ILWTT.03 "Searing Words, From The Heart": An Earache Compilation

For some reason, we initially thought we might struggle to fill this one out with premium-quality material, what with the "one song per band" rule that prevented us flooding it with Napalm Death numbers. But as soon as we did a modicum of research, we realised that yet again the real task was going to be deciding which tracks to leave out.
The fact that Earache, a few years back, easily filled up some two box sets (12 discs) with so-solid material should have given us a clue: even since then, we'd felt the need to big up the label, via a 'review' of the Peel Sessions compilation of many of its bands' finest early moments. And, of course, only last year we devoured and enjoyed a couple of literary tomes in which the label took centre stage.
At this juncture we'd like to formally doff our cap to label founder Digby Pearson, not least for his candid and rather great "Ask Earache" blog, full of absolutely fascinating stuff on topics like the music industry (then and now), bands' work ethics, "the loudness wars" (I never realised that the topic of mastering could be so  fascinating!), touring business models, record label signing policies and Dig's sympathy for Peter Hook.
Speaking of which, we worried a little about the fact that our fantasy Earache compilation would never match the diversity of our Factory one, but while that's true (ironically, extreme metal was probably the only genre that Factory didn't release in the end), this playlist can still offer you 57 varieties that include blitzkrieg grindcore, hammer techno, instrumental experimentation, chugging death metal, and all manner of off-the-wall mentalism. Which is, of course, entirely as it should be.

Oh, and more on kindred Earache / Factory spirit can be found here...
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1. Heresy "Never Healed"
This is where it all started, the first song on the first official Earache release, although it's an entry point that was often forgotten as releases later got exponentially more varied, more commercial, more successful. These four teenagers from the East Midlands, aflame with angry and active politics, created with this six-track flexi disc one of the fastest things ever recorded at that time, boasting a killer breakdown; the recording quality was horrendously poor, yet the 3,000 pressed didn't take too long to sell out. Landmark stuff, make no mistake, and its existence is absolutely integral to how we feel about the label.
2. Napalm Death "No Mental Effort"
By contrast, Napalm Death's "Mentally Murdered" EP a few years later would be, for us, the pinnacle of both the band and label's artistic vision, the perfect mesh of groove, harmony, melody and noise, the optimum cross between punk and metal. But, crucially, the EP was still precisely in the spirit that drove Heresy's far more primitive early outing. The lyrics are spot-on, encapsulating the band's obvious disenchantment with those who accused them of political naivety, and Lee Dorrian's anger is palpable as he rounds on their detractors: "using bands as pawns in your hands, building up, knocking down, sensationalise, to suit cheap public demand".
3. Carcass "Heartwork"
Our 'title track' and another obvious but frankly unavoidable selection, given that we're going for the jugular early on. Albert Mudrian's excellent "Choosing Death" book includes the somewhat surprising revelation that, under the terms of Carcass' contract with Earache, the latter would get an extra two-LP option should they ever deliver Carcass a top 40 single. Goodness knows what the lawyers were on, but it would have been quite brilliant to have heard Bruno Brookes' confusion on having to introduce Carcass into the chart countdown, or to see the boys on Top Of The Pops. (In fairness, we should point out that one Earache single, Dub War's "Enemy Maker", did actually reach a tantalising number 41 in the charts, so perhaps there were reasons for believing at the time!)
As it was, Carcass didn't release that many singles, chartbound or otherwise: of them, "Heartwork" has to be the stand-out, with its crystal-clear riff and almost catchy growled chorus. The lyrics are great, too, a brooding reverie on aestheticism (ooh, and why don't more songs use the word "magniloquent"?) Just a shame that the arrangement reaches for just one too many slightly plodding bits: at half a minute shorter, this would be a masterpiece.

Also, they've still got it.
4. Terrorizer "Fear Of Napalm"
It's the *groove*, stupid. It's the way that the first minute of this grindcore standard from L.A. legends Terrorizer is danceable, the way that the drums and the bass verily skip along. It's a stone-cold classic, from their "World Downfall" album, and we're just glad the band was captured at this, their brilliant early best.
