Enemy Soil Smashes the State! r.i.p. 1991 - 1998
discography CD booklet info
It sounds strange, but Enemy Soil's formation had something to do with my 'zine. Mason wrote me a letter after reading my first issue and that led to us meeting. We quickly realized we had some of the same influences (such as Napalm Death) and started writing songs, and Enemy Soil was born.
We started jamming with a drummer he knew, a high school friend. Grindcore wasn't his background (in fact, before we were showing him blast beats, we were playing Mason's alternative rock songs with him), but we wrote some early songs together. Another friend of Mason's, Vaughn Currier, was singing in this early stage. Many people came in and out of the band through either friends or cold contacts. Another example of this is, I met the guy that played bass on our demo and released the split 7" with Wadge, Craig Lenc, because he found my number in my 'zine and called me out of the blue. "You don't know me, but..." he began, as I recall.
At some point in 1992, things fell apart and we broke up. Mason moved to Texas and joined the first lineup of Initial State, and back in Virginia that same year I tried to keep the band going. I bought a drum machine (pictured is the last one I owned). It was the start of an era. A lot of people identify Enemy Soil's music with machine percussion. All of the songs on disc 1 of the Enemy Soil Smashes the State! select discography were recorded with the drum machine.
By 1993 I had found a new lineup (Enemy Soil had a revolving door lineup for most of its existence) and we recorded our first release, the split demo with Parasitic Infestation (disc 1, tracks 1-5). We got the idea to do a release this way because Wadge had a split demo. After a few releases, I got a few letters from some noisecore/goregrind fans who, after the demo, weren't into the band anymore because our later recordings weren't extreme enough for them like our demo was.
Mason left Initial State and came back to Virginia and then rejoined the band about the same time we were recording the split 7" with Wadge in 1993 (disc 1, tracks 6-11). After that there were a couple of guys from Maryland with a record label, and we recorded some songs for a split CD for them which never saw the light of day. Meanwhile, one time in the parking lot at a Brutal Truth gig, King Fowley from Deceased introduced me to the guys that started Relapse Records, who were selling Relapse 7"es out of the back of their car. They called me some time later and asked to hear some material. The songs we recorded for the split CD (disc 1, tracks 13-15) are what I sent them. Based on that material, Relapse asked us to record a 7", and so we went back into the studio and laid down songs that became the Casualties of Progress 7". (This release doesn't appear on the discography, but was reissued on CD by Relapse in 2008.)
Sometime in 1993 or 1994, Enemy Soil attempted to play its first show and failed. We had a gig with Suppression at a record store in Virginia, and one of our band members (Mason probably) had quit the band beforehand. Suppression played the show, though, and that was how we met those guys. Fast forward about 25 years and Suppression played the first Enemy Soil reunion gig of 2018 (more on the reunion later).
There was plenty of disagreements and fights amongst the bandmembers as the group rolled on over the years. Enemy Soil was the kind of band where, for some of the members, being in it was like being in a relationship. Passions sometimes ran high; we were young and all in for grindcore.
In March of 1995 the band went to Canada, of all places, to play our first two shows. There was only myself and Vaughn in the band at the time. I played guitar and we had the drum machine, and the bass guitar and samples were on a backing tape. It was ridiculous but people at the gigs liked it, probably because we were playing with a band called Crawl/Child, whose crowd was accustomed to unusual music formats. (Most of Crawl/Child's set from the first gig is on YouTube.)
We then did a 7" for Slap A Ham called War Parade (disc 1, tracks 19-24). Doshu Tokeshi was the signer during this period and later, and Brian Harvey played bass. This was the "experimental" stage of the band: we employed guest vocalists, a guitar wah pedal, and even a tambourine on the drum machine. Mason also brought his hardcore influence on "Ageism" (and previous to that, on "Sentencing" [disc 1, track 14] and "Obey" [track 12]). The vinyl was supposed to be splatter with a ton of different colors in the pattern, but something weird happened at the pressing plant and every few records was a different solid color. You never knew what color you were going to get when you bought one.
More experimentation came in with Mason bringing atonal riffs into the band, like on tracks such as "Burden of a Vacant Cross" and "Abort the Soul" (disc 1, tracks 17, 25), which came from a drum machine side project Mason and I had called Autoerotichrist. Riffs from another Autoerotichrist song went into "Sickness Pt. 2" (disc 1, track 20). We did a three-song demo and then decided to pull those songs into Enemy Soil. We did something similar with another side project later on, which I'll come to. Mason later used that band name for his noise project.
Late in 1995 Enemy Soil got offered a spot on a death metal festival in Montreal, Canada. Doshu couldn't get off work to do the gig, so the guy that sang on the demo we recorded two years previously, Shane Privette, stepped in. The day before we had to confirm whether we were playing or not is when I finally got a hold of him to ask him to do it. He was walking out the door when I called.
