Filed under: Reviews
Mind Eraser-Conscious Unconscious (Clean Plate) Formative efforts from Boston’s Mind Eraser were less than remarkable. Their debut and sophomore LPs, “Cave” and “Glacial Reign”, provided bursts of Crossed Out/Neanderthal worship amidst monotonous sludge and repetitive thrash. Coherent song structures took second stage to style-over-substance romps, and, at least at the outset, the band seemed to offer little more than spotty Slap-A-Ham retread.
Fast forward a few years and several outings later, however, and Mind Eraser have abruptly come into their own, delivering on the oft-touted praise and promise heaped upon them by the hc hype mill. With “Conscious Unconscious” , they have developed a cohesive, impactful whole which, despite its long playing two song 12” format, avoids pitfalls of pretense and self indulgence.
Far and away the band’s strongest material to date,”Conscious Unconscious” offers layer upon atmospheric layer of thundering metallic riffs, sporadic ‘power violence’ blur, fluid rhythms and viscous production, harboring more of a brooding early death metal aesthetic than anything in the band’s past.
Mammoth without being overwrought, the record alternately roars, grinds , drones, and lumbers forth, bolstered by piercing harmonic leads and some of the more inspired drum fills to grace a hardcore record in recent memory.
Where previous Mind Eraser releases had more of an impromptu feel– a slipshod procession of loosely assembled passages –there is meticulous drive to these two compositions—depth and towering scale which, at intervals, bears semblance to the less grind-centric early Earache cannon (the more mammoth moments of Entombed et al come ot mind). The band’s more overtly metal orchestration and epic songwriting infuses these hymns with a strikingly emotive, epic atmosphere lacking in earlier recordings. Here, the band’s staple hammering, thrashing violence is punctuated by welcome infusions of dark ambience, hulking riff sprawl , and simmering, low-end drone. Never before have their extremes in tempo and pacing been executed in so seamless a fashion.
In fusing plodding metallic frost with the band’s well honed (but less readily apparent) Neanderthal/ No Comment/Crossed Out/Noothgrush infatuation, Mind Eraser have taken the style to its logical extreme. The end product is modern, crushing, and inspired, not more late ’80s/early ’90s grist for the mill. Recommended.
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Please pardon the substantial delay in posting…school and exams have taken their toll…
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Up next: Mind Eraser “Conscious/Unconscious” LP review
Filed under: Reviews
(SHDWPLY Records, 2008 )
G regarious, meditative tweaked out thrills abound on Gary War’s “New Raytheonport”
A waiting the listener: an exotic patchwork of synthscape chills, ’60s/’70s psych thrills, analog space jams, and fx-dripping lounge-pop sputter…
R everb-drenched distort-o vox musings, trance-like croons and syrupy hooks blur the line between fractured pop songcraft and knob twiddling worm hole blackout, channeling Legendary Pink Dots-esque dark synth/coldwave washes and A.Pink-ish eight track sound collage blitz through an introspective, ethereal haze…
Y ammering, oscillating synth-heavy trippage blanket these saccharine psychedelic ruminations wonderfully, sonic caverns and crevices giving way to third eye excursions across a psychic expanse…
W hile eliciting spectral whisps of Nick Nicely/Bobb Trimble-esque outsider esoterics,
A s well as a thundering, pulsing din not unlike Hawkwind howling at Piper’s Gate,
R etread this ain’t: recalling some but defined by none, obsessively troving the fringes of psychedelic balladry, mechanized space-age din, and careening cosmic-consciousness boogie, Gary War takes us to spaces and places hithertofore uncharted on his wondrously burnt pilgrammage.
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Avskum-Uproar Underifran (Prank Records, PO BOX 410892 San Francisco, CA 94141-0892) 1984 was the year that a little-known 7″ entitled “Crucified By The System” lacerated the eardrums of a select few within the burg of Kristinehamn, Sweden and surrounding environs.
That vomitous mohican warcry, the formative effort by a group of sullen young Swedes known as Avskum, came off like deconstructive, embryonic Discharge worship on a shoestring budget, and proved a benchmark recording of sorts among the crusty hc vanguard of the time. Alongside the work of early Anti-Cimex, it troved the depths of tinitus-inducing Scandinavian punk primitivism, offering up a heaping pile of spiked and studded offal which would go largely unmatched for some time.
