Here’s an interview with Extreme Noise Terror’s Phil Vane, one of the vocalists. I first heard ENT when I scored a bootleg video of one of their shows from London in 1990. A while later, I received Retro-Bution, a sort of compilation of new versions of classic ENT songs. Anyway, ENT is one of the most influential political-grindcore bands from England, so read on as Phil talks about the state of the scene there.
It’s really dead, basically, more or less. The amount of audience you get is so small now, it’s like almost a joke, really. So to play hardcore over here and keep yourself going is impossible now, you know.
D.U.: So what happened to the scene?
I think it was going for such a long time, from when the punk thing very first started, it more or less faded out around ‘91, ‘92. About ‘92 was about it. You noticed a real change in the amount of people coming to gigs and all that. But if you’re an American band, you draw loads of people. So it’s kinda tough.
But we thought, “Well, right, we got to do something.” So the music from ent, the next LP will be different than the Retro-Bution, but there’s still that real hardcore sound, but it’s just a lot more, like, I dunno, a more up-to-date sound. If you imagine from the very first Entombed LP to their Wolverine Blues, that’s quite a change. That’s more or less what I’m trying to say here. But it’s not gonna be that massive a step, you know. But we learned to play more as well.
“Excuse my English or French or whatever, but we’ve put more bollocks into the music.”
That sounds like a big change.
Well, it’s not gonna be that much of a big change, actually, ‘cause everybody I’ve spoken to is sort of like, “Oh no, you can’t change that much,” but no way is it gonna, like, a real big step, that people are gonna be going, “Oh my god, this is terrible, they should never have done it.” I mean, it’s still gonna be ENT, but, I dunno, hardcore is very inaccessible, really, in a way, because it’s so extreme, and seeing as we wanna try and go forward a bit more, we’re trying to not mellow it out, but just make it more accessible, basically. I dunno if that’s the best way of putting it or not, actually. It’s still ultra-hard, ultra-brutal sound to it all, but it’s just a bit more modern and up to date, really. It’s not like that typical ‘80s-style English hardcore thrash sound.
With stuff on Retro-Bution, we changed a lot of the old sort of bits in it and added new bits in, and guitar solos, which for ENT was never heard of before, so, wow, that’s a step forward in itself for ourselves. But it still doesn’t detract from the whole energy and the hardcore sound at all. If you play Retro-Bution up against original recordings of those songs, you can see it’s a big leap in making those songs more modern. The original versions are just so dated.
What kind of comments have you been getting lately? For example, what I’ve been hearing is either, “Oh, it’s so much better because the production is so good and the playing is so great,” or the other side, which is, “It’s not raw enough.”
Uh huh. Yeah, I’ve had both of them said to me. I dunno. Maybe it’s just people get off on the actual raw energy of it and that they didn’t like the cleaner production. But personally, from the band’s point of view, we’re just so happy with it, more or less, because it does capture now how ENT should’ve sounded all those years ago. But we never had a big-enough budget to go and sound like that. So maybe that rawness from the past has been captured in the, like, “one day in the studio” sort of job. But now we had a lot more time to do it. To me it’s much more heavier than anything we’ve ever done. Excuse my English or French or whatever, but we’ve put more bollocks into the music. [laughs] The musicianship, again, has vastly improved since the earlier days, obviously. We didn’t want to sort of just stay in that typical vein of, “Here’s 200 quid. Go and record an LP,” and sound like shit. [laughs] “Wow, we got a couple thousand pound. Excellent! We’re not gonna go and spend it on beer either!” Which we have done in the past, actually, with some of our recording budgets. “Right, well, we’ll go to this studio ‘cause it’s so cheap, and then we’ll spend the rest on beer.” [laughs]
The earlier ENT gigs were a complete mess. We just used to be so pissed, it was ridiculous, you know? Be lucky if we even turned up to a gig.
Talk eventually came around to ENT’s lyrical standpoint.
