Top Sounds - A

ACURSED - Tunneln I ljusets slut {Prank} A frankly bemusing release from this Swedish HC Crust band. You get 15 tracks of pummeling, relentless HC with a hint of Metal. Why bemusing? Well, the band thought it wise not to name a single song on the album (or provide lyrics) in case it distracted the attention ‘from the music’. Additionally, there are some bizarre spoken word interludes that really do not compliment the vehement, feedback-drenched, HC noise. This is the band’s debut for Prank, was several years in the making and tracks number five and 13 in particular are pile-driving, rabid slices of D-beat that are totally tunnel-visioned in their bludgeoning intensity. Eight slows things down to a crushingly powerful, dark, barked, Crust sonic attack that mirrors HIS HERO IS GONE beating up VARUKERS. This is bleak, harsh stuff that would not be out of place amidst the most brutal stuff Profane Existence has released. Members also play in VICTIMS, SUNDAY MORNING EINSTEINS and SAYYADINA. Not one for Blink 18turd fans. (08.01.09)

AFI - The Lowdown {Sexy Intellectual} Ha!! In my ‘youth’ (that’s the 80s), there was a thing called ‘The Interview Picture Disc’: an album-size slab of vinyl emblazoned with images of who is interviewed on the disc. Dead dull usually, but quite collectable; and yes, I had a few! This double CD set is today’s equivalent. Disc one has five interviews with Davey Havoc and co. I’ve interviewed Havoc twice (one face-to-face, another on the phone) and both times he’s been a very down to earth, likeable guy - and that comes across here also. Even in response to the most banal questions, he is thoughtful and interesting. The first two interviews in particular are well worth a listen. Disc Two, haha, has to be heard. It’s a narrated biography that is laughable in content and worse in delivery. We get told THE POLICE was a "Punk Reggae band", while TIGER ARMY is a "heavily tattooed Psychobilly band", and ‘77 Punk sang about "drinking, fighting and having sex." Best of all, while discussing unofficial merchandise, the half-wit arse-wipe of a narrator states it is "snapped up from unscrupulous vendors." On the back of this package it states, "This CD is not authorised by the artists, their record company or management." Ignorant and despicable. And Sexy Intellectual?? AFI yourself - Absolute Fucking Idiots!! Comes with a poster! Haha!!!! (19.10.10)

AFTER THE FALL - Eradication {Mightier Than Sword} Never heard this Albany, NY based band before - and this is their third album already? It’s a proficient, tight and - at times - scarily fast brand of Hardcore, drawing structures from the likes of RISE AGAINST, the politics of PROPAGANDHI, the pace and shredding vocals of COMMON ENEMY and the growl of FALL SILENT. Impressive comparisons and, generally, spot on - especially listening to the technicality behind thrashers like ‘Stagnation’ and ‘Autonomy’. The band can also crank out a less scathing but no less urgent sound as ‘Throgs Neck’ proves. Lyrically this covers a wide range of subjects from child abuse, apathy, macho insecurity and a few well-pointed attacks on those who use the Punk scene as a stepping stone to wider accolade. It’s an abrasive sound but not disjointed or overly Metal-influenced. At 25 mins for 14 tracks, it’s also clear these fellas have no excess ego-fat and do not fuck about with unnecessary riffage. Intense and clever stuff. (08.04.11)

AGAINST ME! - The Original Cowboy {Fat Wreck} Fat Wreck has seen fit to officially release the mid-2003 recorded demos for what became this now Major Label Recording Artist’s second full length, ‘The Eternal Cowboy’. The songs certainly sound more raw than the official release and the inclusion of ‘Sink Florida Sink’ is only noticeable by its absence. I’m sure everyone knows what this Major Label Recording Artist sounds like these days, but this represents a time when the band had credibility and, amazingly, was something to actually believe in. Besides being rawer and more defiant than the original release, the main differences lie in the fact that what is known as ‘A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission’ is placed as an introduction (and is much more potent because of it) and there’s a wired-up version of ‘Unsubstantiated Rumors’. As a record, I prefer this version; the opening four tracks all benefit greatly from being recorded in this formative, live environment while ‘Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists’ bites with all the venom it should have originally snarled with. But hey - this Major Label Recording Act knows how to manipulate the kids and this may just woo back a few of the disillusioned in time to buy the next Major Label Release. (11.10.09)

