12" Clear Vinyl, 2018, Foad Records, Italy. Available
Edition of 400
I’m more likely to appreciate the contrast in a drawing if it’s straight up black-and-white than polychromatic. In music, contrast can be heard clearest between sound and silence. This is fairly obvious stuff, but I was never really aware of how important silence could be unless I was hearing some bullshit like John Cage’s 4‘ 33’ (is it safe to say that yet/again?). The use of dynamics within sound level can be an interesting way to provide contrast, but it’s no match for the stark atmosphere that the difference between sound and silence evokes. The silence I’m referring to is in between the songs on Fear Of God’s self-titled 1988 debut. For the most part it’s just silence in between the song-to-song transitions, but there’s also silence within the more jarring songs. The silence’s power is somewhat proportional to that of the music, which is some of the most powerfully abrasive shit I have ever heard, hyperbole be damned. I have this ritual for when I really want to ‘absorb’ an album, where I’ll turn the speakers on my desk around to face my bed, turn the volume up really loud, then just lie in bed to take it in, no homo. I did that for this album before I had really known what to expect… so when it first started playing my jaw dropped several times and I kept getting the urge to get out of bed and down the beer I was saving for later. There’s no comfortable way to listen to this album, but lying in bed, naively trying to ‘absorb it’ is probably the most alien. I’ve been lacking in my ability to describe music lately, so I’ll try to do that. Fear Of God are usually referred to as a grindcore band, and back in the late 80s that style was a lot clearer (and better) than it is now. They meld a bunch of aspects of heavy music and come out with this rotting mess of drastically shifting tempos, harsh, tape-distorted vocals and spastic rhythmic accents. It’s mixed with the vocals way loud and everything else creating this sometimes doomy, sometimes punky muck in every crevice. And all the members occasionally provide layered backup vocals, which creates a nice depth. The bass is also surprisingly strong for what I would expect from an album like this and really adds to the few head-nodding parts they have. With the vocals as loud and distorted as they are, it only gets more abrasive as you raise the volume. Emphasis on abrasive, be warned. To finally address the silence, you can’t help but notice it among the grinding onslaught. Between tracks are pauses just long enough for you to catch your breath. I actually was exhaling melodramatically between tracks on that first bedridden listen. It was out of both ecstasy and relief. To generalize on why it stands out, it’s maybe that with the technology available, people are less concerned with silence than packing as much sonic power they can into every second. That means songs that lead directly into one another and an unrelenting flow of sound. Certainly cool in its own right, but it makes albums like Fear Of God all the more remarkable in hindsight. The pacing of the album rises and falls with these silences. Music that is full-on damaged and disturbingly present becomes dynamic when the stark contrast is employed. Maybe it’s also got something to do with the ears tiring after being exposed to a monotonous sound level, so whenever they’re allowed to rest it’s like a palette cleanser. Refreshing! Anyway, I hope this is a noticeable quality in the music. I find it funny that it’s taken me this long to even really think about silence as a part of the music, even if only a little bit.(josephlovesit.blogspot.com/2008/03/fear-of-god-and-silence-in-between.html)
This originally came out in 1988 as a 7‘. It has 21 songs, most under the 30 second mark. The guitars and bass are downtuned, the drums are spastic, the vocals are growled/screamed. Most of the songs seem to be over before they’ve really started. Every once in awhile there is a slow, grinding riff before things kick back into overdrive. My favorite song of theirs is the monumentally grinding World Under My Fingernail. Unfortunately, it’s not on this disc. At the time this was released, very few bands sounded like this - Napalm Death and possibly a handful of others. Now, in 2006, when too many bands sound like this, I still get a kick out of listening to Fear of God, if mostly for the sake of nostalgia. It is definitely good catharsis music for when I’m experiencing moments of extreme frustration or anger. Can’t listen to it much around the house though because it scares the kids and the pets. Fear of God, and music like this in general, is a bit of an acquired taste. During the eighties, when I was constantly on the lookout for ever more extreme types of music, Fear of God was reached via a series of stepping stones like Venom, Swans, and a whole slew of early eighties European punk bands too numerous to mention. After hearing Fear of God and their ilk, I discovered that I’d reached a dead end as far as that particular type of extremity went, so I had to turn around and venture down other musical avenues. In a different way, their vocalist, Erich Keller, opened up other musical avenues for me through tape trading, introducing me to bands like Death SS (and Paul Chain), Laibach, and incongruously enough, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, as well as many others. Erich was also responsible for the fanzine, Megawimp, which brought him to the states on research missions during the eighties. He, with a couple of friends, even stayed at my house one Christmas (back when I lived with my mom, no less). I never could read the magazine though, since it’s all in German and I am hopelessly monolingual. Oh, this cd comes with the original liner notes, and I recently noticed/remembered that I’m thanked there. How punk of me! My only complaint is that this reissue should have come with an hour so worth of bonus tracks. Fear of God recently reformed, but I think maybe they’ve since broken up again.(Crow, moremusic.vox.com/library/post/fear-of-god.html)
