overground scene

Propagandhi, intertextuality, and YouTube.

Propagandhi is one of my all-time favourite hardcore-punk bands, a band that constantly develops its style instead of resting on its laurels. They have proved themselves time and time again over their 25 years-long career. One of the things I really like about Propagandhi is that lyrically their songs are quite obscure. In some cases I find their lyrics relatively straightforward, but mostly I experience them as labyrinths of signifiers very difficult to navigate.

A classification I like, although I do find problematic at the same time, is the distinction between “readerly” and “writerly” texts. Barthes (1990) defines readerly texts as those that are there for passive consumption, whilst writerly texts are those meant for active consumption. The reason I am critical of the concept is because I am aware that lyrics I unproblematically decode are not “objectively” more straightforward, reactive, but rather deal with issues with which I happen to be familiar.

Nevertheless, I still think that the distinction between readerly and writerly texts is valuable. To the extent that there are forms and traditions that can be considered mainstream or hegemonic, and others that are counter-hegemonic, those two concepts have heuristic value. It could be argued that most of Propagandhi’s songs are writerly texts; their meanings are not immediately and unproblematically decipherable because they often deal with counter-hegemonic or non-mainstream topics. For this reason, they require dedication and cultural labour on behalf of the listener.

Indeed, I was recently reading the lyrics of “Rock for sustainable Capitalism” off their masterpiece titled Potemkin city limits (2005). It is clearly a song about the appropriation of underground protest music by the Capitalist music industry. The beginning of the song, however, eluded me completely; I had no idea what it was referring to. The same goes for another awesome song whose lyrics I happened to be reading one day, the song “Potemkin city limits” off Supporting caste (2009). The lyrics tell a story of oppression, escape, capture, and death, but the specifics of the story always eluded me.

Recently I found myself listening to “Rock for sustainable Capitalism” on YouTube. At some point I hovered over the comments section, and I came across a discussion that focused on the beginning of the song. Through this discussion I discovered that the song actually refers to Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards‘ song “To have and have not“. This discovery allowed me to appreciate the Propagandhi song even more, although I’ve been listening to it for 12 years. For the first time I appreciated the comedic element of Chris’s lyrics, and even now I find it hard to listen to the song without cracking up. I then looked for “Potemkin city limits” on YouTube. In this case, too, the mystery of the lyrics was quickly solved by reading the comments. The sad story of oppression and murder was about a pig that briefly escaped death in the abattoir and roamed free for months in the countryside, before it was eventually captured.

The YouTube user Tommy Lindberget informed the audience about Francis the pig.

“Rock for sustainable Capitalism” and “Potemkin city limits” are intertextual; they refer to other texts, and knowing those other texts reveals hidden meanings. One of the texts the former references is the Lars Frederiksen video clip. One of the texts “Potemkin city limits” references is a real-life text/urban legend of animal liberation, torture and murder. YouTube and music fans, in this case, work in unison forming an intertextual enabler (Fiske, 1991); YouTube gives the platform to music fans to produce commentary that reveals those hidden meanings that, in my case, were lying dormant in the song lyrics, waiting to be discovered.


Barthes, R. (1990) S/Z. London: Blackwell.

Fiske, J. (1991) ‘Moments of television: neither the text nor the audience’, in: Seiter, E. et al. (eds) Remote control: television, audiences and cultural power, London: Routledge, pp.56-78.


Favorite music moments from 2012

It is the time of the year again to account for all the beautiful music that bands from around the world gave us and, by doing this, made our lives a bit more worth living. The last few years I have come to realise that for different reasons I can no longer keep up with new developments in music. The most important of these reasons is that I do not have enough time to look for new music. The second reason is that I don’t associate with many people who keep up with new developments in music. Another reason is that I find it very difficult to appreciate something new, since I think that everything that is taking place nowadays has taken place, in only slightly different forms, many times before. Nothing really gives me the chills anymore. Anyway, some of my favorite and not-so-favorite bands and musicians released albums this last year: Paradise Lost, Napalm Death, Nile, Propagandhi, Killing Joke, Cannibal Corpse, Kreator, Six Feet Under, Dying Fetus, Serj Tankian, Unleashed, Grave, Tragedy, Testament, Aborted, and others.

