Tuesday Ten: 216: Unsung

So, for the second post today, I’ve enlisted the help of my readers again. I did this first for a wildly popular “perfect albums” thread earlier in the year (see the link on the right), so I felt it was time to do it again.

This time, though, I had a different idea. A couple of weeks back, a lengthy thread resulted about “unsung” bands – in other words, bands that never got the attention that they perhaps deserved. Obviously this is rather a subjective topic – in small scenes some bands may be bigger fish, but in a wider sense, they may not be a big thing at all. But either way, the thread resulted in some impassioned suggestions, so I asked some of my readers to expand their views. The results were fascinating, and they are shown below.

pist.on. Pist-On. Piston. Pist.On. PistOn. Pist*On. With that many variables, they were either going to be incredibly pretentious or wilfully capricious. Fortunately for those in the know, it was a little bit of both. Fuzz goth metal bastard wretches, the ‘goth’ part labelled with several caveats and a massive fucking pinch of salt. Though in a way, pist.on were way more in keeping with ‘80s goth and post-punk than many other metal bands who have either claimed that label or had it heaped at their feet unwillingly. Because pist.on were wry and sarcastic and everything they did was awash with deprecating self-awareness. It’s no coincidence that they recorded a Smiths cover.

Their debut album Number One is a late ‘90s alt-metal masterpiece, channelling elements of other New York acts like Type O Negative and Life Of Agony while carving out their own uncomfortable niche. That’s partly thanks to the dry lyrical style and depraved crooning of Henry Font, who put so much of his own personality into the band that it’s surprising he’s not now a loose sack of skin blowing in the Brooklyn wind.

Sophomore release $ell.out – so named following accusations of altering their name to a less offensive moniker in search of the almighty dollar – was a lighter touch, and definitely the sound of a band stretched to their limits by lineup changes, internal tensions and the kind of music journalist backlash only Britain can produce. I’m genuinely unaware whether they got anywhere in their homeland, but I distinctly remember that they were one of seemingly infinite bands who Metal Hammer et al praised thoroughly, right up until someone fell out with them and the drinks tab dried up.

And so, inevitably, like many of the great evil hopes of late ‘90s metal, pist.on split up and are now relegated to being a band getting-old fucks like me rave about while bemoaning how the middle-tier of the alternative scene was so much more interesting in MY day.

Deal with it. And go listen to some pist.on.
Matt Townsend blogs at A Town Called Bastard

Some time in early 1998 Kerrang had a CD stuck on the front. Very modern. Having just left school and headed out into the big wide world (mostly Cambridge) to find gainful employ, I was at an impressionable age, and all this exciting nu new music was liberally poured into my grateful ears. Looking back at that 15 track CD, Coal Chamber, Clawfinger, 12 Rods, Idlewild, Addict and Soulfly jump from the cardboard as bands which lived in my car and accompanied me on every journey for the following few years. Some still do. Cold, however, burrowed into my head even deeper than the rest and after an interminable wait their eponymous debut was purchased hungrily from Andy’s Records. For a seemingly endless summer lived on constant rotation along with the Addict album released around the same time and discovered via the same cardboard-sleeved cover offering.

“Well I saw a river fall from heaven rain mistakes on me…”

Something about Scooter Ward’s growling through gritted teeth delivery appealed to me. It was one of the few albums you could sing along to immaculately without taking the cigarette out of your mouth. In fact you could make a decent fist of singing along to it without opening your mouth at all. What grabbed my attention was the fact that despite seeming to be hewn from the sharp stony bit in the bottom of a recently abandoned cement mixer, this voice has a vulnerability that seemed out of place, but almost absurdly tender. There’s a naivety to the whole thing (name another band who open two tracks in the middle of an album with identical opening lines? – “everyone around you suffocatesInsane / Serial Killer) but despite (or quite possibly because of) this it’s one of those rarest of things, and album with no tracks I skip. Actually, that’s not entirely true, it’s an album where I invariably skip every track cos I’m too excited about the next one to wait. Either way, it’s a corker.

Usually when a performance of a debut album stands out so starkly, you can almost guarantee someone at a record company will spoil it. I was terrified to listen to 13 Ways to Bleed On Stage [2000] or Year of the Spider [2003] in case anyone had politely suggested to Mr Ward that he open his mouth a bit or something. Fortunately no one interfered in this way and despite a couple of questionable “what if I have been listening to Godsmack albums for the last 2 years?” moments they’re solid enough, if not as spectacularly raw and interesting.

When they did angry, rather than being frantic or obviously aggressive, managed to envelop the listener in a big thick carpet of noise, perfectly constructed to avoid drowning itself out. When tender, they came across like the man with nothing left to lose but unwilling to ask. Instead of the shouting aggressor suggesting you spilled their pint, they were the calculating, cold (I know) gentleman who was going to do you some fairly serious damage if you carried on, but knew that a moments eye contact would likely be enough to avoid any further action. I’ve never understood why they aren’t more feted.

A Different Kind of Pain [2005] was rubbish though.
Tony Lloyd used to be in a dreary goth band but hasn’t really done much in the last 10 years or so.

Between 1990 and 2004 I was a DJ in the buzzing hub of alternative culture that is North Wales (Sarcasm!). This was before the days of the internet and most new bands were bought to your attention via sample CDs sent out by record labels or distributers. The majority was junk. But on a morning in 2001 one such sample CD revealed a gem of a track, which for me stood head and shoulders above the rest. The band was Godhead and the track I Sell Society.

