Reviews

Bitter Lake

F.U.P. Noise and Chaos LP

It is incredible just how many absolutely fucking fantastic bands existed on the periphery of the Japanese hardcore scene, and it is equally delightful that so many labels and archivists are taking the time to reveal these bands to the world and preserve their works and legacy.  F.U.P. were a fixture in the Sapporo scene whose entire discography appeared on demo and compilation tapes save two tracks on an MCR local compilation flexi (those are invaluable resources when it comes to finding “lost” and overlooked Japanese bands). Their sound is unusual for the late ’80s/early ’90s when they were active, very primitive and dark with a DISCHARGE-derived backbone and aggressive growled vocals Á  la Masami or Cherry.  Perhaps inevitably some of the recordings are a tad limp and can only be perked up so much by remastering, but plenty of these tracks hit hard as fuck and it’s plenty novel to hear a Japanese band that straddles the line between crust and aggressive hardcore at a time when ACID, MACROFARGE and NIGHTMARE were all active. The packaging is fairly bare-bones (would have loved to see the sleeves and inserts of all the demos and such) but that’s a minor complaint when the record is such a blazer.

Grave New World The Last Sanctuary LP

All praise to New York’s Bitter Lake Recordings for bringing this masterpiece to the masses (though it sold out immediately and is already impossible to find). This 1991 recording is the sole output of Japan’s GRAVE NEW WORLD, which featured members of CROW, ASBESTOS and LAST BOMB. Churning, noise-drenched industrial metalcrust; every song sounds like an absolute apocalypse, and Crow’s vocals come off like era-appropriate Al Jourgensen stepping into the studio with The End…-era Crow. The assault of psychedelia is easy to focus on, and the externals surely help the record stand out, but it’s the way they tweak and torture the AMEBIX crust model and contort it into something completely their own that is what makes the record special. And essential release (and reissue)…now I just have to get my hands on a copy.

Kyosanto Communist LP

Straight from Hiroshima, KYOSANTO has been lurking in the hardcore shadows for three decades. Thanks to Bitter Lake, this gem of Japanese hardcore punk sees the light of day. Finally! This is a compilation of two demo cassettes from 1984, the Communist cassette and うじむし cassette. Brace yourself for high-energy and highly political hardcore punk akin to the STALIN or TYPHUS. For Japanese hardcore aficionados only!

Kyoufu Shinbun Death Training 3xLP

To boil it down, this is a collection of works from a one-man experimental punk project from Hokkaido, Japan, specifically a once-a-month tape series that was released from May 1993 to February 1994. Follow the Bandcamp link to the Bitter Lake site for all of the historical details and proper context for KYOUFU SHINBUN. There is a lot to take in here, 47 tracks in total, but the triple-LP format allows me to enjoy it in six reasonably-sized portions. I’ve been doing this randomly over the past few weeks, one side at a time, and I find it to be both enjoyable and consistent. It’s fairly 50/50 split between aggressive, eccentric punk and uncomfortable experimental music, drum machine-driven, with a good balance of distorted guitars and electronics. The songwriting seems intentional, more so than improvisational, even at its weirdest. One moment you might be swirling in a killer clown circus tent breakbeat nightmare, and then suddenly launched into a punky ADK-esque track. This release comes served up in a thick yellow box. Each disc is housed in a black dust sleeve, and then in a sturdy printed inner sleeve featuring original disturbing drawings and track info. There’s also a booklet consolidating all original art and bits of layout, as well as a couple photos and flyers. Stunning package goes a long way getting me engaged with something I previously knew nothing about, a thing that Bitter Lake knows how to get just right. Worth the price tag, which really isn’t all that high considering the high quality and massive content.

Pipyu Pipyu LP+7″ reissue

Bitter Lake unearths some flat-out fucking awesome Japanese punk from an ultra-rare 1985 cassette and augments it with a couple unreleased cuts. Although they were far too late for the trend, PIPYU would have slotted nicely on the classic Tokyo Rockers comp alongside bands like MIRRORS and S-KEN. Considering the era in which these songs were recorded, it’s interesting to hear PIPYU sounding more in line with the slashing art-punk of FRICTION than the monolithic Motörcharge sound that was sweeping the island nation. Then again, the pile-driving “その花は笑わない“ proves PIPYU had more than enough gas in their tank (or stunk). Tracks like “Let Me Kill” and “Noise” are manic thrill-rides with straight-into-the-board guitars sitting shotgun alongside the muscular rhythm section. Are you wondering if the singer sounds like he needs a mental health check and a rubber room? Have no doubt, this man owns at least one Artaud book. Even the ode to romance, “I Love Her,” knows that love is pain. But then how to explain “気狂いピエロ,” the original tape’s final cut? Here we have a moody seven-minute track dominated by bass and synth lines straight off of some classic UK DIY platter that just got remixed for a smartphone commercial. Music really is the international language!

Rocky and the Sweden City Baby Attacked By Buds LP

I nearly forgot about Tokyo’s premiere punk weed enthusiasts, which isn’t actually that weird considering their last release came out 20 years ago! It may be my jaded attitude to approaching new releases, or my ignorance of the Japanese hardcore world these days but somehow I was not expecting this to slay as hard as it does. Truly impressive, furious and powerful shit that immediately earns a spot on the shelf next to my favorite CRUDE and FORWARD releases. ROCKY AND THE SWEDEN has a unique penchant for incorporating their passion for ganja into both their aesthetic and demands for freedom and liberation. Some might think this is cheesy but I’d argue that their authenticity is undeniable given how long this theme has endured, along with consistent quality of output. For me it’s all about the aural impact and the great songs, jackhammering drums and searing guitar leads that somehow conjure feelings of hope, where there honestly are none these days. This limited US pressing was intended for a 2020 US tour (that obviously didn’t happen) and, like toilet paper and PS5s, was panic-bought and is already going for inflated prices, so enjoy it anyway you can!

Rommel セクシー スマイル / 甘いキッス 7″ reissue

So, Bitter Lake is a label that specializes in reissuing songs from the Japanese underground. Pretty sure the word specializes is the precise word to use here. I don’t know what to make of this one. It’s like cheesy pop music, with cheesy back-up vocals. I have no idea what they’re singing about, but I’m sure it’s cheesy. All that said, this thing is so catchy that I can’t not like it. And it makes me smile. I’m just sitting here listening and smiling. I may be in love with this record. Even if I can’t marry it, it’s my new favorite thing.