It was during the winter in Montreal when we played the gig (pictured) and, as I recall, Shane was at one point travelling in shorts, a t-shirt, and a windbreaker. Brian and I thought he was crazy, but the cold didn't bother him.
I had met Brian and Doshu at a department store the three of us worked at. Brian was working a lot of nights, so we couldn't find the time for proper practices. So after he got off work at, like, 11 p.m., we met at my house and went over the songs in my living room at extreme low volume. That's how we practiced for the gig. There were a lot of strange situations like that while the band was around.
All told, the band played seven shows with that infernal machine: three in Canada, one in New York City, and three in Virginia.
Brian, Doshu, and I had a band on the side called Random Green with myself on guitar, Doshu on vocals, and Brian on drums. The idea was for Brian and I to make up songs on the spot, not working out anything in advance musically. We wrote some songs and I took scribblings from Doshu's journal and arranged them into lyrics. We recorded a demo that we never released, but for fun we did some covers while were in the studio. While Scott Hull was mastering the compilation, I asked him to throw down a guitar lead on "Murder," one of the covers from the demo, since I never recorded a lead for the cover originally. He came up with something on the spot, sitting in front of his computer during one of the mastering sessions, and tossed the lead on the track (disc 2, track 1).
We were supposed to play a drum machine show in Baltimore once with Code 13, but what we realized when we got there and loaded in was that we forgot the drum machine. Doshu (pictured) and Brian got totally blasted, but not after I had the idea to play a Random Green set on Code 13's equipment. We played and threw in some Enemy Soil songs too, a concept that would come into play later when, in 1996, Mason had the idea to bring those Random Green songs into Enemy Soil. So Brian moved over to drums in Enemy Soil, Random Green ended, and the drum machine was laid to rest. Brian and Doshu were part of the transition from drum machine to live drums in Enemy Soil.
The lyrics I put together from Doshu's journal had sort of a hardcore feel to them, but a lot of Enemy Soil's lyrics were very political, talking about corrupt governments, war profiteering, religion, mass manipulation of people, and on and on. Over the years we got better at writing lyrics that were more, not poetic, but better at making a point without being blatant. I started writing lyrics about being depressed and complaining about romantic relationships which, looking back, maybe weren't such a good fit for the band. And while the band had a reputation for being political, the Enemy Soil Smashes the State! title (which I think JR came up with) was sarcastic. OK, some of us did a fair share of volunteering for good causes and we were happy to play benefits, but as a band we didn't smash a thing.
Anyway, years later the machine was resurrected briefly in Blower, Mason's grindcore project. Some Enemy Soil songs that never came out ended up on the Blower recording with new lyrics.
Later on in 1996, we recorded our 10", The Ruins Of Eden (disc 2, tracks 2-11). Clean Plate Records later re-released it on CD with a different cover and with the Live at Fiesta Grande #5 flexi, which I'll talk about later, thrown in as bonus tracks. Besides three updated Enemy Soil songs (that is, we re-recorded old songs but with the drummer playing on them), all of the tunes on the 10" are Random Green songs.
Enemy Soil went on a brief tour in Canada that summer. In Montreal there was a riot at our gig. I don't know why it started exactly, but it scared the shit out of us. Around 150 punks trashed the place and vandalized and looted all the shops down the street from the club. It made the national news in Canada the next day. When the riot broke out, we dove in the car and took off, not sure as to where we were going. At one point when we turned down some street in the city, we saw a police car and cops putting on riot gear. We started screaming at each other in a panic, and finally managed to turn the car around as nonchalantly as we could and got out of there. (The details of our experience of the riot are captured in a tour stories book called Anecdote: Stories from the Road.)
We drove to Massachusetts in the fall of 1996 and recorded at a guy from Japanese Torture Comedy Hour (JTCH)'s studio for a couple of different records (disc 2, tracks 12-19). Scott, who used to be in JTCH, recorded us. Brian, Mason, and I were influenced by the "dissonant hardcore" we heard on the tour in Canada, and that rubbed off on the five new songs we wrote for the session (the other three were updated old songs). During that weekend, we recorded and mixed and also played a show with Assfort from Japan. We had recently added JR Hayes on vocals, and that was JR's first show and first time in the studio, all in the same trip. The photo on the cover of the discography is from the gig.
I met JR initially because he was friends with Mason's younger brother. When we tried him out for the band, we played "Don't Tread On Me" by the Cro-Mags, a song we would return to years later. Before that try-out, Mason suggested I sing and play guitar, and we played a few songs like that in the rehearsal room (where Pig Destroyer practiced for a time years later), but I decided I didn't want to do both tasks in the band. I ended up doing it anyway in a later lineup.
