My blast beats, faster than techno
After the implosion of the greatest record label ever*, we shunned the rainspattered pavements of Bristol and ended up in Hyson Green, Nottingham for a year. There were some lows, to be sure - we came to be pretty familiar with the premises and workings of Notts CID - but the time was punctured by unarguable highs such as Heavenly live at the Narrowboat, the fact that Selectadisc was situated perfectly on the way to our bus stop home, and visits to watch Radford FC in the East Midlands Counties League, who at the time "boasted" none other than Devon White's brother Oliver at full back (come on, you didn't think we were going to sell out on you and adopt Forest or County, did you ?) The Narrowboat and Selectadisc are, inevitably, sadly no more (the latter presumably victim to the kind of "progress" that saw our last local record emporium replaced by yet another effing designer bakery) but we are pleased to report that Radford FC, at least, soldier on.
In 2009 that oh-so reliable barometer of public opinion, the trusty office straw poll, associates Nottingham only with Robin Hood, gun crime, Brian Clough and the ever-unfolding debacle at Meadow Lane, but that we suspect says more about white-collar London than it does about Nottingham. We associate Notts with many things, all good really: Heresy, OutdaVille, P Brothers, Cappo, Scor-zay-zee, Tempa, Mr 45, Lee Ramsay, C-Mone, the 1993 Heaven Records Christmas Party, Carl Froch, Sam alayerofchips... and one particular heavyweight record label. For whereas Nottingham's finest industry was once, of course, lace, that is no longer the case. It is now Earache Records.
Earache, like Sarah, began in 1987 amongst the optimism of the second half of that decade, when new music was finally rising - driven by desperation - to stem the tide of mainstream pop's bland capitalist excesses. We've often wondered what would have happened if Earache had "done a Sarah" and stopped at MOSH 100, because since that landmark was reached the quality control has had a few issues, inevitable once the label became a huge multinational concern (as Sarah no doubt would have). But even with so much now run out of its New York office, Earache is still in the heart of Nottingham, in Theatre Square, and is still dear to ours.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying that our compilation of the year (*dan-dan-daah*) is "Grind Madness: Earache Records At the BBC", a 118-track, eight-band, three compact disc comp of original John Peel wireless sessions of 1988-1990 vintage. In case you were wondering, to achieve that accolade it headed off the Close Lobsters' singles comp**, Aswad's "BBC Sessions", The Claim's "Black Path" and 555's marvellous "The Wetherbeat Scene" book n' CD.
* There's a certain trend at the moment for renouncing the works of Sarah Records which needs to be roundly dealt with, ideally with scenes of distressing violence. This sentence is part of our ongoing campaign to strike down this wilful revisionism: you may hear more.
** The original sleevenote for track four (the Lobsters' "Let's Make Some Plans") on the inelegantly-christened Fire Records label comp "I Wouldn't Piss On It If It Was On Fire" said: "From the singles compilation "Livin' Lovin' Lobsters"". For a full decade or so after that, we laboured not unreasonably under the illusion that there was a Close Lobsters singles comp at large, and berated ourselves daily for our failure to source it. This was a mystery which put Edwin Drood or Marie Roget's to shame, although the upside is that, having failed comprehensively in our quest to locate "LLL" (a quest which can be replicated even now by Google search), we largely managed to fill the gaps in the singles collection ourselves through judicious secondhand purchasing at the Record & Tape Exchange. Anyway, in 2009 our dreamed-of Close Lobsters singles compilation was definitely, definitely, definitely released, under the infinitely more pleasing name of "Forever, Until Victory!"
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Napalm Death # 1 (22.9.87)
At the time, Napalm Death's first session found its way round our classroom pretty quickly. The shortest Peel Session ever recorded, despite the largesse of 12 tunes, it fitted on one side of a C12 (these were very popular around then, being the tool of choice for pirating computer games). It is largely sheer brute force, but whatever your age when it came out, you will never forget first trying to get your head around three sub-5 second songs (including the barely two secs of "You Suffer"), marvelling at the fact that twenty-second songs like "Retreat To Nowhere", "The Kill" or the Repulsion-intro versh of "Deceiver" still actually had some kind of structure, or being so disoriented by the barrage of noise that the minute or so of "Lucid Fairytale" suddenly seemed as epic as the English Patient. There was a great interview with Iron Maiden's Steve Harris around this time where he clearly couldn't get his head around the idea of songs thirty seconds long (average track length on this session: 28s). But the fact that "The Kill" and "You Suffer" still decorate every Napalm Death live set show that they weren't as ephemeral as some then claimed. And "Life" remains the most succinct and, oddly, accurate song ever about er, life.
