Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top 5 Splits of 2012

5. Robocop/Detroit split: Dead Language, Foreign Bodies

Robocop has emerged as one of contemporary powerviolence's more interesting voices, and part of the reason for that distinction comes from their willingness to experiment with the form. What's normally a down-and-dirty genre gets the audiophile treatment on Robocop's side of this split, and the result is a twitching, mutant punk that incorporates saxophones, echoing noise and whatever else it can wrap its tentacles around into a strange, satisfying experimental powerviolence gestalt. The Canadians in Detroit, while opting for a more traditional approach to powerviolence, ramp up the violence and anger with a moshing, throat-bursting kick-in-the-teeth of a B-side that occasionally gives way to 90's post-hardcore sincerity ("Day After Day," the second half of "Pusher"). All that, plus a Jennifer Lopez cover. A well-made, varied split that also happens to come with some of 2012's best cover art and packaging.

4. The Afternoon Gentlemen/Suffering Mind

The boozegrind/slackerviolence of The Afternoon Gentlemen is a stinking ball of fastcore, grind and powerviolence pickled in cheap alcohol and crust punk. Pissed-off, irreverent (and in moments like the Fukushima Daiichi disaster-referencing "Nuclear Terror," truly funny: "Leaders speak to calm our spirits/Crust bands write piles of new lyrics") blasting for the burnt-out crusty in all of us. Suffering Mind, arguably this year's king of splits and per-volume one of the most consistent bands working in their genre today, blast out four shots of Insect Warfare and Discordance Axis-inflected shrapnel (one of which is an Assück cover) with the ease of true A-list grind lifers. Together, these two keep the grind alive on ten tracks of low-stakes but highly enjoyable punk noise.

3. Sete Star Sept/Rotgut

Among the year's most controversial extreme music releases was the sprawling, uninhibited noisegrind omnibus that is Sete Star Sept's Vinyl Collection 2010-2012. For most listeners, it was a hard piece to approach because of its sheer size alone, and many walked away from it as perplexed as when they started. As the enjoyable-ness factor of SSS's side of this split (featured on the aforementioned collection) shows, in small bites, the unhinged and left-field nature of these Japanese grinders can be immensely satisfying. On the flip side, Malaysian grind 'n' roll newcomers Rotgut serve up a classic-sounding set of nasty, lo-fi Asian grindcore heavier on attitude than speed (and surprisingly enough, all the better for it). The perfect 2012 split to satisfy your inner Neanderthal noisehound, these tracks sport a sound that would fit in chronologically anywhere from the mid-90's to last week.

2. Gripe/Diseksa: Indefinite Detention

Politically and socially conscious grindcore, by its nature, rests on one side or the other of the line between pertinent and painful, depending on its execution. Thankfully, then, the overtly socially charged Indefinite Detention (and with a name like that, how could it not be?) sits comfortably on the former side—and happens to rule musically, as well. Gripe's outraged, high-caliber grind is one of my personal favorite recent examples of the form, and the lyrical content of songs like the anti-rape "Ballbuster," the title track and "You Can't Spell Dead Without D.E.A." prove that all that griping comes with some very solid arguments. Diseksa (the second set of Malaysians on this list, further illustrating South Asian grind's continued ascendance) smash out raw, boombox-in-a-room-fidelity crust-grind that does fun as well as it does fuck you (and so well that I'm willing to forgive their use of the first "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" sample that I've ever heard). An effortless-sounding grindcore tutorial that, especially at the impossible-to-pass-up price of a free download, is a must-have blastbeat-fest for this year.

