AGNOSTIC FRONT: VICTIM IN PAIN (1984)
1) Victim In Pain; 2) Remind Them; 3) Blind Justice; 4) Last Warning; 5) United & Strong; 6) Power; 7) Hiding Inside; 8) Fascist Attitudes; 9) Society Sucker; 10) Your Mistake; 11) With Time.
The term «hardcore punk», to me, has often seemed somewhat misleading. To put bands like Agnostic Front and, for instance, Agent Orange into the same subgenre category, de-emphasizing the differences between the two, is just so wrong it's even hard to find the right words to explain why it is so wrong. Basically, the dividing line is just chronological. Punk bands that came before Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys are just «punk» — starting from the early 1980s, if you were «punk», you were almost automatically «hardcore». So why not just simply talk about «early punk» and «late punk» instead?
Obviously, there are substantial differences as well. These later bands, for the most part, played faster and more brutal, raised the viciousness quota in the lyrics sky-high, and tended to forget that such a refined activity as «singing» was ever invented by humanity (or, rather, by that particular part of humanity whose chief duty was to distract the exploited masses from issues of oppression and inequality with fake, misleading, but seductive illusions of «beauty» and «art»). Yet even among those bands, the degree of respect for musicality varied immensely.
Agnostic Front will do nicely as a prime example of a band that justifies the «hardcore» label to utter perfection — especially considering my basic reaction to their «seminal» debut, Victim In Pain. Although I felt no real pain while listening to it (at this point in life, my ears have been polished by so many different sounds that I consider myself almost immune to «painful» music — heck, I even sat through a Justin Bieber song once), there was hardly any pleasure, either — yet, at the same time, there was also no temptation to write these guys off as a bizarre absurdist joke, as it usually happens with me and the «grindcore» extension of this sound.
Anyway, Agnostic Front were a bunch of hateful, but idealistic skinheads that came together in 1980, went through a series of member changes in order to pick out the filthiest possible candidatures, and finally stabilized around the «core duo» of guitarist Vinnie Stigma and lead sin... er, voc... uhm, voice provider Roger Miret. The rhythm section for Victim In Pain was Rob Kabula on bass and Dave Jones on drums, but you are not supposed to memorize these names, since they did not hang around for too long. (I don't blame them). Note, also, that «filthiest» does not mean «least experienced»: all of the musicians know how to play their instruments. (Had Vinnie Stigma not been really fluent in wielding his axe, there is no way these guys could have later made the crossover into more «metallic» territory).
Now this must be told — if, above everything else, «hardcore» is about getting your rocks off in the most aggressive, spontaneous, chaotic way possible, Victim In Pain is the ultimate hardcore experience. Its only ties to the generic understanding of «music» is a tight rhythmic structure that is, throughout the record, well-respected by all three players (not sure about the voice provider, though). Other than that, it is eleven yelps of hate, anger, and desperation that flash before one's eyes in fifteen brief minutes.
Of course, there is no telling one song from the other. Stigma's riffs are just familiar variations on trivial chord sequences that had already been overused to death by the previous six or seven years of the punk reign, and the band's understanding of «diversity of approach» seems limited to playing it real fast and then playing it real slow — or, more often, vice versa, since quite a few of the songs begin with a «mood-setting», bass-heavy slow intro, then, twenty seconds later, rip into lightning speed mode (with the exception of 'With Time', which, for some reason, they forgot to speed up at all — making it the album's longest number at an overwhelming 2:15). As for Roger Miret, his task is to scream his way through just as the anti-social moronic idiot that he is supposed to represent is supposed to behave. That particular task he is well up to.
In stark contrast to other representatives of «hardcore», the lyrics of Agnostic Front intentionally avoid displaying even the slightest hints at intelligence. Miret does not mince words, nor is he a good friend of the metaphor. "People say that I'm insane / A society's victim just in pain / Society's rules have made me cruel / I'm just the opposite, ain't no fool" pretty much sets the standard for the entire record. But hey — think of all those thousands of NYC slum kids whose brain power was not developed well enough to get in tune with even the likes of Greg Ginn or Jello Biafra. Here was a band right up their alley — too bad most of these kids probably didn't have the faintest idea of whether «Agnostic» was the name of some shit country or an STD.
Still, where I certainly agree with the critics is in admitting that Victim In Pain is a terrific historical document of late 1970s / early 1980s New York in its Taxi Driver incarnation — a place filled with brutal violence and primal stupidity, mixed in explosive proportions. (But what excitement! What thrills!) In California, after all, there always exists this temptation to «soak up some sun» — even the roughest Orange County bands couldn't resist paying off a debt or two to the teen pop of their childhood. Agnostic Front, on the other hand, could only blossom in the specific conditions of the NYC climate. The very existence of such an album should be enough to alert authorities — provided the authorities are equipped with the proper cerebral mechanisms — to the fact that something may be steadily going the wrong way on their turf.
Ten years ago, I would have chucked the album away as fifteen minutes of unlistenable crap, but these days my mind is ripe enough to take it as fifteen minutes of listenable crap — way too ridiculous and way too dumb to provoke fist-clenching reflexes, but still a fascinating element of underground culture that, in its time, actually provided a source of inspiration for people from all walks of life. And I mean «all» — how many respectable Wall Street brokers, terminally bored with «broking», would skedaddle over to the Village after work to scoop up a copy of Victim In Pain? No wonder the C.I.A. ranks that information as classified, so we'll never know.
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