In a bid to evidence politicians from all sides of the house as having both a sense of humour and a reverence for ancient British sitcom, ‘Dad’s Army’ (1968 to 1977), recent exchanges across the floor laboured to utilise well-known (albeit generationally specific) catch phrases from the show, such as ‘they don’t like it up them’, ‘do you think that’s wise, sir?’, and ‘don’t tell them your name, Corbyn’. This hackneyed interface climaxed with the wry observation, originally uttered by the fictional Walmington-on-Sea-based platoon’s incalcitrant real life ex-undertaker and former Chief Petty Officer on HMS Defiant, Private Frazer (John Laurie): ‘we’re all doomed’. Not only is this statement resonant in terms of its nihilistic portent, it also forms the basis of this month’s column: fight or flight?
It could be argued that life is a series of Kübler-Ross models. An ever decreasing cycle of loss. From the moment we are born, we begin the inexorable march towards an inevitable death. Where once our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors used our fight or flight response at the crack of a twig whilst foraging in a forest, or at the growl of a predator whist at a natural spring, these days we use it to decide whether to lamp the dude at the water cooler droning on about Season 2 of ‘Narcos’, or instead go fetch another large latte with a shot of caramel from Cafe Uno. After all, if your coffee order is longer than three words, then you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Developing this theme musically, this month I have been caught between two obsessively compulsive stools, that of traditional protest punk (fight), and nihilistic escapist doom (flight). The past few week’s have been a veritable genre war in what passes for my mind.
Exhibit #1: Ever since their debut EP dropped on Toxic State back in the debris of 2015, NYC’s mommy have had a firm grip on the ‘best band in Nuke Yoik’ crown. A trio, comprised of bass, drums and vocals, interspersed with harrowing samples and vague sonic interference, mommy tackle the prickly subject of mental health in the age of dislocation, with alarming resonance. The affects of five years of austerity on mental health services across the Western half of the globe have decimated an already stretched sector to breaking point. The harder Uber Capitalism comes, the harder we fall.
In terms of the situation here in the UK, The Guardian sums the situation up thus: “A cross-party inquiry by MPs into the funding of mental health services has received more than 95,000 personal submissions in an unprecedented display of anger over the state of the NHS. One woman who submitted testimony linking the lack of support to suicide rates said the failure of the system to respond to people in trouble was often “what pushes you over the edge”. She wrote: “I’m scared my husband could become one of these statistics.”
A separate YouGov poll commissioned and crowdfunded by the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees found that 74% of voters believe that funding for mental health should be greater or equal to funding for physical health. The amount actually spent on mental health by the NHS last year, despite government pledges to establish parity, was just 11.9% of overall NHS spending. Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the public accounts committee holding the inquiry, said the scale of the response underlined the strength of feeling that mental health was being underfunded. “We shall question NHS England and the Department of Health on how they can meet the government’s pledges,” she said. The poll findings come as a new report, to be published on Monday by the NSPCC, says NHS commissioners are failing to take abused children into account when planning mental health services. The charity says the government’s £1.4bn investment in children’s mental health services is not being deployed to aid children who need help after abuse. Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Often, it’s only when children reach rock bottom, regularly self-harming or feeling suicidal, that the services they need so desperately open up to them. This isn’t acceptable.”
Some 95,555 personal submissions on the care of children and adults have so far been made to the public accounts committee. One respondent, who lives in health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s constituency in Surrey, said that a lack of support had left her daughter isolated. She wrote: “My daughter has a longstanding mental illness that has caused her great tragedy and grief. She has not had sufficient help in the community over the last 10 years and feels isolated and insecure. She is a very vulnerable person and has gone missing several times, involving the police in intensive searches.” A woman called Eve, from Bexhill and Battle, wrote: “I work in the NHS with children and young people. I know first-hand that all the services are struggling with numbers, and children often have to wait for over a year for treatment after an initial appointment.” Dawn, from Sheffield, said: “I was able to see a counsellor on the NHS but only for a very limited time, not long enough to enable me to learn the skills I needed to help me cope day to day. “I was referred to a borderline personality disorder support group but this only ran during the day, which meant, as I work, that I could not attend.”
