Saturday, August 29, 2009

Farewell, Craig Disley

Two or three seasons ago, during a typically unremarkable fourth division encounter, the ball ricocheted slowly towards the once flame-haired, later suspiciously blonde midfielder. Rather than just hoof it diagonally forward, he had the temerity to trap the ball, briefly look up and then pass it all of about ten yards to one of his team-mates. At this, there was an audible tut from the guy in front of us in the crowd. Almost in despair, he turned to his mate and said "That Craig Disley. Luxury player".

From then on, the Dizzle was always "the luxury player" to us, but in reality, like most decent centrocampistas at this level his forte was basically running around a lot: he was hardly of Giresse finesse. We'll miss him though, not least for the solid role in our promotion season, when like a few of his team-mates he played over 60 games with ne'er a murmur of complaint, unlike those poor undervalued Premiership stars who get narked if they play around half that number: indeed, after 60-odd games he still managed to help Rovers bypass Shrewsbury that wonderful day at Wembley. Gone (to the Shrews, as happens, as seems to be a usual exit route these days), but not forgotten.

* * * * *

Um, music. Breakthrough single ahoy: Lomax decides to throw us a *mighteous* 'plate with "Faith Massive" on Ram Records, combining dubsteppy wiles with fractured jump-up, a nervous and skittering dish rendered slightly surreal by the occasional crashes of what appears to be Gary Numan's doorbell. It's a double-12", but you only really need the title tune. And on a dimly-related tip, "Iced" sees Taxman & Heist come correct with some *plangent*, coursing d&b skillz on Frontline, including the occasional intrusion of what could just as conceivably be our Gaz's ringtone.

Still traipsing through the environs of the Democratic Republic of Jump-up, we stumble over Jaydan's "Suicide" 12" on Propaganda Recordings (AKA "King of Miami" part two, not that you'll have read about part one yet, nor are likely to, given our summer sloth). While this is barely the sublime stuff of '08's sugary house reinvention "What U Want", Jamie Cope is making a compelling case for joining Speech Ferapy and MJ Hibbett (latest album worth getting for the midsong conceit in "Red Black Gold" alone) on the podium as Officially Leicester's Finest, and while on first listen quite sober and contained for something of its ilk, "Suicide" is actually deceptively frenetic. And intensely rewarding.

It's fair to say that Mutated Forms, meanwhile, are never going to be winning artistic plaudits for their rustically straightforward drum and bass outings, and "Coppers", a single on Zombie, will not be catapulting them any closer to an Ivor Novello award. However, after the obligatory student-friendly speech sample, they sensibly get on with raising the roof with some no-nonsense jump-up which is about as subtle as a night out with England's under-21s.

As is Mark Ankh's "L and M" ("Therapia") single on Sound Evolution. When not churning out trancey anthems for the less discerning peeps in the Slovene massive, on this twelve the Ankhster applies himself to chunky hard techno, creating a beast of a bassline of which Paul Langley (ooh, check PL's "Clash Of The Titans" fuzzy-minimalist jack-techery fest with Jamie Bissmire, too) would be proud for what's a somewhat unsubtle number, but still probably his best vinyl outing since "Fourth Dimension". (D.A.V.E. the Drummer cranks up loop-bass for an extensive and extended remix, but in all honesty there's little need to look much further than the original).

Meanwhile, issuing about a single a week in 2009, the Serbian Concrete DJz collective know what it takes to wrongfoot the cherrypickers like us who try in vain to come up with a system for working out which twelves are essential and which are missable. There's any number of their tunes which have more than lightly tickled our fancy, and several that have left us tepid at highest, but it seems to be "Solid State Refills", from the "Generator" EP on Mike Humphries' Mastertraxx - a kind of driving "Limehouse Green"-style cut with female vocal yelp and back-of-the-mix feedback - that we keep coming back to (and would therefore urge you to start with).

Continuing this very loose mini-tour of central and Eastern Europe, we come to Anjay's "Mechanical". It's rare for a techno EP to exactly overflow with strong tracks, but three or four of the numbers here from the Polish stalwart would qualify as own-right singles, which makes this one compete better for your several pounds 99 than some of the one-trick ponies. And whereas "Old Thought" rides a rolling drum intro before animating a Shredder-like groove, focussing heavily on rhythm rather than the sonics, and "Steel Emotions" by contrast is built around hovering, minimal blippery (the K-Tech remix of it is a little slower and less austere, stripping the joy from it rather), "Mechanical Brain", the title track of sorts, may be the best of all worlds as it starts off being all about the beats, but some neat blippery then ensues.

