It's become apparent to me that since Will stopped posting, I am the new resident crusty at Punknews.org. I have to say, it scares me a little to know that I'm the go-to guy for all the stench this site has to offer. Still, I figured I might as well fulfill my duties by taking on an Axegrinder review.
To me, there are no greater words than "CD reissue with bonus tracks." Yes, the words "All you can eat," and "Hot new models every week" are pretty good too, but not nearly as exciting. "CD reissue with bonus tracks" lets you know that something you were too young (or like me, too unborn) to see the first time is back, and ready for your consumption.
Axegrinder was one of several late-`80s crust bands on Britain's Peaceville label, which was probably the single most essential record label in the creation of the modern crust sound. Of course, Peaceville later left their anarcho-punk roots, and became an ultra-shitty metal label (fucking Darkthrone!), but that's not important. What's important is that now, 20 years later, they have reissued Axegrinder's single LP, Rise of the Serpent Men, on CD. With bonus tracks.
The album begins with an instrumental track, "Never Ending Winter," which basically gives away the style of the rest of the album. It starts out with a quiet intro, then leads into Amebix-style, death metal-influenced crust. It's of the slow and rhythmic variety, rather than the fast D-beat style, which gives Axegrinder some differentiation from the other early crust bands (Deviated Instinct, ENT, etc.). The lyrics are typical of the genre, basically bitching and moaning about how the world's gonna end, and all of that bullshit. Meh. There's some use of electric piano on the album, mostly for mopey, gothic intros, which doesn't do much but break up the songs. There's also some acoustic guitar for basically the same purpose. I'd say that this makes the album "varied," but the core of the music is still, well, "the 'core."
The biggest problem with Serpent Men is that it's uneven. Some of the songs do have memorable guitar lines or the usual grandiose "the weak shall triumph" moments, but other songs are just long and boring, with riffs that should really be "groin meets cinderblock" heavy, rather than just "head meets shovel" heavy.
After the seven-track album comes the four-song demo from Wartech, a band that was essentially Axegrinder with a new bassist. Wartech is, in every way, an improvement over Axegrinder. The musicianship improves almost exponentially, and they're no longer limited to playing slowly. The vocals are cleaner, with less of the "Amebix phlegm" and fit much better with the music, which is more of a technical metal or proto-math rock type of deal. The songs do go on for seven or eight minutes, but they're so varied that it more than makes up for the length.
The album artwork and packaging is superb, beyond the other three Peaceville crust reissues. Unlike the Electro Hippies and Doom CDs, this one contains liner notes by Matt, Axegrinder's bassist, as well as full lyrics for the album. Once again, it's in a beautiful digipak case, and has the original artwork by some guy from Carcass.
So, it's not the best crust album ever, and it certainly isn't deserving of the, like, five different t-shirt designs on punkstuff.com, but it's still a good album, and a piece of punk and metal history.