All Guns Blazing

Fighting ChanceSacrifice And Struggle (ltd. edition package)
Insurgence Records

Fighting ChanceAs I’ve probably said more than once before, I like to get my music delivered through the post. Not only does it mean I usually deal direct with the label or band, it’s cheaper, there are often freebies and, most importantly, I love getting a parcel through the letterbox when I least expect it.

This past weekend was no exception. My friendly postie knocked the door and, with her usual cheerfulness, handed over a 12″ square package. Mmm, now I wonder what that could be? A sticker on the outside spoiled the surprise slightly by telling me that it had come from Insurgence Records, my favourite Canuck anti-fascist streetpunk label. But it also quickened my heart a bit too. It always takes a bit of time for their orders to arrive as I generally choose surface mail and spend the savings on more noise and associated stuff. That’s never been a problem for me ‘cos the wait’s always been worth it. This one kept their 100% record intact.

Fighting Chance package dealOpening it up revealed the Fighting Chance (from Baltimore) package deal I ordered back at the end of January. Consisting of a limited edition clear blue vinyl pressing of their ‘Sacrifice And Struggle’ LP (wrapped in a classy metallic silver sleeve), an exclusively-coloured and stylish t-shirt (I got the ‘Ashtray Grey’ version ‘cos smoking’s big and clever), and a copy of their blood-red 7″ ‘Party Lies’, as well as some promo posters and stickers, it was punk perfection. And a total bargain at only $20 (US) including snail mail.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, but I had a feeling that this was going to be a very tasty dessert. A feeling that proved to be pretty much spot on.

This is powerful stuff played with skill, passion and a heavy dose of hardcore attitude. Both records rush along at a healthy pace whilst maintaining great balance and clarity in the mix. The only minor gripe is the overall level is a bit on the low side on the album, but that’s what the volume knob’s for. Suffice to say, they’re nicely polished recordings and show off the musical talent admirably.

But without a voice and words to match, such technical prowess would be wasted and incomplete. That’s where Bullseye (vox, natch) delivers, taking the collaborative writing talents of the band and turning them into a message that simply cannot be ignored. Whether it’s taking the farce that passes for democracy to task and pointing a very pointy finger at politicians that ‘don’t give a damn about you and me’ (‘Party Lies’), or recounting glorious and inspiring tales of working class struggle when they remind us that ‘the working class built this land’ (‘History Repeats’), this is straight talking at its very best.

Fighting Chance called it a day in 2005, but their message is still much needed. This is essential listenening for anyone who likes their music loud, political and uncompromising.

OP’s opinion: Four half

Download sample tracks ‘Blamed’ and ‘History Repeats’

Project Boneyard sleeveFootnote: while you’re checking out Insurgence Records, don’t miss out on their anti-fascist awareness / label sampler compilation ‘Project Boneyard’. This was released a few years back to counter some particularly nasty bonehead sampler being dished out to schoolkids in North America by ‘white power’ losers. It’s completely free to grab and distribute, it’s all 320kbs mp3s, and there’s artwork included for printing your own sleeve. It’s also a damned fine sampler featuring the cream of anti-fascist streetpunk, Oi! and hardcore bands, including original skins The Oppressed and German herberts Stage Bottles. Off you go then.

Frogs Of Yore

Tofu Love Frogs - Vegetable Attack coverI’m guessing that one or two of my regular readers will be familiar with the Tofu Love Frogs, one of the many marvellous bands of minstrels that first appeared on the free festival scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s. If hearing the name brings back a flash of recognition amongst your acid-addled brains, or if you just like a bargain when you see one, you’ll be pleased to know that they’re giving away their original two CD releases for free on their website. That’s well over an hour’s worth of noise at a perfectly respectable 160 kbs. Packed with more energy than a gram of whizz (and with a much more pleasant comedown), it’s punkified ska-folk / folkified ska-punk / skaified punk-folk of the finest quality. I’d urge you to grab ’em both now while the offer’s good, even more so if you’ve never heard of ’em before.

I had the pleasure of seeing this lot a few times first time round, and I caught ’em again a few months ago in their reincarnated form. Age hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm for kickin’ up a storm and punishing these old legs of mine. Track ’em down if they’re appearing in a field near you and get your arse along for a hoedown of the highest order.

Excess All Areas

I like to fool myself into believing that I’ve got my finger on the pulse, sonically speaking. But, to be honest, underneath it all I’m aware of just how much self-deception is going on. The fact of the matter is that there are simply too many bands making too many good tunes (and a lot more making shit ones) for any human to keep up with (although the chimps might have a better chance). However, that doesn’t stop me getting a buzz the first time I come across a mob of musicians who grab and engulf my ears and brain with their audio extravagances, even if they’re already ‘out there’ and adored by thousands well before I find ’em.

