I’ve always believed that objectivity was paramount to proper music critique and review. While those of us that write about music certainly have a passion for it, so much so that we are moved to blather on about it when given the slightest of invitations, the goal is to give readers a clear, detailed, and most importantly impartial description of a show or an album so that they can then decide if they would like to hear more from the musicians involved. The reason I explain this important pillar of music journalism is because I plan to completely ignore it in the following review. Real Talk; I absolutely love crusty d-beat. If your band consisted of a person loudly eating a ham sandwich into a microphone and a drummer blasting out that sweet Discharge sound, I would purchase all of your merch, let you sleep on my floor, and ask to travel with you to all of the places in Japan where your band would be received with the pomp and circumstance it so richly deserved. In short; This show featuring CRESS, Appalachian Terror Unit, Dethfox, and Konfront was actually quite good, but I thought it was important to be honest with you, dear reader, before getting down to business.
I made sure to get down to Katacombes at a reasonable hour. The event listing said things were kicking off at 8:00pm and I didn’t want to miss Montreal locals Konfront kick off the show and I was also sure the venue would be a madhouse considering this was UK crust legends CRESS’ first North American tour. Surprisingly, the patio was rather quiet and sound check was still in progress. A few patio beers later, the doors opened and we headed inside. I was pretty shocked with the low number of people at this point; Montreal’s punk scene tends to be a breeding ground for crust, so I couldn’t believe people would give such a great line up a pass.
Fast forward to 10:30 when Konfront takes the stage (Side note: I know I shouldn’t whine about a late start to a punk show, but I am an old, grumpy man with an early bed time) and the place instantly packed up. This local political crust unit is a personal favourite and once again they failed to disappoint. Playing through their self-titled album, Konfront kicked things off with the tune “Trees of Our Land,” a lighting fast, metal-infused crust punk song that showcases the group’s ability to produce complex, interesting music without sacrificing an ounce of speed or aggression. Much of this nuance is aided by the excellent drumming. “D-Beat” music is called such because of the use, and sometimes overuse, of the classic syncopated punk beat made popular by class 80’s punk/metal outfit Discharge, and as such many bands who play this style of music can get away with blasting out the same beat for 25 mins. While Konfront’s drummer Dave certainly plays a mean d-beat, he uses it as part of a larger bag of tricks that fills out Konfront’s sound nicely and provides the group with a distinct metal flavor. Lead singer Mike’s guttural attack fits perfectly with Konfront’s style and has always reminded me of Tragedy / Severed Head of State / Pretty Much All Of Your Favorite Bands That Sound Like This lead singer Todd Burdette . A pre-recorded speech from Sea Shepard Captain Paul Watson discussing this importance of preserving the world’s oceans preceded Konfront’s final tune “Sea Warrior.” Despite a few technical difficulties with the mics and monitors, Konfront kept the energy in the room at a fever pitch throughout their entire set.
Next up was Montreal Anarcho punk group Dethfox. I had heard much buzz around this group after the release of their demo tape earlier this year, so I was excited to hear what all the fuss was about, especially since the band contains ex-members of the legendary Inepsy. Dethfox’s dark, mid-tempo, noise-soaked punk rock’n’roll provided a nice counterpoint to Konfront’s blistering speed. Dethfox’s song structures tend towards the simplistic, but the slow-burn riffs are effective at creating a doomed, nihilistic atmosphere reminiscent of Rudimentary Peni’s “Death Church.” The guys suffered similar minor technical hiccups with monitors, with the drummer unable to hear the monitors at times, but Dethfox powered through and kept heads bobbing and bodies pogoing.
I had been looking forward to seeing Appalachian Terror Unit since hearing their excellent 2013 split with Scottish street crust / snarcho-Oi! masters Oi Polloi. As the band started setting up their gear, their massive backdrop was unfurled along with a smaller Anti-Fascist banner. Now, it certainly should surprise no one to see progressive politics on display at a crust show. A brief survey of the crowd would probably yield almost uniform opinion on subjects concerning the role of police in society, government corruption, income inequality, and animal rights and as such most of the lyrical content in crust punk / anarcho music preaches to the choir, to a certain extent. However, I think the topic of racial, gender, and sexual orientation equality is one that requires continued discussion, so it’s always nice to see a band fly the ANTIFA flag, especially a group whose lyrics denote a band who are not only passionate about the issues they sing about, but have actually given them more thought than the usual, superficial “Fuck the government / police / banks because they are bad” diatribe. Musically, ATU is my cup of crusty, vegan, cruelty-free tea – high energy, blisteringly fast, smartly-written anarcho-crust punk played by musicians who cut the right balance between tight musicianship and going completely off the goddamn rails. Lead singer Sarah’s high range, snarling voice pierce through the din and she employs just the right amount of vocal reverb so that her voice sound epic without being completely unintelligible. A few ATU tunes, such as “Armageddon Won’t Be Brought By The Gods,” have spoken vocal sections and unfortunately Sarah’s voice was almost completely drowned out when these songs were performed. Near the end of their set, ATU broke into “The End Of Complacency,” a track off of the Black Sands EP and a tune that gives credence to the theory that ATU’s drummer Kris is some sort of goddamn steroid-powered cyborg. I honestly feared that his drum kit was going to splinter into tiny, sweat soaked toothpicks anytime he blasted into another barrage of double kick machine gunning. The band finished their set with “The Casualties of Rape Culture,” a great song with an important subject, one that I hope is the topic of more music and discussion in the future.
Closing out the night were UK crust punk legends CRESS. I did not know much about this group before going to the show, beyond knowing that they had been around since the 80s, were British, and were rather well respected judging by the number of times I’d seen their moniker sewn to a jacket or vest. Internet research informed me that band band started off as an homage to CRASS, the UK punk band widely recognized as the progenitors of UK Anarcho-crust punk. The early days of the band’s set list included mostly CRASS covers and while the group now writes and performs their own music, the name just stuck. As the band set up their gear, I was struck by the amount of electronic equipment and foot switches the singer was plugging in. How many effects does a crust punk bad actually need? Also, where the hell is the drummer? Kind of a dick move to let your band mates set up while you fuck off to the bar, right? OH WAIT! Remember all those fancy boxes the singer was fiddling with? They happen to be the drummer, lovingly refereed to as HAL 9000. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical; drum machines have a tendency to sound really robotic ( thank you, I’ll be here all week!) and while this might work for an industrial or kraut rock band, I couldn’t see it working with the earthy, organic fuzziness of crust punk. The first few tunes unfortunately suffered from technical difficulties with HAL 9000, but someone finally found the “Raging Crust Beat” button and the band settled into an excellent pace. The video screens adjacent to the stage looped a cheery montage of third world villages being bombed, pollution, and police brutality. The crowd’s growing size and rowdiness seemed to energize the band; Bassist Dave and guitarist Nev, who were initially rather stationary, started to thrash about and look like they were generally having a fine time. Late in the set, the band broke into crowd favorite “Fear,” sending the room into a moshing frenzy and leaving the singer with little work to do during the refrain as the crowd screamed along. CRESS slowed things down a tad with the tune “Manslaughter,” but the crowd showed no signs of fatigue singing along to every word and dancing like lunatics as soon as HAL kicked into the faster section of the song. The band dedicated their final tune to Katacombes owner, local show promoter, A Varning festival organizer, and all-around awesome person Janick Langlais, who coincidentally helped organize the CRESS tour. A fitting tribute, as there are few people who embody the “DIY” ethic quite like Janick.
If it is still unclear at this point, I had a great fucking time. Also, big ups to Gabii for taking some great pictures!
For full photo set click here.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Gabii H-Blanco