First appearing in 1980, Birmingham’s G.B.H (Grievous Bodily Harm) quickly joined the top ranks of England’s second-generation buzzsaw punk firmament. (“Charged” was, for a time, appended to prevent confusion with a British metal band of the same name; where the wayward period after the “H” went has never been explained.) Enraged if not especially enlightened, the quartet tears through City Baby Attacked by Rats with chops and venom, throwing off sparks on dubious numbers like “Slut” and “The Prayer of a Realist.” Leather, Bristles, No Survivors and Sick Boys compiles the similarly titled 1981 EP and two subsequent releases in a bracing storm of morbid speedcore. Ignore the dismal lyrics and enjoy the sweeping, trebly adrenaline rush.
The photos on City Babys Revenge (which is subtitled “101 Ways to Kill a Rat”) show singer Colin Abrahall and guitarist Jock Blyth sporting extraordinary hair-like extremities; the record is, conversely, marginally more restrained and less garishly violent than before. “Vietnamese Blues,” “Christianised Cannibals,” “Diplomatic Immunity” and other songs display a refined and more intelligent political punk sensibility, along with a slightly slower and easier-to-grasp sound. A blazing Stooges cover (“I Feel Alright”) adds to the fun; on the downside, “Womb With a View” is an inexcusable anti-feminist diatribe.
With G.B.H off to another label for a few years, Clay fairly condensed the band’s primal punk catalogue on a compilation of tracks from EPs, singles and the albums, plus a strong pair of previously unreleased items, “Children of Dust” and “Do What You Do.” Four years later, the label also issued Diplomatic Immunity, a poorly mastered and undocumented 21-song anthology that repeats all but the two rarities from The Clay Years and adds seven other tunes from the band’s first three albums.
The speaker-busting Oh No EP is one of the most explosive rock records ever, a blistering quartet of tunes that are easily among G.B.H’s best. The unexpectedly melodic “Malice in Wonderland” is a revelation that pairs the old sound of Generation X and the Pistols with Megadeth production. Wow!
Taking a sidestep on Midnight Madness, G.B.H replaced the shrill top with a thundering bottom and mixed speedmetal rhythms in with the breakneck hardcore tempos. It’s still essentially a punk record, and a pretty good one at that, although the notion of these hardcore hooligans singing about New York’s Iroquois Hotel, horror movies and international touring is a bit disconcerting. The inclusion of “Limpwristed” underscores the still-undeveloped state of the band’s egalitarian humanist sensibilities.
G.B.H got themselves a new drummer with twin bass pedals and went all metal on the No Need to Panic! album. Echo on the vocals and blurry guitar on top of an overeager rhythm section typify the sonic approach; sporadic spoken bits, sound effects and TV bites don’t add as much as the band might imagine. Another reason not to be cheerful: the dull and unfocused lyrics.
Avoiding Panic‘s ill-advised fripperies, the four new songs on Wot a Bargin’ are simply more thundering thrash metal; winding up to deliver a killer blow, G.B.H can’t get themselves tight or focused enough to make any real impact. Much the same problem plagues the self-produced From Here to Reality, an album on which glimmers of melody and an accessible rock sensibility are buried in an endless roar of undifferentiated noise. In between those studio releases, G.B.H kicked out the jams on No Survivors, a decently recorded live album that conveys the band’s solid chops, energy and ability to bring the noise at a variety of tempos and intensities. Don’t miss “Hellhole.”
As the new millennium approached, evidently oblivious to musical developments outside their world, G.B.H clung tight to the blurred boundary between hardcore and metal on 1997’s Punk Junkies, which has chunky, sizzling powerhouse sound and only one memorable song: the New York Dollsy “Cryin (on the Hard Shoulder),” which makes good use of a group-chanted refrain.
Race Against Time is a 5 x 5 box that repackages City Baby Attacked by Rats and Leather, Bristles, Studs and Acne with the “No Survivors” and “Sick Boy” singles on one disc; the “Give Me Fire,” “Catch 23” and “Do What You Do” singles and City Babys Revenge on another; and No Survivors on a third.