Next arrival on the platform is Andy Farley, Ant and D.A.V.E. The Drummer's new 12" on Cubed Recordings. With London techno it's all about the BUILD, meaning that for the first couple of minutes of most numbers you're none the wiser as to whether they're any cop or not. Luckily, both sides of this (A&A's "Buzzin'", obviously a popular song title at the mo, and DAVE & Andy's "Do Right Thing") then let fuzzy acidtech spring from the vinyl, pounding with metronomic efficiency somewhere into the middle distance. Would both sides of this be even better without the irritating sample ("free your mind", for chrissakes) ? Yes, yes and thrice yes.

And "Revolution 909", a 12" from A.P., continues the theme of back-to-the-old-school acid techno, a TR-909 tribute that could have come straight outta five years ago and, unlike the Farley 12", that wades straight in, pumping from the first seconds with the single motif that runs all the way through it and helps make the eight minutes positively fly. Only the millionth tune to use the "Revolution 909" title, too. Would it be even better without the annoying sample (yep, some bloke saying "revolution 909") ? Hell yes.

And then the good ship (Chris) Liberator hoists Mr (Sterling) Moss on board for a single on Polish label Neuroshocked, "The Cult", that cuts a fine swathe through the tremulous waters of hard LDN techno. While more subtle than melodious, and nowhere near as down-yr-throat as the offerings from A.P. & Mr Farley, its strangely soothing bombardment of your frazzled soul after a hard day's work is ably assisted by employing a kind of distant drilling sound, the mother of all swooshing, that gets closer and closer until, rather like Chorley FM, it's coming in your ears. And is "The Cult" (not in any way a tribute to Astbury and Duffy) all the better for not having any enervating samples ? The man from Delmonte says YES.

(Hm. This might also be the appropriate point to lament, once more, the passing of the man who introduced us to all this kind of stuff: the great J.P. All those who seem to think his legacy consists of dogtired "indie" bands continue to miss the entire flipping point.)

But to finish on the theme of infuriating samples (we're not keen on letting such things lie), N-Type's "Dark Matter" 12" on Black Acre also shoots itself in the foot. It's just two steps short of being brilliant: one is a faible kinda sub-Scooby Doo 'eerie' sound effect, the other a profoundly mind-numbing sample of some Withnailer type blabbering on about the moon. Why NT felt the need to blacken an otherwise sublime instrumental, a change of direction, is unclear, even if it's hardly an uncommon crime on the scene. Still, if you can erase these deficiencies from your mind and concenTRATE on the BASS on the PLATE, "Dark Matter" blissfully melds these shadowy frequencies and skittles them arrhythmically through its otherworldly doorways for your listening pleasure.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bring back the bendy bus (you bastard)

We know that the election of Boris was essentially the revenge of the 4x4-owning suburbs against those of us who live in yer actual London postcodes, retribution for us bringing back Ken, bringing in the congestion charge and having the gall to focus on improving public transport instead. The usual words of wisdom on this are spoken here, but if you've ever tried to get a pram on to a double-decker you may just begin to understand the pointlessness of scrapping a huge fleet of buses that you could actually get on and off, and replacing them at cost with ones that will do essentially the same job, except not nearly as well should you be selfish enough to be infirm or burdened with family or heavy shopping. All in order to meet a wholly unnecessary promise only really made to keep the Evening Standard sweet in their unstinting cheerleading campaign for you (for which your main attribute was not being Ken Livingstone), ironic really given that even they've subsequently realised, too late, that as a mayor you aren't at the races. So thanks again, Bexley and Bromley. (And Boris, if you're really keen on fulfilling your pledges...)

In the aftermath we went to see Ken, you know, live @ Highbury Grove. A freezing evening, the archetypal draughty school hall. Ken on a charity tip, unguarded, unscripted, convincing, honest and borderline cocky, but never ducking a single question, subtly reminding us why every single one of the 640 electoral wards in London polled him personally above the Labour party, whose nosedive ultimately did for him. And yet those muppets in Millbank want to replace him with a droid like Big Al Sugar in '012 for some horrific kind of pro-celebrity idiot-mayor face-off. Gah.

