If I could travel to Europe tomorrow, I would definitely allot time to spend in Metz, France. I'm sure that there are beautiful examples of Alsatian culture there, cathedrals and what not. My interest in Metz, however, springs from a group of bands there that have built up an intriguing body of musical work. Groups like the Anals, Plastobeton, and A. H. Kraken have all released energetic, noisy, kick ass Punk under the rubric of something called La Grand Triple Alliance Internationale de L'est. Judging from this group's web page, it's something like Positive Force or Better Youth Alliance, seemingly a network for like minded bands. Thankfully, the music is a damn sight more raw and rocking than the sounds that came from the PF or BYO.
A.H. Kraken's full length release on In the Red could be the calling card of Alsatian Sludge. It's sound is a composite of Punk, No Wave, and Post-Punk, played with a vicious, acerbic glee. This record is a truly delicious aural treat for the noise fan.
The vocalist uses a deadpan ranting style to deliver lyrics in French, German, and English. His sound can be harsh at times, but, man, Punk sounds so freakin' good in French. Seriously, he could be saying "death to Disaster Amnesiac" and I wouldn't care. The vocals on A.H. Kraken are easily as cool as those on anything by Metal Urbain. His German and English songs have the same vocal inflections (versatile he ain't , not like that matters for these proceedings), and sound equally as cool, just maybe not as impressively Punk as the French ranting. I never took French, so the lyrics are pretty much incomprehensible to me, but there seems to be a sarcastic and malevolent undercurrent to the ranting. The group's myspace page friends Flipper and Crime pretty highly, so that's probably not too much of a stretch.
A.H. Kraken use guitars with extreme effectiveness. There are NO power chord riffs at all on this recording! So many bands dull their sound with the power chord approach, and to their credit, A.H. Kraken avoid that safe route. Instead, the listener is treated to noisy runs, screeches and scrawls played by two guitarists. At times they reach heights of dueling not heard since Mars. An easy comparison would be to Sonic Youth, but I believe Kraken have much more going on than a simple copying of a very influential group. It's obvious that they love to make a heady racket, and disregard the impulse to pull the listener along with mere chords.
The task of holding down the tunes is primarily left to the bass. Often times this approach can lead bands into sounding either ersatz funky or thin in the treble registers, but in A.H. Kraken's case, the sound is sludgy and heavy. The tunes move with a lower register pulse. It sounds to me like a Jazz bass through a nice big cabinet. It sounds to me like Shatter and Loose. It sounds like fucking heaven to me.
Possibly the best aspect of A.H. Kraken is the drumming. Much like their vocals and guitar playing, the drums are played simple and direct. This is not to say that the drumming features the standard Polka-Punk beats. It does not. What sounds to be a very large floor tom is pounded with heavy eighth note beats. Open hi-hats are slammed in a similar style. A.H. Kraken's rhythms are slower and longer than your standard issue Punk. There is a kind of willful sloppy approach that gives the tunes a heavy, uncomfortable edge. These songs are not forced along at a tidy pace. They throb.
A.H. Kraken are not pretty. The music they make is crude and noisy. There is a palpable sense of menace about them. Their Alsatian Sludge is the real deal. Man, I hope that they come to Oakland. If not, the streets of Metz may have to be my next vacation destination.