Sunday, April 18, 2010

Recent Swedish Hardcore

Martyrdöd- Sekt LP
Let's begin phenomenologically. It is impossible to say from a first listen whether a record is "good" or not. However, it is entirely possible to say whether I enjoy something or not. I contend, though, that these are the same thing. We all know what it is like to LOVE a song: it catches your attention, you play it a bunch of times in a row, you send the video to your friends, you have it stuck in your head.

When you hear some music and this ("I love this!") does NOT happen, there is not some other thing happening: it's not as good. Does this mean that my Ornette Coleman records are not as "good" as Black Sabbath, because I do all sorts of ridiculous things in my room when I am listening to one and not the other? I enjoy them less, even over a span of years. Life is too short to worry about the difference.

The d-beat, as we know, is a beat, a rhythm. Any band playing this style has to face up, immediately, to the fact that this beat can become deadly boring. The best bands, Discharge, Disclose, Totalitär, make it their own. They take precedence over the beat. The worst bands succumb to it, and their music disappears into X minutes of sheer material.

Martyrdöd were a band I was very excited about in 2003-2005, but have not thought a great deal about since then. They were more mysterious and more metal-influenced than the bands who were going around at that time, although this appeal was subsequently undermined by rawer (and far superior) bands like Framtid and Lebenden Toten.

So, this new Martyrdöd album: what's it like? For one thing, it is startlingly cliché-free. They seem like they are working within a musical idiom rather than within a bag of tricks. Somehow they convince me that d-beat can be profoundly melodic, without resorting to the "sweet" lead-lines of early 2000's stadium crust. It does not grab your attention, necessarily, but if you put time into this record, it pays back. The best d-beat ("Fight Back") grabs your attention, despite its being incredibly predictable. Martyrdöd are more thunderously monotonous, but I am convinced they crafted these songs to be immersive. It's a good record, but I suppose I am saying it is not a punk record. The Ramones are not "immersive," y'know? It's a good METAL record, in that sense (and in that sense only).

Disfear- Live the Storm LP
I guess this band never "made it," although this album was (favorably) reviewed on indie rock website Pitchfork. Strictly speaking, this has very little in common with Discharge anymore. I mean, there is a d-beat, it is redundant as hell, the singer is still the singer from Skitsystem (and At the Gates)... but it is basically emo. I don't mean of course that it is *really* emo, that emo music will come out of your speakers if you play this... but all the embellishments, the chord progressions, the long choruses, the expressive and bummed-out vocals--none of this has to do with Discharge. It is more like Coliseum.

The whole point of Discharge was not to "rock." Discharge were a very abstract, cool-looking, almost inconceivably arty, monotone, and minimalist outfit. They weren't into tattoos or brass knuckles or sad/tough fonts. Discharge invented a timeless form of hardcore at a single stroke, by detaching melody, narrative, musicality, emotion, attitude, etc. FROM punk, reducing it to Stooges-levels of dumbed-down-high-concept. Discharge are an anthem, a protest--anything but a haphazard assemblage of rock cliches. In truth, Discharge are much more in the tradition of the Stooges, the Ramones, and Motorhead, than most any of the bands subsequent to them (although it remains a task to interpret this essence correctly).

In any case, Disfear has nothing to do with any of this. Undoubtedly that makes Disfear catchier, more "rockin," than a legitimate group could ever be, but on the other hand this is just circus music for upset teenagers (à la Cradle of Filth).

Wolfbrigade- Comalive LP
This was heralded as something of a "return to form" of this venerable band. In my opinion they haven't been good since Jonsson left (i.e. since after their second LP). Nothing here is even close to A New Dawn Fades or Lycanthro Punk, which were truly depraved slices of life from a crazy person. I'd like to see these clean-cut lads make a song called "Land Shark" or "Roll the Dice" totally convincing, which was the specialty of Wolfpack in their prime. Wolfpack certainly were not the greatest band of all time, but you definitely were afraid that they would STAB YOU. In this sense, they were in a league with Negative Approach and Poison Idea; simply scary people.

Nowadays Wolfbrigade resort more to fonts than to visceral thrills, although the production here is certainly a step above what I heard from their last album, Prey to the World. They have totally ditched the Tragedy rip-offs which informed their album on Feral Ward, and so this is entirely straight-ahead. I couldn't tell you if it is better or worse than any of their 2000s records, though. But it's impossible to imagine wanting to hear these songs again. More damningly, if someone came over to your house and played you these riffs without a huge production and a full band, i.e. just on their little practice amp, I don't think they would sound better than anything else just made up on the spot. Totally by-the-numbers.

Warcollapse- Defy LP
I don't want to make any grand claims for this, but it is by far the best of the bunch. Why? For one thing, in their own way, Warcollapse have made a "party record," a bouncy, catchy, drug-addled good time. To the uninitiated, sure, this will sound like death metal, or at least be indistinguishable from the other albums here... but this is a lesson IN small differences. Or, as I have it on my other blog, "paying attention to" Swedish hardcore. Every second of this album is enjoyable, not to say riveting. What can I say? It grabs your attention. By any other measure, it is a ridiculous album. Like the first Star Wars movie, the criticisms are as obvious as they are redundant: (in this analogy) badly acted, derivative, only for teenage boys, a climax that has little to do with the preceding small-scale plot, etc. And these odes to the crust lifestyle and heavy drug use will probably not change any minds, either.

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