Random Hand – Seething Is Believing CD

Seeting Is BelievingI was fortunate enough to catch Random Hand when they supported Propagandhi a while back, and was mightily impressed with their energy and presence. So when I was given the opportunity to review their latest offering (thanks Donagh), I jumped at the chance. And I’m very happy with what I’m hearing.

Random Hand have their roots firmly in the third-wave skacore approach to sound generation, but aren’t limited by the style. As a result, it’s a very non-generic sounding disc and shows what can be done with a little more thought and application on the part of musicians. Stuck in a rut it most certainly ain’t.

The music is a nicely complex mix of heavy punk-metal drum patterns interspersed with some nifty ska off-beats, a guitar that shreds one minute and skanks the next, bass work that’s rock steady with the occasional touch of rocksteady, with the whole affair punctuated throughout by some very sweet silver-tongued trumpet and trombone (the vocalist is responsible for this and must have lungs the size of a whale). Vox are overlaid with just the right amount of in-yer-faceness that really do justice to the lyrical flow, with the rest of the band chipping in at opportune moments.

Talking of the lyrics, these are definitely a cut above the usual mustard. It’s obvious that RH have put a lot of thought into what they want to say and aren’t afraid to go outside the sometimes staid confines of political music. A story of time spent in the Balkans (‘Tales Of Intervention’) hits hard at the military complex that visited destruction on the peoples of the region, but manages to find hope from the fact that ‘borders don’t mean anything when people can connect…we are not our leaders’. People are people, it’s governments that fuck us up. Other songs tackle the curse of wage slavery, pointing out both the futility of compliance with the ‘do what the boss says and make what you can’ mentality (‘But I know we’ll have the nicest grave, the little perk of my salary’ – ‘Start The Fans’), and why the working class can and must push back against the inhumanity of capitalism at every chance (‘We’re not a number sitting on a page and we’re not gonna settle for the minimum wage’ – ‘Not A Number’). There are well-aimed attacks on small-minded prejudice and a smart ability to make the personal political as they spread their underlying message of optimism.

But what I really like is the cleverness of their construction. While the delivery is clearly cut from punk rock cloth, the rhymes give an explicit nod to hip-hop culture in the way they’re pulled together. It’s a refreshing approach and one that ensures your attention doesn’t drift. After all, that’s the whole point.

While similar bands may cut it up on stage, they don’t always pull it off when they commit themselves to disc. Random Hand deftly avoid that pitfall and have no problems packing their attitude into a few inches of shiny plastic. As an added bonus, the accompanying artwork and booklet proves that the CD format doesn’t have to be boring.

For people who also like: Link 80, Capdown, The Ruts

OP’s opinion: Four-half

Download sample track – Tales Of Intervention (FLAC)
Random Hand Facebook
Buy from Bomber Music

The Freebooters – Ordinary Level Oi! CD

Freebooters coverThe Freebooters play no-nonsense ska-tinged streetpunk with a big fucking smile on its face! This is one infectious album, full of life and energy. It’s clear to hear that these Irish girls and boys have a burning desire to stand up and shout ‘Shut the fuck up! Listen! Dance! Change the fuckin’ world!’, a task they take on and complete with admirable ease.

While they’re not afraid to take a political stance, they manage to do it with a healthy dose of humour, particularly when it comes to their no-nonsense anti-fascist position. Just check out the chorus to ‘Paddy Hitler’ –

Paddy Hitler was a man who just couldn’t understand
Why things never came together in his master plan
Was his head too fat? Or his brain too small?
Either way he knows fuck all

or the amusingly titled ‘Stormfront In A Teacup’ that mercilessly rips the piss out of pasty-faced cyber-nazis. Putting their money where their mouths are, the band and label are also allowing antifa groups to buy a bundle of the CDs at a heavily discounted wholesale price and will throw in a load free aswell so that anti-nazis can raise some much needed cash (get in touch with Distro-y Records for the lowdown).

Other tunes deal with army recruiters targeting the unemployed, bar room pool-playing alkies, cops, priests, all-night partying and an ode to the fans of the finest anti-fascist football team on the planet, FC St Pauli.

Musically, it’s all as solid as a pint of Guinness – snappy basslines, brickwall beats, guitars that’ll get your Granny spinning and reeling on the dancefloor, and rousing choruses just begging for you to sing along with ’em. With the punk knowledge on display here it’s no surprise to learn that members have been part and parcel of the scene for a long time, having been involved with such luminary acts as The Dagda, Pink Turds In Space, Nappyrash, Toxic Waste, The Poke and Bleeding Rectum.

This is a bit of a departure for Distro-y, probably better known for putting out D-beat and crust flavoured outfits, and I take my hat of to Alex for spreading his punk rock wings in this direction. Diversity is one of the things that makes our culture so great, especially when it’s as sterling as this.