AMERICAN PINUP - Strange Creatures {Altercation} Can’t tell ya much about this Yank quartet except for the fact that it is, indeed, a bit of a strange creature. Y’see, this just feels, quite overpoweringly, as if the band is out for mainstream success/ acceptability while attempting to fuse a bit of kinship with the Punk-lite crowd. Vocalist Lauren West is also the chief songwriter and can pen a decent set of lyrics to the tune of a de-Ska’d DANCE HALL CRASHERS meets a less-rocking MUFFS. Her vocal is mixed far too high in the mix for me, often at the expense of the guitars which would possibly lift the songs into a harder, more exciting, dynamic. I actually thought the band was best on the slower, bluesier numbers like ‘L.F.D.Y’ and ‘No One Dies’ that allowed a rich, jazz timbre develop in West’s vocal. Neat booklet with full lyrics and illustrations, but ultimately too bland, restrained and premeditated to cut it as the real deal. (01.05.11)

AMERICAN STEEL - Dear Friends And Gentle Hearts {Fat Wreck} If one thing can be said about AMERICAN STEEL, it’s that the band’s sound continually moves forward. The overt AGAINST ME! vibe of the previous ‘Destroy Their Future’ album, while not being totally abandoned, has certainly been usurped by a crystalline melodic sound not dissimilar from MILLENCOLIN with a hint of GASLIGHT ANTHEM. I found the album a bit sterile with too many tracks that could easily make daytime radio (‘Your Ass Ain’t Laughing Now’ and ‘Meals and Entertainment’ for starters) right next to Duran Duran. There are good moments - ‘The Blood Gets Everywhere’ is taut and edgy; ‘Tear The Place Apart’ includes a neat PIXIES-esque structure; ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Where You Want To Be’ are the album’s full-on rockers with the former being the highlight. It’s hard to hear the band that recorded the classic ‘Rogue’s March’ ten years ago on this album. Sure this provided a few foot-tapping moments but ultimately I found it a little too restrained and conservative to really captivate. (11.10.09)

ANIHILATED - Scorched Earth Policy {Killer Metal} Woarrghh!! Metal!!! Well, not exactly - at least not in the same sense as dull, over-blown Maiden or Metallica epics. Without a doubt, the over-riding sound here is Metal but it’s the dense riffing of Slayer played via the brisk attack of Nuclear Assault with an added British sensibility that draws parallels with CIVILISED SOCIETY?, HERESY and even ANTISECT in parts. Lyrically this is also way above the satan, chicks and shagging-in-graveyards cliches that abound in Metal; vocalist Si tackles social issues from religion, man’s destruction of the planet and drug abuse. Highlights would be the frantic riffage of ‘Death And Decay’ and ‘Predator’. The one noticeable thing here is Bod’s powerhouse drumming! It’s been 21 years since the band’s last release (and twenty-fucking-five since I first saw them live!) and in that time, Bod has never sounded as powerful as he does here! Neat graphics too - although the montage of fans in the centre of the booklet is something I could’ve done without - even if some did raise a subtle chuckle!! (16.10.10) 

ANTAGONIST A.D. - We Are The Dead {1157} This is a New Zealand band that plays a stunningly tight, vicious and gravel-voiced brand of alleged HC but, in reality, this has way more in common with Metal - for all I know (or care) this could be Kreator or Blacklisted. Lyrically the band can be commended for confronting issues including vivisection, the gorging capitalism of the ‘American Dream’, mass grief over the passing of a celebrity, climate change, self-doubt and vegetarianism; all of which are well thought out observations. Snag is, musically, this is just way too Metal for me. I don’t care if it is clinically precise (which it is) and played with power and conviction (which it appears to be). I want my HC a little more spikey. Soundalikes? Meld SHAI HULUD, SINCE BY MAN and SLAYER. I may be way off there but no doubt the scribes at Kerrang! are better qualified for this than me. (26.07.09)

