Raised By Gypsies
No Grief Reviews
Following a tumultuous year of rejection and addiction which culminated in a near-fatal car crash and arrest for assault with a deadly weapon, Nick Noro hit bottom. No Grief takes us down there with him. This is not an album for the casual listener. Nor is it something you can chuck on in the car during your morning commute (unless your job involves huddling under a desk on a come-down for 8 hours). No Grief is more than an album, it is an experience.
We are welcomed by monotone robot voices reminding us “pain from Survival. No Grief”; a refrain/motif which is repeated throughout to ensure we know our robotic overlords have our best interests at heart. After which we are thrown overboard into a sea of sound.
Stand Tall is a Brechtian, atonal dirge. Industrial grinding flits in and out of recognisable phrasing like a whisper in a nightmare, tormented voices rise to the surface like a tortured mantra, torn (we must assume) from the singer’s very soul. It is the first and only track recognisable as a song in the traditional sense. From here on out you’re on your own.
Calibrator is a web of torture and pain , wrenched from the musicians via their instruments. Brief periods of musical respite pop up, but if such comfort is to be allowed then it is momentary before we are plunged back in to the fray. Dragged under by the roiling noise.
Love on Smack takes us back to the grind(core). It sounds like nausea feels and is the first track with words but they are muffled and distorted and we have to feel as much as hear them. A lovers lament heard through a wall of drug-fuelled distortion.
The next three tracks are 1.55 min snippets which crash us through Spanish guitar played backwards (Clergy), indie rock dragged through vocoder hell (Final Departure) and what I can only describe as industrial jazz-core. The screams of guitars mashed together with non instruments creates metal-on-metal distortion as the urge to cower and hide from the horror becomes real.
Agony Overthrown continues the torture; like thrash played inside a garbage can, while the mewling wretch of a vocalist has his words dragged out over coals.
Symphonic Grace provides female vocals and an almost-harmony. A light respite in the form of a woman, cold, synthesised comfort floating through the musical mire.
Your House is awash with 80s goth stylings. Post punk peeks out behind the grinding wall of noise with extra cowbell, telling us to “Never go back to that smack”. A spoken word opener as we remain in post punk. This is the closest thing to an actual song. 1.55 mins of crunchy, distorted noise overlaid by an anti-ode to the horrors of smack. Classic metal guitar interjects and morphs into Pantera-like riffs before abruptly ending.
We traverse America through spoken word and screamo hardcore before coming to the Surface of the Sky Detached.
Rating this will be pretty much arbitrary. I have no way to rate someone else’s inner turmoil. If you want to spend 29mins wading in the mixed emotions of a recovering addict then it is probably worth the $100 he is asking for it.
No Grief marks the bay area experimental thrash/hardcore act’s third release of last year and was originally released on Halloween, which makes this a super duper ultra mega belated review. It’s also short-enough to have been posted in my New Noise shortlist reviews, but what the heck – it’s old and I’m just glad to be able to give these guys this level of exposure on a format that they deserve. Survival may have started as thrash, but they don’t play by the rules and might even sound a bit off to some people. It’s just the fact that they’ve got a different style that doesn’t like to stick too close to any one genre of music, even metal of which it jumps off pretty shortly. Even though Mike Tappero plays drums in the band, they still used programmed drums in a few songs like the colorfully crunchy “Calibrator” and the grungy blues on acid number, “Love On Smack.” Actually, in hearing most of this record, you might expect the band members to be on a bit of something. All of them. But I can’t deny that whatever they’re on has certainly opened some sort of subconscious influence that seems to flow through their weirdly interesting music. As for the production quality of pieces, they go from clear as glass to raw as hell. There’s also a grizzled robotic voice that talks through the record and I really wish that they hadn’t used that, even though it feels like a sort of Sluggish Morss moment (as does the whole damn album) and I guess I can respect it. Be forewarned though, some of these performances are so damn raw and fuzzy like (Flashcard Suicide, Living In America) that you might not literally be able to stomach them. They also mix low production clips in with higher quality clips, which can sound like a great big mess.
Keep in mind that this recording is only available on cassette, which might make it sound a little different than the rare digital form of which I’ve got right here. I’m saying that, because as of right now these guys are selling the digital copy of the album for a hundred dollars on their Bandcamp page. Nice Joke. But it’s actually not a joke. What this really comes down to is that frontman and mastermind Nick Noro was on trial for an assault with a deadly weapon charge and this recording is the “unfiltered and raw expression” he felt during that time period. So what? Are we paying for legal fees now? I’m still not really sure why such a recording has a ridiculous tag like this and it’ll only discourage an already low economic dynamic of people from ever purchasing the release.
