The relatively unheralded UK outfit Vex was an anarcho-punk band that sounded far more dark, desperate, raw, and apocalyptic than anything at the time. A new reissue of their lone release, 1984's Sanctuary, showcases a band throbbing with ominous, semi-industrial precision.
"World in Action" — VexVia SoundCloud
“No future,” screamed Johnny Rotten in the Sex Pistols’ 1977 single “God Save the Queen". In 1984, punk had more need of God’s help. By then the British punk movement had been bashing its head against the establishment for eight years straight. Outside of the cartoonish, spiky-haired nihilist Vyvyan on BBC’s "The Young Ones*",* punk had little to show for it. The chart-storming gains made by the Pistols and the Clash had given way to marginalization and self-caricature. The Exploited’s 1981 anthem “Punks Not Dead” was already a hollow echo. Punk’s founders had moved on to noise, dub, metal, pop. The most visible face of post-punk was not Rotten, nor even Public Image Ltd.’s John Lydon, but a flower-waving crooner named Morrissey. The year George Orwell had so ominously predicted had finally arrived. But instead of being the vanguard of the resistance against Big Brother, punk was something peddled to King’s Road tourists on the backs of postcards.
In the midst of that, Vex’s sole release, Sanctuary, came out. A four-song 12” issued by Fight Back, an imprint of Conflict’s label Mortarhate, Sanctuary was a part of the collective document of a U.K. anarcho-punk underground that had managed to not only survive, but flourish well into the 80s. Conflict, along with the similarly political Crass, was a leader of the scene; Vex was a minor participant, a footnote to a footnote. The band was also short-lived, which was the order of the day. Crass had previously vowed to break up if it ever lasted long enough to see 1984, although it reneged on that promise, later naming their anthology Best Before 1984 in reference to it. “No future” had come to roost. Accordingly, anarcho-punk bands sounded far more dark, desperate, raw, and apocalyptic than anything at the time (at least this side of a new music springing up in Europe that would come to be called black metal).
Vex had desperation to burn. And on Sanctuary, burn it does. Throbbing with ominous, semi-industrial precision, the song slams along to a martial beat and splintery guitars, a dance track for the gleefully damned. Like a tribe of cyborgs, the band turns anger into something almost mystically ritualistic. It’s an approach Killing Joke had already solidly established by then, and the Killing Joke influence on “Sanctuary” is pronounced—as it is on “It’s No Crime", whose tense, slashing riffs bears a marked similarity to “The Wait”, one of Killing Joke’s most famous songs. Lead singer Scrote also borrows liberally from Jaz Coleman’s robo-goth howl. But where Killing Joke cloaked its anger in code, Vex was more direct. But not by much. The anarcho-punk approach left little room for poetic half-measures, and “World in Action” spews wrathful outrage even as Scrote chants, in an escalating spasm of stereo-panned paranoia, “There is a theory that this has already happened / There is a theory that this has already happened.” “Relative Sadness” sinks deeper into the ethereal, a clanking skeleton of a song that borders on the early deathrock of Theatre of Hate. ( pitchfork )