Unleashed continued down the path that Fredrik has been leading them the last few years, that being a death-black hybrid which keeps many of the core elements of Unleashed intact while introducing some more melodic new touches. My personal take on the evolution of Unleashed is not very favorable. I find it impossible not being nostalgic of their more muddy, brutal and unsophisticated past.  The last time Grave put out an album that I thought was “God” was when they released Soulless. I found their experimentation in the early 2000s with more brutal-american influences interesting. The last few years they have returned to a more traditional Stockholm sound. Nevertheless I haven’t managed to enjoy none of their last three albums. I didn’t like Cannibal Corpse‘s new album either. It is obvious not only in the album but also in the interviews during the recording of the album that the band is nowadays making a conscious effort to revisit past glories and that the members are trying out old formulas, which to my ears sound unsuccessful. I really liked the last Nile album. I thought that it had some of the best songs they have ever written (e.g. The fiends…, The inevitable…). It cannot be denied that they keep providing excellent, hyper-brutal well-played, death metal albeit for many years now predictable. I also liked the new very melodic album by Kreator. Tiamat chose not to go down the experimental road of their last album this time around. Instead the new album reminds me of the Gothic-Rock style of Judas Christ. My expectations for the new Tragedy, the best and most influential band of the new (now old…) wave of brutal anarchist hardcore, album were extremely high and were not reached. Their new album is missing, in my opinion, the elements that made this band stick out among their contemporaries, namely the amazing melodies and twin guitar harmonies [note: since this post was first published I have re-evaluated this album and I think it is brilliant, albeit different from the previous ones]. Their heritage, nevertheless, has granted them a place on the pantheon of genius and socially/politically responsible/conscious musicians. If what they fancy playing at the moment does not agree with me, I am sure they do not give a shit, which gives me another reason to love them. So, my choices for 2012 are:

1. Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol


Expectations for the new Paradise Lost album were great, mainly because they have been releasing consistently amazing albums for many years now. I did not think it would be possible to create something better than their previous album, whose brilliance was beyond expectations. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised after the first listen of the new album. This album is more stripped down than the previous one. The keyboards are less and less prominent. In effect, this album is the closest they have ever been to the sound of Draconian Times. Yet, in many instances the melodies become weird and less straight-forward, reminding the distorted and out-of-tune ideas of Icon and Shades of God. At times the tunes are very familiar (e.g. Honesty in Death, Tragic Idol, Crucify), recreating the well-tried and successful recipe of the mid-nineties period. At other times they go down new untrodden paths, with weird voice-melodies and orchestrations (e.g. Fear of impending hell, Solitary one, Worth fighting for). The two elements responsible for making PL one of the best bands in the world, are as strong as ever on this album. Greg McKintosh is composing music as if there was no singer. Indeed each song could be an instrumental composition and it would still be excellent. Nick Holmes, on the other hand, comes up with excellent vocal-lines which do not merely compliment the already amazing music, but they instead take it to a whole new unreachable level. Lyricwise, it is not amazing. The lyrics are abstract and subjective as usual. They might make sense to Holmes or, again, might not. The lyrical strength of PL comes mainly from the clever use of fancy words in strategic parts of sentences. The production is very good. Overall, being a PL admirer for 17 years, I think that this album can stand proudly next to monuments such as Gothic, Icon and Draconian Times. It is impossible to choose favorite songs. Favorite moments include the slow middle part of “The glorious end” up until the end, the chorus and guitar solo of “To the darkness“, Nick’s deep-singing, bridge and chorus on “Tragic Idol“, and the part starting at 1:33 on “Fear of impending hell“.

2. Propagandhi – Failed States


Propagandhi also managed to keep up the extremely high level of powerful hardcore, while maintaining a high level of musicianship, that they have been creating for at least 12 years now. They have managed to create their own recognisable style, while re-inventing themselves with each new album. There is great balance between Tod’s brutal hardcore and Chris’s melodic hardcore. There is also perfect balance between political lyrics and personal lyrics. All songs have amazing ideas, some more straightforward yet dynamic and exciting such as in the case of “Things I like” and “Hadron collision“, some more complex, such as in the case of “Note to self” and “Unscripted moments”. All the songs on this album are laden with exciting chord progressions. The dissonance of “Rattan cane” and “Cognitive suicide” are accompanied by the traditional yet inventive punk-rock touches of “Devil’s creek“, linking the present and the past. The frantic pace of “Status update” and Chris’s singing reminds of the mighty MDC. I would like to think that in 30 years people will be looking back at this album in a similar way we look at classic albums by the Dead Kennedys and MDC, because it is worth it. “Unscripted moments” may well be my favorite song of 2012. Other favorite songs include “Note to self”, Hadron collision”, “Cognitive suicide”, “Things I like” …