Over a decade later, the surprising resurgence of these scabby, smelly Swedes on San Francisco-based Prank Records, while not a return to form per se, helped usher in an era of riotous rock’n'roll-tinged dis-cord (sorry), exemplified by the comeback effort “In The Spirit of Massdestruction” (Prank, 2000). Basted in rock/crust bombast and thunderous Motorslog, that record was less notable for its songwriting than its stylistic direction, one which would later be echoed and popularized by the likes of Born Dead Icons, Inepsy, Reign of Bombs, a newly revamped Disfear, and many, many others. “Massdestruction”’s less stylized, more Scandi-kang/d-beat-centric follow up, “Punkista”, was an improved addition to the Avskum repertoire, although the toilet bowl sonics and supreme chaos of the band’s earliest three chord aberrations were lost in the shuffle.
After years of variations on an unrefined theme, however, “Uproar Underifran”, Avskum’s latest LP, has made significant strides towards resurrecting the band’s scuzziest d-beat/kang of old, this time balancing earlier air raid primitivism with the raging leads and deft pacing of their later work.
Arguably the band’s most fully realized outing to date, “Uproar Underifran” captures the better aspects of their varied evolution at once. Here, tinny, skeletal, low-end Dis-racket is brought to bear more prominently than in recent years, but is set adrift in terse chanegups, hints of Lemmy-ish swagger, and immense, layered production.
The results are more impactful than anything Avskum had been able to offer up with their post- “Crucified” output to this point. Amongst many of the eighteen perilously fast, abrupt rupturings herein lie standout numbers aplenty. The opening buzz and howl of “Kapitalismens Yttersta”, torrential “Dagar”, and the caustic blitz of “Nationalstaten Faller” and ”Porrstork” are but a few of the anti-authoritarian anarkopunk tirades that do justice to Avskum’s formative legacy.
The overall burn is lessened somewhat by a few repetitive-sounding numbers, particularly towards the record’s second half, but the vast majority of these ruminations on military force, extraordinary rendition, systemic apathy, poverty, and societal neglect are delivered with aplomb and brute force to spare.
Is this latest offering Avskum’s defining masterpiece? Perhaps not, as that distinction is best reserved for their astoundingly crude debut. Still, “Uproar Underifran” is one of the stronger punk/hc records of the year bar none. -M
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In the modern rap game it is not uncommon for overlooked scores of genuinely talented lyricists and producers to take the proverbial back seat to slicker, more commercially viable acts vying for ringtone sales and heavy rotation throughout the nation’s indistinguishable urban market radio airwaves. Even by such dubious standards, however, it is safe to say that few MCs in the annals of rap music have ever been quite as overlooked or criminally underrated for as long as one Joseph McVey, a Houston, Texas native known to the world as Z-Ro.
The initial security and calm of Joseph Wayne McVey’s early childhood was shattered with the premature death of his mother of Cancer when he was six years old. The familial displacement which ensued, precipitated by numerous periods spent shuttling between the homes of various relatives throughout the Houston area, heightened the extreme chaos and desolation which typified the young man’s existence, and ultimately led to an involvement in street life. Mcvey’s subsequent ejection from his grandmother’s home due to an involvement with drug dealing and gang activity culminated in a short-lived, disastrous stay with his estranged father. It was not long before he found it necessary to fend for himself, quite literally alone and destitute on the streets of Missouri City, Texas.
A brutal adolescence defined by street hustling and routine violence commenced, and it was in the gritty street anthems of South Houston rap artists such as K-Rino, Klondike Kat, Scarface, Killa Klan and Street Military that McVey sought solace. Inspired by the regionally vibrant H-town hip-hop community, he began to write his own distinctive blend of street poetry, adopting the moniker Z-Ro as testament to his humble origins.
From a young age, this troubled, gifted lyricist’s struggles with extreme poverty, depression, displacement, bouts of homelessness and numerous periods of incarceration were channeled into an evocative, immensely creative web of rhythmic, rapid fire rhymes and impressive narrative flow.
