As much as I wish all the bands I listened to were first heard on warped old tape-traded cassettes, it simply isn't the case. I have no friends into anything resembling the same music as myself, no-one ever told me to check out a band, no other person is responsible for my shitty taste in unlistenable noise. Every band I've ever had an interest in, bought a record, tape or CD by, I've hunted down for myself. I've never tried to impress anyone with what I listen to because there isn't a soul for 100 miles around worth impressing. New discoveries are primarily made through the endless sites like this one, isolated, lonely weirdos screaming out into the digital void, trying to get across what certain music means to them. It's through hours trawling these collections of 1s and 0s looking for someone who hears music the same way that I kept seeing this name popping up. Dystopia.
They are described by endless copied and pasted biographies as 'a sludge band from CA, USA. The band formed in Orange County, California in 1991, and were popular in both the heavy metal and crust punk scenes, due in large part to their bleak misanthropic imagery. Their lyrics often dealt with human emotion and sociopolitical issues such as environmentalism, racial equality, animal rights, and veganism.
Dystopia is a soundtrack for the world as we know it today. Their sound embodies all of the horrors, pain, agony and desperation of modern day society.'
I remember reading that and thinking holy fuck, how could I NOT like this band?!
I mean, I'm all for not killing the planet, the abolition of every -ism from sex to race, but the vegan part, not so much. I try to be a good person in as many ways as I can, but it's not my fault animals are so goddamn delicious.
So with the indirect recommendations of endless internet nerds, I set about tracking down some of their releases. This self-titled album was their swansong, released in '08 shortly before they disbanded.
I just want to comment on how refreshing it is to see something different in terms of artwork. I am so fucking sick of every single goddamn crust/sludge/powerviolence/whatever record using that long-redundant cut/pasted flyer, photocopy, scratch-y logo aesthetic. It's the 21st century, who even uses photocopiers anymore?!
So to look upon this sleeve with it's weird hand-drawn '90s graff-style fonts and detailed full-colour collages is a sight for sore (and bored) eyes. Though all the usual thematic staples are present; tyrants/leaders, disaffected dissidents, nuclear armaments, landscapes of destruction, mental patients, capitalist symbols, it's nice to see them shown in a more interesting manner. That said, I'm gonna get down to the music now...
The album opens with the buzz of warm amps and feedback, and an extended sample of various Eckhart Tolle philosophies, on everything from fear, politics, materialism, to the sense of self. I'm not overly familiar with Tolle, but a few things heard in this overlapped rambling fragments ring true. I'll investigate further, my curiosity is sufficiently piqued. The background drones on forebodingly, backing the sample for a couple of minutes before anything resembling an actual riff enters the picture. The riff has a Sleep-y tone, warm and enveloping.
'Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry...' are easily discerned from the sampled self-help, and those are feelings that become all too familiar throughout the listening of this record.
Just over 3 minutes into the first track, the pace picks up, the riff digging into a creepy crawly little groove. Reading along with the lyrics, it seems that they used the samples as the basis for debate, questioning Tolle's ideas of rejecting past and future, living in the now; "if past and future don't exist, where the fuck does that leave us? [...] I hang my head in sorrow because the now is too disgusting to see".
It's an interesting approach, most sludge bands just use samples because it's a trademark of the genre, and it's the 'cool' thing to do, to sample the most obscure and shocking horror movie / police report. I prefer the sample to actually mean something relevent to the song.
The second track 'Control All Delete' jumps straight into the song, no buildup or sample. The tempo ain't exactly breakneck by any stretch of the imagination, but seeing as Dystopia are loved by both sludge obsessives and crusties alike, it sits comfortably between these two paces. The vomitous dual vocal attack keeps things interesting, switching between voices as the song changes gear, developing a groove, a swing. Things switch between these two tones and tempos until the track careens to an abrupt end.
'Leaning With Intent To Fall' is another sample-led song, it's first couple of minutes taken up with the warped logic of a junkie. I have a deep loathing of anyone weak enough to fall prey to heroin, so listening to this, presumably real, interview take place really boils my blood. A couple of sentences in the most filthy, atonal guitar abuse starts up in the background. It's not a riff, it's not feedback, it's a hacking, violent thing. It's the sound of a pickaxe for a plectrum and rusted wire for strings. Improvised drums are an accompanying assault.
This death rattle music is like the free jazz to the beat poetry of empty justifications.
The defeated words of the substance abuser give way to an eruption of the RIFF! This is one of those moments where it doesn't matter what you're doing, you NEED to bang your head or do SOMETHING immediately. Lamentations on those lost to the filth people put in their veins, and the difficulty in living with the choices that other people make comprise the lyrical content. It's a weird juxtaposition, considering it's such a musically enjoyable song, that riff just DARING you not to move yourself.
The next track is just a sample with eerie ambient backing. More audio collage, overlapping samples all vying for your attention, each barely discernable among the throng of mad rantings and ravings.
The passages I can make out seem to be an interview with a mentally ill meth/coke/speed-fuelled woman, spewing forth her broken life story, conspiracies plotted against her, the paranoia and giddy glee with which she recounts her harrowing lowest points, leaving you terrified that those deemed 'cured' and 'fit for society' by whatever body thinks itself worthy of passing such judgement, are really very fucking far from it. These people are out there, walking the same streets as you.
Side B opens with 'Illusion Of Love', a song originally written by drummer Dino's old band Carcinogen, recorded for posterity here. It's opening riff is more traditionally crusty, buzzing to life for a coupla bars before manic grinding drums crash in behind it. The vocals are delivered in a throat-shredding acid-gargling yell. The speed section shifts down MANY gears to an ascending riff, sounding more menacing with each move up the fretboard.
The tempo increases, the sound of a drunk and belligerent behemoth staggering and mutter-growling to itself. Weird, the mental images you get from something as simple as 4 notes and some distortion, huh?
The giant lumbers until the song's grind finale. See what i did there, eh? Eh? My shitty wordplay humour is wasted on the internet...
Penultimate song 'Number One Hypocrite' is probably the most straight-ahead undiluted sludge track here, nailing all the genre staples in a succinct 3 minutes. There ain't much else I want to say about this track. I'm starting to get pretty burnt out on typing all this shit. It's a good song, there, done.
'My Meds Aren't Working'. Fucking hell. What a way to end an album. It's a slow-burner, even by sludge standards. Well, at least for a couple of minutes until one of the most corrosive, downright nasty sounding songs ever comes spewing out of my speakers. I'm surprised the air doesn't start to blacken and reek as the notes fill it. If that makes it sound like a bad song, it ain't. It still 'rocks', though that is a terrible term. This disgusting mess actually grooves.
Actually, I'll use that last sentence as the summation of the whole damn album.
You can still pick this up from a few places. I got my copy from the always excellent punkdistro.de
Take a look at the rest of their selection while you're browsing, it veers mostly towards the crustier end of the spectrum. A tonne of great stuff available from that distro.