"El Indomable” 7” (Mindless Mutant)
Many critics and fans have argued that punk rock, or rock music itself, is not built for politics, that it is too forceful, obtuse, irrational, and emotional to capture the evenhandedness and nuance politics requires. I have myself thought this at times. And then the US invaded Iraq. Leading up to the invasion, many brilliant commentators, such as Christopher Hitchens or George Packer, wrote subtly argued, nuanced analyses of why going to war was the proper course of action. Meanwhile, bands like World Burns to Death rendered their antiwar sentiment with all the subtlety of the bombs that rained on Baghdad. At this point I realized that, for me, the current desperate times do not require what amounts to sophistry and casuistry on the part of political commentators. And I expect punk to be even less ambiguous. Even though there have been brilliant political bands, ones that have made complex arguments with their lyrics while ratcheting up the emotional impact of those lyrics through the power of music, brilliance is not always synonymous with depth or complexity. The simple expression of the complex thought—as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb described the aim of what came to be called abstract expressionism—often resonates far more strongly and deeply than grandiloquent screeds (recognizing that comparisons between painting, music, and writing can be fraught with problems). No, I am not opposed to fancy writing, nor have I given up on stupid music about stupid subject matter, but the antipolitical fallacy we punx have told ourselves, an apologism which ultimately justifies retrograde, bigoted, and reactionary views (as if they are not political!), is a mistake. Furthermore, I believe that those who close themselves off to political music are missing out on some of best, and most fulfilling, punk rock out there.
As proof, I offer OTAN “El Indomable” 7", a record that with deft simplicity of expression enlarges the listener’s field of political possibility, showing the deeply human side to radical politics that may otherwise come across as mechanistic or monochrome. Insincere radical politics abound in punk, because the ideas have been reduced to fashion, but this record proves that it is the tension of the delivery, the rabid sincerity of those who truly believe that theirs is the appropriate riposte to the blunderbuss of history, which enables seemingly simple political punk, songs with titles like “Anarquia en España,” to be powerful and instrumental in the world’s bankrupt arena of ideas.
Singer Teodoro previously drummed in Destruccion, and was the genius behind the one-man band Infierno de Cobardes, perhaps the most urgent and sincere hardcore record of recent memory. Readers of Maximum Rocknroll’s news section may recall that a few years ago, in an antiterrorism raid, Spanish police arrested him and some friends, after which he was held without charge for a couple months. Though Teo was ultimately exonerated, he still owes the state thousands of euros in fines and processing fees, and for months after initially being freed, he lived under constant threat of re-arrest because the authorities never informed him whether he would be charged. I also want to note that his studded leather jacket and his copy of the Besthöven 7" I released were seized by the police when he was initially arrested. In IDC and now OTAN, he does not explicitly sing about it—though the powerful tribute to a comrade facing a long sentence in prison, the song “El Indomable,” concerns such arrests of anarchists—but Teo’s delivery makes clear that this experience informs and inspires the music. His voice, which is best appreciated on headphones, approaches the desperation and basement non-professionalism hardcore fans associate with early ‘80s Italy, and the music on this record does have the same raw, lo-fi intensity as many bands on the Attack Punk label (some riffs too recall early DC hardcore). Similarly, the music is an amalgam of up-tempo and mid-tempo hardcore, with melody always present, just as one finds on those early Italian records, from the time just before hardcore’s stripped-to-the-bone sound had been codified.
Two close friends who have seen OTAN live report that they are simply one of the best hardcore bands around now, the kind that gives the listener goose bumps. I believe it. As if the general awesomeness of Barcelona weren’t enough, the thought of being able to see OTAN live often makes me want to move there post-haste. Unfortunately, Teo is no longer making a living belching on command and posing for punky photos for tourists on Las Ramblas, or else I'd perhaps apprentice under him.
A logo of a black bird appears on the insert and center labels. Unlike so many punk bird logos, which have in recent years become a crust signifier—signifying nothing, really—this bird is specifically a black crow. The nickname of the imprisoned anarchist about whom “El Indomable” was written is “cuervo negro,” and this logo is a tribute to him. Finally, the sleeve, designed by bassist Marat, is screenprinted on rough brown paper not always cut into perfect squares. It depicts a graffito on a stone wall that reads, in Spanish, “Never Surrender.” This simple statement sums up the feeling of the music on this record: uncontrollable, earnest, and lapidary.