3. Napalm Death – Utilitarian


Napalm Death can be trusted upon to deliver awesome sophisticated noise with every release. Since the present configuration of this band (i.e. Barney, Shane, Mitch, Danny, Jesse R.I.P.) came together 20 years ago, it has always offered varied, unconventional, brutal, challenging, invigorating grind-death. ND constitute a musical phenomenon. The familiarity/chemistry the members of the band have acquired/achieved over the years results in an almost unsettling over-confidence and ability to create songs that are undeniably more extreme, more inspired and, at the end of the day, better than any extreme band can even imagine to offer. These guys in their mid-forties can easily create more power than ten young extreme bands put together. ND are not only about brutality though. They can write songs in the old sense of song-writing, with choruses, bridges, and so on. Yet they always find ways to bend the rules and challenge the musical conventions. Sure it can be argued that over the years they borrowed elements form many other bands in order to enrich their sound, starting from Godflesh during their “Fear, emptiness, despair” experimentation. However, they always gave it their own spin and because of their remarkable chemistry they always ended up creating something unique. Their newest album has been praised by the press as an effort by the band to introduce even more new elements to their sound. I disagree. I indeed find this album to be magnificent, but there are no new elements. Every single thing found on this album (apart from the saxophone noise on “Everyday pox“) has been tried before by ND. Nevertheless, they manage to offer a series of amazing -the ND way- songs like no other band can, which are new and refreshing. On this album, my personal opinion is that Mitch’s songs are over-the-top excellent (The wolf I feed, Blank look about face, Orders of magnitude, Quarantined). Shane wrote some of the best songs on the album, which are also some of the best ND have ever written overall (Nom de guerre, Opposites repellent, Leper colony) but also the ones I like less (Collision course, Protection racket).

4. Imperial State Electric – Pop War


Nicke Andersson pulled off another small miracle with his new album. It took me a few listens to appreciate it. I found it a bit more varied than the previous album. Once again Imperial state electric offer stripped down 70s Rock, removing all the stupidity, arrogance and cock-rockery. Nicke manages to keep all the beautiful elements of this musical tradition, mixing it up with the pop-rock of the Beatles. The result is simple structures, catchy choruses, sweet and short guitar leads. A melancholic mood seems to be prevalent throughout this album. Nicke’s voice has gotten better over the years. His singing on “Deride and conquer“, “Waltz for Vincent“, “Sheltered in the sand” is beautiful and overwhelming. Not much can be said for an album that was meant to be simple and address in a direct manner the most elementary elements of our souls. Listening to this album, you will feel happy for no apparent reason, you will want to dance with no apparent reason, you will want to learn to play the guitar, you will want to sit by the window and be melancholic. Favorite moments, apart from the already mentioned three songs, include “Uh Huh“, “Back on main” and the ending of the album.

5. Serj Tankian – Harakiri

2ujxvtvc.j31Tankian’s new album was not among my favorite when I first wrote this post. Even though I did like it a lot and I thought that it was comprised of some amazing songs, I also thought that many songs were not anything special. However, the last few weeks I have come to recognise its brilliance so I decided to add it to this list. I think that this is nothing short of a masterpiece that everyone should listen. I think that it is an album that has the potential to enrich the musical lives and tastes of people who are used to listening to pop music.  Many of the melodies could be considered pop, but who said that popular music cannot be inspiring. Some songs have middle-eastern musical elements. Other songs are reminiscent of the more crazy structures of System of a Down.  Most songs have some mind-blowing bridges and choruses. The music and orchestration on songs like occupied tears are beautiful beyond words. The sarcasm and supposedly pedagogic intention in many songs moves me less. Weave on could have easily been written by Jello Biafra. Tankian’s extraordinarily amazing voice is key in the brilliance of this album. Personal best moments include: Harakiri, cornucopia, uneducated democracy, weave on, occupied tears, but seriously the album is a masterpiece so do yourselves a favour and listen to it.

What music the first decade of the millenium gave us

I can approach this question in two different ways, the following: what personally blew me away, what appears to have made an impact on the music scene. Let’s start with the second one and some comparison with the 90s. The 90s introduced some hallmark records and even scenes. The early 90s kicked off in the underground with swedish death metal and a sound that is being copied today by thousands of bands. These monumental albums include Entombed‘s Left Hand Path, Carnage‘s Dark Recollections and Dismember‘s Like an Ever Flowing Stream. The mid-90s offered the definitive death metal album, At The Gates‘ Slaughter of the soul, which also created a school of its own and even mainstream nu-metal bands today rip it off without even knowing they’re doing so! I won’t refer to the USA since the death metal revolution came earlier in the late 80s there, although there is still technical death metal monuments like all albums from Death, Cynic, and brutal technical death metal like Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse and Monstrosity. The late 90s, however, in the USA introduced a style that would eventually make its impact in the first few years of the 2000s. Other notable musical revolutions of the nineties include of course Grunge and Nirvana‘s Nevermind, whose success led to an unprecedented parade of grunge bands, Radiohead‘s OK Computer, which reinvented progressive rock, the Bristol scene with bands like Portishead, The Hives, whose monumental first album (accompanied by some post-punk albums of the late 70s-early 80s) sowed the seeds for an awful pop-rock generation of bands like Franz Ferdinand et al, and of course the re-invention of Garage-punk-rock, first with American bands like The Humpers, later on with Scandinavian bands like Turbonegro and The Hellacopters. Many other novel things can be said about this decade, on cover art (Dan Seagrave), video-clips (Tarshem Singh’s Losing My Religion), etc.  Now what about the 2000s?

