"Anthrax/Hagar The Womb - Split 7” EP" (EP, 2016)
Grow Your Own
I was expecting very little from Hagar the Womb's Hated By You Daily Mail, touched as it is by the dread hand of ska-punk. I was planning to write a review in the style of HP Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu, with the 7” taking the place of the Wilcox bas-relief but I realised it'd be an awful lot of work for a geek-boy joke that only about ten people would understand. In any event, it's nowhere near as woeful as I was expecting a song inspired by a humorous t-shirt slogan to be, so the conceit of its existence being too terrible to contemplate and stay sane would be slightly overwrought even by my slightly purple standards.
If we set aside the frankly rubbish hated by you chorus which allows bassist Mitch to indulge in his best Bobby Farrell* impression but adds exactly nothing to the proceedings, the lyrics are actually pretty good - “Look behind the words/ Look behind the spin/ See the lies beneath/ See the lies within”. I actively enjoyed the approximately 30% where it sounds like a proper punk rock song, and during these sections, where the skanking is (advisably) ditched, there are moments where this sounds like the Hagar of old; but then they ruin it by going back to the piss-poor skanking.
I know I bang on about my dislike of ska-punk, but I find it intolerable; redolent of the absolute fag-end of the anarcho scene, the last resort of the 'Will this do?' brigade. Made by and listened to by people who have no understanding (or even liking) of either punk or ska, destined to be played in dank Dutch squats to bellowing drunks flailing around amid spilt beer, fag ends and broken dreams. None of this is exactly Hagar the Womb's fault, but they should know better. And this is really my problem with this song; it's a bit half-arsed and throw-away. Like they couldn't be bothered to put the effort in. One of the things that I always liked about Hagar back in the day was that they were a laugh live, but they always had good songs to rely on once they stopped dicking about and their records were packed with proper hooks and choruses.
Since their reformation they seem intent on having fun above all (and good luck to them), but if they stopped fucking about and took themselves more seriously they'd be a much more impressive proposition. This would have got 7/10 but the ska-punk nonsense has brought it down to 5/10.
Anthrax contribute two tracks (and) and unusually for them, the production is a bit polite, with the guitars quite low in the mix. Luckily this doesn't really get in the way too much, but it mutes their usual fearsome live attack. Fear occupies the territory where punk bleeds into what is now mislabelled 'post-punk' (or god help us 'goth'), bringing to mind The Pack, or perhaps more accurately; The Wall, and features fractured, impressionistic lyrics which describe a character pushed to brink of mental collapse (“There's little or no room for love/ In this place you once called home”).
In contrast, Suprise Suprise builds from a restrained bass riff reminiscent of the intro to Metallica's My Friend Of Misery to a thrashy three minute volley from the front line of the austerity wars via some guitar work that finds them at their most Conflictesque.**
Castigating those who have forgotten to never trust a politician (especially a politician who claims that 'we're all in this together'), it doesn't have the subtlest of lyrics or tunes, but when vocalist Oskar roars out the line “Lessons never learned”�, all such reservation are forgotten. Slightly less essential than previous efforts due to the somewhat restrained production, these two songs are still definitely worthy of a solid 7/10, giving the whole release an average of 6/10.
*Ask the internet
** Which is totally a thing
Nick Hydra (April 2016)
"Anthrax/Pedagree Skum/Dogshite/Slug - Split 7” EP" (EP, 2015)
Grow Your Own
As you might expect, this release is a mixed bag, but it functions well as an introduction to what passes for the anarcho-punk scene these days.
I was always going to go for the Anthrax track (Dirty Bomb) first, and I am sorry to report that the first few seconds filled me a sick panicked terror known only to those who have gazed deep in to the abyss, and found the abyss gazing back. I speak of course of the abomination that is ‘ska-punk’.
For all I know, it’s all Lee Perry and Prince Buster on the stereo chez Anthrax, but I’d never picked up a whiff of ska influence in their music before, and to be honest I don’t really hear it now. I’m all for bands stretching out and experimenting with different sounds, but in this instance it feels bolted on.