At the time it sounded fresh, sharp, while managing not to sound overproduced. Some research informed me they hailed from Washington in the US and had been around in one form or another since 1994. Their break coming when they were the first (and interestingly last) signing to Marilyn Manson’s Posthuman label. I ordered the album and it did not disappoint, from first to last song it is in my opinion superb. While there is admittedly no standout dance floor track, The Reckoning, Inside You, Penetrate and I Hate Today are all fantastic. They even manage to throw in a great cover of Eleanor Rigby for good measure.

Multiple Film soundtrack appearances (including Queen of the Damned) helped as they were thrust onto the scene internationally as part the Ozzfest line up and tours with the likes of Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, Rammstein, Mudvayne, Orgy, Static X, Soil and American Head Charge helped to heighten their profile.

I only got to see them live once, in a tent at the Reading Festival in 2002. I was one of only about 50 people who had a clue who they were, but so engaging were they live that by the end, the packed tent were converts one and all. A sublime show by Queen Adreena later that day in the same tent was the only thing that stopped them being my band of the festival.

The highly anticipated (by me at least) follow up album arrived in 2003. Evolver lacked the punch and polish of 2000 Years of Human Error and you could almost hear the blow to their confidence that the folding of Manson’s short lived vanity label had as they were cast aside as Marilyn moved on to his next passing fad. (Label, Film, Art, Dita!)

Though they did go on to recover that confidence (not helped by having more drummers than Spinal Tap) and there are some excellent songs on both The Shadow Line (2006) and At The Edge of The World (2008) they have never managed to regain the momentum they built from that 2001 to 2003 explosion on the scene.

In retrospect maybe this would have been more suitable for an article about bands that never fulfilled the potential they had, but I still believe they should have been a bigger band than they are. and over a decade later 2000 Years of Human Error is still one of my favourite albums.
Peter Jones

Electric Six are so much more than ‘that camp, goofy novelty act that did Gay Bar. Or the camp, goofy novelty act that did Danger! High Voltage. Electric Six are the camp, goofy novelty act that have, at the time of writing, enjoyed a 12 year career being deadly serious about being utterly daft. 18, if you count their formation as The Wild Bunch back in ’96. Although their UK fame peaked with 2003’s Fire, they have continued touring and releasing albums. My personal favourite? Switzerland, with its Pink Flamingos (John Waters is as big an influence as 70s glam rock) and its Germans in Mexico (“They come in the night/To take our women/For sale in Berlin”). There’s an unsubtle hint in I Buy The Drugs, and an even less subtle hint as to where said drugs might be bought: a Los Angeles address allegedly belonging to Fox Broadcasting.

“Now everybody down at McDonnellzzz
They down with Ronnell McDonnell
And now they hitting the bottle
And everybody cool!”

There are hedonistic party bands and there are bands that revel in absurd humour. Electric Six, the band that shouldn’t have made it out of 2003 alive, are both, and will be starting fires in the Taco Bell and hitting the bottle down at McDonald’s for a while yet.
Stvn F. Bdfrd

Back in the latter half of the nineties, as Britpop collapsed into ladrock, there were a few graceful lunges in the other direction – bands for the people who knew that Blur versus Oasis had always been the wrong battle when Pulp were so much better than either. Acts like Kenickie, The Divine Comedy and My Life Story failed to connect with the public beyond a minor hit or two, but my word did they have devoted fanbases. And then there were Elcka. I’ve known a handful of other Elcka fans over the years, and the band managed one or two appreciative notices during the dying days of the music press, but even the people who liked weird indie bands barely knew they existed.

In a time when even My Life Story’s final, weakest incarnation could still get dozens of punters in, I once saw Elcka play to an audience of five. And how did their frontman (known only as ‘Harrold’) respond? He hopped off the stage, turned his back to all five of us, and started conducting the band like an orchestra. And somehow it worked.

There was something magnetic about Harrold, the focus for a band whose sound could lurch from super-shiny pop (Statuesque) to queasy growls of post-Imperial decline (Roast Beef). The abiding impression was of young men who’d had a rough night or ten, met in an after-hours drinking den, and decided to form a Roxy Music tribute act without knowing the songs. But they’d come up with some songs of their own along the way (well, mostly their own: Nothing To Lose was a shameless, and credited, rip-off of the Kinks). They had harpsichord samples and an abiding suggestion of sexual malfeasance (most fully expressed on the magnificently sleazy Pervert’s Servant); what more did they need?

Well – quite a lot, as far as the general public was concerned. A major label deal failed to bear fruit, though the album Rubbernecking did eventually turn up, long after any faint momentum was squandered. There was a follow-up single, Pleasure, of which I’ve never seen a finished copy; it saw the band replacing their scuzzy glamour with a look seemingly inspired by Mad Max, but it was still pretty good. Stranger still, when the request for this piece led me to check whether Elcka are on Spotify (and they are, though only about the fifth suggestion for their own name). I learned that two months ago they broke 15 years of silence to release a new EP.

It’s…not great. But everything up to that one great lost album still sounds urgent, debonair, and heroically doomed.
Alex Sarll

The Damage Manual really should have been huge.

The music press coined the phrase “industrial supergroup” for them when they formed in 2000, and with the lineup it wasn’t hard to see why. Chris Connelly (Pigface, Revolting Cocks), Geordie Walker (Killing Joke), Jah Wobble (PiL) and Martin Atkins (PiL, Ministry, and countless other guest appearances besides) ­ I couldn’t help but be excited as to what they were going to sound like. After some searching (and a raised eyebrow as to why so many music shops not only didn’t stock them but hadn’t even heard of them), I managed to track down a copy of their EP, One.

As soon as I heard the opening track, Sunset Gun, I was hooked. Fierce industrial metal along the lines of the similarly­overlooked Murder Inc.,­ unsurprisingly, with three quarters of that band’s lineup but with better production and more immediate songs. A surefire recipe for greatness.

