Crust is the only category of punk that’s ever successfully lured me into its slime-stained grip, and that isn’t just because it’s a close cousin of metal. I find comfort in its narrow scope; the reliance on d-beat, drunken harsh vocals, and melodic chord progressions played in ceaseless triplets make for beautifully simple and reliably satisfying tropes. Listening to any new crust album is like a visit from an old friend, except that friend is every crust act to ever exist, and they all smell equally. Norway’s Agenda is no different, and while their take on the genre feels mostly fundamentalist, their execution is just varied enough for them to reside within the same realm of quality as their peers. Regardless of its inherent quality, I wouldn’t dare pass up the chance to hear an album as excellently titled as Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues.
Though mostly predictable by genre standards, Agenda wastes no time in displaying their knack for imbuing their tunes with twists borrowed from neighboring genres. Opening cut “Suffer” doles out beautiful arpeggios derived from melodic hardcore to accompany their caustic crust identity. That identity is static for much of Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues, but Agenda is not hesitant in pushing it aside in favor of more notably metallic pastures. As early as the third track, “Life Left Behind” offers southern-fried grooves which see crust give way to a close approximation of sludge. This track’s placement early in the album is deceptively smart; tracks like “Walls” or “One Question Remains” open in a similarly plodding vein, lulling the listener into a false sense of security before abruptly pivoting into whiplashing d-beats. Agenda‘s unpredictability makes them more worthy of your attention than the average crust act.
The tonal and rhythmic balance of Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues makes it appealing from the very first spin, but Agenda‘s base crust identity could stand some sharpening. This record’s level of aggression, while far from toothless, isn’t enough to match the seething volatility of the bands that inspired them, such as Wolfbrigade. This relative deficiency is mostly due to the rhythm guitar work, which relies almost solely on power chord progressions without instrumental flair. The mixing and tones do little to remedy this deficiency; this is a loud, flat sounding production. While that’s more or less the norm for the genre, the average guitar tones ensure that Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues is merely an “okay” sounding record. It’s still very enjoyable for what it is, but with more urgent performances and venomous production, I could have been easily seduced into bumping up my score.
What Agenda lacks in instrumental urgency is made up for in spades by frontman Hans Olaf Myrvang. While many crust vocalists opt for a distinctly drunken growl, Myrvang’s approach falls much closer to the realm of hardcore. His caustic shrieks imbue Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues with a chaotic personality, and surprisingly enough provide an appreciated level of lyrical clarity. The lyrics, dripping with swears and nihilism, provide an ongoing commentary on the active disintegration of modern society, a concept which I am certain isn’t borne from real-world anxieties. They won’t revolutionize storytelling within the genre in the same way as, say, Morrow’s masterful poetry, but the lyrics are reasonably compelling and abrasive all the same.
I feel that I’m being a touch harsh on this record, especially as it’s one which I’ve genuinely enjoyed. As its promo blurb promised an atmosphere of despair and elements of black metal (of which I found none), however, I feel somewhat oversold and underwhelmed. Even so, Agenda has made an undeniably likable record in Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues. At just 30 minutes long, it’s an easily digestible one at that. The irregular detours into metal and hardcore are certainly welcome, and I’d love to hear these guys dive deeper into that well on future outings. Whether they opt for a more metallic approach or focus on honing their execution of raging crust punk, I’m confident that Agenda has what it takes to significantly elevate themselves with their next record. Until then, Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues is certainly worth a listen.