ANTHRAX - One Last Drop {Happy Release} Excellent 12" vinyl reissue of the previously released discography CD (reviewed here) of this under-appreciated Anarcho band. The first thing that was apparent is how much more alive this sounds than the CD! The CD sure did NOT sound neutered or flat, but from the minute the needle hits the vinyl and ‘All The Wars’ kicks in, the sound is vicious enough to decapitate an army of skinheads at even the most peaceful of Anarcho shows! Packaging is also exceptional (as was always the case with most Anarcho releases) with the record being encased in a huge, wraparound poster sleeve that includes record covers, lyrics and a biography (something the CD lacked). Throw in the added bonus of a patch and you are looking at a great document of a band that should be so much more widely respected. (12.11.10)

ANTHRAX - One Last Drop {Happy Release} Ever since I first heard the classic ‘They Got It All Wrong’ during my late teens, I’ve always considered ANTHRAX as one of the most underrated bands - not just of the Anarcho scene but of British Punk Rock in general. This is the band’s first new material in something like 25 years, was recorded by the original line-up and features two tracks. Could the band live up to what went before? Well, pretty much yes! The lead track is another cracker in the vain of ‘...All Wrong’ rather than the Crass EP. It’s good to hear Oskar still berating a stagnant system and sounding pissed off about it; it actually reminds me a lot of ‘Time Was Right’ era PARTISANS. The other track, ‘Welcome’ is equally disparaging of today’s capitalist society but features a darker arrangement with acoustic guitars and a reduction of pace. It didn’t totally convince - parts sounded a little forced at times but successive plays do accentuate a depth not apparent on one listen - but definitely better than many ‘comebacks’ heard of late. (05.10.09)

ANTI-FLAG - The People Or The Gun {Side One Dummy} After a brief (and totally unnecessary) flirtation with a major label, one of Punk’s most politically vociferous bands is back on an independent for its seventh album. It’s another impressive slab too; but this time the band’s songs of protest strike with much more sincerity now that the ‘major’ backing has gone. ANTI-FLAG continues to expand its barbed attack here with tracks like ‘The Gre(A)t Depression’ that has a SOCIAL DISTORTION rock ‘n’ roll vibe, ‘This Is The First Night’ with its Guthrie-esque folk feel set to electric guitars and one of the highlights, ‘On Independence Day’ that incorporates a virtually dance-flavoured beat with a vitriolic vocal and guitar attack. Elsewhere the are more of the patented AF-isms be it the defiant ‘We Are The One’ (not the AVENGERS song) and the excellent ‘When All The Lights Go Out’. Most of the songs are accompanied by additional reading, the graphics are sharp and bold without being tacky and the whole disc has the feel of ‘Underground Network’ rather than ‘The Bright Lights Of America’. Neat three track bonus CDEP on initial copies too. It’s good to have you back where you belong fellas!! (11.10.09)

ANTILLECTUAL - Start From Scratch! {Lockjaw} I really wanted to like this so I could tell you it’s a politically-charged, kicking and screaming rager of a Punk album. It surely is politically charged; each song tackles a socio-political subject be it consumerism, vegetarianism, racism, squatting, the increasing rise and power of the Chinese economy and the power it will wield (an observation that should not be taken lightly). Each set of lyrics is accompanied by additional notes and aligns the band’s idealism with PROPAGANDHI (whose Chris Hannah makes a guest appearance) and STRIKE ANYWHERE, but musically, this is just too bland. Imagine BAD RELIGION played via MILLENCOLIN’s gloss and a hint of BURNING AIRLINES’ dynamics. The result is middle-of-the-road Pop-Punk. This is a multi-label deal too with packaging being top stuff in the form of a neat digipack sleeve, booklet and distressed, semi-apocalyptic graphics. I don’t doubt this Dutch 3-piece is sincere and genuine and when the music really hits, it impresses (see ‘Cut The Ground From Under Our Feet’, the colliding guitars of ‘Some Of My Best Friends Are Meat Eaters’ and the slow burn of ‘The New Jew’). But too often, this purrs instead snarls. (06.01.11)

ANTISECT - In Darkness There Is No Choice {Southern} Originally released back in 1983, the sole ANTISECT album remains one of the most biting, visceral, radical and frighteningly powerful albums to come out of UK Punk. While intrinsically linked with the Anarcho-Punk movement, ANTISECT offered more than just the political anger of the scene. Riffs looped forming a hypnotic, almost pre-Industrial raw, bilious sound with vocals that alternate between growled diatribes and sedate, spoken word interludes. The whole mood of the album is very dark, confrontational and uncompromising as the excellent, thoughtful lyrics attack such issues as the threat of war, individualism, oppression and animal abuse. The booklet includes the full lyrics and text that came with the original album. The negative is that the disc collates all the tracks that appeared on each side of the album into a single track, so it appears the disc has only two tracks. Sure, they all bleed into the next, but it is a little annoying - especially for those who don't own a copy of the original vinyl. Definitely an album that can sit next to CRASS or TRAGEDY, and one that literally defines the Crust Punk genre which it, over any other band, inspired. (22.08.10)