I am afraid that as far as death metal goes, the only notable records that had an impact on the scene would be Dying Fetus‘s amazing Destroy the Opposition (2000) and Pig Destroyer‘s Prowler in the Yard (2001). Destroy the Opposition is a monument of sheer brutality, full of the infamous break-downs and blast-beats that today’s kids value so much. Of course, the origins of the new wave of brutal death metal scene that rose in prominence in the early 2000s (Origin, Disavowed, Disgorge, Severe Torture, many many more) can be found earlier in early Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Carcass, or even early Deeds of Flesh and Dehumanized. Nevertheless, the more recent additions to the scene, such as The Red Chord and more uninspired and plain silly bands such as Suicide Silence that seem to plague the brutal scene today, definitely owe much to Pig Destroyer and Dying Fetus. As far as softer metal goes, the first thing that comes in mind is System of a Down‘s Toxicity. A perfect album which has a little bit of something for everyone. I can describe it as thrash fuelled mainstream hardcore-punk. Many utterly insignificant nu-metal boy-bands tried to copy them and failed miserably, I don’t even remember their names. In pop-rock, the Hives‘ second album Veni Vidi Vicious (2000), with songs like Hate to say I told you so, gave the ultimate push to bands like Franz Ferdinand who then established this obnoxious “hiccups” pop-rock that half of the bands featured in NME (a british pop-rock magazine) play. In hardcore-punk some kind of an innovation that had an impact the scene hadn’t seen for many many years, came with brutal hardcore bands like Tragedy, Severed Head of State and From Ashes Rise. These bands influenced hundreds of underground bands around the world with their death metal infested d-beat hardcore. In a way, through paying attention to production and adopting a dark image, they have made hardcore-punk mainstream again. Cornerstones from this scene include Tragedy’s self titled album and Vengeance, Severed Head of State’s Anathema device and From Ashes Rise’s Nightmares. I honestly cannot think of something else that can be considered to have an impact on music the last ten years…

Now what personally blew me away! I have to admit that 80% of what I listen to came out before the mid-90s. However, there are some records that have definetely had a huge impact on me the last ten years. Here’s 20 of them:

1. Napalm Death – Enemy of the Music business (2000) The band’s first album for the millenium is their undisputed masterpiece, surrounded of course by previous and after masterpieces. However, this album’s  collaboration among musicians, musical variety, intensity and production are beyond belief! And the way it kicks off, ohhhhhh!!!

2. Dying Fetus – Destroy the Opposition (2000) The band’s third proper album, and not that much different from the previous one. However, the production in this album does justice to the capabilities of the musicians. Amazing break downs and grind, Kevin Taley is really unstopable, amazing vocals especially by Netherton, and the lyrics are just genious! It certainly kept me busy for at least two years and I still think that it paved the way on how modern death should sound. And the way it kicks off, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

3. Nomeansno – All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt (2006) After more than two decades the band keeps delivering awesome music. Less dark, a bit more happy but equally pessimistic with One and also a bit more punky, this album comprises a remedy in a world of talentless and uninnovative popular bands. And yes…the way it kicks off, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

4. Paradise Lost – Faith Divides us, Death Unites Us (2009) The entire Paradise Lost’s output over the last ten years deserves to be here! Probably the best thing metal music has to offer. The latest album is among the few albums that I feel like saying “I am proud I have lived to experience the release of this album!”. Hands down the best album of the year. My ears still cannot believe what they hear

5. Bad Religion – Process of Belief (2002) A great comeback for the band, after a couple of not so amazing albums. The new drummer definetely spiced things up and of course the same goes for the return of Brett Gurewitz. The power of this album and the diversity of songs is unique.

6. Tragedy – Vengeance (2002) A cornerstone of the new wave of brutal hardcore. Some Bolt Thrower and Amebix touches mixed with british and swedish d-beat (and why not some melodies bring in mind Strebers!) and two AMAZING singers make the difference. Dolefull, polemic, offensive, heavy and intense. Vengeance is among the best songs ever writen.

