Tuesday, December 14, 2004

BLAH BLAH BLAH…

Xmas time… it kinda loses its magic once you grow up. I don’t hate it, I just don’t need it. Work parties, obligations, copious amounts of alcohol consumed. It’s a hard life. In the meantime, I’ve had to zilch time to aimlessly meander on this blog about all the great music clogging up my life, until now.

THE GROUNDHOGS were a UK hard-blues combo headed up by one Tony McPhee in the early ‘70s, a kind of “people’s band” in the mode of the MC5, Hawkwind and the Edgar Broughton Band. An outfit w/ a weird combination of current-day fans (you can count the likes of Ian MacKaye, Stephen Malkmus(!), David Tibet, Stephen Stapleton and various Ugly Things contributors in there), they’re a group I’ve heard of for years, but have only recent been exposed to their amazing sounds. Start with their Split LP from 1970 and work your way down from there. I scored a cheap, secondhand copy last week and have given it a thorough hiding with the needle ever since.

The history of post-1960s “blues-rock” is not a pretty one. When I think of “blues-rock”, I think of the tiresome, indulgent ‘70s crapola which lit the fire of overweight, tracksuit-pant-wearing, socially-challenged deadbeats worldwide. We’re talking John Mayall, Rory Gallagher, Free, etc. There’s also the absolute worst elements of Led Zep’s “blooze” shenanigans one has to contend with. In short, outside of the hard R & B experiments many a Brit/US (and elsewhere) moptop engaged in throughout the mid ‘60s, blues-rock is not a genre I have much time for.

The beauty of the Groundhogs is that, like Hendrix, they took the basic elements of the blues – the riffs, time signatures, pounding drums – and caked it in a sea of guitar distortion and took their songs to glorious and occasionally ludicrous peaks of aggression. The highlight for Split is “Cherry Red”, the first song on the B-side. It has a fairly standard Muddy Waters-style riff and beat present. In lesser hands, it could bore a man into a coma. With McPhee on board, and an airtight rhythm section working in perfect unison, the track becomes a heaven-sent slab of proto heavy metal/punk with a riff you wish would never end. Interspersed with spastic outbreaks of guitar freakouts flying in every direction possible, it’s a 5-minute song I only wish was at least twice as long. My quarter-arsed too-hot-to-live band will attempt to demolish it this Saturday night in front of actual human beings. Wish me luck, I may just need it.

Most unusually, at least for UK blues-rock, McPhee also has a really good set of pipes. It’s not a growl or a howl, and definitely doesn’t sit with the painful-beyond-human-description Clapton school of white-boy facial contortions, but more closely resembles the throat of your average cool early ‘70s UK art-punk/metal/rock screamer, a la Twink/Hawkwind. I haven’t spun the A-side as much as I should, yet, but the B-side is a start-to-finish winner all the way. “A Year In The Life” possesses an awesome drone and McPhee’s sorrowful vocals; “Junkman” is a rambling semi-acoustic number which sounds like it could’ve been lifted off Hawkwind’s debut; and “Groundhog”, more traditionally “blues” than anything else on the disc, still possesses enough dirt under its nails to easily hold the attention of a diehard cynic like myself. The Groundhogs: my new favourite band for the next 48 hours or more.

END. That’s the name of the band. They are/were a black metal outfit from Greece, of all places. You can blame Oren Ambarchi for getting me into these guys. I had no say in the matter. He simply throws the CD in front of your eyes, tells you they’re a band to be reckoned with, and before you know it you’re walking out of the store (that’s Metropolis, by the way) a poorer man. Well, it’s not quite that easy: I always give such things a listen first, but this time he was right. End “rock”. Much like Burzum, if you were to not let on that this was a group of gentlemen decked out in ridiculous corpsepaint and mile-high studs with a penchant for howling at the moon and singing songs bemoaning their hatred for humanity and their love for the Dark One, you’d convert your average “noise-rock” schmuck in a second. But for me, it’s the make-up and studs – and their Greek heritage… I mean, these are Greek kids aping the Odin-worshipping antics of Norwegian Black Metal. Go figure that out – that make End what they are. And that is, a really fucking unreal rock ‘n’ roll band. Maybe they’re in reality just a bunch of smirking u/ground hipsters having a dabble and the joke’s on me. I don’t know, and care even less.