After another lengthy search (and another raised eyebrow, same reason) to find their self­-titled album on its release later that year, I was just as impressed. The band drew on the distinctive talents of its members and somehow became more than the sum. Geordie’s ferocious guitar matched Wobble’s dubby basslines perfectly, Atkins’s pounding drums drove the whole thing along like a train, and Connelly’s distinctive vocals brought to mind the best of his work with Revolting Cocks, always a favourite band of mine.

Then after that…nothing. They seemed to just disappear. Rumours (if you could find them) of fallings out within the band; musical differences; Wobble refusing to tour; heated arguments between Atkins and the others; gigs planned then cancelled. After a while, the band was listed as “on hiatus”. A remix album, Damaged, appeared in 2003 and was noticed by almost nobody. A remix of Sunset Gun cropped up on The Orb’s second Auntie Aubrey remix album.

Then in 2004, finally a second album! But…oh dear. No Geordie, and no Wobble. Instead, guitar and bass were both played by Steven Seibold of Hate Dept. It was okay, but it wasn’t The Damage Manual.

And that was it. Instead of the industrial metal supergroup it promised to be, The Damage Manual is now little more than a footnote in the careers of each of its members. That’s a shame, as any of the tracks from the first album or the EP are up there with the best industrial metal, and some of the remixes from Damaged should have been genuine club stompers (Boomer Reynolds’s remix of Damage Addict and Acucrack’s take on Blame and Demand in particular). I’ll still occasionally play them out because they sound bloody good in a club, but I’m only ever playing them to myself. Nobody ever requests them.

Goodbye, Damage Manual. You were a lot of fun while you lasted.
Simon Hilton DJs at Nightmare in Nottingham – next one 29-Nov.

Three years, two albums (if you count the second of which, a collaboration with William S. Burroughs) and one widely-played track in Television, Drug of the Nation, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy had a brief but important voice in music’s more politically and socially engaged artists in a lineage that includes Gil Scott Heron, Public Enemy and Saul Williams. Their début album, Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury covered bank bailouts, religion, disenfranchisement, the superficiality and double standards of network television, homophobia, the Gulf War, immigration, race and recession among its 13 tracks.

The reason I chose them is not because they weren’t a big deal at the time. In 1993, when I saw them, they were third on the bill on the main stage, the first day of Phoenix. By contrast Cypress Hill played the next morning in a tent. The reason I chose them was because of the seeming lack of message or dissent in mainstream music of any stripe these days: “You saw the video, you heard the soundtrack, well now go buy the soft drink“; and because, 22 years after it was released Hypocrisy… is still as depressingly relevant as the day it was released. I miss music with a point and the more we’re reminded that it was a thing the more it may happen again, it’s sorely needed now more than ever.

Oh, yeah, and industrial hip-hop, I wish that was still more of a thing, there’s nothing like seeing Rono Tse laying down beats with an angle grinder, sparks flying up into the lighting truss.
Adrian Giddings is, amongst other things, a member of This Is Radio Silence and temp0rary.

Back in 1997 and through the years of 2000, while my roommate Bart Pfanenstiel was busy working for Wax Trax!, I was working at a tiny Import/export media company out of Chicago. It was through this company that I not only had access to a plethora of CD/LP imports but also to foreign magazines such as Metal Hammer, Kerrang, Rock Sound, Terrorizer and many many more. Through these magazines I discovered bands such as Psycore, Kill II This, Clawfinger, My Life Story, Annie Christian, Ash, The Gathering and an abundance more. Having my background and personal preference being in Industrial and Industrial Rock I immediately fell in love with these next two under rated bands.

Psycore are a band from Sweden that took the UK by storm around ’97-98. Considering these albums hit right before the year 2000, they often got the brand of “cybermetal” attached to them much like Fear Factory, Ministry, Spineshank or Strapping Young Lad. They have some solid songs on their debut release Your Problem including Fullblood Freak and my personal favorite, I Go Solo. You also cannot overlook Medication or Chocolate Milkshake either. This band is heavy but also seems to know the right moment to bring in some proper melody. Although I never had the opportunity to catch them performing live in the States they apparently had a nice run of dates with Clawfinger, Tura Satana, Stuck Mojo, Ultraspank and Coal Chamber in the UK. Speaking of Tura Satana, on Psycore’s lead single, I Go Solo it featured the b-side, End You with Tairrie B (Tura Satana/My Ruin) contributing vocals.

Psycore’s legacy was short lived with only 2 full length albums to their credit but they did manage to squeeze 8 singles/EPs out of them. They would go on to be remixed by artists such as the Utah Saints (The Zoo), and Quaint (Dedicated Enemy) to further cement their electronic/Industrial foothold.

How is this for a segue into my second band that I wish to talk about, Kill II This? We discussed earlier how Psycore received several comparisons to Fear Factory back in the day and also talked about Tairrie B of My Ruin/Tura Satana contributing vocals to them. Well at some point Tairrie B and Burton Bell dated and shortly after that Burton bell contributed backing vocals on Kill II This’s third album, Trinity! Ha, now with all of that useless trivia out of the way let’s jump into the highly underrated Kill II This.

Once again around 1997-2000 I was constantly seeing reviews and ads for this cyber/industrial/thrash band that had a VERY photographic bassist (Caroline Campbell) for their 2nd release Deviate on Visable Noise records that piqued my attention. I’ve already expressed my love to you of bands such as Fear Factory, Prong, Pitchshifter and Ministry and this album landed smack in the middle of all of those artists. Deviate sounds like a Ministry record with a little more thrash in it but at the same time they had female and male vocals, classical keyboards, synths and samples galore. From the opening techno heavy track Kill Your Gods they grab your attention and don’t let go! Funeral Around My Heart, Crucified, Faith Rape, and The Flood also bring the heavy. To bring even more street cred, Barney Greenway of Napalm Death, also sneaks in some guest vocals as well on the album.

