Embarking on a month long U. S. tour known as the “Locals Only Tour” The Ghost Inside are traveling alone. Stopping in each city, they are playing with the opening support of bands native to the city they’re in for the day. TGI vocalist Jonathon Vigil has said that all bands started out as local bands, and being able to get to know them on each stop is a unique experience. In between TGI’s highly energetic songs, the frontman stops and talks , in detail, about each band, and what unique trait they bring to the stage. This is surely one of the most intimate tours that has taken place in he US this year. The band is out on the road supporting last year’s Dear Youth album (Epitaph), and the band is headed next to Europe this winter supporting Refused. At the tour stop in Birmingham at Zydeco, the locals brought a unique mash-up of sounds. From Tempter’s guttural deathcore sounds, to Noir covering Taylor Swift(‘Bad Blood’), and Veda’s technical riffs and wide vocal range. There is only about a week left on the tour, so check it out if you can.
Sat backstage at Temples Festival in May 2015 were five quiet, unassuming, polite young people, looking for all the world like competition winners nervously waiting in chairs to be shuffled through to meet Taylor Swift having been told to be on best behaviour by their Ma. Fast forward an hour and those five, quiet, unassuming, polite young people had transmogrified into a flailing, seething ten legged beast, spewing forth carnage and devastation. Not Tiamat, no, something far more deadly than that; they had become Venom Prison.
And so, with a buzz that began as a whisper now as incessant as a swarm of wasps inches from your eardrum, the cult of Venom Prison is set to enhance and further itself once more with the release of their debut EP, The Primal Chaos (Soaked In Torment); four tracks, twelve minutes that kick you in the groin and then taser you in the gut until defecation occurs.
The tasering occurs from the lashings of modern death metal wrought with hardcore sensibilities and feel, welded into a substantial spear of chugging attack, while the groinal devastation comes from a thick production that, unlike most present-day death metal sounds, allows room to breathe and spits a raw, live sound, a welcome change to the clinical, dry, overproduced and emotionless offal cuts that so many of today fart out; The Primal Chaos has just the right amount of sloppy to feel like the thump of a ten-ton hammer.
Larissa’s vocals are more scream than guttural, but that suits the urgency expounded by the South Wales quintet, and adds to the overall feel of a contemporary death metal meets metallic hardcore band dousing their offspring in the lighter fluid of the old school 90’s underground before tossing a flaming rag at it and watching the primal chaos burn.
The hotly contested reunion or comeback album. Purists will bitch and list off 40 million reasons why a band should never re-enter the studio after calling it quits. They’ll tarnish their legacy. They can never re-achieve past glories. They’re too old. They’re not the same band anymore.
The list never ends.
And in a way, those points have some merits. After all it has been 17 years since Refused put out the revolutionary The Shape of Punk to Come. A recording that is universally considered classic and difficult to categorize. And shortly after the release of that record, the band imploded capped it off with a fiery press release stating “Refused are Fucking Dead.”
As new album Freedom (Epitaph) clearly points out, they were not fucking dead. After a series of reunion shows in 2012 and 2014, frontman Dennis Lyxzen, guitarist Kristofer Steen, drummer David Sandstrom and bassist Magnus Flagge still had some of that future punk left in them. Best of all, is that much like Carcass in 2013 and At the Gates last year, Refused sound as good and confident as they did in their 90s heyday.
Lead single ‘Elektra’ probably states it best: “Time has come, no escape.” It indeed is time for Refused’s left-of-center brand of noise. America at least, seems to be in an odd state of regression. We count corporations as people and have segments of the population that see the Confederate flag as “heritage”, and view same-sex marriage as a threat to their religious freedom. That’s without counting those denying global warming or the anti-vaccination movement.
And to show their discontent with the state of affairs, Refused keep the vitriol and attitude going in other punk scorchers like ‘Dawkins Christ’ and ‘Thought is Blood.’ And when they choose to turn down the assault it’s with tracks like ‘Old Friends/New War’ that while not as a raucous still keep a sharp edge as Lyxzen finds that “there’s no other choice but to create some noise and sharpen up my mind.” And we’re glad that you’re up to your old tricks.
Also, much like in The Shape of Punk to Come, these Swedes find room for eccentricity in Freedom. In the liner notes you’ll notice that both ‘Elektra’ and ‘366’ were produced by Shellback, the hitmaker known for his work with Adele and Taylor Swift. Once again proving that they are the most punk by following their muse rather than convention.
We need more records like Freedom. We need them because they remind us that certain genres are supposed to be the dangerous ones. I’m disgusted by the fact that the punk bands that prevail today happen to fall under the abomination known as “Pop-Punk.” A musical oxymoron whose practitioners are perfectly content to play arenas and extol the virtues of eating pizza and wearing fitted hats.
It’s nice to see that some are still choosing to live dangerously.
Being asked to reflect back on a year in music, much of it spent in the company of the extreme variety sounds like an easy gig; if truth be known, it’s anything but. When you’re writing, your perspective is skewed by the time of year you were writing your review, the mood that you were in when you were writing it so, as with many of these end of year lists/reviews you are probably wise to see this as just another opinion to add to the many that you have probably already encountered.
It’s de rigeur at this junction to opine on “what 2014 will be remembered for”; experience tells me that we will look differently upon the year past in another twelve months time when its ebbs and flows, challenges, opportunities, highs and lows have had some more time to creep into our collective consciousness and sub-conscious. With that caveat in mind, and probably about to look enormously foolish, my reflection on 2014 looks something a bit like this….
2014 has been an odd year. I think of it a little bit like a boxer. Lots of good sparring, lots of interesting upper cuts and deflected jabs but not one knockdown, championship winning punch of an album that could define a year (in the way that 1991 was dominated by Nirvana’s Nevermind or 1987 got taken by the scruff of the neck by a certain Guns ‘N’ Roses and their insatiable Appetite for Destruction).
I think it’s fair to say that 2014 was a year of not necessarily taking stock, but harrying around the canvas wondering where to land the next haymaker. No one trend truly caught the collective imagination, no one band truly dominated, no one sound sat glue like in our collective cerebellum. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any great music in 2014 (there was bucketloads of it). The big difference is that you had to seek it out rather than it being a constant presence in society’s soundtrack.
The most debated record of the year was unquestionably U2’s Songs of Innocence which landed in the iTunes accounts of some 500m listeners and is, by some considerable margin, their “biggest” (26m copies and counting) record of the last few years. Most of the debate around the record focussed, somewhat understandably, on the process of getting the music out there as opposed to debating the merits of the actual music- ironically, then, as Songs of Innocence is perhaps the band’s best record in a decade. Similarly, the decision of Taylor Swift to remove her country pop album 1989 from all streaming sites again spoke volumes about the record industry’s travails in identifying a long term business model in an age of change and digital ubiquity.
Over here in the boundaries of extreme music, the mainstream is something that most of us don’t generally give two hoots about but there is, for this writer at least, an ongoing frisson of excitement when one of “our” bands makes a breakthrough into the broader public consciousness. I have never subscribed, and never will, to the notion that our music should remain in the underground- on the contrary, I want as many people to hear the amazing sounds, insights, ideas of much of the stuff covered in Ghost Cult. Consequently, the fairly triumphant return of Slipknot to the top of the Billboard charts and to a ground-breaking Knotfest extravaganza is something to be cherished and celebrated. Likewise, a creatively rich album from Atlanta’s Mastodon in the guise of Once More ‘Round the Sun having an equally critically and commercially positive impact is perhaps proof positive that intelligent, diverse and inexorably heavy music can generate a broad based level of support and enthusiasm.