Luckily, the situation is saved as the skanking gives way to proper riffage on the chorus, and disappears entirely from the mid section onwards, which features a nice delay-heavy guitar workout that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Ruts B-side. Everything else is great, with excellent bass (again reggae influenced, but not in a laboured way), and a proper roar of a vocal castigating the rise of UKIP and their loathsome ilk. Let’s hope the first third of the song was just a blip. 6/10
Pedagree Skum (Futility of the Human Condition). Er, well, it’s OK. Actual singing (that sounds a bit like Pauline Murray of Penetration fame), over a-punk-by-numbers chug that sounds like something else that I can’t remember the name of, the lyrics are nothing to write home about... that’s it really. “Inoffensive” is the best I can come up with. 3/10
For Dogshite’s contribution (Fuck You Rude Boy), we’re back in the shuddering abyss of ska-punk, but this time with the full complement of horrors, unalloyed by any spark of hope. It starts off relatively well, although the rancid ghost of Senser (and their even more disturbingly noxious punk-ska-metal hybrid) hangs over the first few bars. It’s well played and recorded, but is dreadful, throwaway rubbish, replete with an “I’m from Londahn innit” accent so thick it brings to mind Alisha Dixon when she was still the shouty one out of Mis-teeq, if Mis-teeq came from Holland*. The lyrics are equal poor, showing not an iota of flair, or even anger. Despite the title, the song spends half of its time attacking women with “fake tits” who make “male controlled” music, who presumably don’t measure up to Dogshite’s exacting standards off what ‘real’ women are like. On top of all this, they reference that most up to date of challenges to contemporary feminism – the Spice Girls. 0/10
And so, on to Slug (W.M.D.), who I have roundly slagged in the past, and of whom I was expecting almost nothing. Happily, I was wrong. While it’s not something I would seek out to listen to, it has a tune, the vocals stay on the right side of the ‘pissed Yeti’ style so beloved of grubby men with tattoos and dreadlocks, and it’s almost sprightly. The lyrics are a bit lack-lustre, and they’re not afraid to state the bleedin’ obvious (Corporate media = bad), but it’s not the unlistenable sludge I was expecting.
Overall score 3.25/ 10 (bumped up to 5/10 for the cover/ poster)
*Ask the internet.
Nick Hydra (September 2014)
"The Beg Society/Anathema" (Anthrax/Burnt Cross split 7" Single, 2014)
Anthrax and Burnt Cross are two of the best bands currently operating within the anarcho-punk genre, and both of them stand out for different reasons. Anthrax for being one of the few ‘reformed’ bands that have released new material, and for being one of the even fewer that have released good new material, Burnt Cross for being one of the few ‘new’ bands that have avoided the crust/grind cul de sac of no tunes and less style. So I was looking forward to this split 7” with some anticipation. Was that anticipation justified? Well, yes and no.
Anthrax’s The Beg Society is a rousing attack on the politics of austerity, and like the songs on their recent LP is a proper tune with a giant chorus. Crystal clear Pil-esque lead guitar sits on top of the chugging rhythm for the first half, gradually building to slashing, almost reggae chords in the mid-section, and then an explosive barrage of riffling as the song reaches its climax. The vocals express not just anger, but also compassion for the people caught in the poverty trap, relying on “Hand outs, food banks and charity” just to survive. And this is Anthrax’s great skill, expressing their anarchism via the politics of everyday life, singing of a society where “We're all out to tender/ We’ve all have been bought and sold/ Slowly being crushed by the shareholder hold” without sounding like social workers (or worse).
Burnt Cross have two songs on the single, and although I like both of them a lot, they’re a bit disappointing compared not just to Anthrax’s effort, but also to their own recent work. I’ve been buying their records for several years now, and have admired their refusal to play by any rules but their own. A two piece consisting of two brothers who make all their recordings in a bedroom using just an 8-track with built in drum machine, they’ve consistently released good and sometimes great records. Sadly, this release falls into the ‘good’ rather than the ‘great’ category. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still miles better than most contemporary anarcho-punk efforts, it’s just a bit lack-lustre by their usual standards.