7. Propagandhi – Today’s Empires, tomorrow’s Ashes (2001) See previous post on the best punk albums from North America…

8.  Sokratis Malamas – Ena (2002) A composer that has influenced me a lot and is capable of doing what greek people say “education of the soul” (ψυχαγωγία), instead of entertainment. An album that sounds extremely personal, even though most of the lyrics belong to other artists/poets. Nevertheless, this somewhat outright cooperation with some genious lyricists gave birth to this gem of contemporary music. Traditional, ethnic, classical and modern influences blent together make this album so precious to me. (της σιωπης)

9. Thanasis Papakonstantinou – Vrachnos Profitis (2000) Everything I say for the previous artist apply here as well. The only difference is that here rock music is ever present  in the mix, a venture tried many times before by various greek artists but never had this result.

10. The Hellacopters – High Visibility (2000) One of the best things that happened in the world of music the last 20 years. This album, which kicks off exactly like TYR from Black Sabbath, has both the energy of the previous ones with the bluesy feeling of the ones that followed. What is amazing about this album, and this band in general, is that it manages to distill all the good elements of 60s and 70s rock and to throw away all the cock-rock mentality. This album makes me wanna play the guitar!

11. Broken Hope – Grotesque Blessings (2000) Monumental album which also set new standards in death metal. This album is unconventional and honest. It is totally unique in the sense that it sounds like nothing else. The melodies are from another dimension, and the lyrics are ingenious! An album that I never got bored of, because it has so much detail in its inventive structures. Masterpiece!

12. Immolation – Unholly Cult (2002) I was not sure if I should put this or the previous album here. The reason why I chose this one, is because it is more accessible. It has songs that you can remember, with bridges, choruses and everything. And they are all inspired like hell! I realised after years of listening to death metal, that at the end of the day what matters is not a thousand notes per minute or a hundred riffs per song. What matters is a good structure with a begining and an end, and songs that will be different from each other on their entirety as entities and not as riffs glued together. This is what Immolation always delivered.

13. Death Breath – Stinking Up the Night (2006) You have Nicke’s compositional skills, music and lyrics,  and Jorgen’s and Scott’s voice in one album. What else can one wish for? Christ all fucking mighty must be one of the best songs ever writen…

14. Entombed – Serpent Saints (2007) New line-up and a fierce return to 100% death metal for Entombed. Arguably the record I’ve been looking forward to for more than a decade (although I love all entombed albums before that)! Again here we have an amazing beginning and ending of the album, just like old times. In between we have a big variety of amazing songs, one better from the other! Once again old bands show how music should be played, and that does not include flawless musicianship, a thousand notes per minute and fake plastic productions, just passion and inspiration.

15. New Model Army – Carnival (2005) Surrounded by new musicians, Sullivan makes an impressive return with both this and the previous album (Eight). Much heavier and organic sound in relation to a glorious past, this album has made me think, close my eyes and travel to places I’ll never be and it has made me cry.

16. Slayer – World Painted Blood (2009) Not too much to say here. Slayer are gods! Are they the best group to have walked the earth? Why not! With their new album they demonstrate that only they can do what they do and no matter how many years will pass, no matter how much more extreme scenes will emerge, Slayer will always be able to make you wanna jump out of your body!!! Since I got the new album a couple of months ago, each time I listen to it I feel like I’m in a Slayer concert and I seriously want to hit somebody. Best song of the decade is Beauty Through Order!

17. The Partisans – Idiot Nation (2004) See previous post on the best punk albums from the UK…

18. Disfear – Live the Storm (2008) A monolith of brutal hardcore and a testimony of the state of humanity in the 21st century. All the angst and fears that we experience in an average day and refuse to admit to ourselves. At the same time it is a call to arms, although it does not spell out how… What can you do? Anyway music is supposed to heal the soul, if that will eventually cause a revolution it will be coincidental and I doubt it.

19. The Knife – Deep Cuts (2003) Not exactly my type of music, but still this album is so attractive that I don’t think is possible for anyone to resist. I don’t know how to describe it or why I think it is so important, I just love it.

20. Zeke – Death Alley (2001) Finally the record which I think symbolises the lust for life, having fun, partying and listening to all types of rock ‘n roll music, hehe. Oh, and of course our love for Satan…Amen.

Vegeterianism, post-vegeterianism and Propagandhi
April 22, 2009, 12:58 pm
Filed under: Brighton, gigs, people, punk | Tags: , , ,

I got to see Propagandhi performing live a couple of days ago. The concert was awesome, although I did not like the venue (Concorde 2 in Brighton). Also I did not expect to see so many people!

