Archive for May, 2010

Give us gourmet Pez….

Posted in music with tags , , , on May 20, 2010 by Tanner

This isn’t going to be a complete overview of The Endless Blockade, as I haven’t heard all of their work and am admittedly coming rather late to the party with their stuff, something I hope to rectify as soon as possible (when I have the cash). But as they’ve been somewhat revelatory for me lately, and I wrote a little about Gasp last time, I thought I would throw in a little on this intriguing band and their album, “Primitive.”

Somewhere, sometime ago I read, like I assume many others, a quote by Man is the Bastard’s Eric Wood about how The Endless Blockade were one of the only bands that could be called authentically “Powerviolence,” that they embodied a certain aspect of the nebulous genre more fully than other contemporary bands in the area. I thought it was a weird thing to say at the time. As though the label itself could only be leveled on an ordained band from on high, that all the other “power violence” bands were in general posers and fakes, clinging to the crusty laurels of Man is the Bastard and Crossed Out with out the hopes of validation from their heros. Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of the name itself– it’s as annoying and silly as Noise or EAI. And it’s also misleading, but as Andrew Nolan, the bass player of The Endless Blockade, admitted in an interview, “We’re influenced by power violence, hey, argument gone, there’s no debating that point. . .The bottom line is this, if we changed our language slightly no one would care as to whether or not power violence really exists and who is or isn’t real power violence.”

Fair enough… I picked up “Primitive” on 20 Buck Spin, (on nearly clear vinyl by the way), spurned on when I stumbled across Nolan’s blog, “Survivalist” (http://survivalist-deathcult.blogspot) and I realized that they weren’t just a throw back to Infest and Crossed Out. The album, as written starkly in the liners by Carroll, Edgar, King, and Nolan, is a striking representation of song craft and punishment. Definitely the power violence tag is apt, but there’s a surgical precision to their work that isn’t found with their early forbears. They don’t lose any of the jaw clenching power, or the hungry, nearly out of control rage that permeates the genre. Often this kind of rage can sound juvenile and lacking of any real focus, as though screaming about pizza or nachos or your favorite horror film lends itself to true feeling rather just a dull genre cliché. But The Endless Blockade sound real, they sound authentic, and like all good hardcore punk, there’s a genuine alienation heard in the screams and guitar crunch. This feeling of alienation and misanthropy is only heightened by the use of electronics and oscillators that buzz and swoop through many of the songs like angry hornets. Like Man is the Bastard, the fucked up harsh noise aspect of the band is incorporated subtly, and bookends the album itself. Nolan writes in a Sleeping Shaman interview that it’s another aspect of their life show, as well, “In a live setting the noise is generally only at the start and end of the set, used like banishing rituals more than anything.” Of any contempary subgenre of hardcore punk, powerviolence is the only one that seems to incorporate any of the more avant garde, and, yes, arty tendencies of the noise genre (watch out for the hate mail from that one!). One feels that while they may be inspired by more than the requisite bands, possibly shown in the name that can be looked as a homage to G.I.S.M. as much as to The New Blockaders . In fact, The Endless Blockade have a recent split with the new incarnation of Bastard Noise that I look forward to hearing; as well as having worked with the wall of noise guru, The Rita. The lyrics on “Primitive” themselves are another thing entirely, from the agnostic power anthem of “Perfection” which posits, that “Man understands divinity like a dog understands electricity,” to the Thelemic, “93 93/93.” The Endless Blockade obviously isn’t a simple endeavor or power violence genre exercise. Again, the “power violence” label is misleading, they have as much to do with Crossed out as they do with Aleister Crowely.

But in some ways this might be a good thing, this obfuscatory aspect of “Power violence,” as though the secret handshake to joining the club could be seen as a weeding out of the fools, the posers, the dilletantes, and that genre lines have only helped rather than muddy the waters, as Nolan said in an interview with Decibel, “If anything I wish the invisible standards in hardcore and metal were a little less invisible; we’d probably have to put up with far less shit like Killswitch Engage and Every Time My Heart Bleeds Tears Last Summer.” Well, no one ever said punk was something you could just pick up… sure you could buy the Crass shirt, the engineer boots and studs and spikes– all the signifiers are easily acquired– but punk in a way is earned in deed and blood, in the intangibles as well as simple pack identification. I grew up in punk mostly alone with my battered tape of Minor Threat’s discography, a Doom record here, an Anti Cimex album there. I felt utterly alone at most of the shows, half out of shyness at the time, and half out of complete disinterest in the people who represented yet another group of random rules and associations. But the idea of punk in itself was motivation, the idea of encompassing the Other, the transgression from the normal, fucked society of increasing commodification and soulless disaster. And this embrace of the transgression at the time ostracized me more from the “normals” around me, and allowed me to truly find myself. In some ways, punk in it’s secular way was a savior for me. So it’s interesting to read the lyrics to a song on “Primitive,” “Irrationalism Uber Alles,” which raises an interesting point when it states, “Coded Messages in sped up songs. Stage dive as initiation (it never ends). We who are not as others. Tradition is dead: Long live tradition. Chesed and Gevurah…” Punk rock has its secret or not so secret initiations and is host to a language itself in the guise of a million arcane allusions to bands and histories from around the globe. Within punk there’s a hundred subgenres, cliques and areas to obssess over. Punk is not necessarily an individualist’s sport. That in its communal nature exists the duality of kindness and severity, Chesed and Gevurah, a Kabbalahist turn. The language is spoken in often mundane but secretive ways, as simple as a Destroy patch on a dirty sweat shirt. Nolan explains further in another interview,