More positive London stuff now. King Midas Sound's "Dub Heavy - Hearts and Ghosts" EP, on the most aptly-named label possible (Hyperdub), unfurls as if labelmate Burial had decided to meld his modern 'urbantech' sonics with the in-day sensibilities of old masters like King T. On palpably heavy-gauge 12" vinyl (180mg, like "Frosty Cat Songs") and oozing with predatory sub-bass, the soooooothing lead track "I Dub" is maybe the most magical, even if the cut-up vocals and distant klaxons that intrude more obviously on "Ting Dub" on the other side provide a little more light and shade, echoing the progression that Burial himself made between "Burial" and "Untrue". "Long Dub" completes the EP, a shimmering haze of elfin, late-evening vibes, this time hung around a deconstruction of a fuller Roger Robinson vocal. Hyperdub have even rolled out a picture sleeve for this one, a suitably blurry night-time vision of a small corner of our inner city. (It turns out from our subsequent, ever-diligent research that KMS is actually an alias for a formal collaboration between Mr Robinson and our old friend Kevin "The Bug" Martin, but do not be deceived: the crystalline caress of this King of the mild frontier sounds nothing like the grizzly proto-grime of "Jah War" & c). Word.

Meanwhile, in Bristol, Pinch has been priming "Attack Of The Giant Robot Spiders!", now unleashed by Planet Mu on 12" vinyl and with a nice bright green spider crawling across the lo-res motif on the centre label. "Attack" is a biiig plate from Rob Ellis, but still lowkey rather than in-yer-face 'step in which the march of the oversized arachnids (a kind of lurching metallic clanking, bringing to mind robot spiders with a collective limp), is broken up by a battalion of bass that rolls in around 2 mins 45. Selecta.

Then there's Tectonic Plates 2.4, a three-tracker twelve in the series from Pinch's own label Tectonic (er, obviously) which starts with Joker's intriguingly-titled (or should that be untitled) "Untitled-rsn". A little less disposable than the Sino stylings of his "Digidesign" 12" (a split on Hyperdub with 2000F's acquired-taste "You Don't Know What Love Is"), it buzzes neatly with pitch-bend and rattling glitch (ooh, new genre alert: viva "glitch-bend"). Moving Ninja and the label honch's joint venture "False Flag" is a different kettle altogether: its charms are virtually imperceptible until about three minutes in, but then a switch is THROWN: Mr Ellis seems to have some left-over robot spiders clinking around in the mix, and there's also space for a nice woodpecker-like rat-a-tat-tat sound as it grinds to conclusion. Finally, as we always said, Peverelist's "Junktion" was the true star of his "Infinity Is Now" 12", and here it gets a pretty comprehensive "Shed" refix, evolving into a chiming, neoclassical workout (whatever speed you play it at). Believe.

Back on Planet Mu, Jamie out of Vex'd takes on "Miracles", from Philly resident Starkey's "Ephemeral Exhibits" LP last year, and with a remix burning with the same cinematic vigour that informed his own "In System Transit" 12", he helps bring the original out into the open, all spooked-out edits curling up to cuddle fabulously warm, disembodied vocals. More justified Mu comes with "Massive Error", an elegant, warped 5-track 'step EP from Brighton's Ital Tek, of which it's the title track's slender burbles, draped in bite-size wraps of laser synth, which slay us most completely. Realise.

And we're checking plenty of Starkey at the mo, because here comes "Gutter Music", a twelve on Keysound - trailed heavily by Jamie Vex'd amongst others - which sees more doubletime showboating from the unstoppable Durrty Goodz over some unhealthily frantic riddims, even if DG's quickfire riffing on how all great music comes from the gutter doesn't touch the storytelling highs of Goodz's solo "Ultrasound" set (as usual in grime, alleged album proper still awaited). And over at Senseless Records, there's a 500 vinyl press of Starkey's remix of (or more accurately, grenade-lob into) Sarantis and Warrior Queen's "More Than Money". It's a welcome revival, even if it can't quite decide whether it's glitch-oriented dubstep, shuffling electronica or (like WQ's single last year with Secret Agent Gel) simply dancefloor-friendly soft-porn. It's taken, along with its B-sides, from the first volume of "Vocals & Versions", which we shall have to get round to checking out sometime this century. Innit.