Propagandhi is one of the most innovative and inspired extreme bands ever. Their first album (i.e. How to clean everything) was a really powerful, energetic and innovative one, bringing together elements from different genres into a very unique blend. The second album (i.e. Less talk more rock) was an excellent album and the one in which Propagandhi found their identity. Even though it sounds pop in relation to the next albums, it still has elements ubiquitous in their career thenceforward. Lyricwise, they have some of the most thoughtful, artistic and liberating lyrics ever, continuing the heavy legacy of bands like the Dead Kennedys. Their subsequent albums, (Today’s empires…, Potemkin…) instantly made them one of the most important bands of the 21st century (for me at least: you can see my opinion on the former in a previous post on the 15 best punk albums of north america). But canada always offered some of the most innovative and great music! Voivod, one of the pioneers of Thrash, successfully incorporated punk elements in their music (even before Amebix!). Slaughter, one of the pioneers of death metal! More recent bands like Cryptopsy and Kataklysm (until the late 90ties) gave lessons of technical and extremely brutal death metal that no one had heard of before! When it comes to punk, suffice to say that the enormous “Subhumans” are from Canada (they released an excellent album a couple of years ago as well!), DOA, and more recent bands like the unique Ballast (a Canadian version of Post Regiment). Of course Nomeansno are from Canada, the most respectful and awesome band ever!

Propagandhi continue their legacy of awesome albums, with this year’s “supporting caste”. It goes down the path paved by potemkin and today’s empires. However, it is less monumental and epic in relation to potemkin. Like Today’s empires (and to less extent potemkin), it has 3 extremely brutal songs sung by (and probably written by) Tod. In the concert the other night, I was a bit disappointed he didn’t sing at all (this means, no fuck the border…). Anyway, the album is a masterpiece! I cannot choose favorite songs right now, but I can say that I have listened more to “This is your life”, “Without love”, “Incalculable effects“, “Dear coach’s corner” and “Supporting caste” .

In one of the songs (i.e. Humane meat), the topic of “post-vegeterianism” is being discussed. I didn’t know about it until I listened to the album. Apparently, it is a philosophy whereby after you come to realise that the circle of life unavoidably entails the taking of one life to support the other, then it is ok to eat meat! According to this view, even the cutting of a plant or of a fruit is murder, just like killing a cow. Yes, slaughtering a pig, listening to its screams, looking at its desperate eyes is the same as cutting a cabbage. Get a life!

my 15 best albums of north-american punk

In a country as big as the USA, and as influential in terms of contemporary mainstream music, picking out 15 albums from a music scene is a hard task. The US is the place were punk was born. Some people disagree with this, ignoring the simple fact that the RAMONES started playing in 1974, and claim that the Sex Pistols were the first punk band ever. Maybe if they listen to songs like “Looking for a kiss” from the first New York Dolls album, they may figure out where Rotten got its singing style. In any case the sex pistols launched punk in the UK and killed it at the same time, by turning it into a comercial joke. I still cannot believe that even today there are some people who are offended by the slogan “Punk is Dead”.

Lets get back to America. By saying north American punk I refer to all kinds of punk, may it be pop-punk (stupid title I never went along with it), skate-punk, hardcore-punk, anarcho-punk, and so on. There is also cookie-punk, or else turquise-punk or scoobie doo-punk which are titles we have come up with my friends in Greece to characterise bands like greenday, millencolin, nofx, blink 182, etc. So, from the oldest to the newest:

1. Ramones – Leave Home (1977)


The Ramones are for me the cornerstone of punk music. They have all the elements I am looking for in a punk band. Most importantly, I need the drums to sound like the Ramones. If they don’t, it’s not punk. The second Ramones album is my favourite because it is the album to which I have danced more than any other album in my life. It has a 100% rock n roll feeling but in a totally different context, with simplistic structures, drums, guitars and bass that can be played by absolute beginners. Yet, all the songs are so inspired and all the melodies will stick on your mind forever. Chord progressions like in the chorus of “commando”, were meant to become a guide for composing punk songs. Favourites: “oh oh, I love her so“, “Commando“, “I remember you”, “Swallow my pride”. “Gimme gimme shock treatment”.

2. Circle Jerks – Group Sex (1980)


It is hard to comprehend that this album came out in 1980. A record whose speed and intensity are unbelievable even today. I cannot remember how I reacted when first listened to “red tape” but I am sure my jaw dropped. “Operation” is indeed a statement of our times, funny but dead serious at the same time, “Live fast die young” is an all time classic ‘into the pit’ song, “I just want some skunk” is furious. In spite of the fact that it is less than 20 minutes, it is varied and all inclusive and certainly provides with a sufficient dose of neck-breaking hardcore. However, the term hardcore is really not enough to describe the richness of this album. It is a shame the albums that followed were indifferent.

