With the death of MTV, the introduction of torrents, social media and digital music sites such as bandcamp and spotify, the power of major record labels has crumbled faster than the Starks of the north. But in the eyes of emerging artists before the turn of the millennium, it was always envisioned that a contract with one of the major players (Sony-BMG, Universal Music Group, EMI, and Warner Music Group) within the music industry would make their wildest dreams come true. This short sighted ideology was the downfall of many bands within the nu metal era, none more so than London band Pulkas. In a blink and you missed it career, the bands quest to chase the bright lights of the majors jeopardized not only their position on the independent label scene, it also buried any chance of their brutally honest, beautifully macabre and critically acclaimed debut release (ironically titled Greed) gaining the attention of anyone outside a small selection of those in the know.
Pulkas – comprised of singer Luke Lloyd, bassist Jules McBride, drummer Rob Lewis and guitarist Martin Bourne took shape in that murky period between 1996 and 1998 in London, England. Rising up from the charcoal remains of early nineties trash band Ashes to Ashes (ex Teason) – Bourne, Lewis and McBride honed their skills until a chance meeting with Lloyd on the London tube led to the formation of the group. After giving birth to the band, Lloyd nearly killed it and himself when he became a casualty of ‘when keeping it real goes wrong’. As legend has it, during early band rehearsals, Lloyd screamed so hard he withered to the ground in pain – suffering what turned out to be a collapsed lung. After a small run of live shows, they caught the attention of the industry. Despite other offers, they accepted a contract with independent label Earache Records.
Founded in 1985 by Digby “Dig” Pearson, Earache Records were pioneers in bringing extreme metal to the masses, releasing many of the earliest grindcore and death metal records. While internationally known, it was a strange choice of label for a band that were musically less severe (and thus more accessible) than their label cohorts and would prove to be the undoing of the group. But with that said, with the backing of Earache, the band was able to coerce Colin Richardson to work his majestic magic on their debut release.
Having already rained on the game by producing the major label debuts of both Machine Head and Fear Factory – with Richardson behind the boards, Greed was never going to sound bad. . Richardson has the ability of painting urban sonic landscapes with aural brushes – sculpting desolate sounds with emotional fervor. Richardson notes “I think with metal, you’re always looking for clarity” – the secret to his sound is his competency in making even the most rugged, dirty audio still sound polished and clean by the time its mastered. Also fundamental is the fact he managed to capture the renowned Pulkas live sound that won over audiences and Earache bigwigs.
Some bands really come into their own on stage – feeding off the energy of a live audience to give their sound a lift that just can’t be achieved in the cold and sterile atmosphere of recording studios. While the primitive early demos helped gain interest with the band, its safe to say it was the groups intense live shows (that often included Lloyd pushing his macabre vocal screams to vomit inducing levels) that gave the band a northern lights buzz that had the labels coughing up the contracts. “Recording and keeping a live feel of your music is very hard to capture in the studio” states bassist McBride. “Many things factor into a live feel of a band and that is hard to bring to a record. We are much heavier live. With Colin producing with us, he knew how to make our music sound good and be able to work different bits here and there into the music”. Despite the occasional breath-catching interlude, Richardson has carved out a truly intense album.But while musically and sonically on par with both Burn My Eyes and Demanufacture, the legacy Pulkas left with Greed will forever be catching shade in the long shadow of Richardson’s other debutantes work.
Greed is dark album. Not satanic shit your pants scary dark, but dark in a sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness. The foreboding bass that rumbles out the speakers on the opening (and debut/only single) Loaded is a slowing waking beast, building with tension with each of Llyod’s pessimistic vocal spits until his agonizing anal bleaching scream unleashes the cavernous rhythm section that listeners are forced to get lost into. The back-and-forth between heaviness and subdued somberness is the strong point throughout the entire release and credit must be paid in full to the musicians.