Cooly G drops pure PHYSIC on the monster instrumental "Narst", a 12" on Hyperdub and incidentally the kind of beat that a wasted talent like Skepta could really do with at the mo ("Microphone Champion" again failing to provide music to meet his lyrical talents, only peaking with last track "Dark" and still, like "Greatest Hits", offering nothing remotely as essential as "Fuckin' Widda Team" or even "King Of Grime" BUT all is not lost chez Boy Better Know because if you check out Frisco's "Back To Da Lab Volume 3", his best outing yet, it will set yr head right once more). Anyway, "Narst", for its part, plays out as the soundtrack to a scrolling urban underworld of shanks and steel, a tune that's sinister yet still pregnant with suggestion (and not, as it happens, too far from the worlds that Skepta and JME were trying to create on that instrumental EP on Adamantium we've still got lying around somewhere). "Narst" doesn't actually go anywhere in the end, mind - its clipped, grime-like pulses sound like a crescendo that never comes to fruition - but as they say, sometimes it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Peace.

Raffertie's "Antisocial" next, a single on Seclusiasis. Planet Mu outing "Wobble Horror!" gained a few broadsheet plaudits, but "Antisocial" is much more interesting: two enormous bouts of big-city wobble from Birmingham's up-and-coming earl of crunk-step which surround a subdued, ambient halfstep middle while themselves being bookended by busy, vocal sample cuts that sound not unlike that "Miracles" remix again. The flip comes correct with B.Rich and Dev 79 remixes, which will please their mothers. Safe.

Still rolling with the wobble, Rusko returns with a second portion of "Babylon" (that place the Cockney Rejects could never find on a map), although the fact you'll pay ten or eleven quid in town for the four tracks on vinyl might merit Amelia bringing her OFT mates in to have a butcher's. Still, what's neat about volume 2 is that not only are lead tracks "Mr. Muscle" and "Go Go Gadget" especially the bouncing epitome of all that is good about wobble (an unerringly mindless subgenre that seems to us thus to be dubstep's loose equivalent of jump-up), but that track three on the EP, "Soundguy Is My Target" (we think this may have previewed on a Skream mix CD recently, but have not the energy to research further) is on another level altogether, being a mighty righteous to-date skeng reggae number (Jah wobble, anyone ?) on which Lutan Fyah lays down imperious vibes. More fire.

Caspa's earlier single can't quite match up to his sparring partner's summer "Soundguy" belter, with Dynamite MC-collabo "The Takeover" on the 'A', like all the non-instrumental tracks on "Everybody's Talking, Nobody's Listening", being so much pallid bluster compared to "Marmite" on the other side which, if not up to the quality of "The Terminator" or "I Beat My Robot", is still a spluttering, bewildering slab of wobble anchored by huge drum SLAPS while a token fake Cockney (trust us, Clerkenwell's full of them) occasionally chimes in with a "all the people here to have a farkin' good time / say yeah": a contrast with the LP's similarly insistent "Low Blow", which is urged along rather more cutely by a three-year old intermittently urging "Come on, Caspa" with a faux-cuteness that reminds us a little of Altern-8 (we appreciate we are showing our age here). Or, even more disturbingly, of the intro to Strawberry Story's "Gone Like Summer". Sho' nuff.

An all-star double header (on Brizzle's Tectonic imprint again) sees Croydon's Skream finally reunited with Benga. On "his" side, S manufactures a very deliberate, layered halfstep number, "Trapped In A Dark Bubble", all twinkle save for the slapped beats, with a melody of parcelled-up synth chimes emerging minutes in. Benga's "Technocal" on the other side of the 12" is a little feistier, a rash of swung dubtech and eerie syncopation that effervesces with a sweet kind of menace, like a bottle of home-made ginger pop that's about to explode. There's also this Benga single on Tempa, too. Aldrin tribute "Buzzin'" on one side gives the twelve a thumping start as Benga picks up where "Technocal" left off with a combo of street 'step and autumnal, almost pastoral clicks. Things harden when you turn the record over, a "what the fuck" sample running through the unforgiving "One In A Million" like a stick of rock. It's about now you realise, with a sigh, that the reason "Diary Of An Afro-Warrior" didn't really work wasn't just down to the coffee-table bits: it was because somehow whole albums of dubstep are just harder to sustain. Singles ? Well, as you can see, now you're talking. Smooth.

