Punk rockers have had a hate-loath relationship with politicians since the proto-punk ’70s and the hardcore ’80s. Who Nixon was for The Stooges, Reagan for Dead Kennedys and Putin for Pussy Riot is who current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is to The Exsenadors. On their second full-length album, these punks from the suburbs of Quezon City unleash their fury on Duterte and what The Exsenadors deem state-sanctioned violations.
The Exsenadors started in 2003 as an Oi! punk outfit covering tracks by 4 Skins, Demob, The Business, and ’80s Pinoy punk stalwarts the Urban Bandits. While the five-piece have never played anything remotely fit for an easy listening Sunday, it was when they put their activist hats on for 2015’s ‘Kamatayan o Kalayaan’ that their sound morphed into the kind of antifascist punk you could mosh to or shout along with at protest gatherings.
The Exsenadors kick open ‘Heartlessness And The Systematic Perpetuation Of Despair’ with a wallop. On opening track ‘Every Good Comrade Detests Bureaucratism/The Tide’, the riffs start out intense, the drums quick as a locomotive. Then, as if a turbo switch has been flipped, the song kicks into double-time as the vocals come in with the staccato of traditional hardcore singing.
In the current Filipino political establishment, The Exsenadors have a trove of unique, timely material – a litany of injustice that gets their blood boiling. They excoriate a president who regularly curses at national addresses (the sly Smiths tribute ‘Bad Mouth (Strikes Again)’) and has admitted to approving extrajudicial killings under the aegis of a campaign against drugs (‘Dead Bodies’, ‘Executioner’, ‘Sa Dilim At Putik’, and the interlude ‘Doro’s Nightmare’ – which is basically slow power chords and a litany of the names of the dead, killed by the police in the drug war).
While The Exsenadors’ 2013 self-titled debut was more a slab of noise, ska and mid-tempo riffs, their second LP is a step up in craft and meaning. One gets a feeling the band have put more care and thought into finding their voice within the punk traditions – possibly a result of getting more mileage on their gigging wheels after a few split EPs with Aninoko and Flattbush.
Beyond taking the powerful to task, The Exsenadors have endeavoured on this album to innovate beyond the constraints of time-honoured hardcore. ‘On The Question Of War And Peace’ and ‘Dahas = Dahas (Violence = Violence)’ are sly commentaries on class war with palpable atmosphere: a mantra-like lead guitar line snakes through the cascade of power chords, as melodic riffs powered by athletic musicianship stir up the blood and boot stomps. And then you have a wondrously tongue-in-cheek track like ‘Piece Of Cake’, where vocalist Thomas just wails for a minute straight about the need for cycling lanes in Metro Manila – an important issue for The Exsenadors, whose members regularly commute on bicycles.
2022 is an election year for the Philippines, and the band’s good timing doesn’t feel like a coincidence – some of the songs on ‘Heartlessness’ feel tailored in response to the question “Will this play well at a rally?” That’s not a cynical observation – The Exsenadors have joined The Wuds and Betrayed in the ranks of Pinoy punks with a fiercely sociopolitical message. Whether listeners raise their fists in protest or catharsis, The Exsenadors just want you to realise your anger is a gift.
- Release date: February 27
- Record label: Struggle Records/Mutilated Noise Records