Music

Wartorn: Iconic Nightmare / Kromosom: Live Forever

WARTORN. Photo: Dylan Remis

Southern Lord kicks of 2013 with two crust-punk LPs that differ very significantly in both methodology and success.


Wartorn

Iconic Nightmare

Label: Southern Lord
US Release Date: 2013-01-22
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

Kromosom

Live Forever

Label: Southern Lord
US Release Date: 2013-01-22
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

Somehow, over the course of the past year and a half or so, Los Angeles-based label Southern Lord have become a leading voice of crust punk and d-beat. I'm of course not overlooking the many DIY labels and bands that prefer to put their music out the underground way; after all, that's been one of the key signposts of many crust punk bands. But Southern Lord put out so many of these records last year it was as if the label was trying to assert itself as a breeding ground for an upsurge in the genre: new releases from Wolfbrigade, Nuclear Death Terror, The Secret, From Ashes Rise, and Martyrdöd are just a few that come to my head at the moment. Clearly, the risk of oversaturation wasn't on the minds of whoever decided to take on these great many LPs; though initially founded upon the subterranean, earth-rumbling drones of Sunn 0))), the Southern Lord imprint spent most of 2012 going for the visceral aspects of punk and metal. With black metal still the vogue in the critical community and doom having absolutely dominated the metal world in 2012, this kind of specialization worked wonders for the label, providing them a means to promote a swarm of new and old bands while also giving a necessary energy to an oft-overlooked genre.

With the new year now begun and the dread of apocalypse now behind us, Southern Lord has kicked things back into full gear by starting off 2013 with two crusty albums that carry on in the developing trend within the label: Wartorn's Iconic Nightmare and Kromosom's Live Forever. While both releases are the debut work by each respective band for the label, the latter serves as a collection of stuff previously released on various 12" and 7" EPs. Though each is a clear-cut case of a band preferring to keep things as crusty as possible, there's a clear difference in methodology that separates Iconic Nightmare from Live Forever. These differing methodologies, while unique in their own right, result in starkly different degrees of success.

Wisconsin-bred Wartorn's take on crust is as punishingly heavy as it gets. The guitar production on Iconic Nightmare is absolutely astounding; it's the first thing to notice from the minute the record starts. Whether it's doomy plodding (the title track), hardcore riffs ("No Sanctuary No Salvation"), or slight nods to post-metal ("Betrayal"), the guitar work absolutely pummels. (For a frame of reference, imagine the hammer on the sleeve art of Black Breath’s Sentence to Life is smashing your skull.) The rush of Iconic Nightmare is incredible, especially when played through high quality speakers—preferably ones that include “audiophile” in the description. I’ve developed pretty sensitive ears over the course of being an avowed metalhead, but I walked away from this record feeling as if I had just walked past a mortar being detonated.

What’s particularly great about Wartorn’s take on crust, however, is how well it blends it with an at times straightforward metal sensibility. Iconic Nightmare, if placed on a metal-to-crust continuum (assuming such a false dichotomy could ever be gauged), would edge slightly in the former camp. The production here is, compared to the grand scheme of all things crust, pretty clean, but that doesn’t make it any less authentic. The more abrasive elements of crust—the kind that make you feel as if your ears are being scraped out by a salty nail—aren’t the dominant sonic traits here. Viscerally put, Wartorn are the bruise left after a rib-cracking punch.

Kromosom, on the other hand, are the grating sharpness after being sliced at with a dull knife. Live Forever, a collection of songs from three different limited releases, could very well be one of the most hideous things ever put to CD. To anyone reading this who might be unfamiliar with crust punk, that'll read as an insult; however, to crust and d-beat enthusiasts, it might just be the thing that puts Live Forever over Iconic Nightmare if one were forced to choose. Crust—and indeed punk in general—has long prided itself on possessing a certain ugliness, which has undoubtedly been integral in expressing the political themes often espoused by the genre's practitioners. Kromosom's sub-lo fi production value places them well within the crust tradition, embracing the hideous to drive the point home.

But historical and authentic though this rawness may be, it's near unbearable to sit through, even through the meager 20 minutes that comprises Live Forever. Eleven seconds into opening track "DBH," a shrill, intolerable hiss emits, which completely distracts from the already flat sonic quality of the band's performance. The guitar and bass work are indiscernible from each other, and the drums sound as if they were recorded from ten feet away; the double bass runs that might have been effective had there been some more robust production value are left to mix in with the flat master of the record. This unwavering devotion to the nastiest of sounds makes one wonder if Kromosom view being hideous as a good in of itself, even when it comes at the expense of listenability. Rough sonic quality has undeniably been a part of crust's history, and it's not something to shrug off or gloss over with an overly neat production style that tries to iron out the "flaws" that are what really make the genre what it is in the first place. But at the same time, it's hard to believe that the price to pay for authenticity is to be as unpleasant as the songs on Live Forever are.

Kromosom and Wartorn, while they present different takes on crust, aren't necessarily at opposite ends of a spectrum, despite what a superficial listen of each record might lead one to believe. There's an undeniable sense of fidelity to brutality that both bands align with, and each present a vision of a sonic that's uniquely their own and beholden to the progenitors of the style they play in. That they end up in two strikingly different LPs is a testament to their own respective visions; however, it's clear that one vision resounds more powerfully than the other. The sheer metallic heaviness of Iconic Nightmare may not sound as "genuine crust" as Kromosom do, but Wartorn don't get so wrapped up in sounding authentic that they sacrifice any ability to engage with an album. A good crust record—hell, a good metal record—should make you feel like you've been bloodied, beaten, maybe even stabbed. But if those wounds lead to a nasty festering, someone's probably doing something wrong.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.