Bourne’s and McBride riffs are so chumpy you can carve them. ‘Betrayal’, the albums mid point – has one of the most monsterous riffs ever put to tape and exclipces any grooves that Flynn or Cazares created under the watchful eye of Richrdson, and that is saying something. The string players are also as much about atmosphere and complexity as brutality, creating unpredictable layers of tightly coiled riffage that leave the listener on edge throughout the album. Evident in the interlude track ‘Drown’ and ‘Control’ – Bourne and McBride take the time to cook up moody, mysterious, and at times calm soundscapes as a means of building tension amongst the listener, bubbling to a climax and exploding with barbaric slabs of heartless metal. Lewis is also solid through out the release, never overplaying his hand but competent enough in his technical ability not to be in the shadow of the rest of the band. He knows his role in the band and keeps it simple, using his instrument to boost the thickness in the sound instead of trying to showcase his talent with pointless Tavis Barker type drum fills. All in all, the musicians create a temperamental score which lay the platform for Llyod to get all emo and bitter over.
Matching the mindset of the music, Llyod is an angry man. But while some might view his content as more based of an internal conflicts, ala a less whiney version of Jon Davis, for the most part the lyrics of Greed stem from external forces. When asked about his lyrical influences, Llyod notes “politics for us, it’s pretty obvious..but the way I personally get into it from a lyrical point, there is a social commentary going on, but it’s not really in your face. It’s a level where it’s saying ok, the government is responsible for this and this and this. I sort of take it down to the levels where it comes down to a singular person idea.” But before thinking this is another Zach De La Rocha soapbox soirée, taking Betrayal’s “I want you to suck the poison from my wound, before my fingers wrap around to choke” example – the lyrics are coated in enough metaphorical mystery to confuse even the most pretentious fedora wearing Chomsky’s amongst us. Furthermore, analyising his macarbe musings on ‘Flesh’ – “clenze your soul with piss, and as I watch you drown, well who’s laughing now?” one could look deep into his wordplay, finding layer upon layer of political hidden meanings, like a bitter onion, or simply accept Llyod’s confession “the lyrics, y’know…it’s just like paranoid nonsense really”. Whichever way you choose to view it, Llyod has a knack for writing catchy, original lyrics marinating in melancoly and madness – all exemplified by his gruff London accent.
Unfortunately for the band, as the music industry has often prided itself on imitation instead of innovation, upon release Greed was often pigeonholed instead of praised. Without any DJ scratches, shell toe’d ADIDAS shoes or feature any form of rap crossover – it was, for the majority, unfortunately and incorrectly viewed as an imitation of the Deftones/Tool sound. “Colin Richardson, the producer, played us both Deftones albums. And it was the first time that we’d heard them when we went to the studio to record the album. And so when the press say it sounds like the Deftones, well it was just by chance y’know” notes frontman Llyod. McBride adds that “after so many times of people saying that we are being compared to such and such bands and even with the record company (Earache) including data like that in our bio, we are getting a bit tired of it” . This unrest led the band down the slippery slope of career defining skullduggary.
While not flying off the shelves, those who indulged in the gluttony of Greed showed love. Metal Hammer magazine awarded the album 9 out 10 – stating it was not only one of the best albums of the year, but one of the strongest debut release in the history of UK metal. In their 1998 best of list Pulkas were fan-voted the best new band with Greed coming in fourth place in the top 20 albums of the year. With such plaudits, the band started to second guess their decision of signing with Earache and with that, the bright light in modern UK metal music was quickly extinguished by the darkness of greed.
As quickly as they appeared, Pulkas vanished from the scene. When asked about the disappearance, an unnamed band member sited the vague response of “boring tedious music business bullshit”. It would be nearly 10 long years until more information would be available to the public, strangely not coming from band, but the record label. Earache, with a hint of entitled bitterness wrote on their askearache blog: “Sensing their greatness deserved better than the indie label they had just signed to, the band wasted no time in recruiting a manager who proceeded to shop them to major labels, even though the band were contracted to us for 3 more albums.They broke off all contact with Earache so we were forced to spend 2 years wrangling via lawyers, defending our quite legitimate legal and moral position.At some point in the protracted process, the band split up”. As we all know there are two sides to every story (perhaps Earache’s promotion was absent, maybe promises to the band were not met due to the limits of an independent label) it is safe to say the truth is probably somewhere in the middle and it was a partnership destined to fail from the outset.
While Pulkas will forever be viewed as a “what could of been” band , Greed is a truly amazing piece of music. Moody and tragic, the release is all of our darker moments pressed to audio, representing a sense of realism that is impossible to find in todays music. Cooler than being cool, Greed is the soundtrack to winter – and winter is coming.