The other session that night was a repeat of Laugh's, which would have found itself blown out of the water somewhat.
Rating: 9 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track to crave your listening indulgence: "Life".
Napalm Death #2 (20.4.88)
Napalm Death's second Peel Session is probably the apotheosis of this scene: the music, the production, the noise, THE PACE, the merry melodies hidden within. It is an astonishing rapidfire burst of punk played as metal. Some say you could never top the first session, never quite recapture the shock and awe of it all, but for us #2 takes the cake, takes the whole (non-designer) bakery.
"Multi-National Corporations" begins it, slow crunching chords, the vocals a hollered growling mantra. Compared to the tinny version on "Scum", you can already hear the benefit of the BBC engineers' sterling production. By the time you get to "Instinct Of Survival" and "Parasites" not only are you starting to enjoy being pinned to the wall, but also noticing that toe-tapping riffs, largely absent from session one, are joining the onslaught (and later on, "Raging In Hell" gives you so much danceability that you might just go through the floor). "Moral Crusade" stands out with its memorably chaotic opening, a kind of grind take on "Testcard Girl"'s close; there's the definitive version of "M.A.D." with its chugging, stop-start groove; you get the original "CS" (aka "Conservative Shithead", Part 2 of which didn't emerge until "Enemy Of The Music Business") and there's the incredible cover of Siege's "Walls" on which Dorrian's vocals, switching from guttural growl to chorus scream of "tearing down the WALL-S!", do the demolition job pretty much singlehandedly. The only thing which could improve things is finishing with a four-second cover of S.O.B.'s abrupt theme and of course that's exactly what they do (basically, it's the most imposing two-second chord you've ever heard, reprising the one they've just finished "Conform Or Die" with, followed by a "Dead"-style yell).
Rating: 10 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: we couldn't.
Napalm Death #3 (10.9.90)
With Bill Steer and Lee Dorrian having left by now, we'd moved away from "classic line-up" territory for this rather fun-packed greatest hits session, where the boys - now including PETA fave Barney Greenway - seem to enjoy reprising a few favourites from the first couple of albums. In a sense, this session was a mini-celebration, the new line-up's last opportunity to play with the Steer / Dorrian-era material before Napalm moved to a slower, much more death metal-influenced style for a while. While you can't knock the songs (which include five bona fide Napalm classics in "Unchallenged Hate", "Suffer The Children", "Mentally Murdered", "FETO" and "Scum", alongside the gruff brevity of further versions of "Deceiver" and "Retreat To Nowhere"), there is nothing here that can't be gleaned with more satisfaction from the original releases.
Rating: 7 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Unchallenged Hate (the only Napalm Death song ever quoted extensively in a Martin Samuel newspaper column).
Extreme Noise Terror #1 (17.11.87)
Another classic session, no doubt. OK, every song sounded pretty similar: a bit of feedback, a drumstick count, then a minute or so of multi-layered "AAAARRRGGGHHHHs" raining down over largely interchangeable chord sequences, but what a session all the same, including our introduction to the nr-legendary "Carry On Screaming" and the anti-bandwagoneer "Another Nail". Rarely have the studio engineers captured the essence of a band so simply, meaning that once again the production here towers over the first official ENT full-length.
Rating: 9 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Another Nail In The Coffin.
Extreme Noise Terror #2 (11.5.88)
Paired with a repeat of the recent Viv Stanshall session, '88's ENT set was mildly less insular, the riffs on "Show Us You Care" and the coruscating anti-meat diatribe "Murder" showing a little songwriting development even as the old ENT resurfaced amidst the barely-honed chaos of "Only In It For The Music (Part 3)". The session also saw the debut of the excellent "Bullshit Propaganda". Although ENT weren't signed to Earache at the time, "Murder" and "Propaganda" would later find probably their most digestible form on that label, with the band's mid-90s "Retro-bution" set of re-records.
Rating: 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Bullshit Propaganda
Extreme Noise Terror #3 (8.3.90)
Another heads-down nose-to-grind summation of the punkgrind work ethic, session three premiered the sloganeering highs of "People Not Profit" and "Punk - Fact Or Faction", demonstrated a tiny bit more musical maturity with the build up and fade of "Subliminal", and played to an irksome kind of nostalgia with an odd, surprisingly straight cover of the Rejects' "I'm Not A Fool". Unlike their or Napalm's first session, you don't really feel the hand of history on yr shoulder listening to this one, but you still couldn't deny the quality of the music: and the message.
