You can feel it as much as hear it: the sound of crust-punk, scabrous and bleak – a soundtrack for the slow, painful disintegration of society and perhaps even humanity itself. A jolting, icy blast of reality through the world’s shattered windows. The sound of despair turning to defiance.
Formed in London in 1986, Axegrinder arrived as the ongoing post-punk melting pot began to conjure ever-heavier new hybrid strains of the hardcore punk and underground metal scenes that were still only a few years old. Following in the groundbreaking footsteps of peers like Amebix and Sacrilege, the band swiftly established themselves as one of the most musically adventurous and hair-raisingly intense bands the UK had to offer.
Renowned as an explosive live band, whether playing in a rot-infested squat or venturing into bigger, shinier venues, Axegrinder cemented their burgeoning reputation with their monstrous debut album The Rise Of The Serpents. The follow-up to a trio of widely hailed demos, it was released in 1989 via legendary British metal imprint Peaceville Records and was heralded as an underground classic. A brave, belligerent album that aggressively filtered Killing Joke’s pulsing nihilism through a prism of post-thrash grinding power, it was years ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, the first chapter of the Axegrinder story came to an abrupt halt not long after the release of …Serpents. After years of hard slog around the squats and pubs of the UK, both guitarist Steve Alton and vocalist Trev found themselves becoming increasingly disillusioned with the scene that they had helped to forge.
“The high points of those days were the sense of community and the sheer determination and passion of everyone involved within the genre,” Steve recalls. “From the people that made make-shift squats into venues, to those that kept the network alive with soaped stamps. It was a time where anything seemed possible. It all just seemed to work… no internet, no mobile phones and certainly no Facebook!”
“But the genre just turned into a parody of itself,” says Trev. “It became about who could be the scruffiest, who could have the longest dreads and so on. We became very tired of it all and, just like the anarcho-punk scene before, it became joyless and bound up with stupid rules. We lost direction, motivation and, most importantly, interest.”
“We then had an awful studio session and I just wanted to put the whole band out of its misery,” Steve concludes. “Unbeknownst to me, Trev felt exactly the same and when he announced he was quitting I just felt a massive weight lift off my shoulders. It just wasn’t fun anymore. We played a final show with Electro Hippies and it was a blast, lots of laughter and a real high to go out on.”
As the ‘90s dawned, Axegrinder were determinedly persona no grata. Decades slithered by in their absence, but the band’s cult status never wavered. In truth, while Trev stayed away from music and the music business, Steve remained an active musician and producer, working in all manner of left-field musical realms. As the years progressed, the two friends started to realise that maybe that show with the Electro Hippies wasn’t the full stop at the end of their story after all. Slowly but steadily, an unlikely reunion became a reality.
“We had talked about it off and on over the years but it never felt right and we weren’t interested in repeating what we’d done before,” says Trev. “We debated it for a long time, but people had begun to show interest again and instead of asking ourselves why, we were suddenly asking ourselves ‘Why not?’ The album had been in Steve’s head for about two years prior to it getting to the demo stage. We don’t live in each other’s pockets and live very different lives but we quickly found that we were on the same page regarding a reunion. Everything from the music through to the visuals was just so easy to get mutual agreement on.
The result of this glorious reconnecting of ancient forces is Satori, the second full-length Axegrinder album and the band’s first in 29 years. A jaw-shattering tour-de-force of razor-sharp riffing, insistent muscular grooves and cacophonous industrial scree, it’s much more than a simple upgrade for the duo’s immortal sound: recorded at their own studio with zero outside interference, it’s a wholesale re-invention, as the passion and fury of nearly three decades erupts through some of the sharpest, hardest-hitting songs you’ll hear this millennium.
“We didn’t sit down and say let’s write an Axegrinder album or even a crust album, that just wasn’t on our radar and we certainly didn’t want to copy Rise Of The Serpent Men,” says Trev. “We wanted to bring in fresh ideas, explore new territory but also play homage to the old style and sound.”
“Anyone expecting Rise II will be disappointed but will hopefully dig what we’re doing on Satori,” adds Steve. “The guitar sound is still there and the riffs are brutal. …Serpents was a troublesome beast to record and mix but this one was very organic and just developed naturally over time. We’ve had some great feedback from those that have heard it. There’s a lot more sing-along moments that’s for sure.”
Newly signed to Rise Above Records, Axegrinder will release Satori into a world that seems every bit as fucked up and bleak as the one they angrily assailed first time round. In reality, the anti-authoritarian message that burned at the heart of the crust-punk scene three decades ago has never lost its relevance or its power. From the crushing, slow-burn assault of Halo (Snakes For The Breeding) to the warped, nihilistic balladry of epic closer Too Far From Home, this is music that screams its righteous fury and creative clout from the rooftops.
“We have entered an age of hate and intolerance that thrives under a flag of ignorance proudly being waved by politicians,” Trev states. “It’s the old cliché of ‘divide and rule’. Unfortunately, clichés are clichés because they’re true.There’sstill an element of politics but a lot more personal stuff on this album.It’s been 30 years since the last album and although we still hold strong with a lot of the sentiments of our youth, we can’t truthfully say we agree with everything we had to say back then. We’re not in our twenties anymore so we now have life experiences to write about too.”
Back with a vengeance and more powerful than ever before, Axegrinder are already planning their next move. We can only hope the world is ready.
“We’re putting a live band together with a few familiar and new faces and hope to gig later in the year,” says Steve. “We’re working on a few ideas for new tracks but not focussing on anything concrete at the moment. We’re at that point in our lives where we all have other commitments and, interests. Although we’re passionate about the band, it’s not our sole focus but it makes for very interesting times when we’re all in the same room!”