His subsequent status in certain (mostly Southwestern) circles as one one of the most versatile, talented rappers ever belied a lesser known quality: McVey’s deep, soulful baritone capable of raw, emotive blues-inflected crooning which complemented his often cathartic wordplay.
II. Screwed Up Origins
Z-Ro’s career began in earnest as one of the seminal members of a second wave of Houston-area rappers brought within the Screwed Up Click (or S.U.C.) fold by the now legendary Texas soundsmith DJ Screw. Appearing on scores of the prolific Screw’s so-called “grey tapes” in the mid-to-late 1990s, the fledgling Z-Ro’s expansive, invariably complex rhymes were stretched and warped, woven into the fabric of the syrupy, sluggish, hallucinatory Texas rider dreamscapes concocted by the late Screw. The aesthetic of that distinctive street-level psychedelia was informed by its narcotic of choice: copious amounts of codeine and promethazine found in perscription-strength cough syrup. Perhaps because of, or in spite of, the spaced out, lean-heavy origins found on Screw’s many cassette-oriented projects, Z-Ro’s subsequent solo contributions were typified by an often intense velocity and frenzied urgency that stood in stark contrast to the comparatively laid back, almost lackadaisical presentation of his earliest work and the output of many similarly situated Houston artists of the time.
While the dark imagery and swift mic skills of underground South Park Coalition-affiliated luminaries such as Ganksta NIP, Klondike Kat, and K-Rino, as well as East Bay legend Spice 1 might all have been reference points, Z-Ro’s lyrical chops, capable of shifting from numbingly fast, polysyballic spitfire fray to surly, mid-paced jaunt and weathered bluesy croon on a dime, quickly took on an urgency and organic quality all its own. With the exception of his distinctive regional slang and swagger, Z-Ro’s rap style transcended the confines of any particular geographic region or time period.
III. Fisher Boy and Beyond
Z-Ro’s proper debut on the small Houston-based Fisher Boy imprint, entitled “Look What You Did To Me” (1998), proved a stunning one man exorcism- a vivid, relentlessly grim series of autbiographical snapshots reeking of paranoia, rage, loneliness and desperation. At once a gangster biopic and a fierce religious devotional, the record stripped away any semblance of gangster rap caricature or stylized veneer, revealing instead a life of isolation, uncertainty, betrayal, depression, fear, and routine violence. It was a very real, personal, unusually honest and human take on the genre. From the seething opener, “Guerilla Til I Die”, to the scathing title track, the roots reggae-inflected “Ghetto Crisis” and the menacing “Dedicated 2 U” (as well as over a dozen other equally memorable numbers) Z-Ro’s highly personal lyricism evoked the trials and tribulations of gang life on the streets of Ridgemont, Texas with soul-baring candidness, his portraits of solitary street hustling and profound suffering melding seamlessly with apocalyptic invocations of biblical scripture and verse.
Lyrically, of course, the record was superb: a procession of impossibly dense undulating verbiage and tightly wound, rhythmically fierce rapping commencing over sparse synth lines and smooth Southwestern beats. It remains one of the darker, more uncompromising grassroots hip hop debuts ever.
With meager production values and distribution, however, the record went all but unnoticed in many locales, save Texas and select areas of the Southern and Western hip-hop markets where a fervently devout, if comparatively tight knit, following developed.
Follow-up records including “Z-ro vs the World” (Den Den/Straight Profit, 2000) boasting the staggering, charged regional anthem “Dirty Third” among a slew of other underground rider classics and “King of Da Ghetto” (Straight Profit, 2001) (“I Found Me”, “Block Bleeder”, “Haters Song”, “Wake Up”, “Pain”, ditto) proved near flawless elaborations upon what came before. Angst-ridden ruminations informed equally by a paradoxical whirlwind of street grinding, retributional violence, and deep-seated religious conviction complemented peerless flow, lyrical complexity, and memorably layered vocal harmonies. No less impressive was McVey’s work on Guerilla Maab’s “Rise” (Resurrection, 1999), an early Southside Houston-centric group collaberation on which he took center stage, alongside cousin Trae (who has subsequently proven a formidable, if slightly less consistent, Houston-area presence in his own right) and then up-and-coming lyrical monster Dougie D.