A.O.A - Axis Of Ascendancy (1982-90) {AOA} A stunningly impressive DIY release from this Scottish Anarcho band. You get a total of 42 tracks spread over two CDs, plus a 24 page booklet AND a DVD. Furthermore, in true Anarcho style, proceeds from sales go to environmental and animal welfare projects. The CDs compile the band’s official releases plus some live material and mixes DISCHARGE aggression with the direct, confrontational but intelligent politics of ICONS OF FILTH. The result is a ferocious sonic attack that's both uncompromising and focused. Highlights are plentiful but the ‘Who Are They Trying To Con’ 12" from 1985 and band’s tracks on the following year’s split with OI POLLOI stand out. The booklet features liner notes from guitarist/ vocalist Scott Paton (who did a fantastic job in compiling and designing this package), original graphics, lyrics and photos while the DVD is a live affair recorded at Tayport Beach, Scotland in 1986 at what must have been one of the first ‘Punx Picnics’. Besides A.O.A., there are live sets from OI POLLOI, EXALT, STATE OF DECAY, ID PARADE and TARTAN PAINT. It’s raw footage but hell, this was in the days long before Warped Tours and recorded when Punk meant something more than the currently favoured brand of sneakers. Easily the best DIY retrospective release I can ever recall seeing and one that should be a priority purchase for anyone who recalls the 80s Anarcho era. (23.12.09)

ARRIVALS, THE - Volatile Molotov {Recess} Fourth album for what must surely be one of the most under-rated and under-valued bands on the planet. The previous album, ‘Marvels Of Industry’ was a cracker but here, the band has bettered that and set the benchmark for what could already be the best album of 2011. From the raucous, vibrant opener, ‘Two Years’, the album drips with sublime song craft. The melodies leak out from the most unsuspecting places the more you play the album yet retain abrasion and a sense of vitriol. For those who don’t know, the band effortlessly fuses WIPERS-esque US Punk (with jaw-dropping guitar riffs to match Greg Sage) with a punchy, JAM-style brevity and richness. Highlights are many but personal picks include ‘Blank Slate’ that emphasises the rich, soulful JAM influence, the upbeat, multi-vocalled closer ‘Simple Pleasures In America’, the simply seductive guitar lines and rolling drums of ‘Pull Down The Willows’ and the jaw-dropping magnificence of ‘The Last Testament’ that’s drenched in ringing, droning guitars and an understated, ominous vocal. Great production from Matt Allison, neat packaging - a virtually faultless album. (20.01.11)

ARTICLES OF FAITH - New Normal Catastrophe {Alternative Tentacles} Dave Shield’s frantic bass followed by that incendiary three-pronged guitar wallop heralds the arrival of the first new material by Chicago’s ARTICLES OF FAITH in something like 25 years! As opener ‘With A Vengeance’ culminates, those guitars set themselves to stun as each vies for dominance and I was instantly transported back to ‘Give Thanks’. Elsewhere the title track is a brooding but no less bitter slice of disillusionment that could have fitted neatly on an ALLOY or REPORT SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY album. Disc highlight is the closing ‘Brother John’ that’s built upon a restless, cyclic riff and powered by a relentless performance from drummer Virus X. Lyrically, as expected from Vic Bondi, this is outspoken, political, scathing and intelligent. Bondi himself gives a convincing performance throughout, equally at home bellowing out rage or creating a more insidious sense of drama. J. Robbins mixed and visually the sleeve reminds me of ALLOY’s ‘Eliminate’. While nothing is as fast as ‘What We Want Is Free’, the unbridled rage of the band is still firmly in place. Yep, AOF still have it and these five tracks spread over 12"s of lovely vinyl, prove it. (19.12.10)

