Poor production, indecipherable lyrics and average musicianship. They’re not your usual ingredients for a classic album, yet Charles Bronson’s 1997 full-length ‘Youth Attack’ continues to fight its way into punk enthusiasts’ record collections.
The early ‘90s hardcore scene was entrenched in straight-edge politics and macho pit behaviour, whilst bands such as Infest and Man Is The Bastard began playing their aggressive style of punk even harder and faster. Erratic blast beats wrestled with heavy sludge, spewing out bursts of noise that sounded like your worst nightmare. This new sub-genre was named ‘power violence’ and it started to spread through basements and community halls across America.
In 1992, the California three-piece Spazz steered the power violence style in a less anarchic direction. They stayed true to the genre’s short and complex structures, but their lyrics were far less political.
Then Charles Bronson arrived in 1994, taking Spazz’s template and injecting it with even more humour. Made up of four skinny kids led by the vociferous Mark McCoy, they unwittingly bridged a gap between grinding noise, youth crew hardcore and thrash punk by displaying outbreaks of aggression with a wry smile.
Youth Attack was released in November 1997 on Legua Armada Records, spitting out 20 tracks in just 13 minutes. As the album title suggests, the record is teen angst distilled into 12 inches of wax, every track a lament on growing up in Jerry Springer’s America. The lyrics still stand as a candid reminder of how precious youth is.
‘These days are going fast, so don’t look back, ‘cos before you know it you’re bald and fat…’ The words may sound simplistic but Charles Bronson thrived on immaturity. This record speaks to the teenager in all of us; it’s radical, cynical, cocky and fun. The symbols of youth which fade away over time are brought back to life with every spin of this record.
The songs on Youth Attack, along with its crude cut-and-paste liner notes – especially their xSTA-HATE-MENTx – spelled out what it was like to be at the forefront of the youngest and coolest clique in punk rock. Their energy is still contagious and the overall message is one of provocation, confrontation and fearlessness. We live through records and for just 13 minutes, we can regress to our adolescence. Read the sign – ‘No adults welcome’.
Youth Attack is the only full-length in Charles Bronson’s discography as the band broke up the year of its release. Despite the album being an underground classic, vocalist McCoy was in danger of breaking into the mainstream when his thrashcore project, Das Oath, featured on the 2004 soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 skating game. He continues to be involved in the scene, running the cool-as-fuck Youth Attack label and fronting the art punk band Failures.
Next week: Lifetime – Hello Bastards