5. Bolt-Thrower "Cenotaph"
What the hell. Let's really go for it, and massively front-load this thing. Integrity personified, Bolt-Thrower remain one of Coventry's finest exports. "Cenotaph" was a rare single from them, and captures them at their sentinel best notwithstanding the slightly offputting fade-in and fade-out. As always with their songs about the brutality and pointlessness of war, "Cenotaph" manages to be anti-militarist  but still completely respectful to those who died in armed  campaigns.
6. Ultraviolence "E-Heads Must Die"
Now for something of a change of style. It was really difficult, even with the handy compilation of many of Ultraviolence's best moments on their "Blown Away '94-'04" set, to select a single song of theirs for this collection. We were very tempted by the nine-minute "Hardcore Motherfucker", the almost-commercial "Heaven Is Oblivion" single and Lenny Dee's piratical remix of "I, Destructor", but settled instead for something of a signature UV tune, the mighty "E-Heads Must Die". Originally released under UV's "Johnny Violent" alter-ego, this is a tale of (literal) murder on the dancefloor that's full of the usual samples, industrial synth crashes, gabber beats and ruthless kicks, as well as some crashing junglist passages.There has to be a case for saying Ultraviolence were the most complete act that Earache released, at least in terms of most profoundly realising their (somewhat insaniac) vision: and they were a local, Nottingham act too. If you search this out and enjoy it, we feel reasonably confident you'll want to hear more.
7. O.L.D. "Glitch (Rob Gee Mix)"
I've still never actually heard the original version of this (it's on the intriguing-sounding "The Musical Dimensions Of Sleastak" album) but nor have I ever felt the need to, because this cut from New Jersey's O.L.D, which can be found on Earache's "Corporate Rock Wars" compilation, is a ringing, stinging, 24-carat joy. There's not a guitar in sight as king of gabber Rob Gee's remix makes you wonder whether this could really be the same combo who appeared, as the fairly dreadful Old Lady Drivers, a bonus track on the original, seminal "Grindcrusher" compilation.
8. Brutal Truth vs. Freak "Regression-Progression"
"To be honest, I don't think our compilation was anything other than a complete disaster, neither the metal fans or techno fans embraced it, in fact the purists on both sides actively shunned it."
So Digby Pearson speaks, on his blog, of the admirable "Hellspawn" compilation, which featured various techno-heads merrily dismantling songs by marquee death metallers. But surely the apparently furious reaction to it proved that "Hellspawn" was, overall, a thing of no little joy? Being neither dyed-in-the-wool metal or techno fans, we embraced it all the more, flaws and all, and this track is a bloody-minded but eye-opening refix of the Brutal Truth tune, with more light and shade than some of the other contributions to the compilation. It comes most alive, of course, when gabber beats sporadically intrude, but even elsewhere it fizzes with menace, using the original composition sparingly and mainly for disembodied vocal roars or trills of guitar noise.
9. Larceny "Scream"
OK. Hold on tight. You'll never have heard "Scream", we'd wager, but it's right up in the top three singles ever released on Earache (unless you take the point that technically, it was the first release on Earache's sadly short-lived Sub Bass sub-label, in which case I salute your pedantry, but ignore it all the same).
Digby, again, is now less sure about Sub Bass:
"To be blunt, it was an attempt to appear hip and cutting edge, probably. No-body bought them and no-body cared, apart from John Peel, about a metal label attempting to release early examples of Jungle-rave (later called drum n bass) so the shutters were brought down right on cue, after a handful of poorly-selling releases."
But please ignore him on this one. Sounding as fresh and chaotic now as it would have done at the time, this high-tensile acid-techno 12" - courtesy of Cathedral's sound engineer, of all people - is a minor marvel. And it's fair to say that, had we been able to track down any other SB releases, the sub-label might have gone on to rather dominate our selections.
10. Mighty Force "Dive"
Not unlike Meat Mouth, who we met on our fantasy Factory primer, Mighty Force were a Mancunian duo, and although they did, we think, record for Sub Bass, this single was a release on Earache proper, which must have given a few Earache classicists palpitations and head-melt. Mighty Force were mighty maligned in some quarters, and their output could be somewhat patchy, but this single - instrumental, save for some "She Watch Channel Zero" samples - sounds taut, sharp, bright and focussed, if perhaps lacking a certain "X" factor (i.e. there isn't really a tune, and it doesn't really go anywhere).
