NOBODY LIKES A THINKER - Massappeal (Chatterbox)
JAZZ - Massappeal (Chatterbox)

You can theorize about hardcore being a limited genre in terms of where bands can take it and even if you deserve to be called a wanker for crapping on about that stuff, to a big degree you'd be right. Half the problem with self-perpetuating labels is that the people inside the frame who identify most with the boundaries also create them. Sydney 1980s band Massappeal, on the other hand, never recognised things like borders.

The first thing to say is that Chatterbox have done themselves proud in packaging these re-issues and adding the now prerequsitite and extras; "Nobody Likes a Thinker" (originally an EP on Waterfront) is now a double CD with eight 1986 demos appended and a standalone, 20-track live disc. The latter's culled from a Waterfront instore in '85 and a bruising Canberra show from '87. "Jazz" is a single disc, comprising a re-mastered version of the original album and its limited edition bonus EP. The liners are noteworthy.

Been getting into a bit of Black Flag lately around the Bar lately so I reckoned I was in the right frame of mind to wrap the ears around these re-issues, even if being the only kid on my block not to have a Massappeal T-shirts put me in a minority back in the '80s. My only problem with hardcore (then and now) is that while elements of it derive from heavy metal, it's message often gets lost in the rush to run the other way and embrace (or outdo) punk. Massappeal (and indeed Black Flag) both managed to "rise above" standard two-chord thrash in their own ways.

For the uninitiated, "Thinker" is pretty much what you'd expect from a hardcore band still finding its way: pummeling riffs, scarified vocals and blindingly fast rhythms. At times, the enery is breathtaking. Brett Curotta was/is one helluva exponent on guitar - there's barely time to catch your breath between changes as he guns along, laying waste to aural niceties. On the live stuff, their second drummer, Alex "Tubby Wadsworth" Nikolzew, is all over his kit like a Hong Kong suit and he deservedly gets a shout-out in the liner notes. Don't try this at home, kids, your Uncle Billy Hyde will lock you up for brutalising his drumkit.

"Jazz" is where Massappeal got really interesting and started taking their energy to other (discordant) places. Note that there's not one note of jazz on this album (the stranger time changes would come later) and the Massappeal band name itself was a comment on their prospects of mainstream success. "Jazz" is as adventurous and sonically exploratory as anything else around in the hardcore scene at the time.

"Balance" is the pick of the tunes - a rambunctious, piledriver of a song that'll make you appreciate Curotta's guitar-work even more if you listen hard enough. "Damage Zone" is a close competitor for centrepiece status, a marathon, driving piece of severity that gets up on its hind legs and roars like hardcore's answer to prog rock. "Cactus" swirls and changes direction in the most brutal way and completes a triple combination of punches that would knock most opponents to the canvas, no contest.

There's an obvious step up in production values, and Randy Reimann has come on as a vocalist. That's not going to say his angst is entirely decipherable (and nor does it have to be) but the lyrics are always there in the liners if you need that sort of thing.

I remember seeing Massappeal in support of the Rollins Band in '89 (before ol' Hank became an actor and teamed with Mother Inferior, or whatever the fuck they were called). While the local lads never approached the headliner in sheer intensity, they gave an excellent account of themselves. They also kept at bay the punters who would later try to stub out cigarettes on Mr Rollins' bare, tattooed legs. Just one more reason to love smoke-free gigs.

Can't say I gave much ear-time to the Massappeal output that followed (my only abiding memory of "Nomo Annagonno" was that it was weirder-assed than its name - maybe two members moving on to Caligula tells a story of sorts). But like the best hardcore music I digress and maybe it's time to re-assess that last one, or anticipate new recordings now Massappeal are playing again sporadically. – The Barman

- Nobody Likes a Thinker

1/2 - Jazz