One such mob are total mash-up terrorists Sonic Boom Six. Last week I heard my first track by ’em. This week I’ve got all of their tunes and am waiting for the t-shirt. According to the wiki entry they sound like ‘Notting Hill Carnival on a punk CD’, which to my mind is under-egging the pudding (moral dilemma – is it OK for vegans to use animal-based expressions?). Punk, ska, drum ‘n’ bass, ragga, calypso, dancehall, metal, hip hop, dub, samples and loops all fuse perfectly for a full-on booty-shakin’ experience, but that’s only half the story. The lyrics are just as fiery, fiesty and fun and make the whole package well beyond complete.

I can’t recommend any of their albums in particular, they’re all pretty much spot-on, just take a lucky dip and prepare to be impressed with whatever lands on your doorstep. Having said that, ‘Sounds To Consume: Champion Edition’ has the best version of ‘Safe European Home’ that I’ve ever heard, easily surpassing the original.

They’re some of the most intelligent, talented and up-for-it political partyheads I’ve had the good fortune to stumble across this year, so let your hair down and join in the fun.

OP’s opinion: Five

And if you’re in the Hull area around solstice time, check this out:

Love Music, Hate Racism benefit gig flyer

The best bargain of the season I reckon.

If you live further afield, they’re also playing these venues beforehand:

12 Dec 2007 WHITE RABBIT, PLYMOUTH
17 Dec 2007 BRICKYARD, CARLISLE
18 Dec 2007 BAR ACADEMY, BIRMINGHAM
19 Dec 2007 VIVAZ, SCARBOROUGH

Time to get yer dancing legs on.

(Sub)human Evolution

Internal Riot cover

SubhumansInternal Riot
Bluurg Records

More than twenty years on from their last studio release, the boys from Wessex have at last managed to drag their arses from the primordial punk slime to give us what we’ve all been waiting for. This record is, without doubt, their finest release to date. It’s like they’ve dissected everything that’s gone before, removed anything surplus to requirements and spliced the remaining material together again, capturing the very essence of the band in audio DNA.

As ever, Dick’s words form the solid backbone of the beast unleashed. Straining with tension and urgency, they concentrate the mind very much on the matter at hand. But not with any sort of preachy dogma. He’s much cleverererer than that, is Mr. Lucas. Instead they weave together some specifics of the moment (for example, the war in Iraq in ‘This Year’s War’) with a broader analysis of the deeper issues and concepts underpinning them (‘this year’s war against terror, like the war on crime, is war against anyone, anytime’). And everything is underpinned with an almost personalised invitation (the kind you can’t refuse) that drags you, the listener, right into the middle of the whole experience. It’s a record that insists on and gets your active attention from start to end.

Sleeve detail

Musically, it’s as flawless as the band have ever been. There’s variation aplenty but it’s as distinctive as hell. The bass and guitar trade witty and clever banter as they build their intricate wall of sound, while Trotsky’s complex beats provide the framework. Meanwhile, Dick’s voice cuts through at just the right volume to glue the whole lot together nicely. The power contained within this simple piece of plastic would give a thermo-nuclear device a run for its money (not that I’m suggesting you test this out in your living room).

I could rant on and on and on about this, but instead I’ll just say ‘Buy it. Buy it now, right this moment, before any other thought even has a chance to cross your mind’.

And in case you’re wondering about the different cover images at the top, the one on the left shows the original artist’s draft and the one on the right is the final version. To be honest, I think the draft is the better of the two except for the ‘Subhumans’ logo being too big (it’s just about perfect on the final one). I suppose I could always colour mine in to match the original, but I’m not that sad or wreckless with my records (not these days, anyway).

Download sample track – ‘Process’

OP’s opinion: Five

Try Before You Buy

Reviews of music here at OPND will now include a free downloadable track from the release, so that you can get a feel for the flavour of the whole thing. I’ll do my best to select a track that sums up the overall vibe (if that’s possible), notwithstanding my own subjectivity. If you like the noise, just follow the link and buy the record 🙂

I’ve added tracks to all of the reviews I’ve done to date, so just click on ‘Reviews – Noise’ in the column on the left if you want to hear what I’m raving on about.