For their 2000 release Trinity, Kill II This dropped a lot of the electronic elements and also dropped the female vocals as well. This leads the album to take on a thrash metal clashing with nu-metal vibe (which isn’t a terrible thing). I mentioned Burton Bell’s contributions earlier and here they materialize on the tracks 2 Tribes and Figure of 8ight. Matt Pollack’s screaming through Trinity just punctuates the power that this band could muster. For as much love as FF and company get, and even though they supported bands such as Slipknot, Machine Head, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Fear Factory, both of Kill II This’s releases are totally underrated and deserve more attention.

According to an announcement on the band’s Facebook page Kill 2 This has reformed and recently completed a headlining slot at La Fiestas Du Rock Festival, Flemalle, Belgium. Supposedly the reformed band is also working on new material and it’s is apparently going to harken back to the Deviate sound! One can only hope….
David Schock is one of the people running WTII Records, and also co-runs Cold Waves Festival

I first saw the video for Eject when it was on the alternative charts on the ITV Saturday morning chart show, back in 92/93 I think. I loved the mix of hip hop and rock along with the politically charged lyrics. I bought the single, and pretty much everything they put out after that. They were raw, angry and unlike a lot of music at the time, had a fairly front and centre political agenda. I’d almost say they were a British Rage Against the Machine, only far more musically diverse and interesting.

Over the next few years, I would see them play dozens of times, at festivals and gigs, and they were ALWAYS one of the highlights. Heitham had awesome stage presence, as did Kerstin, some of the most fun I’ve had at festivals was watching these guys (Glastonbury 95 stands out particularly for some of the best stage banter I have ever witnessed). Their debut album, Stacked Up was, and still is, a phenomenal album, that mixes so many different influences and styles in a way that few other bands have managed so well, whilst still having something meaniningful to say. Then, in 95, the band fractured, with Heitham forming Lodestar, and the rest of the band soldiering on with Kerstin on vocals. The resulting album was OK, but a shadow of the earlier work and they kind of fell off my radar. They eventually reformed and have since released three decent albums. These guys should have been way bigger than they were, I often think that if they’d been a bit blander and less politically angry, they’d have been lapped up by the big labels, which makes me sad. Most alternative music these days doesn’t touch on politics, or just get ANGRY in the way these guys did.

If you’ve never heard any of their stuff, I urge you to check them out! [Editor’s note: That debut Stacked Up gets a twentieth anniversary spit’n’polish re-release next week – buy here]
Tim Payne

It’d be nice to say that Whipping Boy burst onto the Irish music scene with a bang, but to be honest, not many people cared when they released their first album, Submarine.

Even today, it’s still an odd beast: a harsh mix of indie, shoegaze, blistering noise, thrown together with some pretty ham fisted politics, but their raw talent still manages to shine through the confused, murky sound. Friends of mine – who are a bit older than me and had the good fortune to live in Dublin – tell of amazing, amphetamine fuelled gigs driven by cheap booze, violence and a rage inspired by life in Ireland in the early 90’s.

But out in the wilds we didn’t get any of that. We heard the odd song played by Ireland’s John Peel stand-in (a guy called Dave Fanning, who went on to be reviled but did amazing work for underground music in Ireland). The album came and went and most people didn’t care.

Then they signed to Columbia and things changed. The band changed tactics. Most of the white noise rage was ditched. Fergal, the singer, came out from behind the walls of distortion and placed himself front and centre of the music.

And he had the balls to do it as a poet.

Nothing could have been as far from cool at the time. This was when Irish music had no real identity, arriving between the unfocused indie years of bands like Toasted Heretic and the Golden Horde and the tyranny of the singer song writer that took the country hostage, Whipping Boy stood out and declared themselves to be the poetic voice of Ireland. Adding a new rich, orchestral sound but keeping the guitar attack for when needed, they sounded like no one else.

The album’s gift, the thing that still keeps it fresh after all these years, is how honest it feels, from stories of growing up (When We Were Young), love Personality, which has the nerve to open with the line “I want to marry a personality, someone who looks like Koo Stark”, to the blunt and uncomfortable self-examination of A Natural, a bleak but hopeful look at dealing with mental illness.

The talking piece was We Don’t Need Nobody Else, a song that starts out as a in a poorly thought out attack on the rich in Ireland, moving on to domestic violence that somehow becomes an “us and them against the world” sing along. The delivery of the lines “Christ, we weren’t even fighting/ I was just annoyed/ Silence and you started to cry/ That really hurt you said/ yeah and you thought you knew me” is still chilling.

Then they fell apart, releasing one terrible post-break-up album, and then vanishing for years, almost forgotten. They played a few reunion gigs to great acclaim in Ireland but have drifted off into obscurity for the rest of the world. A fate they are too good to deserve.
Kenneth Whyte

Formed in the mid 90’s, yet most famous for their 2002 peak, Sinch are one of a hand full of bands that fell foul of the last great metal smash and grab by record labels. The late 90’s and early 00’s was Nu Metal’s heyday and that was a period of intense band signing in an effort to find the next Korn, the next Deftones or the next Linkin Park. Anyone remember Mad At Gravity, Deadsy or Nothingface? Sinch were signed by Roadrunner at the height of that label’s success.