“I believe that underground youth cultures are, in a less obvious way are carrying on the traditions of esoteric orders and secret societies of old. I believe that “we” communicate by a very complicated, yet deceptively simple looking system of codes and symbols that must be correctly learned in order to participate fully in our scenes.”

It’s a novel exploration, albeit one that is certainly not apparent to most within hardcore punk or many other youth cultures (maybe it’s a different story within the sects of certain black metal scenes). So often the symbols that come so easily to you are completely misinterpreted by the outside. I remember in highschool doing a project on anarcho-punk for a class, and having the teacher say that she always thought that punks were nazis, the symbols and aesthetics of crusty anarchist punk striking her as some sort of pseudo-fascistic Beyond Thunderdom New Order rather than some free-willed anarchist revolution. I think my project only further confused her, although in retrospect I wouldn’t have included a nearly incomprehensible interview with Portland’s Defiance, never the most erudite or articulate of bands. But the thing is, punk would have been entirely unsuccessful if she did fully comprehend it’s meaning, its “codes in sped up songs.”

Of course, this isn’t limited to punk or other subcultures. One could argue that modern day capitalist society is as esoteric as any subculture now. Large scale corporate enterprise’s use of neuro-linguistics and sigil-like advertising has only made this more apparent. I often wonder if the real occult orders are not the Thelemic Golden Dawn but actually the CEOs of Goldman Sachs or Coca Cola. Certainly the only threat punk poses at this point is to wallets of record nerds. Neo Liberalist capitalism has never been one to throw out a good idea if the money is right. Although this is probably not lost on Nolan who writes further of society’s use of symbols,

“And this is not exclusive to the underground; language is far more than words. Too many people can’t even understand their own cultures symbols. The self proclaimed Christian that can’t tell you what a Chi-Rho is called or how Christians used to historically use the fish symbol as an identifier should probably give up.”

It’s probably why we so many of this think the real freedom of our lives is our ability to choose between Coke and Pepsi. But then again try and have a talk with an army ranger or marine about the seemingly random esoteric tattoos from his select unit and see how far it gets you. I’m not sure underground youth culture is the most apt example of these traditions. Ultimately, Nolan recognizes like Alfred Korzbski that the power of language is ultimately the power of symbols, and that our realities are dictated by our understanding of them or lack there of. Just take a look at “Like Partridges,”

“Party like it’s 1921. Smash what doesn’t fit, kill that which won’t submit. We lack nature, passion, emotion instinct and mysticism. . . If your lifestyle doesn’t get you. Then the greater good will.”

But all of this would just be noise if it weren’t any good. Thankfully, it is. Carrol, Edgar, King, and Nolan have created a pretty amazing experience on this album. As much as Nolan is at pains to give credit to the legacy The Endless Blockade finds themselves in, it would be silly to paint them into a corner. No, they aren’t going to release an album ispired by Morton Feldman or Tangerine Dream anytime soon, but they aren’t going to release, “Thoughtless” either. Nolan writes again in Decibel,

“The bottom line to me (and anyone else with a set of ears) is that we’re not as good as Infest or Autopsy and we’re not as smart as Howard Bloom, John Gray, Flann O’Brien, Robert Anton Wilson or Israel Regardie.”

Maybe so, but fuck it if they aren’t worth listening to. Maybe Eric Wood coined them “powerviolence” not so they could be a part of some kind of elitist super team, but simply because they’re actually really, really good.

Check them out at

Albums that time forgot…

Posted in music with tags , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by Tanner

The Los Angeles band Gasp were an anomaly in the hardcore punk scene when I picked up their full length LP Drome triler of Puzzle Zoo People, on Slap a Ham records in 1998. This wasn’t before the internet obviously, but it was a time when most hc punk was a regional affair: relationships and trends made within areas close-by, at shows played, or when the odd touring band passed through. The internet was looked at with a certain amount of Luddite-lite scorn by the punk scene (some might remember His Hero is Gone’s advice: “Boot ’em up? Boot ’em down!”), and ebay hadn’t created the inflated market for vinyl quite yet. At this point, crusty hardcore from the Profane Existence crew out of Minneapolis was the de rigeur in my small area of West Central Wisconsin– bands like Misery, Code 13 and State of Fear were what everyone was listening to and the so-called power violence scene out of California wasn’t widely known or influential except for the random LP from the brilliant prog-punk mutations of Man is the Bastard or a mention of Crossed Out in a battered Heartattack ‘zine. Let’s face it — power violence is certainly a subject ripe for further inspection: the bands coming from that scene were among the most interesting, novel and creative of the era, while the psycho-sexual baggage of the aesthetic and style would be something to unravel in a much needed major overview. A post-modern read of the whole scene would be both hilarious and maybe even illuminating.

