A long time ago, the people of Sweden figured out something about crust-punk: It doesn’t have to sound like ass. It’s supposed to sound like ass, of course. It’s practically encoded in the name of the subgenre. From Discharge on, crust bands have been recording their frantic, righteous, spartan form of tribalist hardcore on the fast-and-cheap — figuring, perhaps, that muddy guitar sounds and hissy drums would only increase the urgency of the music they were playing. Plenty of times, they were right. When I was a teenager going to DIY punk shows in Baltimore, there was a whole universe of these bands, and they always sounded exciting as hell; it never occured to me to question their rigor. But in Sweden, where the crust tradition is all tied up with the country’s triumphant and punk-informed take on death metal, things were different.
A prime example is Live The Storm, the 2008 album from the long-running band Disfear. That album was as badass as punk rock gets: gargantuan gang-chant choruses, rocketing tempos, mercilessly driving hooks, vocals that sounded like a demonic basement show in some lost circle of hell, absolutely no moments of wankery anywhere. But in that version of Disfear, some of the musicians came from A-list death metal bands like At The Gates and Entombed, so they knew what they were doing. The band would be blasting away, mud flying in all directions, when a fiery guitar solo would suddenly blaze up out of nowhere, shining like a beacon. It was enough to make your heart sing. Disfear also had hooks, and it says something about Sweden’s love of melody that it applies even to the nastiest, most antisocial forms of music that the country produces. And List, the new one from Disfear’s countrymen and allies Martyrdöd, operates in pretty much the same way.
Martyrdöd have been around for 15 years, and they’re seven albums in. Members of the band play in various other aesthetically aligned bands, and they’re connected to Disfear by, like, two degrees. They’re professionals, if the term “professional” can possibly apply to a style of music that sounds like disenfranchised swamp monsters rising up against an oppressive swamp-monster regime, and they’ve mastered their aesthetic. I honestly have no idea whether frontman Mikael Kjellman is singing in Swedish or English or Swamp-Monsterese, and it doesn’t much matter. This band plays fast, simple, thundering music with fire and dedication and excitement. There’s classic D-beat in their sound, and there’s also soaring, melodic death metal. The way they play it, the two disparate genres might as well be the exact same thing. And for those of us who have trouble with metal when it’s not at least a little bit punk, it’s the sort of thing where you find yourself involuntarily punching the air on first listen.
There is exactly one quiet moment on List: The short instrumental “Drömtid,” a ritualistic, circular acoustic-guitar hymn that’s almost over the second it begins. The rest of the time, this is total blast-force music: guitars buzzing like angry hornets, drums locked into the same furniture-falling-down-stairs pattern, a singer who sounds like he’s on a mission to irreparably damage his own vocal chords as quickly as possible. It’s hard picking a highlight, since the whole thing blurs together into an undifferentiated fog of rage, though album closer “Transmission,” with its slowed-down epic trudge of an opening riff, is the sort of thing I’d want to hear while marching to the ring if I were a pro wrestler. But the whole thing is so brutal and righteous and short and fun that it doesn’t need highlights; you can just plug right into it and let it change your body chemistry.
There’s been lots of talk that a Donald Trump presidency could lead to a renaissance of anger in punk rock. I tend to think that line of thinking is bullshit. Eight years of George W. Bush did basically nothing for punk, and Trump seems more likely to just bum everyone out and make us feel useless. And anyway, List was recorded before Trump’s win, by a bunch of hard-faced men who come from a rich quasi-socialist democracy and who, for all I know, live on government grants. Donald Trump is presumably not that much of a pressing concern to them. But listening to List, I’m ready to believe in the power of punk rock all over again. It’s the sort of album where, if you hear it in the right mood, you feel an old fire starting to burn within yourself again. The album is a resource — the sort of thing that can help convert rage into joy and maybe, hopefully, into action.
List is out 11/25 on Southern Lord.
Other albums of note out this week:
• The Weeknd’s as yet unheard, Daft Punk-heavy Starboy.
• Witchery’s blackened thrash attack In His Infernal Majesty’s Service.
• Minor Victories’ instrumental companion LP Orchestral Variations.
• Kate Bush’s triple-LP live opus Before The Dawn.
• The Polyvinyl Plays Polyvinyl covers compilation.
• Flume’s Skin Companion EP.
• Dowager’s Title Track EP.
• Breast Massage’s Cruisin’ For Filth EP.