Reviewed: May, 2018
Released: 2018 Rise Above Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After kicking around as more myth or concept than actual “thing” for the better part of 20 years, and offering but a tease with a four-track, 7-minute EP in 2013, the supergroup Septic Tank have finally come to fruition and delivered an actual album. Rotting Civilisation harks back even farther than the band’s own origins, to the early days of hardcore and grindcore in fact, and offers the sort of spunk and speed most of its membership haven’t shown in decades.
Featuring then-Cathedral vocalist Lee Dorrian (ex-Napalm Death) and guitarist Gary “Gaz” Jennings (ex-Acid Reign), and Repulsion bassist Scott Carlson and ex-Trouble drummer Barry Stern – both of whom were touring with Cathedral at the time – Septic Tank formed in a fit of fury in 1994 but fizzled out just as quickly as logistics and economics intervened. The band, however, were reborn as Cathedral – with Carlson back in the fold – were breathing their last in 2012.
With Jaime Gómez Arellano, who produced Cathedral’s farewell album The Last Spire at his Orgone Studio, coming aboard as drummer, replacing Stern (who passed away in 2005), Septic Tank bashed out the EP – but then only issued 900 copies, and only in Japan, before fading yet again into the ether. Rotting Civilisation makes amends, to a certain extent, by offering 18 tracks that hurtle by in a rather furious 40 minutes and recall the immediacy of vintage Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror paired with the punch-in-the-face directness and chug of Discharge or Siege.
It’s the kind of album that probably would have sounded more pertinent had it been recorded when Septic Tank first formed. As it is here, it seems more of a tribute album or a bit of waxing nostalgic since it is 30-some years removed from the original music that inspired it. But at least these guys can hold some claim to that era and aren’t a bunch of upstarts merely aping heroes who did their thing before they were even born.
Rotting Civilisation is all about old-school venom and aggression, a collection of three-chord, two-minute bulldozing tracks that offer no frills and pull no punches. The signature opener “Septic Tank” sets the tone with its 1:43 tantrum and there is little let up from there. Only the chunky, Celtic Frost-like “Death Vase” and the Motorhead-like ragged-ass rock and roll of “Digging Your Own Grave” crack the 3-minute mark, and “Grave” makes it by just one second.
The album’s deliberately raw sound gives it a certain bygone authenticity even as some of its lyrics tackle contemporary subjects as on “Social Media Whore,” “Self-Obsessed” and “Divide and Conk Out.” Dorrian hasn’t sounded this righteously pissed off since Napalm’s From Enslavement to Obliteration as he breathlessly shouts out his vocals over Jennings’ slashing, rapid-fire riffs. “You call me a faggot, pussy and a Jew, or a terrorist sympathizer, fuck you!” Dorrian bellows as he attacks overzealous antifa tactics on “Whitewashed.” It’s a pretty far cry from the trippy gloom of Cathedral.
As vibrant and vital as early era hardcore could be, however, its lack of variety was a fatal flaw to many. And with nearly 20 songs in a row of much the sort of thing here, Rotting Civilisation seems a bit redundant once the initial excitement/curiosity wears off. Still, it’s a trip down memory lane worth taking – regardless of how damn long it took to finally get there.