With their new album, the first in almost 30 years, Komintern Sect prove they’ve still got it. It’s like they’ve never been away. Powerful, fist in the air Oi anthems that will have all the skins and punks singing along…
Ah, fuck it. Contra Records ignored my request for a review copy, probably because they consider my blog too unimportant. That’s ok – this way, I don’t feel tempted to churn out a bland promo text in the hope of earning myself more freebies. Less industry ties equal healthier critical faculties.
So let’s start from the beginning. Komintern Sect formed in Orléans, a mid sized French town some 80 miles south of Paris, in 1980. By the time they released their 1983 debut album Les seigneurs de la guerre, they were an Oi band with a mixed skin/punk image not unlike Blitz.
According to their French Wikipedia entry, the album’s opening track ‘Barcelone 1936’ invoked the Spanish Civil War from a Francoite’s point of view, which the author attributes to the band’s love of ‘provocation’. Here’s my attempt at a translation:
‘As I walk slowly
Through the streets of Barcelona
On those time-worn cobblestones
The sound of my boots reverberates
History chose this city
Hope rested in your hands
Victory seemed so easy
In this fight towards destiny
Viva la Muerte’
It was certainly a strange time to play with fire. This was not 1977, nor was it some period of youthful innocence before the battle lines were drawn. As an acquaintance who had been a Paris skinhead since 1979 tells me, “1983 was the time when the fights between ‘boneheads’ and ‘redskins’ began. You had to choose your side then. Being apolitical, it was time for me to move on”.
Somewhat paradoxically, though, the same period saw an explosion of French skin and punk bands who proclaimed, like Komintern Sect, that they were ‘unconcerned’ with these political turf wars. Instead, they continued to write songs which – from today’s point of view – seem as confused as they are confusing.
Thus, the patriotic ‘France’ saw Komintern Sect declare their unswerving loyalty to the Tricolore, while in ‘Reves de Liberte’ they claimed to fight for a “new world without cops, borders, and nations”. Something for everyone, then, and not unlike London’s own Combat 84, who in their songs managed to both support and oppose war.
I’ll have to hand it to Komintern Sect: ‘Barcelone 1936’ still has me wondering about its author’s intentions. Given that punk tends to be a very literal, first person genre, the ambiguity of the song makes for a nice artistic touch. The same cannot be said about ‘Carte du parti’ – also from their 1983 debut – which consists of hoary cliches about leftwing and rightwing ‘extremists’ seduced by sinister demagogues.
In any case, Komintern Sect helped shaping a characteristic French Oi style that was later revived by the likes of Maraboots and Lion’s Law and, now that the UK scene is becoming less insular, has fans on our shores as well. Their anthemic songs featured rough lead vocals and plenty of “oh-oh-oh” football chants, but also had a melancholic undercurrent. The latter was most pronounced on the band’s final release, the Les uns sans les autres mini album of 1987 – for me, Komintern Sect’s masterstroke. Check out the brilliant ‘Toujours le premier’:
Oh yeah, the new album… I completely forgot about it. Maybe that’s because it isn’t particularly memorable. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. Old punk bands aiming for a comeback have learned the negative lessons of the past: they no longer play bad metal to impress us with their newfound technical skills, nor do they bury their sparse ideas under endless layers of glossy production. Today, the objective is to create a product that resembles a band’s original recordings as closely as possible.
Thus, D’une meme voix is the musical equivalent of taking a selfie with your 10-eye steel toe cap DMs, donkey jacket and bleachers on, and processing it through the ‘1980s’ filter on Photoshop. The band still plays fast, anthemic, mostly minor key Oi tunes hat often sound like punked-up French military songs. The themes are still “unity” and “walking down the street”, presumably with “boots on your feet”. The six songs serve their intended purpose, i.e. they evoke memories of glory days. It’s a solid enough job.
Yet something is missing. Perhaps a willingness to take even minor risks? Although Komintern Sect were a fairly straightforward Oi band the first time around, their material still had unexpected little touches, such as e.g. the Spanish guitar in ‘Barcelone’. Here, they play it safe and seem too concerned with ticking all the right boxes. Today, with Rixe offering a fresh take on the classic eighties sound and Paris Violence proving that you can be original while still playing genuine skinhead music, even a dedicated follower of French Oi such as yours truly expects a bit more.
Having said that, if this release brings Komintern Sect any closer to playing some UK dates, then it was more than worth it. Ideally together with a reformed Camera Silens, whose original vocalist Benoît is guesting on the Pour la gloire cover that closes off this release and, it has to be said, adds nothing to the original.