Admittedly, the lyrics aren’t all gonna be 100 percent total political stuff anymore, ‘cause we’ve exhausted ourselves, more or less, you know. We’ve gone ‘round in circles on the lyrics so many times. [pause] I mean, the lyrics are still gonna be very serious topical issues, if you know what I mean, but they’re gonna be more down-to-Earth ones, rather than, like, “let’s kill the government” and all this sort of stuff. We’re just interjecting a bit more of a personal attitude into it, rather than just saying, “Okay, well, I don’t like this, so I oughta write a song about it.” [It’s more like] “Okay, I feel strongly about this, whether it’s on my doorstep or 10,000 miles away somewhere else in the world.” So we’re gonna do more shit like that, you know?
So yeah, we have dropped a lot of the really heavy political stuff, ‘cause it’s so easy to be cornered as well by people, ‘cause once you take a stance against something which is political, so many people can say, “Well, why didn’t you say that, and why have you said that, and what about this, and, God, you’re a hypocrite for doing that,” and it’s like, “Shit, man, sorry, you know? I’m only human.”
So you’re not doing the Optimum Would Profile thing anymore?
No, I’m not. That all finished just before they recorded a new LP, actually.
Oh really? I didn’t even know they were still going.
Yeah, but again, in typical Ipswich fashion—Ipswich being the place which I originally lived, and Optimum Wound come from, and most of the members of ent come from. It’s quite a big town, but it’s still got a small-town mentality. People don’t want to really go out and do bugger all, basically. They’re quite content to be Ipswich people, if you know what I mean. You know, bands like Optimum Wound I think should be getting outta there and doing a lot more. But again, they’ve got the attitude of, “Well, if I ain’t getting paid a hundred pound a night, I ain’t bloody doin’ it,” sort of shit. Basically [a couple members] were acting like fascist dictators within the band, and I didn’t wanna have nothing to do with it, really.
The new LP’s bloody good, I have to admit. A lot different from Silver or Lead. It’s a lot more melodic and gothicky sounding.
In that band you were using a lot of distortion on the vocals, and I noticed you brought that into the ENT thing on Retro-Bution.
Yeah, we didn’t think when we done the Retro-Bution thing, “Right, Optimum Wound had used this. We’ll use it ourselves.” Where it all came from originally, there used to be a band called Kuro in Japan, and they had this 8” single out, and it was just so hardcore. And there’s another band called Kon-fuse [sp?]* that used to have total distortion on all the vocals, and so did Kuro, and we had been totally into these bands for years. And it was just like, “Wow, a hardcore band using totally distorted vocals! That just sounds completely insane!” And seeing as “We the Helpless” is an actual Kuro song, we thought, “Well, we’ll still put distortion on our vocals as well.” But the Optimum Wound thing was because it was quite a metal/industrial thing to use, I think.
Yeah, that’s getting really popular.
Oh yeah, it’s been overused now, which is a bit of a shame, ‘cause at the time it was great, you know, mad vocals like that. Killer early Skinny Puppy stuff, Ministry. But now it’s so overused, it’s like, “Oh God, not another band that uses distorted vocals.”
So what else do you try to do to stay ahead of the current trend, to not get stuck?
Well, we’re trying to remain as ENT, basically. Sounds a bit stupid, I think, the way I just said that. But we wanna create an original sound that has a mixture of a real brutal metal sound but with a real brutal hardcore sound too. Well, which is what we’ve done anyway. I think it’s really original for a band to be doing what we’re doing now.
Are you guys still totally into vegetarianism or veganism?
Um, there’s only two in the band, actually, now, that are vegetarians. The original drummer, Darren, he’s a vegetarian, and I’ve been a vegetarian for 14 years, but the other four guys aren’t veggies, no.
They just sort of got out of it?
Well, I don’t know. It’s sort of bizarre. I mean, Ali, the lead guitar player, and Lee, the bass player, they’ve always eaten meat anyway. We knew that when they joined the band, but because we wanted them in the band, and being good people anyway, regardless of whether they eat meat or not, we thought, “Yeah, that would be good to have them in our lineup, as people.” And then since they joined, I think the other two fell prey to the carnivorous way. I don’t know why. It’s a bit of a disappointment to myself.
So there you have it. Thanks to Phil for being so cool. Go out and pick up all ENT stuff immediately. ■
Photo: Extreme Noise Terror (courtesy Earache)
Originally published in ‘zine issue #14, 1995.