11. S.S.S. "The Kill Floor"
12. Insect Warfare "Manipulator"
13. Wormrot "Compulsive Disposition"
We wouldn't want you to get the impression that we stopped enjoying Earache stuff in the late 1990s, even if the tracklisting to our compilation betrays that our heart does rather lie in the earlier releases. So here are three more recent bands, all excellent, that formed part of an Earache mini-revival, at least in terms of revisiting the label's punkish roots and producing music that was first and foremost *exciting*, rather than fitting too easily into more traditional 'heavy metal' stereotypes.
These are three rather different groups (SSS: thrashy Liverpudlian skatecore, accompanied on this track by Barney Greenway; Insect Warfare: sadly defunct powerviolence-tinged Texan groove-driven grindcore; Wormrot: ridiculously life-affirming Singaporean first-wave grind revivalists, who, in 2011, provided the year's best single, its best album and its best gig) but, to a man, they leave you gasping for more.
14. Lawnmower Deth "Be Scene Not Heard"
15. Painkiller "Trailmarker"
Despite our misgivings about 2012's "World's Shortest Album" publicity stunt, it's fair to say that over the years the odd sub-ten second song has been a bit of a label staple. Many of the bands responsible for some of the more refreshing stabs at said song (e.g. Napalm, Wormrot, Brutal Truth, Intense Degree's 'theme' song, Unseen Terror's tributes to Garfield characters) are represented here with more sensible contributions, but there has to be some space, we think, for some uber-compact messing around. So here are two suitably bref songeroonies, from Nottingham's ever-impudent Lawnmower Deth and John Zorn's boutique Earache outfit, jazz-grinders Painkiller.
16. A.C. "Unbelievable"
And this tune isn't much longer. A little like the stopped clock that still tells the right time twice a day, Seth Putnam's ultra-abrasive, super-offensive noise outfit A.C (pretty flowers that we are, we still can't bring ourselves to type their unabbreviated moniker) always had an ability to speak complete truth to power: it was just that you had to wade through dozens of horrible, spiteful, unfunny tracks to uncover the occasional gems of humour and observation hidden in the morass.
To be candid, it was rare that listening to an A.C. record was as rewarding as perusing the track listing ("Extreme Noise Terror Are Afraid Of Us", "I'm Not Allowed To Like A.C. Since They Signed To Earache", "Everyone In The Underground Music Scene Is Stupid", "MTV Is My Source For New Music"). Many of their better tunes were pure novelties, like their stirring versions of the A-Team theme and the Hungry Hungry Hippos jingle. In this vein, perhaps their finest 'musical' achievement is this, the absolutely definitive version of EMF's "Unbelievable": this is blink-and-you'll-miss it parodic artcore meets achingly minimal grindcore.
17. Unseen Terror "Ignorant Scene"
18. Intense Degree "Straitjacket / I've Got A Cure"
With these two merry melodies we return to the slightly clunkier, more naive-sounding early Earache recordings, but these are still both outings that we adore.
First, fabulous as Unseen Terror are, we all know that the production on their sole album outing, "Human Error", does them no favours as compared with the way that their Peel Session was so expertly anchored. On the other hand, the songs and lyrics still stand up, and "Ignorant Scene" vividly betrays its punkish roots.
Intense Degree, too, were always coming from a different place than the purely metal-driven bands on the label: this medley, which featured on "Grindcrusher", also displays the more primitive, punkier, side of the roster which would all-too-soon be lost as the 1990s drew on. Apparently, there were only 4,000 copies pressed of their "War In My Head" LP: we're very happy to own one of them.
19. Extreme Noise Terror "Murder"
Contrary to popular imagination, Extreme Noise Terror didn't join the Earache roster until 1994, way after the initial "Britcore" explosion and even post-dating the later, infamous Brit Awards dalliance and aborted "Black Room" sessions with the KLF.
ENT's first release for the label was "Retro-bution", a record which saw them revisit songs that had originally appeared, often in fairly under-produced form, on their debut album "Holocaust In Your Head", their split LP with Filthkick and their Vinyl Japan LP "Phonophobia". The project works well sonically, with clearly-realised recordings of classic tunes like "Pray To Be Saved" and "Bullshit Propaganda", but we'd go further - despite the album having been disowned by band and label alike - and say that the material arrayed over these fourteen tracks makes "Retro-bution" one of the great protest albums. Taking their cue from the likes of Discharge, each song is about protest, every lyric unapologetically fashioned by politics or ethics as the band run the thematic gamut from over-farming to climate change to the role of religion in society. That makes it a period piece, true: we'd say that was rather a shame.
