“Cracked Cop Skulls” (Extortion, Kill Kill Kill-01)
1. If I were to reissue the Shitlickers 7", one of my all-time favorite records and possibly the purest expression of the urgent rage hardcore embodies, it would be as a triple 12" in a triple gatefold sleeve. Each side of the first two 12"s would contain one of the four songs on the original record, mastered at the loudest volume possible (with less than 2 minutes of music per side, the possibility of eardrum-shattering volume would be within reach). The fifth side would include all four songs in a row, and the sixth side would be the bonus four tracks from the unreleased 2nd 7", which was originally made available by Distortion Records in the mid-‘90s on CD and 12". The gatefold would include all eight (or so) knownsleeve variations, and there would be a booklet with extra photos, reviews from many fanzines, the post-facto interview published in Crust War zine #5 (translated into English), and more. Instead, we have this puny 7".
2. It is difficult for me not to recommend picking this record up if you don’t have the music on vinyl elsewhere, but with downloads easy to find, the Distortion reissue still around with some searching, or the original 7" on eBay available to those with a bit of spare cash, I don’t really see its point. The sound quality is noticeably inferior to the original 7"—muddier and more bass-heavy—and the unreleased tracks are sourced from the Distortion CD (or, possibly, though doubtfully, the LP version), which themselves came from a degraded tape.
3. Along with Desperate Bicycles and Electric Eels, the Shitlickers are one of the most important bands to the Shit-Fi project. Plus, I just plain love ‘em. Though they were not as singular and original as those bands, clearly reconfiguring Discharge’s sound in creating their own, their four short songs edge near the top of any list of primitive music. Not wholly original, youthful, aggressive, and terse, this record is the quiddity of hardcore punk.
4. Years ago, in a column in Maximum Rocknroll, Felix Havoc wrote, “This record has an urgent feel to it that conjures up an image of the band breaking into a studio in the middle of the night and recording it in twenty minutes then splitting before the cops show up.” That explanation is one of those examples of a fantasy capturing the truth better than the mundane reality could.
5. The Shitlickers, living in Sweden, one of the pinnacles of social democracy, captured the “I hate them” hardcore motif in the most elementary and compelling way possible. True, bands like MDC and Reagan Youth wrote powerful radical political hardcore, but no one could argue that any of their songs was as condensed an expression of that aesthetic as what appears on “Cracked Cop Skulls.” Maybe the Daves (Dictor and Insurgent) actually had more experience with police oppression and the “warsystem” than these kids from Göteborg, which caused them to write their more (though not very) nuanced songs on the subjects. In the end, though, interesting as it may be to conjecture why kids from Göteborg or Milan or the Lower East Side wrote the songs they did, all explanations will probably fall flat. What matters most is that they did write these songs and that we, 25 years later, can still be moved by this music. Hardcore punk didn’t matter much on a world-historical scale, which is why I get so irritated by the Stephen Blush types, who think their personal experiences of hardcore in the ‘80s are somehow more important or more authentic than the experiences of kids today. If teenagers from Göteborg in 1982 could create a crude short sharp shock that moved their peers then and today still moves punx around the world, and if bands today can evoke the same spirit and inspire similar feelings in their peers, then I don’t see what the difference is between then and now, except in the specifics, the details.
6. Those details, the music, the aesthetic—the tangible facts—unlike a retelling of the story, are incontrovertible and not subject to the vagaries of memory. There were, basically, two versions of the Shitlickers EP, sharing identical blank-label vinyl, with the stamped (not handwritten) matrix SL-8206-A/B. The first one, the domestic version, came housed in two thin sheets of soft paper, of a quality similar to construction paper, only thinner. It has the Swedish band name Skitslickers written on the right side, with GBG 1982 below it, beside a gruesome picture of a soldier stabbing a bayonet into the gut of what appears to be a POW. This bootleg includes what I would call an artist’s rendition of the original sleeve, with some bunk latter-day computer font instead of the original text. Also included, as the back of the bootleg’s sleeve, is a moderately modified version of the lyric sheet included with the Distortion CD.
