Your Fault doesn’t start in the strongest of ways. The opening track to the new album from Gravehuffer contains plenty of powerful riffs, ugly vocals, and furious drumming; but it never quite comes together, with its combination of crust, death metal, and raw punk energy missing the mark. Thankfully, this is an anomaly on an album that is otherwise full of vicious crusty metalpunk, switching between genres at ease, and with songwriting deft that is surprising for music that is so ugly and hard hitting. The first track aside, this is an invigorating listen, and a fine half hour of underground snarl and spit.
That Level Plane Records is no more is nothing short of a tragedy. Between 1997 and 2009, the label released some of the best underground punk, hardcore, screamo, metal, and everything in-between. Originally set up simply so Greg Drudy had an address to put on the back of the first Saetia 7″, the impact and influence the label would go on to have upon the underground scene was huge. Some of these records have been re-issued by other labels – with special praise being given to The Archivist label for getting so many on Bandcamp – but some might require searching on Discogs or eBay.
As such, limiting this list down to only five releases has been rather painful. There’s so many I wanted to include – so many records of superb quality, so many that meant so much to me, and still do – but there’s a reason this series is called Five of the Best, not Twenty of the Best. So, here we go. Feel free to tell me what I missed or what your favourite records from this excellent label are. Enjoy!
Violation Wound are more punk than you. The three-piece, led by Autopsy’s Chris Reifert, were born from a desire to create beer-soaked, utterly unfashionable underground punk rock; and they completely deliver. With Man in Charge sees the band continue their impressive rate of recordings (at least an album or split every year since 2014, thus far), and unleashes 20 songs of take-no-prisoners, crude as fuck punk rock that sounds like it could have been a long-lost 80’s recording (other than the fact that it actually has a decent production, that is). Clocking in at 34 minutes, this is over in a flash, leaving you bruised, bloody, and having had a hell of a time.
Tribute records are often unnecessary at best, and utterly demoralizing at worst. Sure, it can be great to hear bands you love covering a pivotal band; but it can also do little other than act as a reminder of how great the originals were. And whilst Black on Black certainly did that for Black Flag, it’s that rare thing: a tribute album that actually feels vital and relevant, with all the bands involved putting across their personality whilst paying respect to one of the most important punk bands ever. Some of the versions might even – whisper it! – be better than the originals.
As I’ve noted elsewhere recently, the problem with most so-called comedy bands is that they aren’t actually all that funny, and rely on offensive or shocking “jokes” to mask a lack of decent songs. Wrong Shade Of Orange by solo act Mad Spanner makes no attempt to hide its absurd sense of humour – I mean, just look at that cover – but the thrashy punk/grind on the album is strong enough to stand on its own. However, the humour is of the kind that won’t be to everyone’s taste, and can be – to me – rather hit-and-miss. That said, there’s still more than enough here to have kept me entertained.
Punk rock means different things to different people; there’s no real common sound to it any more (if there ever was), and as would be expected some 40 years on from its inception, the genre has splintered off in to a huge variety of different scenes and styles. Arguably the only thing that can still reliably identify something as punk rock is a rebellious spirit, and that’s something Mirrored Lips have in abundance on MOM. You don’t need to understand the Russian lyrics to appreciate what the trio have created here, with the creative, rebellious soul of the band coming through clearly no matter what language you speak. A challenging, varied listen, MOM is noisy, difficult, and everything I like my punk rock to be.
There’s few bands more important to me than Planes Mistaken For Stars (PMFS), and it was a sad day for me when they played their final (at the time) show in 2008. Though the band started playing live again in 2010, I never truly expected a new album to ever materialize; so, the release of Prey is welcome in that it represents the return of one of my favourite bands. But it’s also a release that should appeal to more than just fans of old, as this is a wonderfully passionate piece of post-hardcore, full of grit and melody, with the kind of definite roughness to the edges that speaks of bad decisions and good times. There’s no one who sounds quite like PMFS, and that’s as true on Prey as it ever was. It’s one of the most unexpected releases of the year, but also one of my favourite. My hopes for the album were high, and they have more than been met.