Friday, February 03, 2012

Flash Metal Suicide: Warfare

Pure Filth
1984, Neat Records

While it is always fun to look back at the folly of youth and sneer, jeer, or cheer at hapless flash metal victims like Britny Fox and King Kobra, it really oughta be noted that only nerds, bumpkins, and the semi-retarded listened to that dreck back then. The shit we were into in the city back in the early 1980’s was more heat and fire than mere flash. It was hardcore rock n’ roll, like Slayer, Black Flag, the Misfits, Venom, Gang Green, Motorhead,Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, GBH, Fear, Tank, Discharge, Corrosion of Conformity, stuff that stank of stale beer and cheap speed and promised blood and danger. Glam was exploding in the malls and suburbs, but on the streets it was all used leather, metal-plated boots, spikes, black jeans, long hair, and stolen booze. The punk kids and the metal kids were two separate and sometimes warring factions when roaming the neighborhoods looking for good drinking and screwing spots (the punk kids always had more fun, and more girls, and more drugs, which often made me question my headbanger allegiance), but everybody piled into one big sweat-soaked mass of teenage rampage at live all-ages shows, which is how the whole notion of ‘crossover’ bands like Crumbsuckers, DRI, and Agnostic Front– bands that were 95% punk rock, but with just enough screaming guitar leads to draw in the rivetheads, too – came about. And as much as the metal kids gravitated to the harder punk bands, the Mohawks loved Lemmy and Cronos and Celtic Frost and Destruction and Voivod, anything fast and evil. And that’s just how it went. I know that Dokken happened, because I saw it on TV, but there was rarely a Dokken sighting at the VFW Hall in Cambridge.

It wasn’t long before bands starting erasing the genre lines completely. The first two that really had an impact were both from England. Broken Bones was a jarring thrash n’ roll juggernaut formed by couple of the dudes in Discharge. They turned into a straight-up thrash metal band as the 80’s wore on, but they were a full-scale punk rock riot when they started. The other was Warfare, the meanest, loudest, most punk-as-fuck heavy metal band of the 80’s.

Warfare was from Newcastle Upon Tyne, the same town in Northern England that Venom hailed from, a band that would figure prominently in their history. They were formed in 1984 by Paul Evo (or just Evo, as he was known in the band), a drummer/singer who previously played with first-wave punks Angelic Upstarts. He was joined by guitarist Gunner and bass player Falken, which pretty much cemented what the band was gonna sound like. If your guitarist is named fucking GUNNER, heavy shit is going to happen.

Warfare’s sound was an ugly explosion of NWOBHM guitars blown-out for maximum fuzz, played at thrashpunk speed, with chugging battlefield rhythms and the hoarse bellow of Evo over the top.  To this day, Warfare remains one of the most gloriously obnoxious sounds you’ll ever here, like Venom, Tank and Motorhead all fighting over the same scrap of turf with rusty knives and barbed-wire fists. Which makes perfect sense, when you consider their recording history.

Warfare signed to Neat records, Venom’s label, and released their first album “Pure Filth”, in 1984. It was produced – so to speak – by Tank mainman Algy Ward. I dunno if ‘produced’ is really the right word. It’s more like he lit the fuse and ran like hell. “Pure Filth” is a classic of bullet-riddled punk-metal mayhem, filled with howling, war-zone freak for alls like “This Machine Kills”, “New Age of Total Warfare”, and infamous noisefest “Rose Petals Fall From Her Face”, which also featured Algy and Venom.

“Pure Filth” put Warfare on the map, but their “Two Tribes” single, a rumbling, psycho-delic cover of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song, got them in the papers. They started to sell a lot of records but, amazingly, had yet to play live at this point. They liked being in the studio better. Playing live was for pussies. But duty called, and they began playing gigs in 1985, and spent much of their stage time ruining it for everybody else, disrupting the other bands’ sets and acting as beastly as they sounded. In one infamous incident, they were asked to open for Metallica at the Hammersmith Odeon, but were expected to pay for their own expenses. In protest, they played in the parking lot during the show, where Evo threw his mic stand at the Odeon manager’s car and smashed the Warfare truck into several parked cars, resulting in enough damage to land him in court on criminal charges. Which just added to the band’s rep as bullet-belt wearing bad asses of the highest order.

In 1986, Warfare released their second album. Cashing in on their metal/punk crossover appeal, they named it “Metal Anarchy”, and cashing in on their image as speed-freak biker desperados, they got Lemmy to produce it. Again, ‘produce’ is a very high-faluting word for it. Can you imagine Lemmy actually sitting there, turning knobs, saying, “Ok, from the top, a little more sparkle on that one, eh, Evo?”  No. Lemmy pounded booze with the fellas, and they made a monstrous fuckin’ record together. Motorhead’s own Wurzel even kicked in a few reptilian riffs. It sold 40,000 copies and Warfare didn’t bother to tour. Fuck touring. They decided to make another record instead. It was called, quite accurately,  “Mayhem Fucking Mayhem”. Cronos produced it, and when Falken fucked off, Cronos played the rest of the bass parts, too. The album got caught up in record label hell, and was finally spit out, with barely any publicity, in 1987. By then Guns N’ Roses were becoming the biggest band in the world and rock n’ roll was pretty obnoxious all on it’s own, so it didn’t need Warfare so much anymore. They attempted to release a cover of “Addicted to Love” to revive the hordes, but were shot down by Robert Palmer’s publishers. Or by Robert Palmer himself, I wasn’t there. At any rate, they did one more album with Neat, 1988’s “Conflict of Hatred”, but it had fuckin’ keyboards and a saxophone on it. Not even a guest appearance from Venom’s Mantas could lift “Conflict” out of the mud of “maturity”. And it was at this point that everybody sorta forgot about Warfare.

They didn’t die, though. In the early 90’s, Hammer films was undergoing an ill-fated revival, and they had plans to open their studios again. That didn’t happen, but Warfare still released an album in conjunction with Hammer in 1990. It was called, imaginatively enough, “Hammer Horror”, but got no press, and fizzled out without mention. Evo eventually re-recorded the tracks with Algy Ward, and that’s pretty much what he spent the rest of the 1990’s doing, revamping old Warfare songs. “Crescendo of Reflections” was released in 1991, and contains new versions of old shit like “Blown to Bits” and “Metal Anarchy”. There’s also been two best-of comps since then, but the last new material Evo worked on in the 90’s was in Warhead, a short-lived supergroup with Wurzel and Algy.  And that’s where the story ends. Mostly. A few years ago, Evo resurfaced in a punk covers band called Thieves of Fate with a couple black metal guys. Which, while reasonably bad-ass, is no metal anarchy.

So where is the Warfare cult? Motorhead is still rolling on, and probably always will. Tank’s fans never left them. Venom’s back, albeit in the same sorta way Axl wants to convince you that GN’R is back. So why not Warfare? In 1984, I was making my own “Pure Filth” t-shirts with white Hanes tees and black and red magic markers, absolutely convinced that their gut-churning hand grenade rock was the sound of the punk-metal revolution, and unlike a lot of the bands we worried ourselves over in the 1980’s, the Warfare sound is still as tough and volatile as it was back then. It’s uncompromising. It’s like a hard fucking in a bathroom stall. It’s like stepping on a landmine. Warfare was rock n’ roll in a combat zone. Which seems pretty relevant in these strange and terrible days.

Do yourself a favor and your neighbors a disservice and pick up a copy of Pure Filth today. You could use some mayhem fucking mayhem.

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