CD has 21 tracks, 36:59; 11:08 of that is the actual EP, and there’s also approximately twenty-one minutes of silence and a short interview. Believe it or not, my musical tastes revolved around grindcore, death metal, black metal, etc. for a while. These days I don’t care for most death and black metal, but I still have a soft spot for grindcore. For those unfamiliar with the style, grindcore is essentially a hyperspeed blend of hardcore and extreme metal. Grindcore’s defining trait is the blast beat, which consists of playing the drums so fast that only a blur of dull thudding and crashing cymbals can be heard. ‘Grindcore’ was allegedly derived from ‘hardcore’ and ‘grind’, a term used by Mick Harris to describe the sound of bands like Swans. That’s the condensed version anyway! The classic genre-defining grindcore bands(1) would be Japan’s S.O.B., who were the punkiest of the early groups (and possibly the least interesting soundwise); America’s nasty Repulsion; England’s seminal Napalm Death; and this one, Switzerland’s legendary Fear Of God(2). Falling into the political end of grindcore, Fear Of God was a startling quartet of vocalist Erich Keller, drummer/screamer Franz ‘Osi’ Oswald (also in Tenebre), guitarist/screamer Reto ‘Tschösi’ Kühne (also in Messiah), and drummer/screamer Dave Phillips (also in Bloodstar and later an eclectic noise artist). Young, angry, and idealistic, the four madmen absolutely DESTROYED that which Napalm Death et al had created. Whereas Napalm Death’s full-length debut SCUM was full of short noisy bursts, in hindsight its production was a bit too clean. Fear Of God intentionally recorded as noisily as possible, ensuring that each of these twenty-one tracks is covered in a nice layer of filth. Don’t let that scare you off, because believe me, it suits the music! Whereas Napalm Death hid ‘You Suffer’s one-second burst at the end of side one, Fear Of God come right out the gate with the seven-second growlfest ‘Rubbish Planet’. From there it’s a lightspeed blast through the remaining tracks, which you actually CAN differentiate after enough listens! Thirteen of the songs are less than thirty seconds, while only four (barely) break the minute mark. Lyrically, these tunes rail against women who wear fur (‘Pelzfotze’), excessive and/or misdirected pride (‘Proud On Your Pride’), the poor treatment of AIDS victims (‘I’m Positive’), and other political injustices in an appropriately furious way. Erich’s disturbing growled vocals are an acquired taste, but his frenzied delivery is a perfect match for the music. He’s especially enjoyable on such micro-songs as ‘My Hands Deep In Your Guts’ and ‘7 Up’; he truly DOES sound like he’s singing for his life at times, or perhaps he’s just an elemental force of nature unto himself? Don’t sell the other members short though! Dave manages to get a catchy and even groovy bassline into every noisy gem, Osi’s drumming probably made even Mick Harris nervous, and Tschösi is perfectly capable of playing recognizable notes and blurry waves of noise with equal aplomb. The extra screams that all three instrumentalists add are a nice touch to Keller’s more guttural approach. Essentially inventing AND mastering the subgenre of noisegrind(3) with this EP, this would be an essential introduction to grindcore for anyone curious about the genre. In my opinion it’s an even better intro than SCUM or REEK OF PUTREFACTION! Fear Of God would have a short lifespan, breaking up in ‘88. There was a reunion a few years back, and Ipecac of all labels was set to release a Fear Of God discography disc, but that seems to have fallen through. MANY vinyl bootlegs of this EP exist, so I would suggest getting the authorized CD. By the way, about that silence: At the end of track twenty-one (the short and intense screamfest ‘First Class People), there is indeed about twenty-one minutes of silence, followed by a nearly six-minute interaction between some punk and a radio host . This has a small bit of music spliced into it, but otherwise it’s just the punk and the host insulting/being confused by Fear Of God. A strange bonus perhaps, but with singular efforts like this I’m just happy to have it at all. All FOG releases are worth it(4), but Erich himself has said more bootlegs exist than authorized product, so pay attention when shopping! If this sounds appealing to you, check Erich’s music blog at www.goodbadmusic.com . He usually posts metal and hardcore, but there’s a few Fear Of God rarities in there. Another truly interesting FOG-related project is Dave Phillips’ THE HERMENEUTICS OF FEAR OF GOD, which reassembles the already-extreme source material into a nightmarish (though fascinating!) horror show; VERY much worth checking out, but use caution! Also worth hunting for is Erich’s industrial/noise project Atta, which actually predates Fear Of God.
(1) There WERE worthy proto-grind bands like Siege, Deep Wound, Brigada Do Ódio, Kuolema, early D.R.I., and Corporate Whores; however, for simplicity’s sake I’m sticking to the first bands to be categorized as grindcore proper.
(2) Napalm Death and S.O.B. turned more death metal over the years. Repulsion released one album (plus some demos and singles) before breaking up.
(3) Just to clear up a common misconception, Fear Of God don’t fall under the ‘noisecore’ umbrella like Seven Minutes Of Nausea or Deche-Charge. They were raw traditional grindcore with obvious noisecore and noise-rock influences. I’ve seen this style referred to as ‘noisegrind’ so that’s what I’m going with. For that matter, they didn’t really consider themselves grindcore either, preferring to describe themselves as either a hardcore band or a noise band!
(4) Particularly worthwhile are the reissued demo KONSERVEN and the live PNEUMATIC SLAUGHTER, both of which feature versions of tracks from this EP. The rare BLAZING SWISS NOISE! tape has some of the tracks off the EP, two live shows, and a rehearsal set.