For people who also like: The Restarts, Stage Bottles, Runnin’ Riot

OP’s opinion: Five

Download sample track – St. Pauli (FLAC)
The Freebooters Myspace
Buy from Iron Column Records for £5 plus p&p (all proceeds to my local antifa friends), or Distro-y for €5 plus p&p

Prisoner Of War Benefit CD

Prisoner Of War coverJJ, the guitarist from Active Slaughter, is currently doing a 3-year stretch for his part in the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences. His friends in Trauma Unit have put together a benefit CD to get some cash together for him when he gets out. This is a ‘Pay What You Can’ release with 23 tracks from the likes of Extinction Of Mankind, Oi Polloi, Anthrax, Andy T, Doom (doing a Discharge cover) and loads of other noisemongers, with many of the tracks previously unreleased. It’s an absolute corker in every respect – the punk-as-fuck cover tells you everything you need to know about what’s gonna follow. It’s well worth at least a fiver, even if you have to raid your penny jar. You can find out more and order the CD here.

Please buy it if you can and help spread the word. Mutual solidarity ‘n’ all that…

OP’s opinion: Five

Detached – None The Wiser CDEP

Detached coverDetached play some competent and energetic third-wave style ska, with fast guitar chops, strident beats to move the feet, frenetic basslines and a full complement of brass laying down some smooth rhythms. I’ve got to say that I find the main voice slightly annoying – I really don’t like the faux American twang that seems to creep in to quite a few non-Yank ska bands’ tunes, and I also found it to be a bit scratchy on my ears at times. But overall, that’s no big deal. The well-contructed melodies behind them ensure the whole lot hangs together pretty solidly. A classy production job also helps.

The lyrics are well-written but, again, don’t really float my particular boat. I don’t mind the odd tune that gets into the whole life, love and loss thing, but I struggle when it’s nearly every song. I guess that’s as much about me being old and jaded as anything else. I shouldn’t forget that these young pups will still be riding emotional rollercoasters that need an outlet somewhere. And this is certainly a better way of doing it than standing around on street corners mugging old ladies.

Overall, these are tunes that I’d enjoy if they popped up on a compilation disc, something like the ‘Hey Brother…‘ series that I still love to this day, but are harder work listened to all in one go. And, at four quid to download six tracks (albeit well-polished ones) and six quid for the hard copy, I wouldn’t rush out to buy it. Those with youth on their side may well have a different experience.

OP’s opinion: Three

Listen to the entire EP for free on the group’s Bandcamp page. If you like it you can buy the download from there too.

Hard copies and other merch can be found in their Big Cartel store.

Expendable Youth – The Exposing Of The Immortal Person LP

Expendable YouthI love it when I take a bit of a punt and end up with another slice of perfectly turned out coloured vinyl (black-splattered beer) and accompanying noise (blood-splattered ears). Such is the case with EY’s ‘The Exposing Of The Immortal Person’ LP, put out (at least in part) by the eternally-friendly Alex of Distro-y Records. I’m still a bit of an amateur when it comes to this ‘neo / melodic crust’ thing but, as Alex has made wholesome comparisons with a couple of the prime movers and shakers of the style, I thought ‘why not?’. I’ve got to say it’s one of the best instinctive moves I’ve made in a fair while.

Chugging riffage à la Metallica in their heyday but embellished with well-crafted crust twiddles, sharp breakdowns that kill the pace but not the power, a skinbasher who appears to have eight arms and legs in faultless syncronicity, bass licks that aren’t afraid to hold centre-stage without forgetting their main job of fleshing out the bones, and all topped by the voices of the righteously angry – you get the impression that they would turn themselves inside out if they screamed any harder against the injustice and oppression that pervades our lives. The spot-on production job gives space to every member while drawing out the collective dynamics perfectly. If this is what the kids are listening to and creating these days, count me in.

Overall, it’s a melodic, heavy, tight and shining example of punk evolution in practice.

For people who also like: Ekkaia, Remains Of The Day (apparently)

OP’s opinion: Five

Download sample track – Rising From The Right (320k mp3)
Expendable Youth Myspace
Buy from Distro-y (EU), Sysdumb (US) or Shaman (US)

Right now this is on sale at Distro-y for the absolute bargain price of €5 plus shipping, but hurry up – only 500 have been pressed across the world and stocks are limited.

CRASS – Stations Of The Crass CD (Remastered)

Stations... coverThe same general observations I made about the previous remastered CD release apply equally here too, with one exception. This time round, the bonus tracks are fucking amazing!

They were recorded live in BBC studios for one of the world-renowned Peel Sessions in March 1979, where sadly-missed DJ and nation’s favourite uncle John Peel would champion bands he appreciated by giving them airtime during one of his shows. Previously only available on an outrageously priced bootleg that nowhere near matches the clarity and power on show here (taken as they are from the studio masters), it’s about time this incredible piece of broadcasting and musical history got the polish and audience it deserves.

