By Kevin Stewart-Panko
Happy birthday, Cripple Bastards! My how you’ve grown. No, really. To the untrained ear, the 20-year-long list of releases that Asti, Italy’s long-standing provocative grindcore institution have comprising their discography may sound like short burst of noise after short burst of noise – and we’d be lying if we said everything that has followed since the day one Guilio “The Bastard” Baldizzone organized a rehearsal on the top floor of an abandoned factory with his fellow extreme music obsessed chum, Alberto The Crippler, has been top-of-the-line, especially some of those early cassette only releases – but, being able to maintain a stable line-up over the last few years has definitely helped the band progress towards pummelling grindcore efficiency, as evidenced on their Desperately Insensitive album. They’ve just upped the ante with their latest full-length, Variante Alla Morte. Also illustrating the whys and whatfors behind the history, growth and all the troubles and hardships Cripple Bastards has hurdled since 1988 is the achingly comprehensive, 4-plus hour documentary/main program of their official DVD release, Blackmails And Assholism, released earlier this year. Hellbound.ca tracked down Guilio The Bastard via his preferred medium of email to discuss the organic steps forward towards increased brutality on Variante Alla Morte, how not letting go can get you in a heap of shit and what keeps the fire burning 20 years down the track.
In watching Blackmails and Assholism, it’s plainly obvious that as time has gone on, your relationship with the underground has become increasingly strained. Has this relationship continued to sour? In what way has this relationship impacted Variante Alla Morte?
Well, it depends on what underground you’re talking about. The DVD documentary points out that as years went by Cripple Bastards have gone through a radical change of both audience and musical background. In the first decade, we were mainly linked to the DIY punk/hardcore scene whose network is based on self-productions, trades, tours booked in squats and, above all, some unavoidable political schemes. In the following years, after many conflicts and the many negative stories you can watch on the DVD, we gradually departed from that and started to play in different kinds of venues for a different public. Here in Italy and some other countries, CB have started from scratch and gradually built a solid following of fans coming both from extreme metal and from non-political hardcore; simply those who “don’t give a shit” about certain matters. But in a few parts of Europe (specifically Germany and France), we still haven’t had the chance to re-establish a relationship with the underground because we don’t tour that often so nobody has seen us there after the change. Honestly, I have no idea if all these moves have impacted on the new album, but I would say not, we simply passed to a different audience and things are still increasing and developing. Usually, even those who gradually turn into our worst enemies and backstabbers are still buying (or at least downloading!) our albums secretly; they keep enjoying the music and need to see if there’s something new to talk shit about.
The tagline on your website reads “Controversial Hategrind Since 1988.” Do you still revel or take pleasure in creating controversy? Have your feelings of hatred, disgust and ire grown stronger or become muted over the past few years? What fuels this hatred?
CB is labelled as a controversial band not by our choice, but because of the many incidents that have happened through the years. Many might think that it’s all provocation to raise diatribes, start fights or simply to get attention. But, in reality, I wish many of the things that made us “controversial” had never happened. Let’s say that, on one hand, the part of the scene that has clashed with CB is very narrow-minded and chained to a list of rules that can’t be broken. On the other hand, CB is all about revenge and over-reacting, so a lot of things that any other band would have probably let go, have become the roots of arguments and fights for us. It’s a matter of mentality I guess. But if your question also refers to the hatred and negativity we express through the music and the lyrics, well – that’s all about everyday life. CB is just a way to vent out the many bullets we bite everyday; the hatred comes from existential disgust and malevolence. It’s the eternal war of the individual versus the outside world and increasing overcrowding.
I don’t speak Italian (or Serbian, for that matter), but looking at some of the new song titles, I can get an idea of what you’re singing about. Has your lyrical focus or direction changed on the new album? If not, is there anything different about the approach or structuring of your lyrics?
The lyrics on the new album are mainly a new chapter to what has been previously said on [previous albums] Misantropo a Senso Unico and Desperately Insensitive, it just goes deeper in developing certain topics. “Variante Alla Morte” means “Death variant” and it mainly focuses on those people living a vegetative existence in passivity – not feeling life at all, blindly accepting schemes imposed from above. And, as I mentioned, it’s the constant struggle of the individual versus the planet’s increasing overcrowding, the death of nature, the growing sense of apathy suffocating us. As always, there are a lot of real-life stories mixed in. On the previous two albums, we had specific songs about drug addiction, prostitution, suicide etc. On this new one you get “Stupro e addio” (Rape and goodbye) which portrays rape through the eyes of a rapist; “Sangue chiama” (Blood calls) that is a parody on tough-guy, street-style poserism seen through CB’s “2 eyes for an eye” mentality; “Lo sfregio e le sue ombre” (“The scar and its shadows”) which is our new anthem for those who get screwed by love; “Auto-azzeramento” (“Self-zeroing”) that deals with work’s annihilation. It’s everyday life seen through CB’s eye in 2008; there’s always something new to say.