3. Adolescents – s/t (1981)


The combined geniuses of Rikk Agnew, Casey Royer, Steve Sotto, et al. shine in this album which is the definition of O.C. punk. I consider Rikk Agnew as my all time favourite punk composer and overall one of the great personalities of punk music. His first personal album is a true gem, and the only reason I put this album here instead of his personal is…I do not know why. Anyway, at least two of the best songs ever recorded are included here: “Kids of the Black Hole” and “No Friends”. Agnew’s melodies over the main riffs are ubiquitous and make the compositions special. Songs like “Amoeba” or “Creatures” are blueprints of the o.c. sound. The band proves in songs like “self destruct” or “word attack” that when it comes to faster more hardcore sound they are still capable of writing inspired songs.

4. Agent Orange – Living in Darkness (1981)


If I had to choose the most serious record the Californian scene has produced, Living in darkness would have to be the one. So much a typical Californian sound and at the same time so different from the rest of the scene. Eight songs, each one an instant classic. Ok, I have to admit that if I listen one more time to “Misirlou” I will puke, but it is not their fault. A quite melancholic album in general, with songs like “A cry for help…”, being timeless testaments of the alienated contemporary society. Palm sounds jaded and saddened by the passing of years, loneliness and short-lived human relationships. All songs are perfect, but my two favourites are “cry for help…” and “everything turns grey“.

5. True Sounds Of Liberty – Dance with Me (1981)


Another album-definition of Californian punk. Hymns like “Abolish government” or “superficial love” are not included here, but others are. A dark record with perfect guitars and drums, some unbelievably good lyrics (e.g. “The triangle”, “80 Times”, “Peace through Power”) and some unbelievably bad lyrics (e.g. “Code blue”). Grisham (vocals) sounds a lot like Biafra sometimes but they started about the same period. Barnes is my personal favorite drummer and together with Tommy from the Ramones, the definition of punk drummer. The riffs and melodies are most of the time far from the typical punk. The frequently changing time signatures are another interesting aspect of their music, since then copied by bands like System of a Down (e.g. any system of a down song sounds a lot like the ending of “I’m tired of life”). Favourites: “The triangle”, “80 times”, “Die for me”, “Peace through power”.

6. MDC -Millions of Dead Cops (1981)


An angry political hardcore album from the early 80s in which two or three songs were meant to become classic. The guitars are insane and the riffs are ahead of their time (just like the Bad Brains and DK). All songs are hyperfast and the singer is awesome, among the greater punk vocalists of all time. Openly gay, Dictor’s lyrics criticise in a clever way the fascist homophobic American society, with best example the chorus “…What makes America so straight and me so bent?”. The fury, the riff, the incredible lyrics of “John Wayne was a nazi” are beyond the imagination. The chorus of “Born to Die” is a timeless slogan (“No War, No KKK, No Fascist USA”). My family is a little weird resembles “Sick Boy” by GBH but they came out around the same time… So I cannot tell who stole whom. Certainly a cornerstone of hardcore music. Fast, powerful, technical and political.

7. Minor Threat – s/t (1981)


Even though it is not a standard album but a compilation of the first two 7” ep’s it is a big part of hardcore history. Only MDC are equally furious, but in a more ‘metal’ way. Minor threat are furious in a 100% punk way. Clever riffs, frenetic drums and great vocals, on some of the greatest hardcore songs ever. Even though I am against the philosophy of “Guilty of being white” (in fact I think that its message – absolving white people of their racist crimes – is horrible) I think it is one of the best song ever written! In fact all songs are monuments of how hardcore-punk should sound. Again no one ever managed or attempted as far as I know to copy them because it is impossible (although Pantera’s song “strength beyond strength” starts exactly like “Guilty…“). Their “out of step” album is equally perfect and more coherent, though much slower.

8. Dead Kennedys – Plastic Surgery Disasters (1982)


Even though the first album is a masterpiece and probably the most important album from that scene in America, “Plastic surgery…” is my personal favourite. When I first listened to it I was sure that I would never listen to a more complete album ever. I still don’t think I have. By far the best orchestration I have ever listened to in a punk album. The changes on “Forest fire” and the lead guitar when Biafra sings”….and hey, what about that cocaine…”, the fury with which it continuous with “…where’s your brand new pretty wife…”, the guitars on “dead end”, the riff of “Buzzbomb”, the lyrics of “Terminal prepie”!!! What about the boiling tension of “Riot” and that amazing bass-line! This might be one of the most chaotic and tense songs ever written. Biafra, Ray, Peligro and Flouride give their best performance ever. Really a masterpiece of flawless compositions and variety.

