in Suffocation t-shirts. Get together and smoke a massive amount of weed. Drop the hatred that separates us, crank the volume, and destroy this shit system. After the final representatives of oppressive authority are removed, spend the rest of our days fucking passionately. Sounds like a plan to me.

Click here for good future plans.