Simply put, No Grief has it’s moments and is definitely different than anything you’ll probably hear this year. But it also has some rather cringe-worthy moments and comes off puzzling. I really liked the band’s earlier release Shayda1 but this might be a bit far-reaching. Alternatively, I haven’t heard the band’s first 2015 releaseHapiness yet, so that might be better. It is actually available at a “Name Your Own Price” marker, with five bucks for a CD. Methinks it might actually be decent. So maybe this little twenty-eight minutes of stuff might be rare due to their joke of a pricing system, but you should save your hundred dollars. There are other albums and games coming out that should prove far more intersting. Plus, that’s a lot of money. It’s like a grocery bill for me. Save the money, buy some food instead. While I liked some of it, some of it was also a bit sketchy. I’d consider it a medicore effort with a medicore score. These guys have much more in them than this. At least I hope so.
Being challenged is a good thing as it makes you think and question the norm. If you truly believe that you know what the norm is, then just take a listen to anything that the UK based label Merdumgiriz has to offer, then you will really question what you know about music. That being said, Survival and their latest effort titled No Grief is off of Merdumgiriz and like every release from the label it is wholly unique and completely separates itself from the pack. Survival takes hardcore and thrash and infuses those two genres with bits of electronic elements to create an odd sound. That odd sound however isn’t so odd that you stop listening, in fact it is just the opposite. The music is odd enough to make you keep listening, but not odd enough to make you repulsed.
No Grief offers up thirteen songs that range from strange to a different level of strange. A lot of songs lean more toward the hardcore/thrash aspect of the spectrum while others lean toward a maddening assault of hardcore and eclectic sounds and shouts.
Throughout No Grief the whole sound is dark and melancholic. There is no hiding from sadness, depression, anger, hate or anything else you can feel. Those feelings are very real, and those feelings are present every day and hang on you like two ton weights. That is the feeling of this album, and as you get sucked in further and further by the sheer honesty and the brutality of the truth you begin to realize that the world isn’t always a fair place. It is ugly, grimy, sickening and bastardizing, and all of those are realizations that you can conclude from a listen-or a couple-of this album. Through a listen of No Grief an utmost sullen darkness shrouds you and takes control. That darkness makes you step away from your reality and makes you think of things differently.
Not everything is all sadness and gloom however as this music does make you mosh and headbang. Being a combination of thrash and hardcore you get chaos and disorder that makes you want to destroy whatever may lie in your path. There are romping riffs, smashing drums, an incredibly thick back breaking bass, and wails and screams of desperation. The vocals themselves are haunting as they are dissonant, and being paired with an echoing effect it gives you the feeling that a spirit or some kind of apparition did the vocals instead of a human. Even though the majority of the album is chaotic, there are parts that are groovy and smooth, and those parts have the stomping hardcore riffs and monstrous bass in them.
Survival breaks the regular hardcore cycle by adding some electronic elements to the music as well. More often than not the electronic elements provide an extra touch of depression and isolation to the songs. “Tortured artist” really is a cliche, but with this music it really does sound tortured and through the thirteen songs you really become aware of that. With their new album No Grief, Survival does several things for you. It makes you think, headbang and most of all challenge the norm.
Whenever I listen to a cassette enough times to sit down and write a review for it (or even sometimes before if I have time because it's called being prepared) I go into a document I have saved on my laptop and put out what becomes the subject of the review (Artist name/Cassette Title/Label if there is one) and then I also make the secondary line which is usually the price, edition of and link to where this cassette can be found which probably 90% of the time goes back to Bandcamp. So what do you do when there is no Bandcamp to go back to but there once was? Look, I'm not here to get into a big story about this- though I might one day- but basically the end result of the story is that Viranesir got kicked off of Bandcamp rather abruptly. You can be offended by them or you can promote freedom of speech but the fact is simply this:
With its handmade artwork, hand-sprayed disc and insert and carefully adorned box, ‘Unity/Solaris’ is one of those releases that you know means a great deal to its creator. This is not blind commerce, but the work of an artist, and it elevates the release from the ordinary to the extraordinary before you hear a note. It is remarkable, and yet heartening in these times of digitized anonymity, where so many bands are content to simply put an MP3 out on the net without thinking about how the work may be presented, that some artists are happy to buck the trend and produce something of real value for their followers. Even more remarkably, this is not a limited release. As the press release states: “there is no limit to the number of ”Unity/Solaris” CDs, as long as the man is alive.” The man is Toğrul, co-owner of Merdumgiriz and the multi-instrumentalist at the heart of Viranesir, the band behind the second half of this special split release.
However, before we get to Viranesir we have the mighty Survival, a West Coast punk/thrash band who have released a wide array of albums and eps ranging from full-on, carefully produced albums like ‘Shayda’ to super lo-fi recordings like ‘Hapiness’. Heavy, yet always varied, Survival’s output highlights the punk edge at the heart of thrash and throws in a few twisted psychedelic chops for good measure, and ‘Unity’ is one hell of a start to the split release.
