After Phil Vane’s untimely death in 2011, it was unclear what the future would hold for Extreme Noise Terror. The dueling vocals of Vane and Dean Jones had always been one of ENT’s best and most distinctive features, and though Vane had come and gone from the band on more than one occasion, they never felt as vital without him, never as furious. After a crust-punk start, they flirted with death metal throughout their career, never quite stepping fully into that realm. Vane’s final album, 2008’s Law Of Retaliation, pushed the band a step or two back towards the crust of Holocaust In My Head, all for the better.
Now, with Vane gone to the great crust-punk squat in the sky, enter Ben McCrow, formerly of The Rotted / Gorerotted. This self-titled effort is the first Extreme Noise Terror release with McCrow, and it continues the trajectories set by Retaliation, both backwards in terms of the band’s evolution and upwards in terms of its quality.
If the stark black-and-white artwork didn’t clue you in, then from the opening of “Punk Rock Patrol,” it’s obvious that this newest Extreme Noise Terror is embracing its crusty roots. These riffs are simple power-chord hardcore; the vocals are still unintelligible shouts, with Dean sounding absolutely furious and McCrow snarling in in a choked death rattle. (His gore-metal-leaning gurgles are the only thing really tying the album to death metal.) The tempos are relentless, and the drumming is flat-out pummeling, handled by the returning Mic Hourihan (who apparently was also in a later version of Tigertailz, a random incongruous fact that I find amusing).
If you’ve been keeping up with Extreme Noise Terror from the early days – or if you smartly picked up Candelight’s not-too-distant reissue of the killer Holocaust In Your Head – then you know what to expect. When the two vocalists converge on a repeated scream of “No one is innocent!” at the end of the song of the same name, it’s pure crusty grinding greatness. Add to that the blistering “Chained & Crazed,” with its skank-worthy midtempo drive… or the cover of Japanese punks Outo’s “I Like Cola,” here reimagined as “I Like Coca”… or the vicious “Cruel And Unusual Punishment,” and it’s all just perfect punk mayhem. By the time McCrow’s gory growl crawls atop the chugging riff of “Only In It For The Music Pt. 27,” ENT has left little doubt that they’re still here and they’re as good as ever.
Extreme Noise Terror was best at their crustiest, so this return to form is a welcome one. It’s no shocker then that this self-titled effort is their strongest since Holocaust, their most consistently great, and their least metallic. McCrow fits in snugly, his growls giving just a slight anchor to metal while the band pushes head on back into hardcore.
These old dogs haven’t learned any new tricks – they’ve just rediscovered the ones that made them great. And we’re all better for it.