With Slipknot riding high in the charts from their metal side, and Nickelback doing the same from their rock side Roadrunner were all conquering. But in the same year that Sinch had one of the labels fastest selling début albums in it’s history, that very same label had taken a chance on a band called Killswitch Engage, a band that would reshape the metal landscape for the next decade with their Metalcore sound. So a Prog, Grunge and Nu Metal inspired, Art Rock band were never going to make it with the label at the time and despite their success (their self titled album sold in excess of 100,000 copies) they were dropped by Roadrunner shortly after the album’s release. Without the support the band slid out of the rock mainstream, which is a shame because Sinch could have been an important band to rock and metal as they took all of their sounds and influences and moulded them into something far more fascinating and enduring.

I’ve always seen Sinch as a Prog band, a band that would have taken Nu Metal somewhere new just like Opeth have taken Death Metal somewhere new. Tracks like The Arctic Ocean, Plasma, The Silent Acquiescence Of Millions and Bitmap from their self titled album are perfect examples as acoustics and keyboards play off riffs, driving bass lines and textured drums as well as aggressive and crooned vocals. How the band presented themselves in the live environment is worth mentioning too. Fifth member Jay Smith had invented what he called The Ocular Noise Machine, a guitar-shaped video instrument that manipulated images. He could cut and paste a variety of graphics over looped segments of news footage all the while changing the speed of the images and colours along with the music. They may have been regarded as Nu Metal but how is that different to what Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s projectionist does or what Neurosis do with their visuals? Sinch were a band apart from their Nu Metal peers. They came way too early for Roadrunner to handle and it seems few others are willing to take a chance on them either.

The irony is that Roadrunner is now an imprint that would be perfect for Sinch – with the label signing bands like Rush, Dream Theater, Opeth and Porcupine Tree, they’ve never been as accommodating to progressive acts. The band regrouped and released Clearing The Channel in 2005 on Rock Ridge Music – an independent label – and proved their major label debut wasn’t a fluke. It’s a good album. Nowhere near the sheen of the self titled effort but a solid Prog Metal album that is worth more attention. The band have since crowd funded another album Hive Mind (2012) which I haven’t heard but I intend to get hold of a copy soon. So despite their set backs (Jay Smith has since been diagnosed with ALS) they’ve managed to keep making music, even if they have to crowd fund releases and self fund tours. Nu Metal threw a lot of shit at the wall (Crazy Town anyone?) yet underneath the shit pile at the bottom there were still diamonds to be found. Sinch are definitely one of those diamonds and vastly underrated.
Richard Game DJs at Resurrected, which returns on 29-Nov

Mad Capsule Markets exploded onto my radar in 2003 – when I bought Kerrang for it’s Revved Up compilation (albeit at the time for its Placebo feature, but that’s another story…). It contained Come from 010, and at first I wasn’t quite sure what had happened to my teenygoth sensibilities, but I knew that I liked it.I immediately went out and bought 010 and OSC-DIS (the only 2 reasonably widely available albums at the time) and listened to them on repeat. It was the first time I’d heard synthetic music and metal mixed like that (and it would eventually lead to my discovery of Atari Teenage Riot, Alec Empire and develop a love of clashing music that would develop into a fanaticism for Math Rock). This was music that got into my bones and made me feel like I wanted to jump around whatever room I was in (and I still get that feeling when I listen to their albums).At the time, MCM were experiencing what seemed to be a bit of a brief European/American fandom, with Kerrang including them on several compilations and inviting them to play at several concerts, however, MCM had been releasing music since 1990 and developing their particular sound since 1996’s 4Plugs, which saw a shift in direction from more melodic and ska type music towards the heavier sound that would win them international recognition.This would move even further towards what most people would recognise as MCM with 1997’s digidogheadlock, which combined electronica with punk, industrial and metal. They mellowed again for 2001’s OSC-DIS and began to gain a bit of a cult following, and the rest, they say is history.I was gutted in 2005 when they decided to take “an extended break” – I felt like I’d been given a glimpse of something great, but it was all over too quickly. I really believe that with the popularity of other bands making similar music in the late 90’s and early 00’s, they should have been up there with the best of them.
Kai Bentley

Judda. The name probably means nothing to you, but for those around during the halcyon days of London’s booming Industrial scene in the early to mid-Nineties, Judda’s live shows were the equivalent to suffering the wrath of God. Sounding not unlike the bastard offspring of Ministry and Leechwoman, their gigs were noisy, intense, sometimes terrifying and utterly chaotic, be-dreadlocked vocalist Ped and keyboard player Andi Wax (wearing, bizarrely, an eye patch and safari suit complete with pith helmet) confronted and antagonised crowds, goading them into ever higher levels of primal consciousness, whilst bassist Gez laid down bass lines heavy enough to batter a granny to death.Unlike their peers; Cubanate, PIG, Ultraviolence, Optimum Wound Profile, Sheep On Drugs et al, what differentiated Judda from the pack was the startling lack of recorded output beyond appearances on the Fucking Hardfloor and Funky Alternatives compilations. Achieving a high degree of notoriety in an extremely short space of time, they burned brightly but briefly, a single page feature in Kerrang! at the time revealing an album was being recorded but which subsequently never saw the light of day, for which I will never forgive them. Judda you were fucking awesome. See also this post from Marc Heal.
Giles Moorhouse runs Armalyte Industries