Earlier this year, a leaked report by a government taskforce painted a bleak picture of England’s mental health services, revealing that the number of people killing themselves was soaring, three-quarters of those with psychiatric conditions were not being helped, and sick children were being sent “almost anywhere in the country” for treatment. Suicide in England is now rising “following many years of decline”, with 4,477 suicides in an average year. There has also been a 10% increase in the number of people sectioned under the Mental Health Act over the past year, suggesting their needs are not being met early enough. In some parts of the country, more than 10% of children seeking help are having appointments with specialists cancelled as a result of staff shortages. David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, said the response to the opening of the inquiry should be a wake-up call to ministers. “These figures reveal the deep divide between public opinion and the funding given to NHS mental health support by the government. “Almost 100,000 responses to a parliamentary consultation – nearly all raising concerns about the state of mental health services in the NHS – should sound the alarm to ministers. “38 Degrees members are sending a clear message to government: we need better mental health services, and mental health services need better funding.”
‘Songs About Children’ (Toxic State) delivers eight instalments from the interface between inequality and mental health. A rise in aural fidelity and compositional dexterity from last year’s aforementioned EP has not resulted in an easier ride. Not by a long chalk. If anything, the overall prognosis has somewhat worsened. The vocals have sunk deeper into the mix, becoming somehow more deranged in the process. The spoken word samples seem even more sinister than they did twelve months ago: “What about making him better?”, asks a concerned parent at the close of ‘N.Y. Presbyterian’. “I can’t do it”, is the professional reply.
This deterioration in mommy’s art seemingly parallels the erosion of mental health services, via titles that ooze uncomfortableness at every drum roll: ‘The Day I Turned 13′, ‘No More Fathers’, ‘Learning In The Bathroom’, ‘How To Act At Funerals’, which ominously closes with a lone female voice: “I’d never do this in a million years, I just wanted to be thin. I’d never hurt myself the way I’m going. I’d never hurt my family the way I’m doing”.
An atypical mommy song goes a little something like this: spoken word sample intro; bass guitar, fed through a distortion pedal and split through both channels, dropping a strident riff; chaotic, clattering drumming, chasing the bass like a dragon; disturbing, interred vocals, a swarm of flies, between your ears; random sonic interference; irregular feedback; spoken word sample outro.
There are no verses. There are no choruses. There is just stream of consciousness. It lasts about twenty minutes. Then you immediately play it again. Sometimes you think you can hear voices. Other times you think you are mistaken. Sometimes you feel you’re not alone. Other times you feel utterly alone. Mental illness is one of the loneliest feelings known to human kind. It’s safe to say that you have never experienced the full force of fear if you have never succumbed to paranoid delusions; paranoid schizophrenia; aural or visual hallucinations. mommy capture the desperation of that fear, and throw it back at your disregard with petulant nonchalance. Not since the work of Nick Blinko and his rudimentary penises has the anguish of mental torpor been conveyed so accurately.
Exhibit #2: Haram, a four-piece combo from NYC, led by Nader Habibi, a Lebanese-American from Yonkers. Nader’s parents fled the Lebanese civl war in the 1980s, and eventually settled in New York, where Nader was brought up a Muslim, whilst attended Catholic school. Haram is Arabic for ‘forbidden’. Nader’s lyrics are written exclusively in Arabic, and the band play a modern hybrid of old school hardcore styles that include shards of Italian punk of the early ’80s: Negazione, Chain Reaction, Ingesti and Wretched. This European influence and their Arabic delivery mechanism sets Haram apart from the rest of their NYC milieu. Their debut EP ‘What Do You See?’ (Toxic State) follows their influential demo of 2015, and was recorded and engineered by Emil Bognar-Nasdor (Dawn Of Humans, L.O.T.I.O.N.). The record’s striking artwork extends their outsiderdom from the Toxic State norm.