1. Cloud Rat/Republic of Dreams

I've already said a lot about this split, but considering how much I love it, I'm willing to say a bit more. Cloud Rat might be my single favorite recent grind act, and considering the fact that they seem to get better with each release, stand to hold that honor for the foreseeable future. The mixture of punk, doom and memorable grindcore riffs on their six tracks stuck with me like nothing else did this year (I liked this record enough I almost considered saving it for my top LPs list instead of top splits) and each track oozes emotion and energy in a manner I've mainly encountered on Pig Destroyer's strongest material and Jon Chang's Discordance Axis and Gridlink releases (and the lyrics are at least up to par with the ones from those records). I'll admit that's it's the second side, by screamo newcomers Republic of Dreams, that was the real surprise for me. Every bit as cohesive as the Cloud Rat side, RoD's side made me love a genre I don't usually pay a lot of attention to, and while I'm too much of a Cloud Rat fan to say that this is the superior side, Republic of Dreams is going to be on my new release radar from here on out. Long on atmosphere and emotionality (and longer on catchy riffs), these tracks swing from one polarity to another with more blasts than you'll find in your typical screamo album. This is a split that's determined to avoid any limitations conferred by the form, and if it isn't sitting somewhere in your record crates/on your shelves, do yourself a favor and buy it as a late holiday/early New Years present. No split even came close to this one this year, and if either of these bands' 2013 releases are anywhere as good as this (Moksha already has a tentative place on HaaSL's Best LPs of 2013 list and I've only heard one song from it) expect to see them both on my lists this time next year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Violent Restitution- Self-Titled LP

One of grindcore's greatest casualties of the last 10 years (and for a genre with an attention span like this, there have been scores of excellent ones) is unquestionably the noisy, grinding Texan powerhouse that was Insect Warfare. And since its passing in 2009, there have been more than a few bands pegged as the second coming of IW (Wormrot and Cellgraft being the two most notable examples).

The latest band to receive this questionable compliment is the Canadian grind trio Violent Restitution, and from the cover art of this debut LP to the band name itself (really a Razor reference) the surface comparisons are obvious. However, beyond sharing a noisy, no-nonsense approach and a violent, confrontational sound, on a deeper level the two bands are no more similar than any other two old-school-inspired grind acts; to stereotype Violent Restitution as little more than an Insect Warfare tribute band means missing the full scope of what they bring to the table.

Violent Restitution deal in ugly, old-school patterned grindcore of a fast, noisy character. What is immediately apparent about the songs is a sense of militant social consciousness and the anti-oppression attitude that permeates most aspects of the record. For fifteen angry, neck-snapping minutes, vocalist Mya delivers missives against animal cruelty, vivisection, racism, colonialism, genocide and patriarchy in shrapnel bursts of screams and growls over guitarist Sarah’s nasty, mangled-sheet-metal riffing  and drummer Pierre’s frenzied blasts.

“Evisceration” is a brief, vital shot of pure grind that doesn’t get mired in pleasantries. Barring a 2-second intro and an equally short breakdown at its end, the track remains locked into blasting gear with a satisfyingly single-minded sense of purpose.

Raw-throated, unaccompanied growls open “Acculturation,” before guitar and drums kick the track into overdrive. Eventually it finds a thrashy, speed punk groove that is occasionally abandoned for vicious bursts of grinding, finally giving way to a sludge-drenched breakdown and a final burst of speed punctuated that’s punctuated by a tortured high scream.

After the b-side is opened with an animal-liberating audio sample, it is followed by the face-smashing, limb-swinging grindthrash of "Murderous Colonialist Assimilators." Besides being vicious sonically, its lyrics decry colonialism and the slaughter of indigenous peoples with bite-sized, highly screamable couplets like "Mutilation, colonization/Disgusting human greed" and longer lines such as "Ancestral practices of a colonialist regime/Built a nation of shame and deceit." There's nothing like well-placed outrage to get the blood pumping, and this entire record has that by the bucketful.

While the LP’s most notable trait is its speed, Sarah’s jagged tone is periodically trained on slow, heavy
 riffing, like the pit-forming assault of opener “Intro/Liberate” or the second half of “Burning Rage of a Dying Planet.” This technique occasionally comes off as a songwriting crutch when breakdowns drop in out of nowhere, but otherwise serves to add variety in a structurally homogenous genre like grindcore.

This refreshingly dirty chunk of Canadian grind, while far from revolutionary, manages to be one of my favorite pure grindcore experiences of 2012 and almost unquestionably holds the title for this year's strongest debut. Sonic similarities (or lack thereof) to deceased Texan grindcore bands aside, this record rips, and I've been itching for more material since my first dozen or so spins.

The LP is available on vinyl from Mercy of Slumber and Black Banana Records, or as a free download (split into its A and B sides) from Violent Restitution's Bandcamp.