Die Toten Hosen are a standard 5 piece band from Düsseldorf that play straight up, honest, unpretentious punk rooted in what you might call ‘western punk’ traditions. What marks them out is the fact that they do it so incredibly well: plenty of thick, riffy, chordal guitar lines, ‘big’ sing-along choruses (some of which have a football chant style reminiscent of The Toy Dolls), all delivered with bucketloads of passion and energy. And they can harmonise screaming / shouting, which I think is possibly a unique skill…But there’s more to DTH than just standard punk – right from their early days (over 30 years ago) they’ve experimented with other styles – there are quite a few flourishes of metal, goth, and classical twists. There’s also been the odd bit of jazz, country, reggae, and some tongue in cheek German kitsch – especially when they’re having a go at neo-Nazis.I’m well aware that there are plenty of other bands that do this sort of thing (The Clash spring to mind here). In fact I shouldn’t even have to be writing this, because the only thing making DTH an ‘unsung’ band is the fact that they sing in German. Back in the 80s and most of the 90s the English language music industry had a firm grip on the British scene (trying to feed us plenty of safe, unadventurous, vacuous rubbish like New Kids on the Block), which kept DTH well away, despite some valiant efforts on their part to meet the scene halfway (doing an early Peel Session, even doing an English language version of their Best of… album, and a covers album Lessons in English: Part 1. All to no avail.In Europe, DTH are a stadium band that also has a strong fan base in South America and Australia. By rights they should have the same status here, because they do punk so well – perhaps even better than we do (contentious, I know…make up your own mind with the playlist). But historical prejudice of music in any other language apart from English kept them firmly underground in Britain and mostly away from the British public. By the time Rammstein made it big here, it was too late for DTH.Which is a shame, because German and punk are an incredibly good marriage of sounds.So, let’s be thankful for the dawn of the global internet and the chances it gives to broaden our minds with the universal language of music. It shouldn’t matter what language a band sings in, if they do their thing well and deliver it with conviction, passion and emotion.
Ruaraidh Wishart is by day, a mild mannered archivist and parent. By night, wild recorder pioneer in RAWKorder

I don’t remember how I discovered Sunshot, though probably it was in of one of those sublime but short-lived alternative glossies like Siren or Lime Lizard. Anyway, they immediately stood out – china doll lead singer, hot dreadlocked bassist, and a Bricheno in the ranks, so chances are they sounded good too. The only thing I found locally was the Spacetribe Audition EP, but that was enough to pique my interest – very Curve indeed, but with a slightly more grebo edge. I eventually tracked down their catchily named album, Caughtintheactofenjoyingourselves, but before that, I saw them live just once, supporting the Sisters (and indeed Murder Inc.) at the NEC. On such a vast stage, I’d have expected them to disappear, but their presence and sound worked beautifully. Sadly this was the only time I saw them, as they seemed to vanish after this (from my life, at least). There are a few live videos of them on YouTube, which are worth checking out, and you can also get a CD containing the album, the live album, and, well, just about everything else. A very good deal for some great tunes if you can find a copy.Stand-out track: Playtime – dark, twisted pop-goth-grunge, with almost Preacher Man layered guitars. Can be found at 24:24 in this, though watch the entire gig, it’s ace, and a remarkable recording for ’93…
Mark Chapman nowadays DJs at Monster Truck, next one also 29-Nov.

I was first introduced to Downset in the summer of 1997. They had recently been touring the UK for the release of their second album, Do We Speak A Dead Language?. My friend excitedly came round my house brandishing a copy of their debut album, telling me he’d “seen some fucking mental shit” at the weekend. “There’s these people, right, they don’t drink, they don’t smoke, and their celibate and shit, but the fucking music they listen to, man, you need to hear it!”. Apparently he’d been to some straight edge gigs up in Manchester, heard some Downset, and decided this was the next big thing.So we put it on and I listened. Hearing the words “Anger: hostility towards the opposition” repeatedly building to a crescendo didn’t in any way prepare me for the I was about to listen to. A superb fusion of rap and hardcore, with clearly defined, expertly written lyrics on a variety of issues ranging from social injustice, to rape, to personal trauma. The raw emotion in Rey Oropreza’s voice gelled superbly with the brutally crunchy guitar riffs.”It’s like Rage Against The Machine times a thousand!” My excited seventeen year old self exclaimed. But there was more to it than that. This wasn’t cheap white middle class socialism, this was real. The next day I went out and bought both Downset albums, which rapidly became the overarching soundtrack to the next three years. During that time I expected more output from the band, but that never materialised. It wasn’t until late 2000 that a new album was released, and it made quite a break from the style set by the first two albums.In pretty much every aspect of my life, I am a staunch advocate for change. I like new things, I like experimentation, new sights, new sounds. Many other people, however do not. These are the people who will always hold back progress. The new Downset album, Check Your People, delivered a much more raw sound than the first two. While the first two were more akin to RATM’s rap-core style, this new offering was much more of a hardcore offering, delivering a frank, almost tortured account.During the time between Do We Speak A Dead Language and Check Your People, Rey Oropreza spent time in prisons. Los Angeles is not exactly well known for the easy time people have in prison, and I feel that this may have been a contributing factor to the shift in direction. Regardless of the reasons, I was pleased with the change, but I feel that there was a price to be paid.At the time of release of Do We Speak A Dead Language, there were a number of rapcore acts: the aforementioned Rage Against The Machine, Body Count, Stuck Mojo, and the then up-and-coming Limp Bizkit. Rapcore was gaining popularity, but as with most things, it was losing something in the process. By the time Check Your People had been released, Limp Bizkit were the top act in pop-metal. People listening to rapcore wanted songs about bitches, hoes and money, about teenage angsty white middle-class bullshit, which the old-enough-to-know-better Fred Durst was delivering in spades. When even the old-school fans heard Check Your People, they had become so accustomed to the lackadaisical comfort bubble of rap-nu metal that they could no longer stomach the reality offered by tracks suck as Chemical Strangle and the album’s title track. They didn’t want to think about how their actions were destroying the planet, they didn’t want to have to filter raw anger – they wanted their easy listening rapcore where they could fly helicopters to the top of the WTC and dance with blondes in bikinis. As the opening line of No Home (Steady!) states: “Just because we rock the same style of tracks, and we rock the same stage, it doesn’t put us on the same page.”After 2000 there was a long period where it looked as if the band were done. Tours were cancelled, albums apparently were not selling, and the band were dropped from their label. So it came as a surprise to me that Downset had released a fourth album, Universal on an independent label, with little or no fanfare. Naturally I snapped it up and loved every minute of it. While I don’t think it managed to capture the spirit of the formidable Check your people, it was a league ahead of the drab generic dross which rapcore had become.I think that if Downset had a higher profile in the second half of the ’90s, the entire rap-metal environment would be very different, and perhaps the listeners would be more switched on to social injustices than they currently are. Still, as I write this, I have learned that Downset released a fifth album back in July, so perhaps there is still time. I’m off to buy it right now.
Karl Tessier-Ashpool teaches computer science, and blogs at Permanent Days Unmoving

