When Napalm Death appeared on the metal scene, they sounded like very little that had come before. Sure, death metal had already begun to establish itself by the mid eighties, but the scene’s earliest acts – such as the most literally named Death – combined their brutal speed with fretboard assaulting lead breaks and other elements most closely associated with the thrash and speed metal of the day. Birmingham’s Napalm Death were different: they took that speed and aggression and distilled it to its absolutely purest – and often shortest – essence. With the speed of death metal, but the suckerpunch delivery of hardcore punk, they laid the foundations for what became grindcore. Their earliest works were so frantic and intense that even the original band only stayed together for one side of an album. That LP – 1987’s ‘Scum’ – remains a landmark for the extreme metal/punk subgenre; with its twenty eight tracks delivered in approximately thirty three minutes (a duration bulked out by the title track stretching beyond two minutes), the album was the aural equivalent of being smacked repeatedly with a brick.
Since those days, grindcore has remained a much-loved – albeit marginal – genre among fans of extreme metal. Few have surpassed ‘Scum’ for intensity; even Napalm Death themselves sounded like they were recycling by the time it came to recording a follow-up. On their debut EP, Poland’s Struggle Manifesto come close to re-igniting the sparks of excitement first delivered by ‘Scum’, the vinyl release’s five bursts of sound filling a lightning-fast 3:39, all wrapped up in a Catholic-baiting sleeve.
‘Sceneowy Secondhand’ begins with best foot forward as a downtuned guitar cranks out a surprisingly slow riff. It’s hard metallic tones joined by a solid rhythm section brings a tough but really solid sound, but it’s clear this is just the beginning. Within a couple of bars, the moody metal riffs quicken pace, the drums slide effortlessly from slow pounding into bass-drum frenzy before quickly stepping aside for a brief burst of unaccompanied guitar riffery, the sound of which could be best compared to the riffs from Sepultura’s ‘Bestial Devastation’ EP. It’s surprising what can be squeezed into fifteen seconds. With the band warmed up, there’s no more messing around: the show really begins as they tear through the final bars of this opening number with full grindcore flair. Somewhat expectedly, it’s the drums that leave the strongest mark: the double bass work is relentless, but there’s an impressive approach in the snare department too, especially when tackled at such speed. Naturally, the vocals adopt a guttural growl, often taking a rhythmic stance with the drums as opposed to finding a more natural tune, but obviously, it is the overall aggression that’s of utmost importance. ‘W Imię świętych Zasad’ [translated: ‘In The Name of the Sacred Principles’] distils the band’s anger into an even shorter, tighter arrangement, under which a really fuzzy bass sound provides a anchoring point, alongside an even more impressive drum performance than before. Here, the playing shows clear influence from Suffocation and the earlier death metal bands with one hand constantly bashing out a pneumatic rhythm to compliment the bass drum attack, with a few interesting fills bringing something more melodic during an unexpected stop. Those who do not speak Polish will find it difficult to ascertain where the anger lies, but then again, the vocals are so distorted that it is likely that even Poles will struggle to determine half of it without a lyric sheet. In grindcore terms, this is an absolutely blistering forty seconds.
Despite a quick buzz of bass promising hardcore punk stylings, ‘XXI Wiek’ quickly descends into a grindcore frenzy, the sound of a band playing impressively fast but leaving little room for any kind of musical flourishes. There’s little more to this track than sheer speed, but it cements the feeling of strength. The amusingly titled ‘Ghost Bike’ follows suit with just over thirty seconds’ worth of hammering and growling which – despite the brief duration – appears to gain speed and intensity as it gathers momentum. Like ‘Sceneowy Secondhand’, this number is blessed with a superb intro; although too brief, the bass and guitars set the scene with something closer to early death metal, bringing a very powerful quasi-melody that shows a slightly broader scope for the band. Judging by their fascination with the more hardcore parts of their sound, though, these more melodic touches seem to be borne of necessity rather than band preference.
Perhaps the most accessible track, ‘Jutro’ brings hints of thrash metal are evident in the intro before reverting to a tried and tested grindcore format. Within a few bars of grinding, however, things slow down to a jaunty death metal speed in order for a killer riff to go head to head with the vocal. This slightly slower riff (still faster than most) is the release’s most melodic – all relatively speaking of course, since it still delivers a frightening intensity. A touch slower and there would have just about been room for a shreddy guitar solo…but perhaps that would dilute their sound a little too much.
A cassette edition of the EP adds four bonus tracks. The five track vinyl is an effective musical suckerpunch, but in terms of experiencing Struggle Manifesto’s musical vision, the cassette definitely gives a much broader picture – the evangelist samples almost pivotal to the both the anger and musical concept.
Chosen as the opening track of this retro format, ‘Misja’ finds Struggle Manifesto stretching out beyond their preferred minimalism. This track stretches to almost three minutes, although three quarters of that consists of samples of television evangelists. The band’s input follows the grinding approach of ‘W Imię świętych Zasad’ but prefacing this with the samples proves very effective – if heard as the first track, it is incredibly atmospheric: the listener becomes quickly aware that what follows will be incredibly powerful. ‘Dwie Twarze’ [‘Two Faces’] takes on ‘XXI Wiek’ for all-round brutality, its pneumatic attack and guttural voice cramming a great deal into a short burst of of anger. There’s a bigger spotlight on the guitars than before, too, with the guitar adopting a shrill metallic edge, before being drowned out by bass drums.
‘Czekajac na Zbawienie’ [‘Waiting For Salvation’] is keen to exploit a more metal-based approach, too, with its opening guitar salvo slightly reminiscent of Metallica’s classic ‘Master of Puppets’ taken at four times the pace, before filling the rest of an almost generous forty-four seconds with a Napalm Death grindcore homage. As always, there’s no room for anything remotely flashy or loose – it’s speed that wins out. ‘Szowinistyczna szmata’ [‘Chauvinist Rag’], meanwhile, might work to a tried and tested musical formula, but being an attack on the media, its anger seems more rooted in the every day. As with most of the material, though, you’ll need a lyric sheet to ascertain as to whom in particular this spite-fest is aimed.
If you don’t have any interest in grindcore, there’s absolutely nothing for you here…move along, move along. If, however, you want to experience an independent band that’s absolutely driven by fury and a very impressive drummer, then this could be listening time well spent – especially if early Napalm Death or Terrorizer are right up your alley.
[Stream the five track EP below]