On the back of the original domestic sleeve is a photograph of the four miscreants looking punk as fuck. This photo, with singer Lasse on the left, does not appear on the bootleg. Rather, a photo with Lasse on the right, which appears on the back of the white-sleeve export pressing, is on the inside of the boot’s sleeve. Lasse, with his charged hair, studded jacket, and a chain around his waist, looks to be raring for a fight. Jonsson, not looking at the camera, sports a Crass shirt and baby fat. Guitarist Jimmy looks the most earnest of the four, but maybe it’s just because of his chin jutting out. Bob Stacy, the drummer, is clearly drunk in each photo. There also exists an extremely rare white-sleeve variation of the export pressing that includes the photo from the back of the domestic version (and a cropped version of said photo also appears on the red, green, and yellow export sleeves). Also, there is a third photo from the same session, which appears on an even more obscure variation. And so it begins—the export pressing of the record, on Malign Massacre Records, is where things get interesting, or, I should say, perplexing, frustrating, and never-ending. It is thought that the white-paper version was first. (It was certainly distributed by Xcentric Noise Records and Tapes in the UK, and the green and yellow versions were sold exclusively in the United States by Systematic and Rough Trade through a deal with Really Fast Records.)
Nevertheless, the minutia, which seems unavoidable, should not get in the way of appreciating the sleeve itself. The front must be one of the most iconic in hardcore history. It is a crude drawing of four punx (the band, presumably) killing two cops, one of whom is shooting another punk with his revolver. That cop is getting ripped in half by one of the punx—lengthwise. “Cracked Cop Skulls” is scrawled, like graffiti, in the background. I have never been able to figure out why “HCP O20” is written in the bottom left corner. “Hard Core Punk”? Oddly, the original (common) white sleeve includes an additional doodle in the bottom right corner of a guy shooting himself in the head, but this bootleg does not. The colored-paper export variations do not include this small drawing. Thus, with the white-sleeve back photo and band line-up on the inside and colored-sleeve front printed on white paper, the bootleg’s sleeve is an amalgam of originals, probably because the artwork was taken from a reproduction in the CD or elsewhere.
7. Listening to the record, these boys’ fealty to Discharge is immediately clear, but as one of the earliest d-beat raw punk bands, they were still creating a genre, rather than trying to find the edges of a codification. They weren’t the first hardcore band in Sweden (identifying which band was is a Herculean task unto itself), but they set the bar quite high. The songs are so engrained in my brain and my body that it is difficult to approach them with the fresh senses a proper evaluation would require. “Warsystem, warsystem, warsystem, now,” lashes out Skit-Lasse skittily…Oh, nevermind.
8. The four unreleased tracks actually may be some of the best hardcore punk that was not released on vinyl (or demo cassette) back in the day. They are blinding. The difference in the sound of these songs from the original 7" tracks the evolution of Discharge’s sound. Recorded in 1983, around the time of Anti-Cimex’s Swedish-language demos and “Raped Ass,” those recordings would be the best comparison. (One criticism leveled at Anti-Cimex at the time was that their sound changed with Discharge’s.) I wonder if, had these tracks originally made it to vinyl before the tape on which they were recorded could deteriorate, the sound would have been as clear, and as devastating, as “Raped Ass.” The bass sound is a mean, violent thud. The guitar and drums are insistent, constantly driving forward. The guitar’s tone is not quite like any other; it manages to be distorted but not fuzzy. Unlike on “Cracked Cop Skulls,” the guitar here isn’t gravelly. The riffs are much more discernable now, too, and are beginning to embody the crashing-wave feeling I expect from true Swedish råpunk, the plangent style that originated on “HNSNSN” and is most apparent on “Victims of a Bombraid,” “Who’ll Survive,” and “Crucified by the System.” Also, the otherworldly overdubbed pickslides in “The Night of the Holocaust,” which should be the only breaks from the insistent riffing but actually accentuate how relentless the song is, give me chills every time. Also, by now, Lasse’s voice has grown even more desperate, his throat more lacerated, and the singing, of monumental lyrics like, “No system works. Oh yeah. No. No system works,” is even more sparse and minimal than it was on “Cracked Cop Skulls.” Compare how spare his vocalizations are to that of, say Dave Dictor, and you begin to appreciate the value of such succinct lyrics. No lyrics could add much to what the music already says, and Lasse knows it.