In 1997 we played the Fiesta Grande #5 festival. Chris Dodge asked us to play, since we had the War Parade 7" on his label. That was a great experience. We had a new bass player, Omid Yamini (who I first met when King suggested that Omid introduce himself at a show), and we committed to Fiesta Grande before we had practiced with him even once. So we showed him the songs in hotel rooms in California, with no amps and with Brian keeping time by drumming on his sleeping bag with his sticks. What Omid lacked in musicality he made up for in enthusiasm. He was all in for Enemy Soil and playing in the band.
To get us to California, JR got standby plane tickets for us through a family member's connections, which meant that we could take empty seats on a flight at no cost. The catch was we had to wait at the airport gate until there was a flight with four empty seats on it (which couldn't be determined in advance) so we could travel together. We spent many hours in gates on the way out to California and back. We got there eventually, and as we made our way to the gig (pictured) at 324 Gilman, we stumbled across some cool people. We ran into Slight Slappers from Japan in the subway and exchanged stickers and 7"es. We took the subway as far as we could and walked the rest of the way. Cutting through a neighborhood, we were walking down a street when some guy came out of his house and gave us directions to the club. We figured he knew where we were going since we were carrying guitars, but it turned out it was Klaus Flouride. When we were walking in the door at Gilman, some punks that we stayed with in Montreal in 1996 were walking out. It was good to see them again and quite a surprise.
Some of the songs from the set came out as the Live at Fiesta Grande #5 flexi. Will from Clean Plate took some pictures of us while we were standing on stage at the gig and put them on the back of the sleeve. I asked him when he was putting together the release if we looked like we were playing in the photos, and thought it was funny when he said it kind of looked like we could be playing. At the show we were almost more concerned with seeing Excruciating Terror and Discordance Axis play than taking care of our own set.
Something else we got through under strange circumstances was the recording of the split 7" with Corrupted. I got a letter from Corrupted saying that they couldn't use the Enemy Soil track intended for our split 7". I had no idea what they were talking about because I had never spoken to them before. It turns out that I sent a song to a label once for a compilation, the label folded, and the track ended up in the hands of Corrupted somehow. So we worked out that Enemy Soil would record a new session for it. The day we were going to have King record us at his house, we couldn't get a hold of Brian. I called King and told him we had to cancel the session and, in true King fashion, he said, "Show me the songs; I'll do it!" So we went over to his basement, showed him the songs one at a time, and he played drums and recorded us (disc 2, tracks 25-28).
In 1997, JR and the band parted company. The band was kind of stagnant at the time, playing gigs but taking forever to write new material, and things got old for him. Omid left the band that summer to move to NYC. Later on, the band wanted to record songs for what might have been the Enemy Soil/Suppression/Mrtva Budoucnost 3-way split live tape, and we had a new bass player, Jeff Kane, and a new drummer, Adam Perry (we had split with Brian after the recording where King filled in). Jeff and Adam both came from playing in the Northern Virginia punk rock scene. Jeff got T.L. Smoot to record us at Adam's house, and after a time, T.L. called Jeff and said, "This sounds crazy, but I want to sing for Enemy Soil." He had never sung in a band before, the same as with JR, although he had band experience: he was the bass player for pg.99 early on.
Late in 1997, Enemy Soil was going to do a split tape with Japanese Torture Comedy Hour. The tape never came out, but I took a few moments from the JTCH recording session and put it on our side of the split 7" with pg.99 split (more on that record later). Our side of the tape ended up on the Enemy Soil Smashes the State Live DVD: it was us performing our set live in the studio.
The recording for our 3" CD, Fractured Theology (disc 2, tracks 29-43), was interesting too. We did it in Jeff's basement in 1998. When it came time to do the vocals, T.L. (pictured at one of our gigs) and I went through Jeff's PA, and Scott (who was recording us) and T.L. mic'd the speaker. Jeff's parents complained about the noise, so we covered the speaker with pillows to muffle the sound. The vocals ended up totally distorted on the record, which wasn't what we were intending. We had a live song that we threw on at the end of the record that T.L. recorded in Virginia at a show attended by about 10 people. Scott thought it would be funny to add crowd noise from a live album Jeff had in his collection to the song to make it sound like we were playing in a stadium or something. So I put "recorded live in Japan" on the 3" sleeve to top it off. We'd previously recorded a 10-second song, "The Great Debate," for the Bleeeeeeaaaaaaauuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggg: A Music War 7" on Slap A Ham, and we re-recorded it for Fractured Theology with a new title, "Nothing Answers Pt. 2." ("Nothing Answers Pt. 1" was on the War Parade 7".)