Growing up in South Yonkers in the early 90s, Nader’s hard-working parents had an apartment above a pizzeria, and Nader spent many hours being cared for by his extended family and the local community. He was raised a Shia Muslim, yet attended a Catholic school, and daily religious conflict meant that growing up Middle Eastern in a Christian faith school was often a lonely existence. His early years were filled with hip-hop, informed by peer influence, he was obsessed with DJ culture from his first beat, but he gradually turned to hardcore punk around the age of sixteen, and eventually formed Haram with longtime school friend, Martin O’Sullivan. Nader’s sense of persecution was heightened in August of this year when he was briefly investigated by the FBI and NYPD for suspected ties to ISIS. Not long after the investigation concluded, a spate of bombings in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan rocked NYC. Being Middle Eastern on the hardcore punk scene can also be a lonely existence.
“What Do You See?” was released in the aftermath of these bombings, and its a seething statement of intent. As Nader himself attests: “Haram is an unceasing fight against racial abuse and humiliation, the unimaginable massacres of our world, past and present. For the disadvantaged, the people of color, the transgendered, the homosexual, the abandoned, the orphaned, the impoverished, the wrongfully executed. The victims of war, the bullet-ridden, the barrel-bombed and chemically gassed. Those in mourning, those in despair. Everything about Haram is haram. This is my fight. And I am a proud Harami – stop me if you can”.
Exhibit #3: Agitprop punkers out of Stevenage, Bad Breeding represent the UK’s most convincing stab at a punk band worth dying for in eons. Formed in December 2013, the four-piece have capitalised on the early promise of a brace of 45s with one of the strongest UK punk rock long playing debuts in living memory. ‘Bad Breeding’ (self-released) is not only a record recorded as a record (8-tracks on side one, 8-tracks on side two: intro at the start of each side, and a build-and-crescendo approach to both sides, making it an authentic recorded for explicitly for vinyl affair), it’s also one of the best dressed pieces of vinyl of it’s oeuvre since the halcyon days of anarcho-punk syndicalism, and the glory of Crass Records.
‘Bad Breeding’, therefore, is sixteen stabs at the heart of neoliberal Britain. It shares much with the agenda of the Crass generation in its critique of both left and right. Lyrically smart, sloganeeringly savvy, vocalist Chris Dodd recalls the bark of The Redskins’ Chris Dean. Although Bad Breeding’s sound is intrinsically of the now, there are traces of hoary old rock’n’roll underneath the squall. I can hear bits of Flux Of Pink Indians, a couple of Spizz Energi bass lines (‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’), maybe a touch of The Mob in places too, but this is cavalierly its own creation, and it’s massively impressive on every level. Already feted by The Guardian, Radio One, and what’s left of the NME, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been late to the party on this one, but, as you well know, I’ve had my head up my free jazz hole for most of the last couple of years now, so it’s hardly a surprise.
You can d/l the LP from the link below, and order the vinyl direct from the band’s Big Cartel. As I said, the packaging is outstanding: inner sleeve; lyric sheet; posters; and a couple of academic essays that are written to degree standard, and are both fascinating reads in their own right. As an illustration of the mark of Bad Breeding as human beings, my copy of the record arrived damaged in the post. Not Bad Breeding’s fault, they’d packaged it as diligently as I would package anything I sell on Discogs, sometimes Royal Mail can be awfully slap dash, especially to record collectors. Anyway, a week or so later, Chris dropped me an email to see if I’d received the record. I mentioned the damage, and before you could say Tom Robinson, he’d not only agreed to mail me a replacement sleeve, he’d agreed to send me a replacement copy of the entire package, FOC. As with all three exhibits, Bad Breeding are the epitome of fight. They are punk rock, in every sense of the term, and they deserve your utmost respect, and your custom. They mean it, man!
Exhibit #1: Sometimes, a record sneaks into your life unannounced, without initial fanfare. It shrugs, sits in the corner, and sulks, but its very presence causes you to keep checking if it’s ok. At first, you’re not sure if you even like it, then, slowly, you keep looking up at intervals during abstract listens, nodding your approval sagely, before returning to whatever multitask you are momentarily distracted from. Eventually, you begin to realise that you’ve accidentally discovered some hitherto unimagined paradigm, and that synchronicity has somehow been realised. The band in question are Mizmor – ‘psalm’ in Hebrew – the record is ‘Yodh’ (Gilead Media), except they are not a band at all, in the traditional sense. Mizmor are a one-man-band, and that man is A.L.N.
