We’ve seen this scenario before. Bands split up, go on indefinite hiatus or just drop off the face of the Earth, only to re-emerge years and years later with new material and a fresh load of crow’s feet. Axegrinder manage to take this to the next level, however. Their first album, The Rise of the Serpent Men, dropped in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down. Satori, released in the summer of the Year of Our Jørn 2018, is the follow-up, if you can still call it that. Twenty-nine years between releases makes the next Tool album feel rushed and might inspire G.R.R. Martin to take it a little easier on releasing the next A Song of Ice and Fire novel. But is this a genuine case of a thoroughly delayed strike of inspiration, or are we facing the result of a collective mid-life crisis?
Whichever the case, the form of expression is thrashy mid-paced crust punk in the vein of Amebix. The guitars march unwavering, churning and chugging with a static buzz of electricity surrounding them, pumping out two or three similar sounding riffs per song. The vocals are typical British punk snoot, like a more serious and less decapitated version of Vyvyan from The Young Ones. You can tell they’re lower class and mad about something, but the details get lost in the gulfs of guitars, in which the only buoys are the steadily snapping snare and dull thuds of the bass drum.
What gets my goose is not so much the style of the band, which is ominous in a threadbare fashion, a no-frills approach to monochrome chugs and lyrics with their heart on the tongue. Rather more damning is the lack of spirit on the record. Punk, in general, is a genre that thrives on passion. When have you last heard a punk record ambivalent on their social and political standpoints? Yet while Axegrinder purportedly espouse all about the various ways in which the world is terrible (the word ‘satori’ means awakening or comprehension, or as kids these days call it, “woke”) the constant, unchanging mid-pace and lack of tooth and claw deadens any emotional impact. When Satori is playing, I feel exactly the same coming out as I do going in, with no energizing, riling up or downcast, depressing effects felt.
It’s not down to any particular element either, because the record is good on paper. Various choruses hook well enough, such as opener proper “Halo (Snakes for the Breeding)” and “Satori,” the latter of which drills into your brain like a botfly larva. There’re some solid riffs to be found, carried on waves of thudding kickdrums, and several tracks add extra elements like female vocals to get more variety from the music (“Too Far From Home”). But therein lies the catch: without those extra elements, every song would sound practically indistinguishable, and that issue is barely alleviated at all. With the vocal delivery, overall pacing and even the tone and key all uniform across the album, and even the composition of the individual tracks falling to the trap of repetition, everything the band achieves with their sound quickly finds itself subject to diminishing returns. Satori severely lacks dynamics in their compositions, as well as their flat production (don’t let the DR fool you,) and it quickly becomes boring as a result.
When a band takes such a long time to return to the fold, it creates a little more goodwill as a reviewer. It shows obvious conviction and passion from members who have never truly given up on their aspirations. It saddens me that the music on Satori doesn’t reflect this mentality. Axegrinder came apart due to disillusionment with the crust scee, and took nearly three decades to find themselves reformed on the other side. It pains me to say: they may have waited too long.