Handy tip to make your soul-destroying day job a tiny bit more bearable: if you buy stuff online, have it delivered to your place of work.
I arrived in this morning to find two parcels waiting from the US, one from a friend and one a tape and shirt by the band Encoffinized that I’d ordered from Headsplit records. As soon as I opened the parcel from Headsplit, the first thing that fell out was a big stack of photocopied paper: flyers and stickers. Nothing new there I’m sure you’d say if you buy underground stuff online, but these weren’t the usual “professional” printed jobs that you more commonly get nowadays that look like adverts cut out from Terrorizer or Zero Tolerance. Instead these were Xeroxed in black on crappy yellow or white or red paper, and decorated with crude, splattery hand drawn logos and lurid gore filled art.
I was immediately sent back to being 16, and coming home from school to open one of the bunch of envelopes that had come from some tape trading buddy, or equally death metal obsessed fanzine editor on the other side of the world. The good ol’ grindcore confetti would come pouring out as soon as you’d open them, similar globs of hand scrawled logos and typewriter blurbs advertising “Four tracks of pus filled brutality” or “Brutal death from the depths of Finland”. If you were really lucky, someone would have included a flyer for some local gig they’d attended or something (when I was 17 or 18 my prize ones were a shittily photocopied A4 sheet advertising an Autopsy/Deceased show stacked with smaller opening bands, and a similar Divine Eve one the band sent me with their demo, which sadly has been lost over the years along with the tape itself).
There’d be fucking tons of them. You’d spend ages going through all these flyers, making mental shopping lists, trying to work out how many US dollars or IRCS you’d need to get to purchase them, or if the tape you were thinking of buying might even still be available. This was all before you’d make it to the contents of the rest of the package,and devoured whatever letter, tape, zine or record was in it. Poring over handwritten tape trading lists became the highlight of the week. Scouring Anatomia or Corporal Arts or Verbal Aggression to see what new bands they were raving about. Making space on the wall for the Malediction/Cradle of Filth/Burial gig poster. The little things like that, the cataloguing of and revelling in these hastily copied pieces of paper, these were just as big a thrill as finally getting around to blaring the roughly dubbed Maxell C90 full of Phlegm demos or the Achrostichon 7”. If you chanced upon a Demigod flyer or something for an equally “big name” demo band at the time, it was cherished as much as the tunes.
The music was what drew me into the underground, but the hands on “labour of love” attitude to everything was what made me stay for a long time. The whole concept of professionalism seemed irrelevant. It’s a part of the culture that people don’t talk about so much now, and really it was motivated by necessity as a lot of these bands, zine makers and the like were – as I only realised much, much later – only a few years older than me at the time. Everything was made by fans for fans, something that drew me towards punk and hardcore later in life before the overly sanctimonious and musically stagnant nature of it drove me away after a time.
People nowadays in the underground tend to romanticise the image and aesthetic of bands like Blasphemy or Beherit or Sarcofago, the studs and gas masks and goats approach. And that’s cool. I like all those bands, and if you don’t think the front and back sleeve of “Fallen Angel of Doom” is cool as fuck then I feel sorry for you. But really, death metal or perhaps the kind of death metal that appealed to me most was the kind that was played by kids in plaid shirts and boot runners who were obsessed with horror movies and early Carcass. The “regular guy” death metal bands. It’s interesting now to have seen a decade or so of death metal bands who go for the more occult/theatrical approach to think how utterly different things were at the prime of death metal – it was really only Morbid Angel and the black metal bands who played dress up with a hand full of exceptions (Order from Chaos or maybe Miasma seemed a little keener on the leather and bullet belts).
I’d been drawn to Headsplit and their rough n’ ready unintentional throw back to my personal favourite style recently through the bands Fetid and Encoffinized, both of whom would have sat perfectly next to bands like Xysma or Rottrevore. I don’t think anyone in these bands, or the guys who run Headsplit are intentionally nostalgic, they’re just producing stuff that naturally picks up a thread from 20 years ago, where enthusiasm and love for what you’re doing surpass finesse or technique. I’ve no time for forced nostalgia. But this morning, it was a lovely feeling to be greeted by an unintentional time capsule.