Fist In The Face

Behind Enemy LinesOne Nation Under The Iron Fist Of God
Profane Existence / Antagony / Alerta Antifascista

Behind Enemy Lines album

Before you even put this record anywhere near your hifi you’ll be blown away by it. Quality from every angle. The cover is matt-finished heavyweight charcoal-coloured card, the image dripping with menace as the Christ figure, draped in the Stars n’ Stripes, stands triumphant in front of a burning cross. With the tracklisting printed in pale red Gothic type, you just KNOW this record is gonna be unrelenting.

THEN you get to the book that comes with the album. Although I’ve not seen the CD version of this, I’d strongly recommend getting the 12″ vinyl and doing it justice. Because the booklet with the vinyl is also 12″ (and 48 pages), while the CD one is CD-sized (and 64 pages), and you’ll appreciate it much more at this size. A screaming angry God, punching out with a ‘HATE’-tattooed fist, faces you from the glossy card cover. Open the book and you’ll find pages of intelligent and venomous lyrics married perfectly to poster images of Dubya and his cohorts emblazoned with slogans that show them in their true light. It is a visual treat and a political education.

THEN you slide the clear red vinyl out of its protective sleeve and prepare (or so you think) for what comes next. But you’re not ready, and shiver involuntarily as the dark malevolent tones of Big Brother (aka Richard Burton) creep from your speakers and target you as if you yourself were Winston, in that room, alone, vulnerable, afraid. What hope is left? And who carries its banner?

The answer is Behind Enemy Lines. But don’t expect it to be an easy one. This band slice open the underbelly of the neocon fundamentalist programme that is the U.S. of A and lay bare the entrails. As each layer is exposed, their apocalyptic desires are dragged forth from the shadows. And as the lie is revealed and the truth unveiled, the anger builds. How DARE they? Who are these people to twist and pervert all that is good for their own malevolent ends? What right do they have to enslave millions by word and by deed, to use us as mere currency in their blood-soaked transactions?

Book cover detail

These songs tell the truth. The nightmare that even Orwell couldn’t imagine is detailed in the opening two tracks, ‘George’s Vision’ and ‘Faceless’, and the ease with which the masses comply. They invite a cold, hard look at ourselves. The war in Iraq and its devastating consequences are also unveiled, from the growing despair and hatred amongst the occupied populations (‘Retribution’), via the closed cells where ‘interrogation erodes into inhumane torture’ (‘American Rape Rooms’), and ending in the almost necrophiliac exploitation of the young American corpses as they are returned to their loved ones (‘Molesting The Dead’). Having given their lives, the vultures will still pick the bones clean.

But even as the war machine is funded without thought, not so far away another child dies in pain, fear and poverty. How can this be allowed to happen? As genocide rips through Darfur, ‘we sit and debate while the militias bathe in blood’ (‘Turning A Blind Eye’). And as the corpses in the third world mount ever higher, we benefit directly from the cash crops, labour, resources and oil that their deaths paid for (‘Third World Blood’). Privilege exacts a terrible price. Yet even that privilege is nothing more than a sop to keep us mollified. Our masters will keep squeezing us too, maybe not so brutally, but the end result isn’t too dissimilar.

With the rest of the tracks combining to make the connections between religious fundamentalism, fascism, ecological destruction, corporate power, media control, economic privilege and class, Behind Enemy Lines pull no punches lyrically or musically with this release.

Information is power and this record is an incendiary device.

Download sample track – ‘Gutter Religion’

OP’s opinion: Five

By Order Of The Management

The ManagersSpecial
Global Routes Music

Special album cover First off, this is one big band! Twenty musicians contribute to this release, although I don’t think they all appear at the same time! The numbers involved have helped create a collection of tunes that display a great deal of variety and musical inventiveness.

They’re also from New Zealand, a country that’s about as far away from mine as it’s possible to get on a spherical planet. This fact alone was enough to get me sending a few of my hard-earned pounds literally half way around the world. What, I wondered, would Antipodean ska sound like exactly?

Turns out that it has much in common with any other well-produced ska. It straddles the second generation Two Tone ska sound and early third generation punky ska with that all-important nod to the original rudeboy vibe running through it all, and The Managers do it very well indeed. Everything is superbly executed and the band are an obviously talented bunch. The fact that they are able to play around so well with tempo and melody keeps your interest up through the whole album and you have to keep reminding yourself that it’s the same band you’re listening to.

The opening track, Capt. Ska, is 99% instrumental and a great way to start, recalling a cranked-up Bad Manners on a Nutty Boy trip with a large dash of modern ska complexity thrown in, something that could be said about quite a few of the tunes here, and it sets the (two-)tone for what follows.

