For the first decade that Orange County, California grindcore band Phobia existed it was clear they had something to prove after tearing up their hardcore roots and cranking out primo grind since 1990. Brutal violence, cathartic hatred, and never-ending frustration with society and the politics of control remain steadfast as staples from the mouth of vocalist Shane Mclachlan; As Phobia crossed the threshold beyond the millennium mark it was as if a switch had been flipped, frustrations began to turn not only on those in power but a keen eye of scrutiny began to aim sharply upon the ignorance of the populace. This was especially true beyond ‘Serenity Through Pain’ (2001), which sticks in my own mind for the crust punk rhythms it divines a la Dystopia that’d redefine the focus of the band since. Nailing down just what rhythms define Phobia cumulatively has always proven difficult as the line-up has changed regularly over the last few decades with new drummers cycling in/out often. This never detracts from the greater appeal of their old school grindcore sound but they’ve always been ultra straight-forward in most senses. Phobia‘s latest EP ‘Generation Coward’ comes a couple of years removed from the triumph of ‘Lifeless God’ (2017) but they’re not ‘resting on angry’ here as the quartet bring all of the propulsive energy that the ‘reformation’ line-up has brought since the band kicked back into gear in 2016, this time with even more society-as-a-whole lambasting to dish out.
As a fairly devout collector of all things Slap-a-Ham Phobia‘s debut, ‘Means of Existence’ (1998), was actually one of my favorite grindcore records for several years during a time where I’d dug deep into powerviolence and found myself deeper entrenched in groups like Terrorizer, Nausea, and the first Nasum album. That record shaped some of my own general expectations for what ‘classic’ grind was supposed to sound like back in the day but I’d admittedly never really looked into their discography beyond the second full-length, ‘Serenity Through Pain’ a couple of years later. At some point the blasted edge of the 90’s had worn off and given way to a sound that I’d describe as fairly similar to Insect Warfare and the Anthony Rezahawk lead albums from Terrorizer (2006-2012). You’re getting that burly death metal and hardcore punk influenced grind that Phobia have been cranking out for the last two no matter what angle you’re approaching ‘Generation Coward’ from.
Phobia have mastered the art of directly skewering the failures of modern man and it is no surprise that the age of disinformation and ultra-sensitivity provides a barrel full of idiot fish to shoot. The cover art and album title should be clue enough: You’re an idiot for becoming subservient to corporations, for soaking up the chaos of disinformation, and for following and believing anything. The frustration expressed on ‘Generation Coward’ is palpable but not desperate — I love the mirror it places in front of me going forward. Hardcore should always be this confrontational and ‘real’… and grindcore, well, I’m sure Mclachlan gets a kick out of the jabs to the throat that he throws. Where does it all start to lose its impact? Jocular samples are kind of a buzzkill at times just for the general interruption but they also serve as a throwback to earlier Phobia, which I was all about. There are a whole host of big moments on this relatively short (15 minute) EP that keep it all from sounding like B-sides from the killing pace of ‘Lifeless God’; Among the real unforgettable shakes ups I’d first go for the mid-90’s hardcore “Hey!” breakdown from “Miserable Awakening”, the stumbling punch of a riff that characterizes “Cut Throat”, and the lyrics from “To Be Convinced” which we could all take to the head and heart on some level.
That Phobia have managed to avoid sounding like a relic of their olden days is either a pat on the back for their survival skills or, a dig at their formative years being fairly standard for the times. On the most basic level this is the type of grindcore I love to listen to, the ‘classic’ hardcore punk influenced stuff that wrings necks and doesn’t get carried away with death metal techniques or self-indulgent experimentation. In this sense I wouldn’t say Phobia have pushed hard at the boundaries of their sound or their own subject matter but these guys have some fast-as-hell riffs to burn through and a lot to say still worth hearing, it is the right mindset and all tuned for maximum impact. Though I’m anti-sampling in all forms of extreme metal, it didn’t ultimately stop me from enjoying and also giving fairly high recommendation for ‘Generation Coward’. For preview purposes I’d say you have to hear “Miserable Awakening”, “Condemned to Tell”, and the pure firepower of the opener “Cynic Bastard”.
We remain powerless. 3.75/5.0
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