Offering up five tracks overall, ‘Unity’ is a very strong release from Survival, the production perfectly matching the band’s ambitious arrangements. The opening track ‘welcome home’ is hardcore punch with a vicious metallic edge, all crunching palm-muted riffs and sneering vocals delivered with a power that shakes the room. Sitting somewhere between Hot Water Music and Anthrax (with a hint of Helmet for good measure), it packs a hefty punch and leaves the listener reeling. Better still is the brutal ‘mother of alchemy’ with its huge gang chant chorus, whilst the scything stop-start riffs of ‘Rig’ offers itself up as the EP’s most devastating workout. George Lallian’s bass is especially energetic here, but standing out above the wreckage of mangled riffs is Nick Noro’s tortured vocals which are delivered with a venom that has to be heard to be believed. The EP slows its relentless pace briefly with the swirling riffs of ‘Persevere’, a song that soon screams into life, Nick pinning brutalized hardcore vocals onto a complex, thrash-orientated track to create a snarling hybrid that would not sound out of place on the last Amebix record. Survival’s half of the record draws to a close with the arty title track, a piece that opens with backwards phased guitar and which goes on to offer up melody and power in equal measure. A complex, deeply satisfying finale it offers up some amazing guitar work as Nick Noro and Roland Sayn trade licks and it marks the end of an all-too-short EP with not a single low point.
Something of a contrast, to say the least, Viranesir are an experimental music project “Originally created to be the solo project of the fictional main… character in the film “Drink From The Fountain Of Uncertainty”” Somewhere along the line, Viranesir evolved into a three-piece and now produce music that is deeply unsettling. Operating on the very fringes of experimental death / black metal, Viranesir incorporate elements of early Swans, Darkthrone, early Darkthrone and even the doors into their swirling, miasmic sound. It is not pleasant music, and it deals with unpleasant topics, cleverly inverting the concepts of straight-forward politicised beliefs through confrontation, forcing those with a supposedly liberal agenda to expose their own desire to control and contain that with which they don’t agree. Such shock tactics are far from new in the metal underground, but Viranesir are more confrontational than most and a degree of caution is recommended for those of a sensitive disposition. Viranesir seem to share certain performance aspects with GG Alin, amongst others, but the use of the Swastika, for me at any rate, is a rather obvious way to offend people’s sensibilities whilst simultaneously testing the barriers of freedom. Whilst it is possible to argue that the forced removal of said image has more in common with fascism than simply wearing it devoid of political motivation, the adoption of the Swastika is so easy a red flag to wave that you’d imagine artists would find something else to use. Nonetheless, Viranesir’s basic truth seems to be a-political, amoral and motivated by a desire to normalize freedoms rather than have them remain the exclusive province of those liberally minded souls who would talk of freedom of speech whilst erasing all the scars of human conflict and the racial/sexual abuse that has, historically categorized human behaviour. It is the responsibility of the artist to confront, and it is arguably this confrontational edge that makes for such an interesting EP.
Unsurprisingly, ‘Solaris’ is far from an easy listen and ‘dream’s house’ is not unlike being trapped on a fairground ride in hell with its hypnotic riffs, fizzing, muffled production and slithery synth, yet there’s something deeply compelling about it all, and as it segues into the equally creepy ‘love’, the method at the heart of this madness starts to become clear. The lo-fi production, so jarring when it first emerged out of Survival’s heavy sound, is a thing of dark beauty, a claustrophobic sound that perfectly accentuates the dark heart that beats at the music’s core. ‘Night of the mare’ is more synth driven, with a gothic edge, sort of a cross between Burzum and Sisters of mercy before the title track closes things out with a chilling, child-like melody emerging from a nightmarish collision of churning guitar and rattling percussion. It’s dark, unyielding and clearly the work of an artist entirely uninterested in the norms of what might be called ‘civilised’ society, and it marks out Viranesir as one of the few bands who can truly be called ‘independent’, for they rely upon no system other than their own.
Split EPs are something of an anachronism. On the one hand, as they always have done, they allow fans the opportunity to hear new music cheaply and easily. On the other hand, in these days of digital promotion, they seem to be less essential than they once were when the only way to hear new music was to take the plunge and buy into a CD by an artist you had likely never heard. Nonetheless, I like the idea of bands joining forces thanks to stylistic or philosophical similarities (here it is the later rather than the former) and, with luck, this beautifully rendered split will allow fans of either band the chance to expand their horizons. Certainly, in this depressing age of digital conformity, the hand-made artwork is very much appreciated and it makes the release somewhat more special than a simple cardboard case might be. This is not music for the faint of heart and the stark contrast in musical styles may find some fans playing one half more than the other, depending upon their own personal favourite, but it’s worth the risk to uncover artists who retain the courage of their convictions in today’s ever blander and more heavily censored age.