On a related note, can anyone imagine the Beeb having a DJ with either the underground awareness or straight-up audacity of Uncle John these days? Me neither.

More info on the Southern website (and available from their shop).

CRASS – The Feeding Of The Five Thousand CD (Remastered)

Feeding Of The 5000CRASS. The point where it really all began as far as I’m concerned. The band that gave punk the direction it needed to go if it was to really mean anything, and who called it a day when they felt they’d said everything they could as a collective unit. And, although they’ve been almost completely ignored in the deluge of ‘punk’ history books that have been spawned over the years, their influence cannot be overstated.

Having come to the conclusion that the early digital versions of their output really didn’t do justice to how they should’ve looked or sounded, some members of the band (primarily Penny and Gee from what I can tell) decided that they would put in the time and effort required to rework the whole lot. But it didn’t pan out quite so smoothly. Pete had unresolved personal issues with Penny from back in the day and decided to use the planned re-issues as a weapon in that dispute. He refused to give permission for the remasters to be released. The last I heard, it was on the verge of court but it seems like Penny et al have adopted the ‘published and be damned’ approach, much like they’ve always done.

So on to the end product. There’s no remixing here, just clever use of the latest tools and technologies that’s allowed them to bring out the full power and energy of the recording. It’s definitely the next-best-thing if you don’t have the vinyl version, and I’d recommend it even if you do. I’ve read some criticism that the remastering just added a dose of compression to make everything more equally loud, but it definitely sounds a lot more subtle than that to my (admittedly well-used) ears. There’s a presence about the bass that really emphasises just how good the riffs were, while the work on the guitars has created a subtle separation that allows both to stand proud while still combining precisely for that classic jittering, jarring sound. Vox and drums find a comfortable home among them and the overall balance definitely hits the sweet spot.

Along with the studio tracks, there are an additional 16 tracks resurrected from some ultra-scarce demos recorded in the very early days. They’re historically interesting, if slightly more challenging to listen to more than once.

Gee’s also been no slouch with creating a completely fresh approach to the package as a whole. The accompanying 64-page lyric booklet is a pleasure to hold and read. Not only are there snippets of images that any CRASS afficionado will know intimately, there are also new photos, clever background textures, beautiful type-setting and intros from Steve Igs and Gandalf Rimbaud himself. The original poster sleeve has been reduced to CD size and opens up just like its big brother. Everything is boxed in a cardboard slipcase which has a photo of part of the CRASS logo on Penny’s bass drum skin (the six planned remasters will make up the whole image when put together). Needless to say, the materials used are all top-notch and do the artwork and creator full credit.

‘Stations…’ is next up and I’m seriously excited about it. Hell, they may even be able to tempt me to part with my hard-earned to get ‘Ten Notes…’ just for the non-musical content. OK, so none of these releases are really essential any more, but for anyone whose life has been influenced in any way by these angry songs and bitter words, they’re more than a justifiable indulgence.

OP’s opinion: Four half

Download sample track – So What?
CRASS pages on the Southern website
Buy from Southern Records

Sonic Boom Six – Rude Awakening CD/LP

Rude Awakening coverFor anyone not yet familiar with this bunch of cheeky Mancs, you could do worse than pick up either (or both) of these juicy releases. Hand-picked by the band, the tracks on show represent the finest fruits of the skapunkdubfunkmetaljungle tree. Tunes have been collected from their earliest works to their most recent offerings, with a particular emphasis on the ones they love to play out on the road (something they do a great deal of), to give a really nicely rounded overview of their energy, range and capabilities.

Both versions share tracks, but there are one or two differences too that make owning the pair very appealing. If you have to plump for one, get the CD – there are more songs, an exclusive new version of Puretone’s ‘Addicted To Bass’ and a couple of videos thrown in too. For a tenner a piece they’re a top deal in these recessionary times, and will certainly help keep your revolutionary fervour fiesty.

OP’s opinion: Five

Sonic Boom Six website
Buy the CD or LP

Blyth Power – A Little Touch Of Harry In The Night LP

When I first got this as a demo tape (remember them?) sometime in the mid-80’s I’d already fallen in love with the band. I caught them live in the early days and had a blast. Semi-serious sillyness for the fun of it spliced to some simple leg-stomping tunes guaranteed a good time, and that’s pretty much been the case every time since. It’s a musical path they haven’t really deviated from over the years, but why mess with a winning formula? I’ve got to say, though, that this remains my favourite BP release and era.