How about the music? It seems that the songs on “Variante…” are catchier with more groove, but just as ruthless and violent sounding as the past. Is this something you might agree with? Does this come subconsciously with experience or was it a deliberate move on your part?
Yes, I agree with what you say. Variante alla morte is a natural step forward after 20 years of Cripple Bastards, not a deliberate move. It also depends a lot on the fact that while the older albums were 90% written by me and retouched by the other members, on this new album (as on the previous split 7″s with Eyehategod and Sublime Cadaveric Decomposition) it’s the work of four people together, each taking part in composing, so you get the influences/ideas of all of us mixed in.
Thanks for the lead-in to my next question. How has having a stable line-up for about eight years now impacted life in Cripple Bastards?
It’s been extremely important. This line-up has played hundreds of shows and done a lot of work together, plus we are good friends. It helps a lot in reaching the right formula for creating new songs, having a solid style and a well-trained live approach. It’s the definitely the best line-up CB has ever had.
Songs like “Gli Anni Che Non Ritorano” and “Auto-Azzeramento” sound like you guys stepping out of the norm and exploring new territory, even if the departures are very slight. Are these songs that have been sitting around for a while that you’ve just got around to using or completely new compositions?
“Auto-azzeramento” is the re-recording of “Self-zeroing” that came out in 2004 as our side of Eyehategod split EP. I just translated the lyrics into Italian (as they were originally written in English) and adapted them to the song. We have played it live tons of times so, yes, in this case I’d say it has been sitting around for some years. We wanted to record this new version in Italian because we thought it’s a great track that deserved to be recorded at Studio Fredman. We did the original version here in Italy and it had some production mistakes and sounded weak compared to what we had in mind. “Gli anni che non ritornano,” instead, was done two weeks before entering the studio, so it’s a brand new composition that was put together quite quickly.
I still haven’t seen the full artwork for the new album. Can you describe it and what you were trying to convey with the images you used?
The artwork is a fantastic drawing by Majo Rossi, an Italian artist who works on the [Italian] comic series, Dampyr. It has a long line of children jumping down an escarpment ending in a black sea full of sharp stones. The children’s faces are dull, hallucinated, without emotions. As I previously explained, the album wants to portray those who don’t feel life and slowly walk towards their annihilation and death. So, this is the meaning of the drawing. The CD layout was made as fold out poster, on the front cover square there’s just a small detail of the whole drawing that doesn’t reveal the entire concept. Once you open the poster you get it all.
Over the years, what has Cripple Bastards come to mean to you? What role does it play in your life and how important and time consuming is the band? How do you find balancing it with all your “adult responsibilities”?
All of us in the band have jobs, families and a private life. Playing in CB is a huge passion and fun, in most circumstances, so every one of us manages to find the time to play shows, practice, come to the studio and so on. In my individual case… you know, I started the band 20 years ago and I have always worked hard to keep it together and active, to have it always “on the map” even if we come from fucking Italy, which certainly doesn’t help. CB is a part of me; I’ve spent over half of my life doing this, and it hasn’t just been satisfying experiences, but also fights, disillusions and doors shut in the face. Even when CB no longer exists, it’ll still be a part of me because I grew up doing this and I am a bastard in full effect!
When you started this band, did you ever think you’d be celebrating 20 years of Cripple Bastards?
When I started CB I was 13. My dream at that time was just to do a 7″ and then disappear. I never thought this could last for so long. I’ve been very close to stopping the band many times, especially in the first decade and later when Alberto the Crippler left. Sometimes I’ve kept it going simply because I didn’t want to see our enemies say, “Yeah, CB has finally disbanded!” Man, I was recently reading a message board where people were discussing about the death of Tony, the bass player of our friends Agathocles. Somebody wrote, “It’s so sad that these kinds of things always happen to good people and not to dickheads like Cripple Bastards.” So you see, this is the fuel that keeps us strong and motivated!
(Originally published in the final issue of Unrestrained! Magazine. The entire final issue of U! is available for free download in pdf format from http://www.unrestrainedmag.com)