A Savvy Soundtrack to Modern Decay

Various Artists
Terminal Decay: Artcore Vinyl Fanzine Vol. 5

The best compilations serve as portraits of an era by capturing the tenor and nuances of musical movements. The newest effort by Welly, editor at longtime Welsh fanzine Artcore, embodies this role zealously. By producing an LP (sorry, vinyl only!) proving that modern punk is still defiant, barbed, and immortal, he also highlights how the genre remains an irascible, twisted presence on the oft-mutating music scene.

Welly has been staple of the punk scene since the mid-1980s, when he began producing flyers for local gigs, started his own band Four Letter Word, and chronicled the scene in his fanzine Artcore, which has miraculously survived the digital era. In addition, Welly has also become a historian scribbling liner notes for long-lost bands like the Th’ Inbred and Offenders and designed cover graphics for print ‘zines like Maximum RocknRoll and Jersey Beat.

This fifth volume of his “vinyl fanzine” continues to capture mercurial music that speaks loud and clear to listeners tired of corporate schlock and predictability. As a bonus, the collection also acts as a kind of informal research paper, sermon, and history lesson of the genre, too. Instead of offering a sense of detachment like a stuffy overview provided by mainstream magazines like Mojo, it is packed with forceful immediacy, as if Welly insists, “Listen now or suffer limping boredom.”

Luckily, the album serves as a communal center capturing a genre rife with difference but also locked in a rapport that outlasts the next gig. Bands like 1981 seem to inject Chumbawamba modes — skinny haywire guitar and peace punk female melodic musings about “bloody wars” and “bloody birth” — with likeable squall and punch. The Rebel Spell spin out a tough yarn about the North American military’s fake liberation of foreign nations, a misstep mired in patriotism that feels more like paternal violence and violation of national sovereignty than the liberation of helpless people. “Bad Sam” produces a mid-tempo, roaring slice of recurring anti-imperialism as well. They namedrop John Wayne (a likely nod to the MDC song “John Wayne was a Nazi”), who, along with the Dow Jones, represent used-up false idols and institutions.

With insistent female flair, Arctic Flowers deconstruct Shakespeare’s Prince of Tyre, adeptly use alliteration, and sound like an updated, dense, and lit-punk assault by Discount. Venezuelan three-piece Fracaso’s echoey assault resembles old-school Disorder, while Agent Attitude combines the choleric yelps of Void with the guitar breakdowns and surgical concision of Minor Threat, and 40 Hells evokes Face-to-Face’s slightly off-key vocals and harnesses both personal politics and surging pop. Hygiene, though, is the slightly odd pairing: it feels like woozy Brooklyn art punk, but remains an effective ending to the first side.

Never yielding to blandness, the second side offers equally potent material too. The stormy, petulant Night Birds produce a garage ruckus that melds tense and taut Marked Men with surf ’n’ stoked stylings borrowed from Angry Samoans, though layered with a political undercurrent.

D-beat purveyors Ruidosa Inmundicia proffer incendiary, battering brouhaha; Burnt Cross seems to revisit mid-1980’s era Conflict with aplomb and political savvy; Off with their Heads roil and rock with a deep guttural prowl that recalls Personality Crisis on a Ramones bender. Peruvians DHK fester their own militant brand of sore-voiced stop ’n’ start screamo, as do Endless Grinning Skulls with their wall of bleeding-ear noise and 120 mph tumult. Vengeance unleash vitriol against fake punk categories of “Nazimetal” and “Neofolk”, all tucked in a barrage that evokes Poison Idea, and trans-national Pettybone (a pun on the name Pettibon, the artist linked to Black Flag gig posters and album art) produce a dizzying, dark, churning dynamism as well.

By adopting cutting, rhythmic guitar, new wave-inflected vocals, and pumped-up drums, the Estranged feel the most “post-punk” of the entire ilk, while Burning Sensation’s (not the early 1980s band) uncanny marriage of the Proletariat and Wipers is fecund and familiar at the same time — it’s a dramatic ending to the entire effort, unleashed like a postcard from the edge of dystopia.

On the album liner notes, Welly acknowledges a host of influences like the Peace compilation (R Radical, 1984), which had international scope, and Pushead’s equally world-flavored Cleanse the Bacteria (Pusmort, 1985), which opened ears to the nuances inherent in hardcore, which most people believed was militant thrash marshaled without much merit. Perhaps Welly’s surefire attention to these precedents and lore is what drives him to keen, selective editing.

Sure, outsiders will still be annoyed, skeptical, and disheartened by the barrage of plunder and nihilism, lyrical calls for protest and pithy pronouncements, and the overall urges imbued with a romantic sense of decay. But these people never understood the gale of punk in the first place, including its interwoven conversation about justice and alienation, which together with an emphasis on action and unbound desire, were never meant to fit any one composite sketch. Punk is a journey, and this compilation is another telegraph of heresy meant to puncture Pop with a dose of coarse, ever-rekindled rebellion.