Rating: 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Subliminal
ENT recorded a fourth session in 2001, but by then that original sound (and, to be fair, the Earache link) was gone! Nevertheless, be reminded that they've more recently regained some of their initial splendour, even if it's a little disappointing, given that they wrote some of the best anti-meat industry songs ever, that they're apparently back on the carnivorous tip.
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Carcass #1 (2.1.89)
Is it possible to get a better start to a New Year's John Peel show than new sessions on the same night from Culture (including "Two Sevens" and "Fussin' and Fighting" redux) AND Carcass ?
Carcass's first Peel Session withstood the company. 'Twas a mammoth beast, musically one of those great leaps forward you get every few years: it's fair to say there were no hints of their impending greatness on their debut album "Reek Of Putrefaction", but on this night somehow they blossomed with this crunchingly riff-splattered quartet of songs, a heavy and grungey precursor to the bands Peel would later pick up and help launch in the UK, from Mudhoney to Nirvana. Indeed, Carcass got the Hollywood treatment eventually to the extent that - like many of those Peel favourites - they were swept up by a mega-label (Columbia), although that ended badly and, indeed, had a hand in ending Carcass. "Cadaveric Incubator Of Endo Parasites" later received the acclaim of being handpicked as one of four tracks to represent the whole of 1988 in Radio One's Peelenium.
Rating: 9 3/4 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Crepitating Bowel Erosion. Obviously.
Carcass #2 (16.12.90)
Sadly by now Carcass were using their real names, so that the dream "Offalmangler / Grumegargler / Embalmer" songwriting credit was effectively now the more prosaic "Owen / Walker / Steer", the latter now having left Napalm Death. With three tracks taken from their first LP it was perhaps not a surprise that the best song this time round was "Exhume To Consume", one which would appear on their second, chrysalis album.
Rating: 9 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Exhume To Consume
Bolt-Thrower #1 (13.1.88)
At the time, Bolt Thrower's three minute-plus songs seemed positively antediluvian, but again have withstood the test of time somewhat effortlessly (as have the band). And this first sesh is, for us, the best of all. We swear we hadn't heard it in its entirety since it was transmitted, but from the band's striking up of "Forgotten Existence", the riffs simply came flooding back. Al West's vocals are perhaps a little nervous, but help give the set a more punky feel than the stolid metallic grinding would otherwise yield, and now that we're older we're more relaxed over modest guitar solos (back then, we had the same zero tolerance to them that we now have for spoken word samples on dubstep and techno tunes). The other session that evening was a repeat of McCarthy's second, which would have made the 13th January a fine old night.
Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Attack In The Aftermath, for its hooks and those weird whispered "Right"s in the intro.
Bolt-Thrower #2 (16.11.88)
By now with Karl Willetts on board for vocals, BT#2 is strong, but the band's music was continuing to grow up and the songs seemed not quite to have the same hunger. Even so, with tunes like classic LP title track "Realm Of Chaos" on display, there was nothing in here that was really hard to love.
Rating: 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Realm Of Chaos
Bolt-Thrower #3 (4.9.90)
Peel Sessions chart musical evolution even better than singles and albums, and this third from BT saw them recognisably the tougher, more resilient beasts who would become colossi of rock, even if the more shambling joy of "In Battle There Is No Law" was by now disappearing behind them.
Rating: 7 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Destructive Infinity
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One of the things that strikes you about listening to this compilation, and that naysayers will (to coin a phrase) *never understand* (sigh, grrrr) is that all eight bands on it are very, palpably, different: between them, they take and reshape punk, crust, metal, skatecore, thrash, industrial, hardcore... But Godflesh's session is probably the most "different" of all, making us think of Slab! or Loop rather than Justin Broadrick's past work with early Napalm incarnations. After "Tiny Tears" and fan favourite "Wound (Not Wound)", "Pulp" is at the heart of it, with its ever-recognisable drum barrage, although "Like Rats" remains perhaps the most intriguing track, with what sounds like an industrial foghorn joining Broadrick's vocal: you could almost be listening to Mark Stewart and the Maffia.
Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Wound (Not Wound)
Unseen Terror (11.4.88)
Oh yes. This only had a previous digital release on a Dutch East India Peel sesh import, but now it's available to us all. From the rugged agricultural blur / burr of "Incompatible"'s cheeky post-second wave riff, Unseen Terror's sole session is another all-time favourite: not quite as detuned / deathy as the same tracks where they appeared on their one and only album ("Human Error", also on Earache) but still essential. After the lynchpin of the session, the incredibly reasonable, sensible "Voice Your Opinion" ("Strategy, intelligence / These will help you to have your say... I disagree with many things / But I don't try / To upset others"), which also memorably appeared on the BBC's compilation "21 Years Of Wonderful Radio One" or somesuch alongside Jimi Hendrix and others, the session finished with the medley flourish of "Strong Enough To Change" (Shane Embury drum solo, sort of!), "Odie's Revenge" (a fourteen sec-burst, by no means their only Garfield-flavoured tune) and "It's My Life" (suitably oikish cover of Sick Of It All's obby original).
Rating: 9 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Strong Enough To Change
Heresy #1 (3.8.87)
Mmmm. Much as we love Heresy, this first session doesn't catch them at their finest, and it doesn't help that they start with "Flowers In Concrete", the only Heresy song that we can't quite love (now, its drum / bass breakdown sounds dated, even "baggy", which is a bit harsh given that the baggy obsession actually came later, meaning they were probably ahead of their time...) It probably also didn't help that Peel repeated the Fall session the same evening.
This is actually the oldest session on the 3 CDs: Peel had warmed us up earlier in '87 with sessions from the Stupids and then Electro Hippies, but it was Heresy who first started to inject some real pace. Nevertheless, they did so from song structures that still represented chugging second-wave punk: to these ears they remain more punk than metal. Apparently, Mitch Dickinson (Warhammer, Unseen Terror et al) played the guitar on this session: yet another example of the band-swapping that dominated the time.
Rating: 6 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Belief
Heresy #2 (9.3.88)
This session, by contrast, is blinding. Just great. May or may not be a coincidence that Baz Ballam was now in the holding role on guitar, but the likelihood is that Heresy knew their way around the studio by now. Starts with "Consume" and a fine version of "Face Up To It" but on all six tracks the boys are in their element, including an excellent "Cornered Rat" (riff later nicked by Unseen Terror in the middle of "Strong Enough To Change", q.v.)
Rating: 9 and a bit out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Cornered Rat
Heresy #3 (18.1.89)
Picking up where #2 left off, this has muscular, driving versions of classics like "Everyday Madness Everyday" and "Break The Connection". The shout outs to Brian Clough and Franz Carr would no doubt have tickled JP, too. It finishes with a hectic take on "Genocide" which, propelled by breakneck drumming, is possibly the closest Heresy would get in the studio to a pure grind tune.
Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Everyday Madness Everyday
Intense Degree (15.3.88)
East Anglian skaters Intense Degree are much overlooked, and criminally under-represented in terms of reissues or digital releases. Their thudding sound, starting here with a brooding, unrepresentatively mainstream slowish-guitar intro to "Hangin' On", was slower and more functional in places, more ragged in others, but the songs (a mere eleven here!) were always enjoyable enough, with the "Straitjacket / I've Got A Cure" medley that appeared on the seminal "Grindcrusher" compilation probably thereby becoming their most syndicated track (although "Skate Bored", "Bursting" and "Daydreams" made it on to the 12" vinyl of Strange Fruit's "Hardcore Holocaust" comp, too). A word for "Intense Degree" (the song!) as well: thirteen seconds long, a bubbling ID theme, made by a brilliant "wo-oah" near the end.
Rating: Very nearly 8 out of 10. If we had to choose just one track: Probably "Hangin' On", although we'll always be fond of "Skate Bored" too.
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Despite the title, only one of the bands on this set is truly "grindcore", and that's Napalm Death, who did after all invent the genre. But that doesn't stop this being an unassailably good value comp, a faithful companion for Earache's the "Metal" boxsets of yore, accompanied by sleeve notes from Mick Harris, the whirlwind drummer at the eye of the storm who seemingly played on half the sessions. May Santa deliver "Grind Madness At The BBC" to each and every one of your bedside stockings, and if he unaccountably fails to do so then at less than 8p per track, you could always venture into the snow-flecked streets and buy it.
Anyway. Happy Christmas, and whatever you're doing on the 31st - whether you're going to bed early, going out robbing, venturing to a party with people you don't really like or being fleeced into paying £25 to spend midnight in a crowded pub you normally wouldn't dream of going into even for free - have a truly *righteous* New Year and thank you, as ever, for (skim) reading. It appears from the pile of scrawled post-its, CDs and bottles of Quilmes in front of us that we're about to add up the votes for our end-of-year polls, so there's real and present danger of some more distressingly long "lists" posts soon too. Sorry in advance.