Stone The Crowz: Protest Songs 85-86 – album review
Stone The Crowz – Protest Songs 85-86 (Overground)
CD | LP
Out: 4 September 2015
Nathan Brown gives his verdict on a reissue of 1980s UK anarcho punk for Louder Than War.
Stone The Crowz are a welcome blast from the past, the latest in a string of re-releases from Overground, who have also been punting out more recent recordings by the likes of Zounds, Rubella Ballet and Paranoid Visions.
This band probably first came to my attention via the track “Skin Deep” on Mortarhate Records’ “We Won’t Be Your Fucking Poor” double LP with the acerbic vocals and anger really standing out as they delivered the message: “Slaughter of animals is still legal!”. As the song concluded with the refrain “Animals are not ours to exploit, animals are not ours to eat” it struck a real chord with me, and countless other punk rockers who were exploring activism, vegetarianism and veganism. Before the internet, music really was a means to spread messages and ideas, and equally to provide inspiration, solidarity and confidence for those of us existing in the sticks that we weren’t alone. As an aside, I remember that the repeated “to eat, to eat” used to cause my mates some amusement as someone had pointed out that it sounded as if they were singing “tweet, tweet”. Who says grim black clad anarchists don’t have a sense of humour?
Around the same time, two tracks appeared on the “Punk Lives, Let’s Slam” compilation LP on Slam Records. Despite sharing the record with the likes of Political Asylum and Rattus, it was one of the Stone The Crowz tracks – Suffer Little Children – that was always the highlight for me. The anger of the vocal delivery in a style drawing on the likes of Flux of Pink Indians but veering at times towards the more guttural delivery of Amebix, the subject matter (environmental destruction), the catchy rhythm of the tune, the Subhumans style solo….it had it all. So, opening with these three tracks, the CD has me on familiar territory. While the Stone The Crowz tape had appeared on a few friends’ tape decks, it was these vinyl outings which got me interested in the band.
Some of the 16 tracks don’t have quite the ferocity or urgency of the openers but still hold their own and would have made a fine noise alongside Exit-Stance and Liberty with whom they gigged – lots of stompy floor tom drum beats and chugging guitars backing up a strident attitude – and a very pro-animal rights stance. If I was listening to them for the first time, I would probably be telling all my mates about this great new band they ought to listen to.
As the title suggests, the music on this collection of recordings hails from the mid 1980s and Stone The Crowz were part of the anarcho-punk movement, taking their name from a Rudimentary Peni song (Army of Jesus). That term anarcho-punk is something which I feel deserves a few words. I have heard the term (in the US they call it “peace punk”) used as a description of musical style which in my opinion is a load of bollocks and a misunderstanding. For some it is short hand for anything that bears the hallmark of Penny Rimbaud’s production values – tinny guitars, militaristic drumming and shouted vocals – ignoring swathes of bands with a broader sound. For others it only refers to bands who recorded in a narrow timeframe between 1979 and 1986, ignoring many superior bands who have come since.
Anarcho-punk is not really a complex concept. Punk is music and covers a multitude of sins with highs and lows and a huge diversity in sound. Anarchism is a people-based grass roots approach to politics rejecting hierarchical government and endorsing direct action (make the change don’t wait for it). Put the two together and you have anarcho-punk – an attitude and world view, a statement of intent, conveyed by lyrics to a “punk” soundtrack – it’s not a style of music and it is still being produced worldwide. By way of demonstration, stop for a moment and compare Crass with Crucifix, Conflict with Chumbawamba….(today’s example is brought to you by the letter C). Just to be clear, anarchism is distinct from the cartoon character, two fingers in the air faux “anarchy” of aspiring estate agents and butter salesmen.
The CD package features the all important lyrics to the songs complemented by a scan of the tape cover, some pictures of the band performing and some crow artwork. I am told the limited 500 LP run is pressed in clear vinyl. One thing this release captures is the transition that punk music was going through in the mid 80s: the beginning of the influence of metal into punk that blossomed into a whole “crust” scene that continues to this day. I can remember the Peaceville records compilation, “A Vile Peace”, introducing many of the bands who would excel in this genre, including Axegrinder, who were formed from the ashes of Stone The Crowz, but took a much darker, grindier approach. It also transpires that drummer Steve Beatty was the man behind Endangered Muzik from whom I bought some great seven inches in the mid 80s including two seminal slabs that I still play to this day: Anti-Sect “Out From the Void” and Oi Polloi “Resist The Atomic Menace”.
For me, again it is “Suffer Little Children” that is the outstanding track, and in my view this release is worth picking up for that alone if you don’t already have it. With a younger generation discovering what went before, Stone The Crowz deserve to see the light of day again and will doubtless be well received. For others of you, the opportunity to recapture a long lost tape on vinyl or CD may be the incentive. Recommended for those who like their punk rock angry and political. Pre-order from Overground.
Words by Nathan Brown. Read more of his Louder Than War contributions here.