ATOM AGE, THE - Kill Surf City {Solidarity} Debut album from this new band outta the Punk hubbub that is Berkeley, California and one founded by current drummer outta THE QUEERS, Ryan Perras. From the colossal DILLINGER FOUR style surge of opener ‘Turn It Around’, it’s clear that this is a vastly different soundscape from the RAMONE-o-core of Joe Queer. Besides that D4 vibe, there is a distinct ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT influence with the use of brass - and this is brass that swings and swaggers and snarls rather than annoy like a million dismal Ska-Punk bands. Both ‘Atom Man’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll And Why I Preach Against It’ are both butt-shaking, lip-sneering, horn-blazing fixes of main-lined Rock ‘n’ Roll while highlight, ‘No Matter What I Do’ struts forth on a stuttering, staccato rhythm. There’s an excellent snotty arrogance about this too, evoking the ADOLESCENTS’ underrated classic, ‘Brats In Battalions’. One to watch - and probably over your shoulder! (12.11.10)

ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER - Disestablished 1980 {Mad Butcher} I became aware of ATTILA via his appearance on the live NEWTOWN NEUROTICS album during the mid-late 80s. Since then, I’ve kept an eye (and ear) on what he does and caught him live several times (often with CHUMBAWAMBA). This 19-track comp has been released to celebrate 30 years of ATTILA’s political polemics. It’s compiled mainly for the European market, so his poetry has been omitted entirely in favour of the man’s musical exploits - predominantly with his band, BARNSTORMER. The sound, along with the politics, mixes BLYTH POWER and TV SMITH, ranging from rockers like ‘Old Teenagers’ through to ballads like the disc-stealing ‘Sawdust And Empire’. As always with ATTILA, the power of his words define his informed and intelligent outlook but never render it intellectually elitist, while the subjects of his conjecture are familiar but worthy: war, fascism, Thatcher, Blair, corruption... Highlights? So many... ‘Blood For Oil’, ‘Sarajevo’, ‘Game Boy/Rude Boy’, ‘Tyler Smiles’... there’s really not a duffer. This may sound a million miles from turds like the EXPLOITED but this is an even more valid Punk Rock statement - one delivered with intelligence instead of glue! For the novice, this is an excellent introduction to a Punk Rock enigma. (20.12.10)

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT - The Collection {Taang!} Coming outta the San Fran Bay Area in the mid-80s, AA was at the fore of the Crossover movement, although never reaching the popularity afforded to DRI. This 41-track colossus collects the band’s three albums, kicking off with 86’s ‘American Paranoia’. It’s by far the most Punk of the albums but the Metal-Crossover element peaks through with some chugging riffs and de-accelerated beats. By 88’s ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’, the band had already split up once. With only original member being drummer Chris K, the new sound owed a lot to the frantic blur of POISON IDEA with added Metalisms - see the three minute instrumental ‘Royalties’ or the re-recorded ‘Grey World’. An additional guitarist for 91’s ‘Out Of Hand’ aided the band’s mutation into a well-oiled riff machine, complete with widdly guitar solos. It’s convincing stuff with the vocal retaining that POISON IDEA delivery and lyrics staunchly Punk based (‘Swastika Troops’ in particular). A big let down is the horrendously written biog in the booklet. Shame too cuz the booklet has complete lyrics, flyers and photos to accompany it. Good as this is, and a bargain all-in-one disc, I dunno how often I’ll get past ‘American Paranoia’ when it comes to future plays. (18.10.10)

AVSKUM - Uppror Underifran {Prank} Destructive D-Beat damage here from this legendary Swedish band. AVSKUM has been playing unrelenting HC for the best part of 26 years and the 16 tracks present here could be the band’s most incisive slice of D-Beat core so far. Bar three songs, this is all sung in the band’s native tongue and highlights would be ‘Masskonsumtions Helvetet’, the distorto D-Beat bass core of ‘Befria Dom Rika’, the riff carnage that is ‘Slutet’, the Bones-esque nuclear guitar blast of ‘Krig Arett Javla Vansinne’ and the cataclysmic highlight ‘Capitalism Is Terrorism’. There are a load of D-Beat bands out there but few execute the genre with the brains and sense-melting ferocity of AVSKUM. The album is powerfully produced lending weight and depth to the tight playing. Add on some stellar artwork and this proves to be a substantial, raging slice of sonic HC action. (08.01.09)

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