But let's leave maybe the best 'til last. Geiom's "Reminissin'" technically came out in 2008 (a 12" on Berkane Sol), but all that meant in practice s that if you were a true disciple of dubstep you could have hung out in BlackMarket Records in Soho back then in your puffa, put on some uber-expensive headphony over your immaculately-shellaced hair and nodded your head to this on vinyl. But if like us you're too scared to go in BM or Uptown because every time you do you're immediately exposed as a chancer who doesn't know all there is to know about sublow and made to feel like you should turn your heel and scarper back to Rough Trade for your beardy folktronica or bands with "Collective" in their name or worse, then you never track this kind of stuff down within the first few months of release. So it would defeat the point of us trying to acquaint you with brilliant new(ish) records if we didn't give it a shout-out now, particularly as we think it only got its 1st electronic release this summer. And anyway, what are you going to do ? Sue ? Report us to the International Foundation for Blog Accuracy and Uptodateness?

Moving to the tune, then, it's a beauty. Kind of made us sit up and start, just like all those years ago when we first heard Shara Nelson on "Unfinished Sympathy" and got completely sucked in to a song that was so demonstrably *the finished product*. On this, guest vocalist Marita Robinson delivers a sweet, smoky vocal line while fellow Nottingham res Geiom underpins it with uncluttered, no-frills beat discombobulation. You can even forgive their joint butchery of the English language. There's a typically, achingly cool Kode9 refix on the other side, and another 12" floating around with Skream and Shackleton takes which has seemingly excited the dubstep chatterers more, but in our view this is one of those records where the original is completely definitive, a master work in its own right. And had we actually been aware of it when it first came out, it would have been threatening the top three, at least. Heavenly.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On A Night That's Made For Love

They said we'd gone away. But then they said that about TB. So yeah, welcome back for now to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the fanzine that prefers the Fat Boys to the Beach Boys, Franz Schubert to Franz Ferdinand and the Dick Coppock Cup (happy memories) to the Champions' League.

It was Darkthrone's disarmingly-titled "Fuck Off And Die" LP, relatively recently, which showed the way forward for contemporary black metal: that ideally, you should sound like Motorhead covering Thrilled Skinny, except with all the lyrics about carpets and floorboards and shelving replaced by stuff about how generally ace all things Mephistophelian are. This year (particularly given Behemoth's somewhat unremarkable return) it's the turn of New Orleans' majestically-named Goatwhore to step up to the plate for some similarly no-nonsense BM, with an album ("Carving Out The Eyes Of God") on Metal Blade at least half of which rings with a rollicking, rampaging *urgency* you just don't seem to get when Satan (or, alternatively, Lemmy), isn't involved: even if the rest of it gets a little bogged down in trad-metal / detuned bumble-bee DM phrasings. Opener "Apocalyptic Havoc" ("who needs a god when you've got Satan ?") is especially breakneck and vibrant, but there's much fun to be had from the southern fried production and hammer n' tongs riffing on "Reckoning Of The Soul Made Godless" and "The All Destroying" too. Perhaps the real secret to this record is that, whatever they might claim, we think Goatwhore still put rock n'roll first, and devil worship only second.

Less diabolic, in-your-face realpolitik is the order of the day for Rochester, NY girl / boy duo Spoonful Of Vicodin's "Bursts Of Rage At The Speed Of Hate", on Broken Bones. The stats tell you much of the story: 27 tunes in 13 minutes (as they've warned us before, "Our Explanations Are Longer Than Our Songs"), with a fair chunk of those lucky 13 mins consisting of snatched snippets of dialogue rather than the music. As aptly-titled as "Apocalyptic Havoc", "Bursts Of Rage..." is not an album proper so much as a compilation of the not-so lovin' Spoonful's numerous outings on 7" and tape to date, which means that there is a progression (of sorts) from virtually unlistenable to fairly unlistenable, as the superscratchy trebly rotcore of earlier songs eventually elides into some more obviously grind-influenced creations. If you're unsure, even nervous, of where to start, "Paved Paradise" is possibly the best 'in', as a blastbeat barrage usurps a steal from the icky "Spoonful of Sugar": but there's also joy to be had from the meatier grindcore of "Controlled by Fear (Fear of God)", "Library Grind Freaks Reunite" (the best bibliophile-themed tune since "Young Adult Friction") and the (non-rhetorical) "Whatever Happened to FUBU ?"

