“When this war breaks out, the bombers and the stranglers are gonna fall into each other’s arms and say ‘Well, now we have to fall in line behind the president,’ but what I say is now is the time when we need to take to the streets and shut this country down once again.” And thus begins one of the most acerbic and blistering pieces of grindcore in the subgenre’s history, Enemy Soil’s Casualties of Progress. The audio sample, torn from a public radio broadcast on the eve of the first Gulf War, sets the tone for not only the album but really the entire band’s discography: intense, visceral and desperate, a dying gasp delivered by the enraged constituents of a fading republic. There are a plethora of grindcore bands whose lyrics focus on the socio-political, but very few ever achieved the authenticity and rage of Enemy Soil.
The band, formed in 1991 by guitarist Richard Johnson and bass player Russ Mason, were active until 1999 before disbanding. They briefly reunited for a one-off show at CBGB’s in 2001 and have now re-reunited for a series of shows this year including a DC appearance later this month with D.O.C., Mind As Prison, Triac and Suppression, and a Sound Stage appearance at this year’s Maryland Deathfest. We caught up with Richard to chat about the upcoming shows, the band’s impact on the scene and the current diarrhea storm in Washington.
Enemy Soil last played in 2001 but has been inactive since then. What motivated the decision to reunite now, 17 years later? Does it have anything to do with the current political nightmare this country now faces?
No. It’s not like we’re Prophets of Rage. We’re really just doing it for fun. For years people have asked me if the band is going to get back together and I’ve always said no. But lately I’d been thinking about how I’ve missed playing those songs, and then I saw City of Caterpillar play a reunion show. The guitar player, Jeff [Kane], used to play bass in Enemy Soil, and I thought, “If he can do it, why the hell can’t I?”
One of Enemy Soil’s defining characteristics was its use of a drum-machine on some of its albums. Are you guys gonna go with the drum machine for these upcoming shows? And which of the band’s many lineups will grace the stage for these performances?
No, it’s a full lineup with me, Mason, JR Hayes (Pig Destroyer, Virginia Creep) and Adam Perry (Vastum). All these guys are O.G. Enemy Soil members.
What would you say your political beliefs are and what inspired you to start a band that was so intensely political in nature?
I’m a leftist, a liberal. When Mason and I started the band, his leftist politics were a lot more radical than mine. We both listened to a lot of political hardcore and grindcore and punk too, and still do, so those were the types of lyrics we took influence from to write.
Now that there are these reunion shows is there any possibility of new recordings?
It’s possible. We haven’t announced anything yet because we haven’t done anything concrete about it. If we do write and record I’d like to think we’d follow Carcass’ lead and wait until we have something to show for it before we announce anything officially.
In your mind, is grindcore an inherently political artistic movement? If so, what does that mean exactly?
No, because when you have Repulsion’s Horrified album and the lyrics it has being a cornerstone of grindcore, then you can say the genre isn’t limited to politics.
There’s a lot of debate nowadays about “mosh parts” in grindcore and whether or not they detract from grind’s artistic mission. Enemy Soil always had plenty of blast beats but also incorporated a lot of really memorable, early Napalm Death-style grooves. What’s your slant on all this?
I haven’t heard about this debate, actually. Maybe it depends on what you call a mosh part. I guess the “war dance” part in “Indians” isn’t the same thing as the middle part of “Scum,” but perhaps at a high enough level they aren’t that different.
Speaking of grooves, you’re also one of the vocalists in Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Can I talk to you about that? Or do I have to smoke crack with a cop first?
You don’t have to.
As intensely political Enemy Soil’s lyrical themes are, AnB’s lyrics are deranged and irreverent. Was this switch in styles a conscious decision?
I was one of the lyricists in Enemy Soil, but I only wrote a few lyrics in ANb, and the ones I did are political-ish. The deranged and irreverent ANb lyrics came from Jay Randall. So I don’t look at it as a switch, as far as songwriting goes.
Anyone who’s gone to a grindcore show this past month in the Baltimore/Virginia/D.C. area has probably seen you handing out flyers for the show in DC on the 20th. Tell us a little about that one.
It’s a good old down home local show for us. Chris Moore from D.O.C. (and many other bands) and of Damaged City fame set the show up for us and we picked out the bands we wanted to play—all grindcore bands because we wanted to make this show as punishing and brutal as we could, but keep its local flavor at the same time. We wanted our first show back to be local.
Are there any modern grind bands that you feel are really channeling the spirit of Enemy Soil, both in terms of message and sonically?
Good question. Actually, I’ve told the D.O.C. guys that they have a few parts that remind me of Enemy Soil a lot. We went through a few musical phases depending on who was in the band. When we went to Canada for some shows, we heard a lot of “dissonant hardcore” bands and we then wrote and recorded some material in that vein, for example. We did a lot of lyrical channeling ourselves, following in the lyrical footsteps of bands like Napalm Death, Terrorizer, Extreme Noise Terror, Disrupt and so on. Lyrically you could say our various records were a mixed bag, depending on who was writing the lyrics. Different members had different styles and chose different subjects. Not all of them were overtly political. I wrote a lot about politics but I also wrote a few lyrics where I was griping about depression or relationships. Now that I have some distance away from the band, maybe those weren’t appropriate for what we were doing. I don’t necessarily agree now with everything we wrote back then either.