Upon purchase, I thought their two albums were fairly contemporary, but now I notice a songwriting credit given to the year 1995 in the notes to their second CD, so who knows when these came out. For the record, their albums are imaginatively titled End and End II. Both are housed in the standard black/white/grey artwork one expects from the genre, with II featuring a handsome booklet on corrugated-style mat paper. Here’s a sample of the lyrics from the song “Humanitarianism”: “Heyy… human slut! / I’m here again! / Do you still have your brain in your nuts? / Do you still have your eyes? Your grave-roots? / Heyy!... human slut! / Listen to me! Slut! / Your carnage stinks! / You stink deceit! / What a throne little human! / What a throne! / Do you really enjoy it? / To reign from a crapper?”. Well, do you still have your grave-roots? OK, so it’s not Tolstoy, but a point has been made. And if you know that point, you’d better write to me and let me know.

Sure, this is pretty dumb stuff, possibly as low brow as a man could get, but I’ve always held the belief that sometimes the greatest of rock ‘n’ roll can also be the most stupid. Not always, and End are most certainly not “one of the greats”, though they float my boat for the moment, and that’s good enough. The music? A mixture of Burzum/Darkthrone-style wall-of-noise guitar treble, screeching, necro vocal howls and amazing blastbeats (with a drummer who actually doesn’t sound like he’s belting away on old cardboard boxes). Brew that in with several, token “atmospheric” tracks featuring acoustic guitars, keyboard washes and ghostly cries and animal grunts, and even the occasional Swans-ish stomper, and you have the two albums by Greece’s End. I figured I’d run the black metal well dry after only half a dozen purchases – you know: stick to the classics and leave it at that – but as with just about any genre, you find these little cracks, and sometimes it’s the bands no-one seems to care about which are making the more interesting music. Well, duh. For some, this kinda schtick is a headrush into a truly bizarre, alien subculture, and for others it’s the most goddamn ridiculous pile of brainless, unlistenable dogshit one could imagine. You can decide for yourself, because I know which side of the fence I stand on.

For info from an almost unreadable web site (dark green and black don’t really mix), go here.

ROCKET SCIENCE programmed Rage last Saturday night so I sat up with a few friends to watch it. That last statement will mean nothing to just about anyone non-Australian reading this. Rage = long-running late-night music video show on Friday and Saturday nights, which usually on a Saturday has a guest host playing their favourite songs. Rocket Science (RS) = guest hosts for the night. RS feature several veterans of the Australian undieground music scene, most noticeably ex-members of bands like the Philistines and the Martians (amongst others), and are, strangely enough, kinda "popular" down here. Since I know Roman and Dave from the group – and that’s no boast; you know, anyone who made it their part-time occupation to hang around the GB and/or Tote (two seedy Melbourne music dives) throughout the ‘90s would know these guys – I was keen to see what they picked. Rocket Science, as a band, I can take or leave. Standard-fare garage rock with nary a spark to be seen and not a hook to rest on, their music puts me to sleep, though the tunes they picked for the show didn’t.

I missed the first 45 minutes, but got there in time to see God’s “My Pal”, live in the ABC studio from 1988. I had that performance on video for years from when it was originally on at the time, and it was a treat to see after what must have been a decade-long absence: high school-period Joel, Tim, Sean and Matty awkwardly ripping out the teen anthem of the day, a song which, weirdly enough, has metamorphisised into some kind of “Australian indie classic” almost on a par with the Saints’ “(I’m) Stranded”, and one which may be playing at a semi-cool nightclub near you.

The rest? Your typical Birthday Party and Scientists clips (if I see “Nick the Stripper” one more time…), though at least the ScientistsCountdown performance from 1981, when they were still merely an eccentric power-pop band and were yet to explore the depths of their fuzz pedals, was a sight to behold.You also had your predictable selection of friends’ bands they probably felt an obligation to play (I won’t mention any names); a hilarious Cameo video featuring a codpiece and a lycra bodysuit (I’m going to have to find that 7”) and even a little Boredoms and Merzbow, which may shock some, but let it be said: the individual members’ musical taste in RS is far more eclectic/eccentric than the actual music they create. A good night in!

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