“Gasp at the time was a pure Fear of God tribute band,” wrote singer/guitarist, Mike Nelson in posthumous overview of his band. But it’s hard to see the influence of those great Swiss grinders on Drome Triler… None of the songs are the same kind of blurred grind explosions, but in general are more leisurely. . . grind influenced, sure, but certainly not grind with a capital G … Some where along the line, Gasp set itself up as something different from the typical stable of punishing hardcore punk from the likes of Crossed Out, Dropdead, and No Comment. After their initial attempts at straight grind, they got a little weird, as Nelson commented,

“No shows were planned. We re-vamped our sound to also incorporate more psych and weird sound scapes and started really using all kinds of different drugs to help find the style we were looking for. We started getting into Hawkwind and all kinds of cool prog rock shit like Cactus and Yes.”

No doubt, it sounds like a recipe for disaster and/or madness, especially in a scene that was as addicted to straight ahead brutality as it was to its black and white graphics of mans’ inhumanity to man. And in that way Gasp is an anomaly as well– Drome Triler is as interesting to look at as it is to listen to. The insert is an amalgam of truncated photos of zebras, cellular constructions, and children engaging in, em, child-like behavior – all within jutting psychedelic collage. The cover is a pink cloud distorting what appears to be the skeletal frame of a bridge or roller coaster, but honestly it’s hard to tell. It looks more like a cover to a Red House Painters’ album than to a hardcore punk band. As Gasp didn’t put their name on the album the only source to hint at what it might contain is the Slap a Ham logo on the back, only adding to weirdness; as Chris Dodge, the owner of Slap a Ham, commented in an Oral History of Power Violence, “When I was starting my label, I remember thinking how funny it would be if some of the world’s most brutal bands all wanted to be on a label with a ridiculous, non-brutal name.”

The music itself on Drome Triler is remarkably varied, incorporating dense acid-fueled soundscapes with harsh rhythmic thrash… the first song, “Can’t seam a mongrel bly,” sinks away into a tape addled landscape as soon as you get a handle on it’s thrumming bass lines and spiking guitar lines. The tape manipulations that are interspersed throughout the album can often be longer than the thrash and pound, as though each song is short blast of incoherent rage and confusion struggling out of a drugged out haze only to sink back down again. It could be part of the minor genius of this album, its allowance for the visceral, grinding attacks to stand out due to a breather provided by the disorienting ambient passages. This tack is probably nothing new at this point, but in 1998 in hardcore punk it was revelatory. On “Little Jupiter Come Home to a goat man,” the tape collages are seamlessly integrated into a morass of psychonautic screaming, and peals of starry-eyed guitar, creating a pulverizing hardcore punk acid jam sans the usual psych genre’s masturbatory length. And while the tape manipulations often form a respite from the onslaught, they are far from a gimmick or placement holder and are effective on their own merits: take for example, “Eating the Translucent old Folk’s Village,”(I can’t make these names up) where the sound manipulation conjures up the peaceful and ephemeral beauty of a Akira Rabelais’s treatment of old Icelandic vocal recordings, a comparison hard to come by on a hardcore punk album.

Even after 12 years this experimental punk album still holds up, possibly even more than some of the stalwarts of weird hardcore from the same time like Man is the Bastard or Spazz. In fact, Drome Triler sounds mighty prescient at this point, with it’s combination of noise, post-rock passages and woozy psych and thrash; I can hear influence of this in many bands that came later from Usurp Synapse to Wolf eyes… In some ways the precedent for this type of music is Sonic Youth or Harry Pussy, but I hear little to no influence from either band on Gasp. I would be interested in knowing if they were even aware of these bands at this point. Gasp’s sound seems more organic and natural than a simple conglomeration of influences, as Gasp’s drummer, the aptly monikered Professor Cantaloupe commented,

“….we were just exploring stuff that was exciting to us. Now flash forward nine years and you’ve and you’ve got all kinds of crazy hybrid subgenres with more than just a few bands operating in each. I mean, in 1998 would you have predicted such a huge acceptance of noise like we have today?It makes me wonder what would have happened if we had done another full-length with the material we had done another full-length with the material we were working on just before our demise.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t as well liked as it could have been at the time, as Chris Dodge comments, “[Drome Triler was] another unappreciated album when it came out. It seems like people are just now showing an interest posthumously.” Even so, the interest is limited, which is a shame as it’s a great album, singular and oddly visceral despite the slightly hairy Philip K. Dick song titles and lyrics. Scratch that, when is that a bad thing to have PKD inspired lunacy on your album?

Pick this one up on ebay, or in the used bin of one of the remaining record stores, as copies surely abound. There was rumor of a discography cd out there somewhere, as for now there’s a myspace page here: Gasp.

I know there’s a few sites you can download the entire thing from if that’s your thing, as well.