If, like us, you were left a little colder than you liked by infamous Belgians Agathocles' perhaps too-rushed, too lo-fi "Grind Is Protest" LP, but still hanker after a healthy continental supper of what we're tempted to christen Borstal-grind (y'know, "short sharp shock" and all that), you need look no further than "Luxusvernichtung", a smartly-packaged 10" artefact by hyper-prolific German sextet Japanische Kampfhorspiele, and the debut release on their own Unundeux label, via Cargo's "we bring the guts" distribution boutique. The product is so grand it even has a subtitle: "Vierundfunfzig vertonte Kurzgedichte". Twenty or so minutes long, this EP yields some 54 tracks (as the keener German students amongst you may have already spotted) which gravitate from virtual one-liners through to more substantial offerings ("Vernetzte Welt Geht Unter" even allowing itself the admirably pointless luxury of both a fade-in and a fade-out) though it's songs like "Vorort" or "Konfekt" which get the balance between the music and the desire to lyric-cram just right: think Napalm's "The Kill". And while our GCSE German doesn't stretch from beyond "schallplatten" and "schwarzwaldenkirschtorte" to understanding quite what JaKa are on about, there's a full lyric sheet (and occasions where little translation is needed, such as "Der Sozialphobiker": "mann kann nicht smalltalk"). Oh, the other thing that really struck us about this record is how, we are 100% sure, it would have been receiving daily play were the great JP still around. We trust that Dandelion Radio are on the case.

Magrudergrind's second and self-titled album is a thing of some wonderment. The Washington, DC trio (this not-having-a-bass-player being the in thing since Pig Destroyer, music's belated attempt to make up for double bass monstrosities past like Ned's Atomic Dustbin, perhaps ?) deliver 16 shortish nuggets that comprise not only gleefully mayhemic old-skool grind of the highest order ("Fools Of Contradiction", "Heretics") but also chugging, Obituary-style thrash ("Burning Bridges"), lo-fi pseudo hip-hop ("Heavier Bombing", featuring the sort-of-legendary Napalm Def), thoughtful if not positively moving post-hardcore moshery (the closing "Martyrs Of The Shoah", a treatise about the horrors of the Holocaust) and any number of quickfire interludes and samples. Better still, the lyrics are keen-eyed, sharp as any syringe you'll find in your local park, taking down everything from the 'gentrification' of DC ("the decline of estate comes with racial ties / liquor stores, corrupt police and mothers' cries") to the fuckwittery of the far right ("constantly speaking words / based on your own insecurities... you hate because you can't conceive intellect"). Building on their fine contributions to "This Comp Kills Fascists" (which had included the original ode to graf, "Heavy Bombing") and their earlier split with the excellent Shitstorm (who now have a tantalising-looking cassette compilation, "Paranoid Existence" readied for action on RCP Tapes), "Magrudergrind" is a sterling achievement.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed's "Agorapocalypse" sees Scott Hull, the man who secured SoV, JaKa and Magrudergrind (amongst many others) spots on last year's bitchin' Relapse comps, oversee the return of his own scene stalwarts. While Hull drums like a man possessed, the machine-gun rounds flying out faster than even the Berzerker's full-pelt 909 kicks while a sheer wall of guitars makes a punchbag of your ears, "Agorapocalypse" is somehow a little too relentless, partly as a result of the no-let up screaming of J. Randall and his new partner in crime, Katy Katz. Tracks like storming opener "Agorapocalypse Now" and the concise "Ex-Cop" are still great, mind, but over the course you do start to feel your own space getting seriously invaded, the songs whizzing past your ears like meat cleavers flung by a mad butcher. Exciting, but (especially for a veggie) a little intimidating.

Perhaps a more enjoyable parlour game is listening to Brutal Truth's "Evolution Through Revolution", twenty tracks of biting, scything shoutcore on Relapse (but of course) that set about your shins like a more-than-vaguely riled Nobby Stiles, but aside from "Branded" (2009's best sub-five second tune, we'd venture) and a new version of "Turmoil", it's the more rounded tracks, namely the three-minute (gasp) treats of "Sugar Daddy" and the title ditty that actually come across best, allowing structures and switches of pace to intrude. Elsewhere, though, the sheer speed of the Brutal Truth machine, without the benefit of the huge hooks that Kevin Sharp was spitting over on last year's Venomous Concept record, can make things seem a little too shrill.

