Abdul Bleach Boy, who used to do the bulk of our Record Roundups, has been incommunicado lately, i.e. off social media and doesn’t reply to messages. Maybe he’s going through some kind of spiritual crisis – hope not. Instead of a more comprehensive Record Roundup, then, here’s just a few reviews of vinyl that people have sent me, above all the continuously excellent Une Vie Pour Rien, once the best Oi zine and a big influence on Creases Like Knives, now the best Oi/punk label. Plus some random picks I came across over the past few months.
If you want to send us vinyl for review, contact us at creaseslikeknives [at] gmail.com. We don’t normally review digital files sent to us. Cheers!
Tchernobyl: Face au mur 7’’ EP
(Une Vie Pour Rien)
I wrote quite a bit about this Paris band’s previous releases, and although my reviews were thoroughly positive, I imagine a few things I said may have annoyed the band: persistent invocations of Brutal Combat, for instance – a key influence that Tchernobyl have long since transcended. It would probably be unfair at this point to liken their music to what I described as Brutal Combat’s “moronic, leaden Oi”. Yes, there’s a certain relentless uniformity to the basic structures, but within the rigid form there’s space for ideas and innovation. As time moves on, Tchernobyl immerse themselves deeper in what our guest writer Andrea Napoli has called the ‘Oi wave‘ and others have dubbed ‘cold Oi‘. Some of the sounds – e.g. the guitar lead in the chorus of ‘Unis‘ – even convey a Goblin-like vintage soundtrack feel, though Sisters of Mercy or Joy Division may be more obvious points of reference (unless you’re a French cold wave expert, which I’m not). Tchernobyl subtly expand the boundaries of the genre, losing perhaps some of the rawness of the 2019 demo in the process, but none of their hardness or severity. In a sense, they’re doing to French Oi what bands such as West Germany’s Razzia or Poland’s Armia were doing to hardcore punk when they infused it with bleakness in the second half of the 80s).
For all these reasons and more, Tchernobyl remain my favourite new French band. It’s worth mentioning that as a unit, they don’t have a weak link – I can’t imagine the music being quite as effective without this exact bassist, for instance, and the same is true of the other instruments and characteristic vocals. Each component is crucial.
In my review of Paris On Oi! I wondered what the new French bands are singing about. In the case of Tchernobyl, the lyrics seem to be on the interesting side, as Ben of Une Vie Pour Rien informs me. While not clearly placing themselves in one political camp or another, there’s quite a bit of social commentary: ‘Silence complice’ (Complicit silence) from Paris On Oi! was about closing one’s eyes to all the horrid things on international news, for instance, while ‘Paris Brûle-t-il ?’ (Is Paris burning?, from Oi! l’album Vol 2) spoke of the sometimes insurrectionary ‘Loi travail’ social movement, which in 2016 opposed the ultra-capitalist Macron government’s destruction of the French social system.
In my view, Tchernobyl have chosen a wise strategy of slow growth since 2018, releasing EPs and compilation tracks instead of rushing into an LP like so many other bands. This gave them time to develop, and I’m sure they’ll come up with something truly worthwhile when they finally cut a full-length album.
Cran: Natë LP
(Une Vie Pour Rien)
Cran stood out on the recent Paris on Oi! compilation as one of the ‘coldest’ bands on show, and their debut album Natë continues in that vein. Although I think they’re echnically a skinhead band, the aural signifiers largely point towards post punk and anarcho-punk, apart perhaps from the pounding backbone provided by the uniform drumbeat. Images of a rainy autumnal Paris are conjured up by melancholic guitar lines and a melodic bass. It’s the kind of atmosphere that Paris Violence pioneered in the late 90s, even if Cran’s playing is closer to the Bretonian likes of Litovsk and Kronstadt – but Cran’s sound is harder and starker than theirs.
There’s not a great deal of variety on the album, but that’s ok. Some albums aren’t ‘singles collections’ so much as variations on a theme or mood, and the Cran LP, with its strong underlying concept, very much belongs to that category.