Mizmor play the kind of sickeningly blackened doom that aptly matches the countenance of these troubled times: gargantuan music that sneaks up on you and smashes your brains out like Colonel Mustard, with the candelabra, in the drawing room. At times of flight, I revel in this darkness: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.
Comprising five songs almost longer than mommy’s entire album, ‘Yohd’ befits the descriptor ‘long player’ in every sense. It’s a record that reveals itself teasingly with repeated attention. I’ve been letting it infuse my consciousness slowly, during nocturnal listens, cocooned in the warmth of a duvet, as the cold nights have begun to draw in over the last month or so. There’s something about epic blackened doom that takes me back to my pre-punk adolescence, when the dinosaurs of Sabbath & Zeppelin still roamed the earth. I tend to listen to black and doom metal ensconced in my bedroom, back where it all began (not the same bedroom, obviously).
Exhibit #2: The Pacific Northwest is a fertile realm for the discipline of black metal, and October saw Portland power trio Urzeit release their debut full length, ‘Anmoksha’ (self-released). Conceptually, ‘Anmoksha’ interprets the Hindu term of moksha – release from the cycle of rebirth impelled by the law of karma, the transcendent state attained as a result of being released from the cycle of rebirth – though the medium of blackened punk. Anmoksha, therefore, is the moksha-less void of being stuck in an infinite loop, neither dead nor alive, trapped for eternity. The central theme of the record is seemingly self-loathing.
Urzeit are powered by the drumming of Mizmor‘s A.L.N., but ‘Anmoksha’ is a million miles from the epic soundscapes of ‘Yodh’. Over a set of ten songs that fill the same hour as ‘Yodh”s five, a variety of tempos and styles provide a light and shade that contradicts the central theme of darkness outlined above. The twin vocal approach of guitarist R.F. and drummer A.L.N. adds another level of duality, as do the subtle shifts in guitar tone and attack that allow the album to rise and fall in intensity, as well as tempo. The record’s eerily beautiful cover art by Wormlust’s H. V. Lyngdal completes the package to render ‘Anmoksha’ and artefact worthy of worship.
Exhibit #3: Originally released on cassette by Caligari Records, Santa Cruz-based Gloam‘s debut long player ‘Hex Of Nine Heads’ has now been picked up on vinyl by Gilead Media, for a November release. Gloam’s alluring blend of atmospheric black metal and epic doom-laden progression was recorded by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer studios, with additional tracking by Lord Vast at The Temple of Ouroboros. Mastering was executed by Dan Randall at Mammoth Sound Mastering. The transition from demo (2012), to EP (2014), to album, has been one of exponential growth for Gloam. With little Cascadian influences, and no punk running through their genes, Gloam hark back to the forebears of old school black metal, adding an atmospheric and progressive slant that is entirely their own.
The standard of musicianship on ‘Hex’ is often stunning. The drop-outs to lone guitars have a warmth of tone that draws you in holds you there. Sandwiched between flamenco intro/outros, ‘Torrents Of Blood’ leads a charge of three shorter songs trapped between the epic pillars of ‘Where Freezing Winds Forever Blow’ and the album’s title track. In many ways, ‘Hex Of Nine Heads is a record that takes me back, once again, to that bedroom of my nascent youth. As with all three exhibits, it’s an exercise in flight: an escape from the hypernomalisation that threatens to put us all to the sword, and sacrifice our very souls at the alter of greed, trapping us for eternity in the void between life and death: anmoksha.
They say it is easier to imagine the end of the world as it is to imagine the end of capitalism. They say that we know that we are fucked. They say the only questions are: how hard? And for how long? The elite know that we know that they are lying to us. They also know that we are too scared to do anything about it. It’s time to fight or flight: which side are you on?
“You’re gonna wake up one morning and know what side of the bed you’ve been lying on!”