This is the first entry in a series of posts on Swedish hardcore EPs. Having been a student of Swedish hardcore for many years, it is my scholarly finding that the Mob 47 EP (“Kärnvapen Attack”) is the finest outcome of the Discharge influence from those northern climes. But what sets Mob 47 (pronounced in Swedish, it rhymes with “shoe”) above such fantastic groups as Anti-Cimex, Shitlickers, Absurd, Disarm, No Security, and S.O.D.? It is this very question that necessitates a series of posts instead of a scattered appreciation. All these bands are beloved and their records are much sought-after, but I have often felt that Swedish hardcore lacks the individuation characteristic of other national traditions—especially the lesser bands. Since the Discharge influence is so dominant, there is very little “wiggle room” in which to differentiate, say, S.O.D. from Avskum from Svart Parad. Not that it can’t be done, but the fineness of the distinction deprives the fan of the either/or element that is bound up with “cult bands.” The difference between Disarm and Asocial simply doesn’t amount to the same thing as the difference between Suicidal Tendencies and Jerry’s Kids. Perhaps that is as it should be, but the goal of this series is to flesh out these bands, through… what else? Critical listening!
So, to begin with, what makes the Mob 47 EP such a striking classic?
1) The guitar tone. Here is a video of guitarist and mastermind Åke demonstrating the set-up he uses.
What interests me about the Mob 47 guitar sound is that it is intentionally thin when compared to the other Swedes. If I may employ an analogy, Mob 47’s guitar tone is to the MC5’s Back in the USA album what the Shitlickers are to Ron Asheton’s guitar on Fun House: razor-sharp, lacking all low-end, “bright,” as compared to the sound of a car engine back-firing or a rusty chainsaw. The double-tracked guitars of Mob 47 add an antique static that attaches to the riffs rather than separating out into an ambient haze, as less-fastidiously-achieved distortion is apt to do.
In truth, this guitar sound is much nearer to Discharge (the pinnacle of d-beat hardcore) than to the Swedish bands to whom we owe the distinctively nastier and heavier “Swedish” sound. For comparison, the intro riff/chord of “Res Dig Mot Överheten” (beginning at 2:20) is virtually identical to Discharge’s “Society’s Victim.” Don’t forget that Åke was in the original “Dis-” band, Discard! [On the 2xCD Mob 47 discography, one of the great pleasures is to listen to the several Discharge covers, which are in my opinion as close as anyone ever got to absolutely cloning the masters.] To be specific, I think the Mob 47 sound is closest to the “Fight Back” EP, rather than the more Motorhead-y “Realities of War” or the more-produced Hear Nothing album. The Shitlickers, on the other hand, are much closer to “Never Again.”
2) The vocals. Over their career, Mob 47 have a number of different singers: Jögge, Tommy (from Crudity), Robban, Mentis. I like the Tommy songs, since many of them are in English (“Racist Regime,” “Stop the Slaughter,” “Why Must They Die?”), but all of the songs on the EP are in Swedish (with the exception of the two words in the title of “Animal Liberation”).
Unlike Crude SS or Asocial or Svart Parad, whose vocals are all a kind of hoarse monotone, or the later raspy scream of No Security and Totalitär, Mob 47 retain what I can only call the “Swedish Chef” style of hardcore vocalizing. Not that they sound quite like Muppets, but Mob 47 are distinctly cramming-in a ton of umlauts and soft “j”s. And these are being yelled (complete with voice-cracks), not screamed or growled. It is utterly charming, and it is virtually unique in a genre of tough bellowing. This also makes Mob 47 somewhat inimitable. Later groups who are clearly going for this style, such as Krigshot or Massgrav, give up the game immediately when it comes to the vocals, so that they reproduce the speed and format of Mob 47 songs with none of the charm.
Of special note is “Animal Liberation,” which consists of far too many syllables shoved into each line, a kind of anti-melody, periodic slurred growls (like the sound one makes while moving furniture), and a half-English, half-Swedish chorus. It’s more reminiscent of Crass than anything, and it’s impossible to imagine any other Swedish band pulling it off.
3) Style. Just by looking at pictures of the guitarist’s leather jacket, you can see that Mob 47 go beyond the UK spikey-punk influences that are most apparent in Scandinavian hardcore: Lärm, B.G.K., D.R.I., M.D.C., the Neos, and the Wretched are all represented next to the inevitable Discharge and Mau Maus logos. Not that Mob 47 is AT ALL a melange of various international influences… Thankfully you cannot actually HEAR any M.D.C. on this record! It is just that most of those bands are among the fastest 80s groups, indicating where Mob 47’s signal contribution lies: in being the fastest of the Swedish Discharge bands. I only want to suggest that this is not a QUANTITATIVE distinction, a matter of raw beats-per-minute, but rather a QUALITATIVE distinction, showing the influence of international hardcore bands *within* the confines of the Discharge style. And it’s worth noting that while Lärm and D.R.I. are basically gimmick-bands (their speed being the only thing to remark about them), Mob 47’s speed is set within a more interesting context and is much more successful.
4) Song-writing. This is a strange category to bring up for a band that has more or less just one style of song, one dominant influence, and one tempo… but I think it’s the key to the whole thing. The riffs, the propulsive rush, the catchiness, the scattered squealing solos, the pacing, the minimal variety that exists: this all adds up to *something.* Compare especially to any other band playing this fast—Krigshot, Ferocious X, the above-mentioned Lärm, or any “fastcore” band on Six Weeks Records, and you’ll see that Mob 47 are doing something special and, above all, memorable. Here’s a band whose discography runs to two full-length CDs, and yet if I spoke Swedish, I imagine I would know all these song-titles and little bursts as individually as I know Discharge and Negative Approach songs. So, while the music is obviously “formulaic,” you never get the feeling that a song was “passed” for merely meeting the formula. EVERY song “works.” Mob 47 are unlike a great many d-beat bands in that their recorded output is never just so many minutes of war haiku and stolen riffs reorganized and assembled.
It’s ridiculous to say, but what sets Mob 47 apart is that it feels like they “wrote” these “songs,” which strikes one as in any case an excessive labor. I am reminded of the famous Borges story, “Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote,” in which a 20th-century symbolist poet “writes” several fragments of Don Quixote that are verbatim reproductions of the original text, but accompanied by great and exaggerated artistic birthing-pains and a “surplus” of profundity. As silly as it is, when Borges glosses the “differences” between the (identical) texts, one can’t help but nod: there is something “extra” present in the laborious and partial second writing. Mob 47 are this same way: this simplistic and ridiculously fast music copied strictly from the Discharge template doesn’t need to be “composed” in order to hold together and convey the basic effect, but then there IS an unlocatable and yet appreciable difference between Mob 47 and (let’s say) Gloom or Frigora, in terms of what one can only call “songwriting.” Needless to say, though we can only think of this difference in this way, I am very skeptical that things occurred this way in the actual process; I don’t think Ake sat down at a piano and scored these compositions with a quill pen…