We've selected pro-vegetarian diatribe "Murder". It's not their best song, but it's certainly of its time, of those polarised times, and you may even remember the band memorably performing it on BBC2's "Snub TV" one Monday evening. It opens with the shouted first line "450 million animals are murdered in Britain every year" and then generally sets about making even Mozza's "Meat Is Murder" come across as kind of subtle ("INNOCENT... MURDER!!!" they yell). The irony is that the band - well, Dean Jones, certainly - would later forsake vegetarianism, leaving this song only as a testament to what was passionately felt at the time. Mind you, with many former stars of Earache (Napalm's Barney Greenway, Cathedral's Lee Dorrian, Carcass's Bill Steer) having stuck to their pro-veggie leanings, we don't feel the message of the song has entirely lost its validity.
ENT would go on to release one "proper" album on the label, 1997's "Damage 381". A little more grown-up musically, it also featured Barney Greenway's soothing growl, being the sole recorded evidence of ENT's brief and bizarre 'swap deal' on vocalists with Napalm Death (Phil Vane had gone in the other direction before the bands swapped singers back again). "Damage 381" stands up quite well, and features a few great no-nonsense tunes like "Jesus On My Side" and "Cold World", but it just can't capture youthful rage in the same compelling way as "Retro-bution" did.
20. Hellbastard "Death From Above"
21. Entombed "Stranger Aeons"
For us, what these songs have in common is that almost alone of post-"Grindcrusher" Earache output, they would have fitted perfectly well on that album. Sunderland's saintly crust-infused metal-thrashers Hellbastard were never far behind Napalm, Bolt-Thrower et al in the integrity stakes, and "Death From Above" shows off their addictive riffing skills to full advantage. As for Entombed, it took until reading the Albert Mudrian book for us to listen to them properly, but we are glad that we did. "Stranger Aeons" captures the Swedes at an early peak, all sandpaper vocals and similarly rough-cut guitars.
22. Cathedral "Soul Sacrifice"
When Lee Dorrian left Napalm Death to form Cathedral, we were most disappointed. We could not get our naive little heads around why you would leave 200mph agit-political grindcore behind to front a bluesy combo playing groove-laden retro-rock. Only recently have we relented somewhat, accepting not only that musicians are actually entitled to do what they want rather than what we want, but also that there was something about early Cathedral, certainly captured by this single, which was simply *fun*.
23. Morbid Angel "Chapel Of Ghouls"
As is this. Oh, it's another obvious choice, true, but it's *so* hard to look past this classic of the death metal genre. Unlike later DM, this is upbeat, varied, unpredictable and - possibly unintentionally - humorous: it's hard not to chortle inwardly as the ghostly keyboard sound comes in, or in the way that David Vincent sings about Satan overcoming those beastly priests. (Tempted as we were to include one of MA's various remix outings, it's fair to say we probably had a surfeit of those via this particular collection...)
24. Deicide "Homage For Satan"
Staying in the United States, albeit jumping a decade and a half forward in time. The album that this song came from ("The Stench Of Redemption") ultimatley proved not much cop, but this was a thrilling single, revolving around one glorious riff, and with epic guitar solos that really take the roof off. Glenn Benton's vocals have just the right amount of maniacal, pitchshifting menace: it certainly wouldn't be obvious to the casual listener that they were human. Oh, and this was released on the sixth day of the sixth month, two thousand and six, for obvious reasons. Awww.... sweet, isn't it?
25. Scorn "Exodus (Scorn Remix)"
Something extra-special to finish, of course, another one from "Corporate Rock Wars". Nowhere along the road, one would have thought, did anyone think that two ex-members of Napalm Death would basically invent dubstep and industrial hip-hop, but that's arguably what Mick Harris and Nik Bullen did with the simply colossal Scorn. In the context of this playlist, it's quite a shock to suddenly feel, not so much as hear, the bass that pulls this tune along. A glimmering ocean away from the trebly squall of Earache's first releases, but maybe the best evidence of how the label has been so influential, responsible for so much beyond its immediate orbit.