In 1998 we went on tour on the East Coast. I bought a cargo van from a minister who had used it to take his flock to church every Sunday. It was a 1978 Dodge and was cool because it had a spoiler and shag carpeting. Jeff named it Sheila. On that tour we had to get the carburetor rebuilt, but that was only one of our problems. At one point we saw gas shooting onto the floor of the van while we were on the road.
Relations in the lineup went south as the tour went north, and we had to cancel our appearances at the last few gigs and head home in disgrace. There was only Adam and myself left in the band after the tour, but we were supposed to record for the pg.99 split. We went and did it anyway. I had recorded for a compilation CD back in 1994 all by myself, so why not? Adam and I wrote and recorded a few songs, and two of them (disc 2, tracks 45-46) went on the split, while Mason and I later repurposed the other two songs in a band we had after Enemy Soil called The Index.
The girl from Sancapuntas, who put the split with pg.99 out, was moving from California to Virginia and had all her earthly possessions, including the remaining copies of the press run of the record, in her car. She got in a car wreck en route, and the car, her possessions, and the records were destroyed.
In 1999 I finally broke the band up. I felt like it had run its course by then. It refused to stay dead, however: Ralphyboy from Disassociate was throwing a festival at CBGB's in 2001 and asked the band to play. Omid was pushing the idea of playing, sort of to mark that the Enemy Soil Smashes the State! discography was coming out, so I put together a lineup of Omid and other members who recorded with the band but, as it happened, had never played together when the band was around before. There were some songs in the set that some of the guys remembered playing, and other ones that the other guys remembered. One time at practice, Brian, who was playing drums for the reunion gig, asked if we wanted him to blast in 3s or 4s. He explained that from listening to the records, he noted that Adam blasted in 3s but he blasted in 4s. The rest of us didn't know what he was talking about.
The live set and photos from the gig later came out on the Enemy Soil Smashes the State Live DVD and after that on the Live Nail in the Coffin LP. In my opinion, having this discography, the DVD, the live LP, and the CD reissue of Casualties of Progress provides a great amount of information on and a wide-ranging overview of the band.
Over the years since, I had been asked about bringing the band back and always rejected the idea, but in 2017 I realized that I had been missing playing the songs and started reconsidering. I reached out to the guys to discuss it, ones that were in the band originally but hadn't played the one-off reunion gig in 2001, to give other people an opportunity to be part of a reunion. (JR was supposed to play the reuinion in 2001, but backed out when he realized his voice wasn't going to handle the strain, so I ended up doing vocals for the gig.)
So we got together and picked out a set for one gig. We wanted to start with just one to see if it was going to work before trying to book anything else. JR, Mason, and I got together in our living rooms to remember how to play the songs and go over them, and then finally, the week of the show, we met up in the rehearsal room with Adam, who flew in from California, in January 2018. Up until then he was telling me that reviewing the songs on his own was going great, but we still didn't know how it was going to go when we all got together. We practiced four times for our first show back, which was a show in DC (and the one Suppression played). The gig had a really positive vibe and good turnout. We picked grindcore bands we were friends with from the DC/MD/VA scene to play and to make the music as brutal as possible. So we (pictured) agreed to play more gigs.
Mason took medical leave from the band after we played Maryland Deathfest (MDF) that year, so we got fill-ins (John, who played bass in Agoraphobic Nosebleed live, and Mough, who played in Mind As Prison, one of the bands that played the DC show) to finish off the shows we booked, which were a mix of festivals and club shows. One of the many things that was nice about the reunion was playing Bloodshed fest in the Netherlands, because the band had never gone overseas while it was around the first time. One of the things that blew us away was how high up on the MDF flyer the Enemy Soil logo was placed. At the MDF gig, while we were waiting to go on stage and start getting ready to play, Mason and I reflected on how it never occured to us back in the early 1990s that in the late 2020s we'd be one of the headliners of an international death metal festival. While we were finishing off all of the shows we had booked, Adam, JR, and I decided to call the reunion done. Get in and get out in the same year. (Here's the list of all of the reunion gigs we played.)
There were a lot of ups and downs in the band over the years, but I always appreciated it when someone would tell us about how they held Enemy Soil in high regard. We would hear once in a while that Enemy Soil was a person's favorite band in the genre, or someone went to a show or a festival just because we were playing. In 2009, Terrorizer Magazine made Casualties of Progress #5 on a list of 20 essential U.S. grindcore releases. (They put the record ahead of Terrorizer, Siege, and Discordance Axis, which I can't agree with.) All of this kind of feedback was amazing.
-Richard Johnson, 2001, 2021