Historically, Oi has often been about asserting an identity, but the recent street-punk wave from France is more introspective and uncertain: “I’m the master of my life, but I don’t know what to do with it. I’m in the spirit of the times”, the vocalist sings in what’s otherwise the most classically anthemic, Oi-ish track of the album, ‘Automne’. Unlike the other songs, one could almost imagine it on an album by Brixton Cats.
There, I’ve done it: I compared a female-fronted band to another female-fronted band. Don’t you hate when lazy reviewers do this even when the music is completely different? To make up for it, and also as an experiment, my next review will only contain comparisons to bands of the opposite sex – see Condemned 84 write-up below.
Condemned 84: The Crusade Continues CD
Everybody knows the story of this group. Their debut album on Roddy Moreno’s Oi! Records, Battle Scarred, was one of the rawest, hardest-hitting slices of 80s Oi. After continuing in this brickwall vein for a few years – a period nicely summed up by Link Record’s Live and Loud!! release – their 1992 album Storming to Power saw them moving into hard rock/metal territory, with a heavily distorted rhythm guitar not unlike that of L7’s Donita Sparks. Back then, they replied in a fanzine interview that this was due to their guitarist’s owning a “metal-sounding guitar”. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as a metal-sounding guitar, though: you make a guitar sound ‘metal’ by choosing the appropriate settings on your amp and adding loads of distortion, which is an intentional process. Either way, subsequent releases saw them backpedalling from the land of Lita Ford and Vixen, with albums such as Amongst the Thugs occupying some middle ground between their two earlier styles.
This new longplayer is their first full-length in 11 years, so while The Crusade Continues slowly, continue it does. What’s on offer musically? ‘Predator’ kicks off the platter in a pure Runaways rock ‘n’ roll fashion with maybe a dash of Distillers in the lead guitar department, proving that men can rock just as hard. I’m sad to say this is the only cut on the album that truly convinces me. Other tracks largely plod along in a competent but uninspired fashion. The Crusade Continues is no Face the Aggression, nor even Amongst the Thugs.
Lyrically, the band treads familiar ground. Only ‘I Don’t Wanna’ raises eyebrows: an attack on today’s youth, the song laments that the “hoodie and expensive trainers”-wearing kids all “look the same”. That’s a strange complaint coming from a skinhead band.
The Daltonz: Hier, Demain, Maintenant LP
(Une Vie Pour Rien)
The second full-length by this Oi band from Caen, France, who have been doing the rounds since at least 2005. Their first, Suedehead Rock (2011), offered skinhead rock ‘n’ roll in the vein of The Templars and The Cliches – i.e. music whose hour zero is All Skrewed Up rather than Tell Us the Truth or Greatest Hits Vol. 1. It was a good album, but they got a lot better with this follow-up. Though the urgency is still there, there are now more varied textures to their sound, and it feels like they’ve explored the entire Chiswick back catalogue as well as bands such as Eddie and the Hot Rods. The production is also much less pedestrian than on the debut, and they now sing exclusively in French. This is punchy skinhead rock ‘n’ roll with an arrogant swagger like Tolbiac’s Toads had it in their prime. Highly recommended.
Śmierć: Prawda EP
(Nikt Nic Nie Wie)
This Swedish anarcho-punk band is notable for the fact that the vocalist sings in Polish, despite being Swedish and having no Polish family background. Apparently, she studied some Polish back in the 90s and is now catching up.
I’ve never, ever met a non-Pole who managed to learn Polish beyond a few basic phrases. It’s difficult. The strange sounds you have to master to make yourself understood and the complex grammar work against you. Poland isn’t a country that attracts much economic immigration, at least not from the west, and Polish isn’t spoken anywhere else in the world – so there’s no particular incentives for outsiders to learn it either. As a rule, you’re either brought up with it or you don’t speak it.
But this singer isn’t doing a bad job at all. To the extent the musical backdrop permits, I can understand what she’s saying, and her pronunciation is very good. I’m impressed.
The musical influences are a mix of D-beat and early 90s Polish anarcho-punk along the lines of Homomilitia and Włochaty. Not really my favourite type of music, but sometimes a copy that distils the best aspects can be preferable to the original.
The band is called Śmierć, which translates as Death.
