Politically Engaged Hardcore

Remembering Adrestia

Underground music has lost one of its most vibrant, radical bands.

Adrestia squat gig flyer. Berlin, June 2022.

In January, the Swedish crust group Adrestia disbanded. Singer and guitarist Martin Shukevich broke the news on Facebook.

This came as a shock to their many fans.

No specific reasons were cited beyond Shukevich’s feeling overwhelmed by managing the group’s affairs.

In the wake of their departure, Adrestia left two impressive artefacts: Dead End Roads, an EP’s worth of tracks cut with Anti-Cimex vocalist Tomas Jonsson, and Antitheism, a split with the Canadian band Collapsed.

Taken together, they comprise an appropriate coda to the career of a group that combined an intense and creative approach to music with a passionate commitment to human rights and engagement with some of the most important struggles of our time.

For those who followed Adrestia, their demise will always raise the question of what might have been. They left behind a catalogue of compelling releases, each building on the strengths of the last.

The opening salvo, The Art of Modern Warfare (2017), introduces some of the band’s most important themes and perspectives.

The cover stood apart from traditional crust releases, which tend to feature wrenching, black-and-white photos of human misery – piles of corpses, screaming children, etc.

In contrast, the cover of The Art of Modern Warfare features a full-colour painting of a YPJ fighter, a Syrian Kurdish woman in fatigues looking out at a fiery landscape.

The album art powerfully communicated the band’s commitment to the Kurdish struggle in Rojava to create an egalitarian, democratic state in the face of opposition from Turkey, Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.

Two years later, The Wrath of Euphrates extended the point.

Adrestia’s second LP featured thirteen tracks of darkened, melodic crust with lyrics that dived deep into Rojava and its importance as an anticapitalist and feminist redoubt.

Another exciting feature of Wrath was the track “The Message”, which featured vocals by Tomas Jonsson, vocalist for Swedish D-beat legends Anti-Cimex.

Jonsson had not been active since the release of the Moment Maniacs’ Two Fuckin’ Pieces, a collaboration with members of Marduk and Wolfpack.

The song and accompanying video were instant classics, and the notoriously reclusive Jonsson’s re-emergence was a major event in Scandinavian and world hardcore.

Adrestia’s profile was on the rise.

In 2017, they released a split with the giants of Swedish crust, the stadium-filling Martyrdöd.

In Solidarity with Rojava was a powerful and unequivocal statement of support and an important networking project, drawing bands with an overt interest in the democratic struggle in Northeast Syria.

Many would hear this disc and recall Martyrdöd’s 2016 video for “Harmageddon”, which features footage of YPJ fighters in combat.

Then came COVID-19. Adrestia had been planning to leave for a tour of the northeastern United States when the pandemic shut down travel between Europe and North America.

It was fortunate that things happened when they did. If Adrestia had managed to travel to the United States before the shutdown, one can only imagine what difficulties might have confronted them in returning home to Sweden.

Still, the shutdown created enormous difficulties for the band. Unable to perform, they devoted themselves to composing new material, using the enforced hiatus from public performances to generate a new body of music. The result was their 2022 double release, III: The Betrayal and IV: The Mark of Cain.

Few bands came through the pandemic so productively. The two releases comprise a remarkable step forward for the band.

Whereas their first two releases featured music very much within the mainstream of Swedish D-beat, The Betrayal and The Mark of Cain constituted a massive stylistic move forward, integrating death and black metal elements into a swirling backdrop for Martin Shukevich’s angry, guttural vocals.

The lyrics of the two LPs were more varied than on the first Adrestia records. The band’s interest in Rojava was still clearly evident, but darker, more personal elements had become part of the mix.

The result is a sprawling masterpiece of dark crust that combines overt politics and social trauma.

In 2023, Adrestia released an EP again featuring vocals by Tomas Jonsson on Hamburg’s Alerta Antifascista label. Although the material was a continuation of the band’s earliest work, there was a notable stylistic difference.

Over preceding releases, Adrestia’s sound had increasingly taken on the chug of mid-tempo death metal, slowly moving away from the rhythmic patterns of mainstream D-beat.

The new EP, Dead End Roads, sounded more like a classic D-beat release. One could easily be forgiven for thinking that Moment Maniacs had reunited to cut some more material.

The licks mostly follow the standard D-beat patterns but with a guitar sound jacked up to steroidal levels.

The result sounds like a more metallic version of Swedish crust band Skit System or perhaps the midway point between “Ondskans Ansikt” and the first Haunted record.

However one wants to characterise the music, the addition of Jonsson’s signature vocals brought to mind thoughts of what Anti-Cimex might have become if circumstances had turned out otherwise.

If Adrestia had accomplished nothing else, their creation of a canvas on which Jonsson could (and would) once again paint his masterpieces is an achievement and a gift to fans of Scandinavian hardcore.

Of course, that was not the last bullet in Adrestia’s clip. In March, they released Antitheism, their split with Collapsed.

While the death metal influences on Dead End Roads were more restrained, they returned with a vengeance on Antitheism.

However, the music retains classic D-beat song structures. The guitar and riffing sound as much like Dismember or The Crown as they do any of Adrestia’s earlier releases.

In addition to the death metal stylings, single-string techniques are increasingly in evidence, adding a creepy black metal element to the proceedings.

As with their previous releases, the lyrics are more abstract, although the Ukraine-themed opener, “The Ghosts of Mariupol,” shows that the band retained its politics.

The passing of Adrestia is a sad moment for fans of Swedish crust and hardcore music in general. They were a good band that was culturally important.

All too often, modern hardcore groups shy away from explicit politics, preferring to offer abstract, vaguely progressive views.

Shukevich, whose current inclinations seem more directed to activism than music, is as well-informed about Middle Eastern and Ukrainian affairs as anyone you’re likely to talk to in the scene.

It’s understandable to want to devote oneself more directly to pursuits we consider politically important without maintaining a music project.

Still, Adrestia’s departure deprives the hardcore community of a much-needed force for combining music and activism.

At its best, hardcore can add urgency to politics. If it isn’t always successful in doing so, it makes the role of bands that accomplish this even more crucial.

At the time of this article’s writing, we are still away from the release of Requiem, Adrestia’s final LP.

It is the kind of thing that one looks forward to with excitement and a certain melancholy. It is like the last conversation with a friend you’ll ever see again.

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Photograph courtesy of Adrestia. All rights reserved.