These additions to McVey’s repertoire built upon the foundations laid, but proved less morose and relentlessly bleak than what came before, as he retreated somewhat from the pathos-saturated introversion of his debut while adding a layer of sonic sheen and more upbeat, stylized H-town flair to the equation.
With a rapidly expanding core fan base, Z-Ro eventually joined the ranks of local rap mogul J. Prince’s Houston-based Rap-A-Lot Records roster (home to the Geto Boys, Scarface, Devin The Dude, and many others), much to the chagrin of some die-hards. Subsequent releases on that label were generally quite good, however, though more subdued in tone and delivery than preceding output. Slicker, noticeably hi-res production values (which nonetheless retained the sample-free synth-heavy character of earlier work) courtesy of veteran producer Mike Dean, typified the best of this updated material. From “The Life of Joseph McVey” (Rap-A-Lot, 2004) to “Let The Truth Be Told” (2005) and “I’m Still Living” (2006), the self-anointed Mo City Don continued to deliver, each subsequent release boasting a maze of words, thoughts and sound more memorable, insightful, and consistent than what many modern contemporaries brought to the fore-North, South, East or West.
Even Z-Ro’s lukewarm “Power” (2007), hurriedly recorded and produced entirely by the rapper himself in a scaled down home studio under difficult time constraints (completed in its entirety just days prior to the commencement of a several month long prison stint), was not without its share of redeeming qualities.
Though not without its occasional creative misstep, the release of a subsequent Z-Ro recording had generally proven a cause for considerable excitement…
(to be continued) -M
Sources: Introductory biographical information culled in part from an excellent three part interview with Rakesh which can be viewed here, the artists own lyrics and bios, an excellent DJ Screw documentary entitled “The Untold Story“, as well as a print interview conducted by SOHH Rizoh and an interview with Downsouth.com.
Discographical information compiled from my own personal collection and the good folks at discogs.
Filed under: Reviews
Gauze -Binbou Yusuri No Rizumu Ni Notte (XXX Records (Japan) /Prank Records (USA) For over two decades, Tokyo’s Gauze have brought noteworthy depth and technical precision to the world of punk and hardcore. Countless numbers have tried unsuccessfully to approximate their euphoric eruptions– zen-like bursts of punk ferocity channeled through hints of far eastern mantra, incorporating the fierce and dramatic into a dense, howling fray.
Over the span of five LPs and scores of compilation tracks, their frenzied, climactic kabuki thrash has yielded some of the more astounding speed-shifting clamor, hyperdrive ripping, and vocal savagery to ever grace a hardcore record.
With nary a sign of age or mellowing after twenty-six years of activity, Gauze’s fifth LP (and first in ten years) , “Binbou Yusuri No Rizumu Ni Notte” , howls forth with considerable power, brimming with the confounding tempos, whirlwind velocity and rhythmic command that have defined the bulk of their repertoire. No less intense than what came before, this numbingly brief thirteen minute tempest hearkens back to Gauze’s most primal “japcore” roots, particularly the ear splitting damage of their oft touted “Equalizing Distort” and “Fuckheads” LPs.
Where later recordings (most notably the band’s mammoth third LP, “Genkai Wa Doko Da”, and thundering fourth LP “Kao O Aratte Denaoshite Koi”) boasted denser, more involved arrangements, Gauze’s latest effort is more of a backwards-looking affair, with a prediliction for the coarser, less adorned songwriting of their earliest, crudest (but no less massive) punk sprawl. Replete with what may well be their rawest production values to date, the hissing, buzzing, slashing, distortion-saturated ebb and flow of this record greatly accentuates the aural tsunami. The start-and-stop acrobatics of this barrage also belie the intermittant bout of surprisingly anthemic (dare I say downright catchy?) mid-paced riff rocking, lending an infectious tint to the maxed out, razor-precise bombardment.
This is a welcome, if unembellished, addition to a deservedly lauded repertoire. Very highly recommended.-M