I’m not a person for looking backwards, so writing about a band I saw in, possibly, the mid 90’s, maybe earlier, is a bit problematic. I can’t actually tell you exactly when I saw La Costa Rasa, or even where I saw them with any certainty. It was probably at the much lamented Duchess of York in Leeds but it may have been the Fenton or possibly a pub in Headingley or Hyde Park that had a room downstairs and a bad atmosphere upstairs that I can’t remember the name of.I’m not sure.But I remember the band.For a start, at the time, I wasn’t a big fan of drum machines. Mostly because I understood them as tricky beasts, and even trickier back then. Difficult to programme and not as forgiving as a flesh based drummer – a drum machine won’t cover a missed beat and if you’re not creative with it it can turn the music into something dull and lifeless. There were, of course, bands using drum machines to fine effect at the time but you don’t expect to come across one playing to a few people who’d wandered in to a pub in Leeds. So when I saw there was nothing on the drum riser my heart must have sunk a little1.I’m also, and possibly Adam’s blog isn’t the best place to admit this, not a huge fan of live bands.But let’s gloss over that. I was already decided that La Costa Rasa was great name for a band. It just is, it sounds threatening and, somehow, like a political comment on society.

‘Where’d you go on holiday, Bob?’
‘La Costa Rasa.’ *Bob turns to reveal all the skin has been flayed from his face.* ‘Lovely beaches, wife and kids didn’t make it out though.’

And I can still see the singer, I’m pretty sure he was playing a big bodied semi-acoustic – another WTF moment because that wasn’t the sort of guitar we were used to seeing. Or at least, it was not the sort of guitar that held the promise of the noise that was going to leave the stage at any minute. And, get this, they didn’t even have long hair. I mean that’s nothing now, but then we expected a certain level of tribal commitment and that involved hair at least past the collar.‘Oh shit, is this going to be a secret Aztec Camera comeback gig?’No.No it really isn’t.Now I’m going sidestep that memory and talk about me. So you have some sort of context. Not about me then, no, about me now.I write stuff, you won’t have heard of me but I’ve been doing it long enough to have a way of doing things2. It’s pretty simple, I write loads of stuff down, make loads of notes and then proceed to lose them all. What I remember, I reckon, must be the good stuff. I also apply this to most things in life. There have been hundreds of gigs, there have been thousands of tracks and the vast majority of them (like La Costa Rasa’s debut album, Autopilot) I have lost. But the track you will find below my wittering has stayed with me. It’s only recently, with the advent of youtube, that I can hear it again and it does not disappoint in the least, also I can mumble3 along with it almost word for word.4But, anyway, here we are back in one of three possible venues at some indeterminate point in the nineties, the floor sticky, some bloke with a mop of hair, a semi-acoustic, a drum machine and another chap, possibly two, and we are getting ready for them to start playing and, to be quite frank, getting in the way of our talking.We are not expecting big things.An earthing, buzz, a flick of a lead. The singer looks over his shoulder, steps up to the mike and closes his eyes.Oh.My.It’s not just a drum machine, it’s sequencers too, in Leeds. Playing samples. IN LEEDS. And more than that, so much more than that, a massive noise.Sequencers.Samples.Drum machines.A massive noise.IN LEEDS.Even better, I cannot understand one word coming out of the singer’s mouth because the mix is atrocious or the acoustics are atrocious but there is no mistaking the fact that he means every single word coming out of his mouth. Every one. But there is two words I can make out, which I will take away with me and find again on the album. The final track they play, which is just astounding. Those words? ‘I feel.‘I feel.’He does. You can hear it and I can still see it in the way he contorts himself around that guitar.That final track was Silence. It’s on the playlist. I don’t think it’s hugely complex, musically, but it could easily run to double its six minute length and not be long enough for me. It’s so perfectly paced, the metronome of the drum machine used with the gradual layering of guitars and sequenced keyboards to make a track that just grows and grows. And listen to his voice, it sounds like the air in the studio is sharp – painful to breathe in. As the track builds and builds, even the act of taking a breath becomes part of the music. A way of expressing whatever pain it is he’s wrapped himself around.He feels. And you can feel it in the song. It should have been a springboard into something much, much bigger. I don’t know what happened to them. But I don’t really remember much of what happened to me in the nineties either. It seems like everything happened in dreamtime.5But I remember this band, this gig, this track.I feel it.After writing this I managed to track down Andrew Mills, Singer/guitarist of La Costa Rasa and he had this to say about the band:

“In retrospect, and at the time, we were very fortunate to have the opportunities and experience that we did. We came from a D.I.Y. scene that has changed a lot over the last two decades – the world wide web was only just showing up and we stilled relied on ‘old media’ – fanzines, printed press and putting flyers into people’s hands, word of mouth and good friends around us who supported us and helped us.

