ALBUM REVIEW: Discharge – Protest And Survive: The Anthology (BMG)

Like them or loathe them, there’s no denying the place of Discharge in the pantheon of punk. But who’d have thought we’d be celebrating the 40th anniversary of their self-proclaimed ‘noise not music’?

Singing about war, oppression and corruption, they were certainly like nothing else I’d ever heard when I picked up their debut EP Realities Of War as a teenage punk rocker in 1980. And though they’ve influenced many bands across the punk and extreme metal genres, there’s no one quite like Discharge.

Formed in Stoke-on-Trent in the late ’70s as punk moved from the art colleges to Britain’s council estates, they played with a fury and intensity that few could match. Credited with inventing a whole new subgenre of music, D-beat, they are still taking their raw, uncompromising sound around the world today.

The original line-up of Discharge.

This 2CD set rounds up most of their finest moments on disc one, but it’s disc two where the real treasure lies, with a selection of demos from 1977 and 2002, versions of some of their classics re-recorded in 2004, and remixes and extended versions.

I like compilations to be chronological, so you can hear the development of a band, so although I have few quibbles with the content, it grates a little that this one is all over the place.

It kicks off with The Blood Runs Red from their 1982 debut album Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing, then follows with second single Fight Back, from 1980, which sounds odd, as their sound had already progressed by the time the album was recorded.

Make no mistake, there are some stonewall classics here: A Hell On Earth, Protest And Survive, Never Again, Ain’t No Feeble Bastard and the frenzied Decontrol.

The magnificent State Violence/State Control turns down the speed a notch, but loses none of their brutal power and shows beyond doubt that for all their detractors, Discharge could play – check out the guitar solo.

Everyone will have tracks they think should have made the cut; there’s no They Declare It, no Why, no Free Speech For The Dumb, no Death Dealers. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Discharge are making their ‘noise not music’ to this day. Pic: Gary Welford.

1986’s Grave New World album, which saw Discharge veer off into thrash metal, is – perhaps wisely – ignored completely, though 1991’s comeback Massacre Divine is represented by City Of Fear and the very metally Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, while we get Psycho Active and Exiled In Hell from 1993’s Shootin’ Up The World.

Accessories By Molotov, from 2002’s self-titled album, stays in metal territory, complete with self-indulgent guitar solo and Lemmy-like vocals from original frontman Cal, though it also gives us the excellent Hell Is War.

It’s disappointing that a ‘career-spanning’ retrospective ignores their most recent albums, 2009’s Disensitise and 2016’s return to form End Of Days, but anyone who’s stuck with the band this far will probably have them anyway.

Jeff Janiak is the latest Discharge vocalist. Pic: Gary Welford.

Discharge have been compiled many times before, to varying degrees of success, but the previously unreleased tracks on disc two are what makes this 40th anniversary collection interesting. For a start there’s a handful of snotty 1977 demos which show just how much the band evolved; with Tezz on vocals instead of the iconic Cal, they sound nothing like the Discharge we came to love.

The Johnny Rotten influence is strong, and although songs like I Don’t Care and I Love Dead Babies (“have a good wank”) are interesting historical artefacts, it’s like listening to a different band. It’s decent enough DIY punk, but if they’d stayed on this path I have no doubt they would have disappeared into obscurity, rather than evolving into the genre-crossing juggernaut they became.

We get some 2002 demos of songs which made it onto the self-titled album, with Cal back on vocals, and there’s some 2004 versions of ’80s Discharge classics, recorded with Rat from The Varukers on vocals – the likes of State Violence/State Control and You Take Part In Creating The System

Discharge are still playing clubs and festivals around the world. Pic: Gary Welford.

There’s a trio of live tracks from the Rat era (The Nightmare Continues, A Hell On Earth and The Realities Of War), and some remixes and extended versions of mid-period songs, before the whole thing is curiously rounded off with Visions Of War, the opening track from 1981’s Why 12in EP, rather than the listed Decontrol 7in B-side Tomorrow Belongs To Us.

There’s 53 tracks over 2CDs, or double gatefold splatter vinyl for those who like their music served up old-school. Discharge are still laying waste to audiences in clubs and at festivals with three of the original line-up, and Cal soundalike Jeff Janiak on vocals. Long may they continue. 8/10.

Gary Welford owner