9. Misfits – Walk Among Us (1982)


Misfits is a name with negative connotations in Greece, because of its connection with hooligans and their football clubs (Misfits 7 is a club of violent olympiakos’ fans) and generally it is considered a band admired by brainless fans. It is certainly not the band with a serious punk ideology, and their lyrics are full of sexism and violence, and would easily fit into a heavy metal band. If we muster up the strength to ignore sexism and focus on the music, we are confronted with some of the best rock’n’roll in history.  This album has the best melodies and some really fun lyrics. The key quality of this record is that it is enthousiastic and makes you wanna dance. It has incredibly intelligent choruses, every single song is a surprise and the BEST vocals EVER. Here’s a cool video of “I turned into a martian” and the incredible “All hell breaks loose“.

10. Bad Brains – Rock for Light (1983)


When it comes to punk, Bad Brains stick out from the rest bands. Their genius is admitted by most bands of that era (late 70s early 80s). However, their influence is not easily recognisable. This happens for the reason that they simply cannot be copied! The funny thing is that I cannot explain what they were listening in order to play the way they did. I don’t mean the reggae songs, but the punk ones. The riffs would remind me death or grind riffs, but the Bad Brains came first! So, what were they listening to play the riff of “FVK” or the riff in the middle of “We will not” just before the solo? The brutal vocals on “Riot Squad” surely had an effect on early death or grind bands. The tempo of “Big Takeover” is among the highlights of the album. Bass, drums, guitars and vocals are from another planet, not only at the time of its release but even in terms of contemporary music.

11. Youth Brigade – Sound and Fury (1983)


Stern brothers’ first album has everything one can ask for from California. Fun, speed, rage, thoughtful lyrics and melody blend together in the most beautiful way. When I first listened to the record I found traces of British Oi punk (in “Men in blue”, “What are you fighting for”) which made it even more interesting. This album contains the famous oozin ahs Bad Religion use, before Bad Religion. It also contains the punk hymn “Sink With California“. Favourites; “blown away” (the chorus-the ending are unique), “What are you fightin for”, “Sink with California”, “What will the revolution change?”.

12. Bad Religion – No Control (1989)


It is extremely difficult to pick one out of more than ten perfect albums B.R. have released since 1981. Even if someone would hold them responsible for all the bad taste and downfall of today’s mainstream American punk scene, that does not mean that they should not be among the greatest bands ever in music history. Suffer, No control and Against the Grain are my favourite B.R. albums but No control is the first one I listened to, so I choose this one. A 100% original band with Graffin borrowing elements from traditional American music, making the difference. The melodies are unprecedented and the choruses are the best. A record to dance to forever. Highlights: “No control”, “Big Bang“, “Automatic man”, “I wanna conquer the world”, “you”, “It must look pretty appealing”.

13. Nomeansno – Wrong (1989)


A Nomeansno album should be in this list, not only because they are one of the most sophisticated and innovative punk bands, but because they continue releasing extremely perfect albums as well. Wrong is somehow a turn in the bands sound, employing a more punk attitude. In this album one can find songs with so intricate and clever orchestrations, that no matter how much technocratic bands can turn, will never top them. The chorus of “The Tower”, a majestic song that deserves to be among the best songs ever, “It’s catching up”, “brainless wonder”, are among these songs. Songs like “tired of waiting” or “the tower” are songs that every hardcore wannabe band would envy. Other uptempo songs like “Oh no Bruno” or “Two lips…” are more Ramones-like but still exciting and make you wanna dance. Overall, clever lyrics, great music but also technique, something not so common in punk bands, but definetely punk. I like to call it Zappunk or Punk Zappa!

14. Reagan Youth – Volume 1 (1989)

The first complete Reagan Youth album is huge (recorded in 1983-4). The guitars are twisted and the singer delivers some of the best vocals ever. “Anytown” is one of my favourite songs of all time and lyric-wise is a true gem. Music-wise the album in general has some of the most twisted riffs ever which create a stressful atmosphere. Best examples are “new aryans” and “in dog we trust” with that lead guitar on the latter imitating an ambulance siren and creating an unbearable tension! “Degenerated” and “Gonowhere” represent heavy critiques of punk lifestyle and yet are extremely enjoyable. All great songs with great lyrics and most importantly, original.

15. Propagandhi – Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s ashes (2001)


After much thought I decided to put one relatively recent record in this list. Even though there are huge bands that I have not chosen, Propagandhi are here because they are gods. Propagandhi have it all. They think critically about societal issues, their lyrics are beautiful and they are proficient musicians. Furthermore, they draw on different genres and create something very interesting and inspired. This album is unbelievably perfect. It is fast, sentimental, brutal and the lyrics are perfect. The songs “Fuck the border” and “bullshit politicians” are too good to be true.

p.s. For bands that deserved to be here and are not like Subhumans (Canada), Jerry’s Kids, D.I., Middle Class, Germs, Descendents, Tragedy, Brother Inferior, Ballast, Zeke, I will make it up to them in the future!