Some of the songs get to grips with those classic ska staples of love lost and found, all having a different take on the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of romance. Sometimes the ska saves the day, dragging you out of the door and on to the dance floor, sometimes it’s just the tune playing in the background as your world falls apart, but it’s always there waiting for you, for when you’re ready to put your boots back on. ‘Infiltraitor’ in particular makes good use of the female vocals, harking back to The Selecter and taking to task the two-timing toughboys who think it’s cool to cheat on your girl. ‘My Mistake’ sees upbeat tunes backing a tale of regret, at times almost sounding like the Muppet Show house band (in a good way), while ‘Out Of Breath’ takes the more traditional down-tempo reggae route to express similar feelings.

While it’s true to say that many of the tunes here are about either affaires d’amour or dancing (or both), The Managers aren’t afraid to take on heavier topics too. ‘Charge!’ is a minor key rail against the madness of war, pointing out the fascistic mindset that underpins those who would have us fight and kill each other for their privilege and power. ‘Killing En Masse’ deals with a different kind of slaughter, that commited by bloodthirsty hunters who exterminate our wildlife for kicks. A hardcore vegan sensibility is not something you generally find in your average ska release, but The Managers appreciate the beauty inherent in all life and make their point well with the simple line ‘we are right and you are wrong’. Now that’s an attitude I can relate to.

If you like the kind of stuff put out on Asian Man, then there’s no way you won’t like this. And how many other New Zealand ska records have you got sitting on your shelf anyway?

OP’s opinion: Four

Download sample track – ‘Infiltraitor’

The Managers

(© Lindy Hickman)

NB: The Manager’s second album ‘Take It Or Leave It’ is out around now. That will be a welcome addition to my NZ ska collection, as well as doubling the size of it.

Gotta Lotta Bottle

Stage Bottles(We Need A) New Flag
Insurgence Records / Knockout Records

New Flag album coverAlthough this is not a new release, it is the latest offering from German Oi! mob the Stage Bottles, and a fine affair it is too.

Musically, the influence of The Blaggers, The Business and The Clash are all prominent in the mix, along with a hybrid ska-meets-X-Ray Spex sax, a dollop of Rancid gruffness and even The Jam in some of the bass and drum rhythms. It’s powerful, punchy stuff, well polished but with a raw street energy, no more apparent than in Olaf’s vocals. And the voice was made to match the words, of that there can be no doubt. Although the band are German, they sing in English and this adds lyrical interest to their songs. Trying to construct a socio-political polemic in something other than their mother tongue leads to a new kind of linguistic dexterity, a new perspective if you like, and is a welcome break from the monotonous misery of some of the more dreary and less imaginative anarcho-punk brigade.

Stage Bottles April 06

Olaf, Easy, Kimba, Marcel, Till, April 2006 (© Stage Bottles)

The SB’s wear their credentials on their sleeves, no more so than when they’re belting out their anti-fascist anthems and reclaiming skinhead culture from the Nazi boneheads who’ve tried to infest the scene. ‘Real Skinhead’ puts the posers and losers firmly in their place, reminding them that ‘you’re not allowed to switch your brain off’ when you put on the boots and braces. ‘All You Need Is Hate’, ‘Hooligans’ and ‘Bad Boys’ continue to unashamedly put the substance into the style and the boot into where it hurts.

And their pro-prole position sees them just as happy to mix it up with the strait-jacketed Statist Left who condemn the straight-talking working class, even as they seek safety and protection behind the street-fighting hooligans who carry the spirit of revolution in their hearts and live it every day (‘PC Idiots’). ‘That’s Where It Comes From’ is a balladic reminder of those who’ve fought and died for us, something these pseudo-Reds wouldn’t know about. And I should imagine the fact that Olaf would ‘like to have rude sex’ (‘I Wanna Break Out’) will get up quite a few po-faced Stalinist noses too.

The corruption of society by capitalism is also tackled head on, with ‘Millions Of Stupid People’ condemning the herd-like mentality and ignorance of so many, while the remedy is proposed by the ‘New Flag’ of the album’s title – ‘So we’ve got to resist, we’ll build a new base, we’ve got to fight’ throwing down the challenge to our class straight and direct.

With a couple of tracks capturing the daily grind (‘I’ll Calm Down’) and how some of us escape from it (‘Punk & Disorderly’, ‘It’s Your Kid’s Life’), along with a singalong terrace chant that rails superbly against the money-men who are destroying our game as they fill their pockets (‘Kick Out The Parasites’) – ‘What about me, am I just a currency?’ asks Olaf, speaking out on behalf of every true fan – this is both uncontrolled fury and uninhibited fun of the finest kind.

OP’s opinion: Five

Download sample track – ‘Real Skinhead’

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