My copy went to cassette heaven way back but, while it lived, it was never far from whatever playback device I had to hand. When it finally gave up the ghost I felt like a little bit of me had died too. It had been the soundtrack to many good times, and I had hoped it would continue that way forever (or at least until rigor mortis set in). Not so many years later, the internet gave me the chance to find a reasonable rip, complete with all of its slightly wobbly, muddy hissiness. But the sound quality didn’t really matter anyway, it was something I was already well-accustomed to. I was just happy to have these songs back in my life.

Now the internet has come up trumps again. A few days back I saw a post on a forum where someone mentioned they’d just got hold of a vinyl pressing of ‘Harry’ and it immediately grabbed my attention. Was it a bootleg copy of a knackered old tape, someone chancing their arm to make a quick buck, or was it something more? A quick bit of Googling detective work and, from what I could work out, it looked like a bloke called Paco, along with Sean (Wat Tyler / Hard Skin), had pressed this and, from what others were saying, they’d done a sterling job on it. So I got in touch and sent Paco the cash (along with some more for a limited coloured slab of Hard Skin live) and the next day I had it in my hands.

This is, without doubt, the ultimate version of ‘Harry’. It sounds even fresher than I remember from the first time I played the virgin tape, and totally blows any of the subsequent mp3 rips I’ve heard out of the water (with one noticeable exception that I found just yesterday over on Mr. Embryo’s blog). What’s even more incredible is that this was remastered from one of those tapes and not from the studio originals. It’s pretty impressive what can be achieved in the hands of a skilled engineer. OK, it’s not hifi, but remember this is from a time when punks didn’t have access to fancy places with shit-hot kit and had to do things on a pretty tight shoestring, in this case using a 4-track portastudio (admittedly the shoestring’s still there but you can get a fuck of a lot more for it these days). I like that home-made rawness in my music now and again, and this is a perfect example.

As well as some nice well-pressed plastic, it comes with a glossy card fold-out poster covered with interesting blurb and pics and a copy of the booklet that accompanied the tape. The cover is a simple shiny black ‘n’ white affair with the original artwork on the front and a great old photo of the band on the back. It also bears the immortal words ‘Pay No more Than £6’! All in all, if BP float your boat then get in touch with Paco now (he’s a very friendly bloke to deal with) and prepare to fall in love (again).

OP’s opinion: Five

Download sample track – In The Ffucke-Masticke Room
Blyth Power website
Buy from La Vida Es Un Mus

Amebix – Redux 12″ EP

Amebix Redux cover
If I need to introduce you to the Amebix, then something’s gone very wrong with your punk rock education. Hit Google, read and learn, and you’ll quickly realise that they’re one of the most crucial bands in our history. They’re lumped in with the anarcho crew but that really does them a bit of a disservice – the band were well beyond the norm for the time. They were only around for a handful of years and their recorded output from back then amounts to not much more than a couple of EPs, a 12″ and a couple of albums. But what records they are. The music has far more weight and power to it than most of their contemporaries, thanks in no small part to the band’s love of Killing Joke and British heavy metal. It’s ethereal guitars layered with eerie synths, tribal drums and a bass that drills to your bones. And the words, semi-gutteral utterances that flow through the soundscape, simply add to the very real sense of menace and foreboding as they seep into your mind, before erupting into screams of defiance that, just in the nick of time, rip you from the clutches of the almost-suffocating darkness forged by the preceding sonic assault.

Now, more than 20 years on, the band have got back together. It’s not quite the original set-up, with Roy Mayorga (ex-Nausea, Sepultura etc.) replacing their last drummer Spider, but two-thirds is more than good enough. The Amebix have done with this release what I didn’t think was possible – they’ve raised the bar. None of these are new tunes, instead they’re reworkings of four classics from the old days – ‘Arise’, ‘Winter’ and ‘Chain Reaction’ on the vinyl, with ‘Progress?’ (live version from the forthcoming album & DVD) added to the free digital download included in the package. Using all of the wisdom of the intervening years coupled with access to decent kit and an engineer who seems to understand exactly what the band are trying to do, they’ve built a behemoth of a record. Every aspect has been polished to perfection, each nuance enhanced without losing an ounce of the original strength and feeling. It is, quite simply, fucking awesome.

Beyond the noise, the vinyl is black heavyweight virgin plastic, the cover is a beautiful matt affair with simple but stunning new artwork and a suitably moody picture of the band on the back, there’s a glossy inner with more incredible design, along with the lyrics and a bit of back story to the release, not forgetting the aforementioned free download card (my only criticism – why is it only at a mediocre mp3 bitrate?) and a unique and high-quality embroidered 5″x6″ patch for instant authentic crustiness.

Trust me, if you know what this band were capable of more than twenty years back then you are in for an absolutely intense aural orgasm when your stylus makes sweet love with this adorable beast.

OP’s opinion: Five

Download sample track – Winter (160kbs mp3)
Amebix website
Buy from Profane Existence (also available as CD but with no patch or analogue gorgeousness).

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