The first track Anathema features a guest female vocalist (Maureen Bourne from the fantastically named Men Oh Pause) who unfortunately does the ‘high-pitched’ style of singing that will be familiar from a lot of anarcho records. It's not as bad as D.I.R.T., for instance, but it's a style that I find grating, so I could’ve done without it personally. Second song The Inner Revolutionist has a great tune; unfortunately it's the tune to Conflict’s Slaughter of Innocence. Given the debt Burnt Cross owe to Eltham’s finest (Anathema even features their patented double tracked vocal style), I can't believe they weren't aware of the similarity, so I'm assuming it's a deliberate pastiche/homage, but it's a bit... pointless. On both songs the lyrics are nicely off-kilter, reflecting an interest in the more extreme ends of metal (where else would you find the lines “Wings of fear unfold as a witness to its own ruin” in a song about the international arms trade?), and the playing is crisp and powerful, but it never quite grabs you by the throat.
very definitely worth your attention if you're at all interested in
anarcho punk, but you should also seek out both bands' other recent
work. Anthrax's All For The Cause
because it's as good as this single, and Burnt Cross's Mankind's Obituary
because it's better than this (admittedly still pretty good) effort. 9/10 (Anthrax) 6/10 (Burnt Cross) 7.5/10 (Overall)
Nick Hydra (November 2014)
"All For The Cause" (Album, 2012) !Recommended!
Grow Your Own
So: humble admission time. I had previously dismissed Anthrax as pretty much second division also-rans. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen them loads of times (even running the gauntlet of the long walk down an unlit road complete with lunatic drivers and even more lunatic skinheads to see them at the (in)famous Red Lion in their native Gravesend circa 1981 – fuck me, I thought Eltham was a violent shithole), but they never seemed to have that extra spark that would have given them the opportunity to do more than put out a couple of (very good) singles. So when I heard that they’d reformed, my thought wasn’t so much “I must go and see them!” but rather “That’ll be a laugh if they ever play with someone I really want to see.” And when they put out a CD of new material, I had no intention of buying it. I was completely wrong on both counts. They are most definitely worth seeing live, and this new (well, 2012) CD is really good, and as an added extra, you also get a lyric book and a poster for your dosh.
Their sound has evolved (as you might expect) with the tempo slowing slightly and moving toward a blend of the splenetic anarcho style and the more musical end of Oi!. In fact they almost remind me (musically) of Menace, or the best bits of early Cockney Rejects (Bad Man, I’m Not A Fool and er... that’s it really), if the Rejects had been interested in progressive politics rather than West Ham, thumping people and shouting ‘Oi!’ at every opportunity. I hesitate to employ the phrase ‘terrace chant choruses’, but you know what I mean.... Recorded live, and with a nice crunchy production, the thirteen tracks of pure pogoing joy rush past in no time. All the songs are better than good, but some (inevitably) are better than others. Monochrome Dream starts off with a trademark snare/floor tom intro and ends with an almost unheard of (for anarcho bands) barrage of echo as the delay on the vocals feeds back on itself. One Last Drop has some proper ‘Wooaaah’ backing vocals (when did you last hear that?) and a nice drop out/ build up section. Happy drops the tempo, and features some great guitar that’s reminiscent of the Dead Kennedys’ Moon Over Marin (high praise indeed). Grin has some of the best lyrics, including this vicious couplet aimed at Tony Blair “And the legacy of hate will run and run/ Endorsed by the father and the holy son/ The cat has the cream/ Got to live the dream/ To save our liberty/ And his after dinner fee”. Unfortunately, it also has the worst; “But it’s all for the cause/ As long as it’s someone else’s balls”. I’d heard it as “someone else’s fault” which would be much better (If they’re reading this, it’s theirs for the taking).
with the current financial crisis - “The city will
reap what the city has sown”, and has a powerful guitar
up with snare rolls until the chorus arrives like an express train at
the crescendo. Another
is easily the best song on the CD, coming across
like the Sex Pistols covering The Jam’s Funeral Pyre (yes, that good).
With a heartfelt (and almost heartbreaking) vocal; you can feel the
anger and sorrow in Oscar’s voice as he snarls “Another decade of
turmoil and strife/ Another body bag/ Another loss of life/ Another
mother, Father, Daughter, Son/ Jesus Christ! What have we become?”
great use of backing vocals/ shouting too. I am seriously looking
forward to the up-coming split 7” with Burnt Cross (another band you
should check out ASAP), and will definitely be seeing them live again
soon. If you like your punk rock musical and tuneful, but powerful and
political, then this is for you. Seriously, seriously, good. 8/10
Nick Hydra (April 2014)
Official Anthrax website: http://anthraxukoffical.com