Mumakil "Flies Will Starve" (Relapse): P.L.F. "Devious Persecution and Wholesale Slaughter" (Six Weeks): Blockheads "This World Is Dead" (Relapse): Rotten Sound "Species At War" (Relapse): Nails "Abandon All Life" (Southern Lord)
Back in the day, before the Borders chain was asset-stripped by the dead hand of private equity, we used to tumble on down to the branch in our local shopping centre and pick up an array of fanzines and magazines: our regular purchases were Hip-Hop Connection, Smoke: A London Peculiar, LDN graf primer Very Nearly Almost and the august 'extreme music' organ, Terrorizer.
The thing to remember about Terrorizer is that despite the downsides (embarrassing, childish covers; very strange definition of 'extreme' that includes e.g. formulaic Cradle of Filth knock-offs, dishwater-dull folk metal, overhyped middle of the road nonsense like Ghost BC), around 1% of the bands it covers - basically, the better grindcore and crust ones - are very good indeed (that may not sound a *great* strike-rate, but it's 1% more than the NME's, for example, which may be one of the many reasons why Terrorizer's circulation really isn't that far short of the NME's these days).
Reading reviews in a magazine like Terrorizer, however, can quickly get wearing. Partly because they've now gone for that capsule review thing where each album only gets about 50 words, meaning that once the writer has come up with a witty pun or joke about whatever rock 'backwater' the band hail from, they run out of verbiage to describe what the thing sounds like. But also because the few adjectives they do deploy are so overused as to be meaningless: whether death metal, black metal, punk, deathcore, grindcore or hardcore, it's always an "assault" of "brutality", it's always "crushing", the similes all involve weapons or heavy objects penetrating your skull or cranium. It gets to the point where you half-expect that if you actually put any of the records on, all you would hear is the hippy-dippy sound of Colon from the Fast Show. (Still one of the all-time top tier Britpop bands, in my estimation).
Dear reader, you can't sift through one hundred reviews every month that tell you how a record by some black-clad, tattooed, hard-looking blokes with beards will garott you, flay you alive or strangle your cat. You want to focus on the dozen or so noise albums every year that might actually thrill and entertain you. Hence the five records here, a discography stretching out over the first half of 2013. And, in our Veltins-addled minds right now, these discs set forth the promise of a night of musical entertainment. A summer promenade at the Royal Albert Hall, perhaps.
First on stage are the combative Swiss quartet Mumakil, rifling through 26 merry melodies in around 40 minutes. The songs are punchy, and the drumming almost superhuman (many of the tracks sound like they are being backed by a drum machine played at 250bpm) but we could have done with a few more riffs, and a lot more variety. A fistful of song titles encapsulate the lyrical content nicely: "Shit Reminders", "Piss Off" and, most memorably, "Fucktards Parade". A polite ripple of applause echoes through the Hall.
French elder statesmen grinders Blockheads (sample titles: "Bastards", "Born Among Bastards") and redoubtable Texan power merchants P.L.F. (sample titles: "Klaxon Of Puzzlement", "Trinitrotoluene Negation") are up next and are both much more like it, pounding well-trodden paths into submission with straight down the line, smartly executed core de grind. The latter include one Bryan Fajardo on drums, as do the best grind bands across 48 states (Gridlink, Noisear, Kill The Client, Phobia, et cetera, et cetera). Each combo elicit heartfelt and well-deserved acclamationfrom our imaginary punters.
Next come flying Finns Rotten Sound, on a high following the drama of their "Cursed" album, who deliver a new six-track EP about war and religion's role in war which picks up where they left off in marrying urgent, energetic, bass-grounded noise with subtle, high speed melodies which need several replays to pick up before your ears fully attune, but when they do it's a truly serendipitous thing. We also get more of those one-word, "big picture" song titles: "Salvation", "War", the not-very-peaceful "Peace". Our made-up audience, senses finely tested, give our heroes a rapturous reception. What a concert this is proving to be.
And then on stroll California's Nails, with the follow-up to their exceptional first LP, "Unsilent Death". Yes, it is more of the same: ten tracks in around seventeen chaos-fuelled minutes, with two or three stretched-out tunes to combat the raging half-dozen that fail to reach the sixty-second mark. But that does not do this record justice. Nails are much more than the sum of their parts, more vital than any of their members' other projects. There are hints, maybe, of Trap Them, or Napalm, or Dillinger Escape Plan, or Converge, but even those names don't convey the bigger picture. The songs are shorter, faster, less forgiving, noodle-free. Nails are neither grindcore nor crust, but they seek to distil and share those genres' urgency, their love of piling *rhythms* arrayed beneath the feral amplifier howl. The instrumentation is furious, but the playing is taut, machine-like, disciplined. Like Rotten Sound, Nails are fashioning something which is not only overpowering on first listen, but which benefits from repeated spins.
"Abandon All Life" weaves the path of the tornado, the storm, the whirlpool, the maelstrom. There is something ferociously *natural* about the sullen noise on offer, something that belies the economical nihilism of the lyrics. When the songs slow down, at first it's a relief; but when they settle into a groove, just as gritty and determined as before, it becomes just as chastening as the earlier blastbeats had been. We promise you that if you buy this record, you will listen to it over and over (chasing it every time, wondering where the tracks that whizzed by have gone). And if you're angry, tense, or emotional you'll find it a surprisingly sympathetic soundtrack.
So *this* is when we really despair that all the usual adjectives have been so casually flung at lesser bands, less thrilling bands, less full-on, hair-standing-on-the-nape-of-your-neck bands. Because Nails *are* brutal, militant, exciting. They really are. As the Royal Albert Hall in our minds empties out into a greyscale Kensington night, we want to stand on our seats and just *CHEER*.