The old network of small venues – the Duchess, etc was a very valuable ‘circuit’ and we lived in a transit van for a lot of the time – we recorded in Huddersfield and made our own cassettes and pressed a mini-LP ourselves before signing to Merciful Release and touring Europe. We used samplers and digital recording technology that is now standard but at the time was only just becoming affordable to non-professionals – we were unemployed, but were allowed to be so, and work at being musicians on the then ‘Arts Programme’ – a government run scheme that encouraged artistes to develop.”

Andrew is still making music and you may have heard the excellent dissonant pop music of Monmon on BBC6.

RJ Barker prizes storytelling over veracity and is currently going through the harrowing process of meeting publishers who may, or may not, be interested in his SF novel. His short stories have appeared in various places (like here) and occasionally he indulges in experiments in words and pictures with his friends (like this and this). He’s currently listening to Do To The Beast by the reformed Afghan Whigs, the eponymous Jay Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots by the same, obviously, and questioning the convention that says bios should be written in the third person. Why is that? It makes him feel like a serial killer. It puts the music in its ears. See? It’s just creepy. Twitter: @dedbutdrmngNotes:
1. Benefit of hindsight me think past me is an idiot for this.
2. I’m an artist! I have a process!
3. Typing too fast I wrote ‘I can mule along’ which isn’t relevant but I think ‘muling along’ should enter the English language. Feel free to start that train.
4. Mumble because I don’t know the words. I KNOW they are underneath the video but I don’t want to know the words. It’s not the point.
5. Okay, so I know some of the words.

How do you write about a band you have followed for nearly 30 years as an unsung band. A band that started in 1981 and still is going, but not in that original form, a band that have seen the dirt and the glory and the dirt again.To me The Alarm story is not just about the musicians and songs that that have been part of the story its also about the “family”, the fans all around the world keeping the flames of hope alive.So, many will know The Alarm from 68 Guns or Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke, the songs that introduced them to a wider audience with their mic’d up acoustic guitars and ozone destroying big hair – Ireland had U2, Scotland had Big Country, Wales had The Alarm.The bands early influences came from a mix of the punk scene, with lead singer Mike Peters travelling up from Rhyl to Liverpool to see the likes of the Pistols, Clash, Siouxsie play at Erics. This formed part of their sound, mixed with folk/drifter influences of the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.Throughout the 80’s the band would constantly tour the UK and the USA releasing albums, the debut Declaration in 1984, followed by Strength (a more electric based album) in 1985. Around 1991 they released Raw an album (looking back) of compromise, the writing was on the wall, and sure enough at one of their biggest UK gigs in June 1991 Mike announced from the stage of Brixton Academy that he was leaving the band. It left the remaining members of the band Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald and Nigel Twist and the audience in shock. The dream was over.Dave who had been influenced more by a bluesy / Americana scene ended up going out on the road around the UK before holing up in New Orleans for a few years, then returning to the UK to live and gig, mainly acoustically.Since 1992 Mike has been forging an interesting career, mixing the influences of the punk scene, his Welsh roots, his folk interest and working with various musicians that have suited his current ideas. This, maybe, was one of the reasons he quit the original line up to be more flexible. The current electric line up of the Alarm features Craig Adams (Mission/Sisters/Cult/Spear of Destiny) James Stevenson (Generation X/Chelsea/Gene Loves Jezebel and a million others!), Steve ‘Smiley’ Barnard (a million bands including Joe Strummer and Robbie Williams!), and Mark Taylor (keyboardist for dozens of acts from Elton John to Lords of the New Church). Add to that a side project that lasted a couple of years called Coloursound with Billy Duffy.Then there is Dead Men Walking which sees Mike team up with the likes of Captain Sensible, Glen Matlock, Slim Jim Phantom, Kirk Brandon, Peter Wylie, Bruce Watson, Lemmy, Brian Setzer, Mick Jones, Duff McKagan, Fred Armisen amongst others.You can see the music, that is the Alarm story is a varied one ranging from acoustic to near Gothic punk rock depending on the project.What has always been part of the band is the songwriting – songs that were written over 30 years ago still have a relevance now, in fact may have more resonance now.

“Now we’re the nation of many colours
But everybody’s blood runs red
Cut our wrists and bind together
Too much blood has been spilt in hate”
(For Freedom – MacDonald/Peters 1982)

So where do you start to listen to the band – a lot of the music is available online either the studio versions, re-recorded versions or live uploads – for me the album that introduced me to the band really was the 1985 release Strength featuring the epic Spirit of 76 – one of my favourite songs of all time. A story that has continued evolved in later recordings such as the live favourite The Drunk And the Disorderly released in 2004 on the In The Poppy Fields album.A lot of the music since 1996 when Mike was first diagnosed with cancer has had lyrics that have outlined his fight against his illness – as a result there have been uncompromising lyrics about his battle:

“Oxygen from a life support system
Flowing through the blood in my veins
Oxygen from a life support system
Keeping me a live again
Send the troops to get me
Send an atomic bomb
Fightback with all that you’ve got
Fightback with all that you are
Fightback if you want to stay alive”
(Fight Back – Mike Peters 2008)

As a result of his Leukaemia, Mike has formed a charity, Love Hope and Strength Foundation, which helps to both raise funds for various cancer care centres in the UK and around the world and getting people to sign up as potential bone marrow donors / stem cell donors to help safe a life. Having campaigned through the UK government to raise the age to 55 for those eligible to be on the list, the charity now works alongside Delete Blood Cancer in the UK to achieve this after the law changes in early 2013 as a result of their campaigning. I could write so much more as it is difficult to tell the full story with all its twists and turns but…
Ian Francis is a big fan of The AlarmSo, thanks to all my contributors for their input – they clearly put a lot of time into their submissions, it has reminded me of a few bands, and introduced to me to some ones I’d never come across. I may even ask for submissions again in the new year.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday Ten: 216: Unsung

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