Liberteer - Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees
17 songs (27:06)
Release year: 2012
Liberteer, Relapse
Reviewed by Charles
Surprise of the month
Left wing themes are hardly unusual in grindcore, in fact they seem entirely logical. Grind is rather the opposite of black metal, in that it tends not to worship the purity of its own past (a conservative mindset by definition), instead having a proud history of experimentation through hybridisation. Typically, anti-establishment wrath has served as a vital energy force for bands of this nature, but what’s interesting about Liberteer is that it has tried to integrate these ideas more explicitly at an aesthetic level, too, making for a blood-pumping and distinctive perspective. Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees frolics around socialist iconography- titles include Rise Like Lions After Slumber, I Am Spartacus and so forth- like a tourist trip around radical history, guided by a man (sole member and former US marine Matthew Widener) whose reading of Goldman, Kropotkin, Bakunin and so on, led him to break with serious-faced avant-grind survivalists Citizen and form his own explicitly anarchist project.

More pertinent here, though, are the musical references. On one level this is frantic, energising grind in the vein of Terrorizer or another Widener-related project, Cretin. Very unusually for a grind band, however, (albeit not so surprising if you’ve heard the abovementioned Citizen) this features the kind of orchestral, brass and acoustic influences that one might expect to find emanating from albums by face-painted Norsemen. Here, though, these disparate elements blend together into a vibrant splurge of deepest red, which is simultaneously militant and militaristic. The martial atmosphere- see the opening trumpet salute of The Falcon Cannot hear the Falconer, or the fragments of tin whistle marching tunes in Build No System, for just two examples- sits very uneasily with anarchism, in fact the juxtaposition of the two could seem like a defilement of both. I’m not sure how to interpret the paradox: I’m tempted to take it as sarcastic satire. Certainly, the way the soldiers-on-parade overtones of Usurious Epitaph, is echoed and usurped by livid metal guitar in Revolution’s Wick Burning Quick reminds me of Master’s bitter mockery of their own national iconography in America the Pitiful from way back. The effect, though, is highly ambiguous, because the martial rhythms and melodies that intertwine with the grind are actually quite stirring on a musical level, adding a great deal of emotional kick to the tracks. Not only that, but they contribute musical depth, too. The short tracks tracks herein leap from plaintive tunefulness to raging grind in the blink of an eye, producing an exciting unpredictability that few bands can muster nowadays.

And the collision that is Better to Die on your Feet… still has more components to be untangled. There are hints of acoustic folk to be found, here conjuring eerie bluegrass Americana rather than the clichéd “weren’t our ancestors spiritual, darlings?” buffoonery of the black metal acts with whom I counterposed Liberteer above. Banjos flutter, somewhat like they do in Panopticon or Petrychor, tangling with the abovementioned military themes to wallow wistfully in sepia-tinged Americana, before we are wrenched out of this happy place by screaming and distortion. The effect is a powerful one. Most bizarre of all is the thudding almost-power metal of Sweat for Blood and Barbarians at the Gate (songs here can be taken in interlinked clusters rather than distinct entities), but I suppose such anomalies can again be taken as all part of the fist pumping power of the record- which is not a subtle one by a long shot.

Still, all these elements are handled extremely well considering this is just one guy with guitar, kit, and synths (ironically a lineup configuration more closely associated with black metal), and the album, taken as a whole, is addictive and explosive. The riffing is complex and vicious, but equally capable of hitting you with melody- a pretty novel achievement for the genre. The many elements of the sound, where they could sound arbitrarily hurled, give Liberteer a striking depth and fluidity. In short, this is essential grind.

Killing Songs :
Album as a whole
Charles quoted 90 / 100
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