Iena / Scalpo: split 7’’
(Hellnation & Time Bomb Records)
We’re rather pleased with ourselves that we did an interview with Iena very early on, a mere few months after the release of their debut tape. Ours was probably the first interview with the band, proving that we were cool before everyone else was. Since then, Iena have proved our instinct right time and again, with their Nabat ’82-via-Rixe garage Oi quickly bulldozing everything else out of the way. Their side on this split EP begins like Iena in slow motion before everything kicks back into gear as per usual. Iena is a mighty machine that makes no mistakes – and you don’t criticise it.
On the other side are Scalpo, whose recent gig as support for Crown Court I enjoyed a lot. Although brickwall Oi-influenced, they’re leaning more towards the hardcore end of the spectrum. I can tell they’re good at what they’re doing, but for my simple-minded taste ‘Uomo di ferro’ contains too many tempo changes and intricate rhythms. I’m just an ordinary man who knows nothing about geometry! Their cover of the Italian Oi classic ‘Comunicato’ by Rough is more up my alley, and so is in fact their hate-fuelled È La Lotta L’Avvenire EP (2020), which I have only played for the first time today.
Tigre: Contro tigre EP
The cover design of the original online release of this EP (now out on vinyl from Longshot music), as seen on the left, contained two images. In the background, 17-year old original skinhead Steve Thompson and a mate posing outside a pub in Kilburn in 1970. Sheepskin, Harrington, DMs and army jump boots – great classic picture. In the foreground, a portrait of skinhead girl ‘Babs’ (Diane) in 1987, shot by Derek Ridgers in Soho. I don’t know anything about Babs’s life, but the image isn’t the worst choice the band could have made. Generally speaking, Ridgers’s Skinheads photo book grants a great deal of space to the glued-up, down-and-out skins who were hanging out in Leicester Square. These kids were the gutter punks among the skinheads – many of them runaways from abusive homes, their lives a spiral of homelessness and self-destruction. Feared by some and looked down on by others, it’s fair to say they didn’t represent the mainstream of the skinhead scene, even if flicking through Ridgers’s book might give that impression in hindsight – in fact, many other skins tended to avoid them.
Many of the Leicester Square lot are now dead, though you can still find the odd survivor begging for spare change outside a London tube station, recognisable only on account of their faded skinhead tattoos. For the most part, the lives of these people have been a tragedy – and when their pictures are circulated on European flyers, record covers and social media as signifiers of ‘realness’ by people and bands whose lives are radically different, I have mixed feelings. Sometimes I think Derek Ridgers’s focus on the Leicester Square kids bordered on the exploitative to begin with. Other times I think it’s nice that they’ve been immortalised and at least mean something to someone today. Either way, this isn’t meant to be a criticism of Tigre – as I said, I know nothing about Babs. It’s just a general comment prompted by the fact that Ridgers happens to be the photographer here.
To get on topic, what we have here are the first recordings by Tigre, a north Italian Oi band that began as an internet project of Lobo, formerly of Clear Cut, and a member of Oi band Stiglitz. By now they’ve become a real-life band and have played a couple of gigs, though I haven’t been able to catch them yet. The four tracks heard on this release are for the most part basic, lively Oi with a nice rock ‘n’ roll feel to it. The guitar-playing style resembles Steve Kent from The Business, and Tigre’s sound subsists somewhere between the latter band, The Strike and early Klasse Kriminale – very old-school, then, yet delivered with youth, freshness and attitude. The first few songs are very decent and have grown on me on repeated listening. But it’s track number four, the theme tune ‘Tigre’, that has real hit/anthem qualities – a carefully crafted song, it excels both from a riffmeister point of view and in terms of powerful, well-delivered words. Of the four offerings on this demo, this is the one that I want to play repeatedly.
Lobo, as some readers may remember, is a staunch proponent of Turbo Oi and part of the growing Rock Against Cocaine movement within the skinhead scene. I knew him a bit when he lived in Bologna – he was among the first people I met when I arrived in Italy, and he made me feel welcome. For this I am grateful, and I wish him all the best with his new project.