We sounded the reveille on the Stupids' return in the autumn and they've now gone and done a whole comeback album, again on Boss Tuneage. "The Kids Don't Like It..." contains two of the three numbers from the (ace) "Feel The Suck" 7" inamidst a fizzing cavalcade of hurried, hurtling popthrash. And while they themselves suggest, that "there's no point in changing, cos' all they want is the same old shit", that's not quite right: in corners this echoes the brilliant melodic rush of classic American hardcore ("Remember Me, Dismember You" is a pop gem, despite its title; "It's Not My Fault" comes complete with buzzing new wavey backing harmonies), and the production is probably the best they've had, outside of their numerous trips to Maida Vale in the late 80s. Much here is still throwaway (y'know, like bubblegum, when the flavour's gone, you might as well), in the best (worst ?) Stupids tradition: at times (titles like "Beach Dick" and "Drum Shop Arsehole" refer) you wonder whether they've grown up at all since their heyday, and the lyric sheet tends to lessen, rather than complement, the punchiness of most of the actual tunes. But with too few groups in 2009 caring to mix thrash, punk and sixth-form comedy as accessibly, it would be a crying shame if the kids really didn't like this.

Now. Tampa vets Obituary, seemingly one of the few Stateside metallers who can actually be relied on to fulfil their UK tour commitments, have delivered "Darkest Day", the second album since their comeback and possibly their mightiest yet, if we ignore the compiled delights of "Anthology". It leads with the spirited, unusually fast "List Of Dead" and the quirky single "Blood To Give", a semi-experimental nu-grunge drone with at least three drum-only sections, which we like to imagine as a riff on the Field Mice's "Alone Forever" (imagine Bobby crooning "like anyone / I've blood to give"). But of course in the mad, bad & sad world that passes for workaday reality Obituary are a step or two removed from the FM in style, if not in greatness.

Um, anyway, "Darkest Day" takes the ingredients that have made Obituary the least trebly band in the history of the solar system - the flayed-throat Tardy growl, the lumbering, low-end bass, the thudding drums and the fuzzing, detuned guitars - and melds them into what is probably & accidentally the best *grunge* album ever made, as well as being a highpoint in recent death / thrash workouts. Even the fact that their employment of Ralph Santolla (a free transfer from Deicide) now obliges them to throw in guitar solos every so often doesn't detract: most are short, sweet and blisteringly, um, "tight", with thankfully none of the extended epic diversions that slightly derailed their last live turn. Indeed, the galloping breakdowns and 'proper' guitar solos throughout are mercifully more restrained than some of those that decorate / decimate (delete as applicable) the Tardy Brothers' recent "Bloodline" set. So yeah, Ralph shreds, everyone else keeps things muddy, and all us punters can go home very happy.

We've already mentioned General Surgery's "Corpus In Extremis - Analysing Necrocriticism" ("You won't need a feverishly over-exercised imagination to know what it sounds like: the title track, a "Symphonies" [of Sickness] throwback, is a peach"), but we're going to mention it again, seeing as we're still listening to it an' all. 15 tracks, you know, arrayed from the short-burst grindmath of "Necronomics" and "Adnexal Mass" through to the joyous five-min sludge of album pivot "Virulent Corpus Dispersement" yet perhaps peaking in sheer excitement with the fierce higher-tempo riffing of "Exotoxic Septicity" and "Restrained Remains". Stepping out of the shadow of Carcass, GS have proved that they are major music-makers in their own right, the dead wood now at a minimum. And, like Carcass, remember that much of the humour in the lyrics ("Unwitting Donor / Cadaver Exchange" is a case in point) is intentional. After all, if you can't play pathology for laughs, you end up with Silent Witness. You can find "Corpus In Extremis" on the modestly-named French label, Listenable Records.

We don't seem to have the time to tell you of the bracingly good things we've heard this yr from Sanctification, Devoured, Vomitory - especially - and many more (for our somewhat resurgent Bristol branch is presently repping Pestilence, Suffocation and Hatesphere too) but if they pass you on your travels let's just say it's worth flagging them down. Shame about Megadeth's new single though: before we heard it, we'd been childishly keen to inform you that it was any good.