Violent Way: Bow to None LP
While French bands tend to push the boundaries of what can be understood as Oi or street punk, elsewhere there’s moves in the opposite direction: Oi as a distinct traditional sound; Oi as an expression of skinhead identity; Oi as a soundtrack to a ‘way of life’ modelled on the 80s. The first album by US band Violent Way came out as early as last summer, so introducing it is probably unnecessary – this is just to add my five cents.
I wasn’t as keen on the band as others were when their debut EP came out. I thought their instant popularity was more to do with the 80s cover imagery of a super-skin with pitbull on a chain rather than the unexceptional songs, which included a faithful Oppressed cover. This album largely won me over, though. The palm-muted first few chords on opener ‘We Don’t Need You’ (a song that tackles the burning issue of posers) tell you all you need to know: you’re in for orthodox Oi in the Blitz All Out Attack and Combat 84 vein, and while that isn’t a ground-breaking concept it’s well-executed, solidly written and expertly produced. Music for true believers.
Hailing from Buffalo NY, Violent Way are very American in appearance, with black flight jackets, combats tucked into boots and zero concessions to mod. Although that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it will satisfy a certain segment of the scene, and the band’s US tour with Crown Court should be a blast.
Claimed Choice: s/t 7’’
(Une Vie Pour Rien)
Hot on the heels of their debut album, We Won’t Give In, here’s the new seven-inch by France’s latest sensation, Claimed Choice from Lyon. Their sound is somewhere between Oi, pub rock and glam – in other words, Templars with a dash of Dalton and Guida thrown in. Well-produced for everything to be perfectly audible, but still lo-fi enough to give it the necessary edge. Claimed Choice are Ms Crombiegirl’s new favourite band and she’s been spinning their discs non-stop – as a fan of Jook-addled bovver rock, I’m not objecting. ‘La part des choses’ on side B is jollier than we’re used from them and an early spring hit. My only criticism of Claimed Choice concerns not this release, but their video for ‘Make it Right’: I don’t think slim-fit MA-1 jackets (e.g. the Alpha VF-59) look that good. I get that the French want to be contemporary and all, but flight jackets aren’t meant to be worn this tight – stick to the traditional silhouette!
Cuero / Puro Odio: Morir En Vizcaya split 12’’
Cuero arrange an unholy marriage between late 80s Vengeance-style war Oi, hardcore and proto-BM along the lines of Hellhammer and Deathcrush-era Mayhem when the latter were really shit (and one may well argue they always stayed shit). Cuero’s ‘tunes’ are pretty good, though, especially the slow and mighty ‘La pobres almas’. Puro Odio offer a lot of riffage and growly vocals, but don’t do anything for me. In the past, small-time DVD labels would sometimes re-issue Italian splatter classics with videos of schoolboy death metal bands performing a song about the movie as a bonus feature. To me, Pure Odio sound much like those bands.
Fracture: Purgatoire 7”
(Une Vie Pour Rien)
Fracture are a new trio on the Paris punk scene and newbies on UVPR (their debut EP came out on Common People). This follow-up contains three cuts. The first one, ‘Imposteur’, is a fast, blistering assault in the best UK 82 style, whereas the other two are mid-tempo and none too distinctive. With their sligthy chilly delivery they do fit the UVPR roster, and they’re young and enthusiastic, but they yet need to develop a distinctive style that’s truly their own – something that makes them stand out from the crowd. ‘Imposteur’ worked best for me.
Regicide: Immortels digital LP
Not long ago I wrote that the French would never lower themselves to cut their Oi with metal. Then this bunch comes along – though I’m not sure they aren’t from the Francophone part of Switzerland? Whatever the case, this is Oi infested not simply with metal, but epic power metal along the lines of Manowar, Blind Guardian et al. Unlike Battle Ruins, Regicide do not eschew the cornier components of that genre or try to make it sound more ‘straight’ – thus, we get harmonised eunuch choruses and melody lines as if lifted from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack uneasily co-existing with more conventional Oi trappings. I’ve got to admit that laughter is my first response to this, though I’m well aware people often laugh at the new and unusual. Who knows whether I’ll still think of it as a joke or really start to like it come next week? They call their music ‘medieval Oi’ and command you to “kill your king”, which is a concept I could get used to.
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