Josh Fury of Congress: Part II

This is the second part of the interview with Josh Fury of Congress done in 2009. It’s a very delicate and important part. Because the “Blackened Persistance” is the most important album for the H8000 scene. I fully realize this and respect this so much. I waited to review this record on my blog because I really wanted to do it accurate. But since I made contacts with Josh I totally saw the opportunity to mold my views in a conversation with Josh himself. So I could test my views and bring them forward to Josh in order to get the best possible review of this record that made H8000 hardcore what it is to the world and especially to the people over here.
We talked in the first two parts about the musical side of Congress, who wrote the songs and why the change of sound within the H8000 style, the synergistic creative process of the band members. Where the music was written, etc. But we also focused on the social part of being in the H8000 crew, where you guys met and how. And about the many good labels out of the region in the early nineties, who wanted Congress on their label.

back side cover of the “Blackened Persistance” LP/CD by Congress

Willem RWHAF: Let’s focus now on the lyrics of the “Blackened Persistence” LP. The record starts off with the instrumental “AK Modan” full with omission but also hope and light. What does “AK Modan” stands for?
Josh Fury: “AK Modan” simply is a huge boss in the video game Castlevania 4 on the Super Nintendo console, nothing more. The tune you hear is also an interpretation of the soundtrack to a level of the same game. We wanted to rip it but ended up playing it ourselves with a keyboard and electric guitar, so now you know the secret of “AK Modan”…

Willem RWHAF: Then “AK Modan” flows over in the song “Lifting The Ban”. I already learned that this is Congress’ anthem. But I do not understand why this became Congress’ anthem. Do you?
Josh Fury: Hm, well, the riff is simple yet genius and lots of guitarists think of this riff when you name Congress. Last weekend Mans Ruin played with Diablo Blvd and Andries riffed it on stage between songs just to mock me I guess… No, lyrically this song stands for everything the scene was going through, lots of bands popping up, lots of new faces on gigs, labels started, the scene got attention worldwide to. The song deals with the end of a curse, the start of a new hopeful era with new talent and strength. If you look at the back of the album, you see the classic black and white live-picture with all of the new major faces of the scene, old and new, this represents the song quite well. After “Blackened Persistance” got released, Good Life Recordings did their first label compilation and that record had “Lifting the Ban” as our song with an alternative intro. This compilation record sold heaps, you found it in every single record shop that sold heavy music, so that’s another reason why kids know this song so well.

Willem RWHAF: When I listen to that song this song it still gives me shivers! Certainly at the end where Pierre screams; “… At last the silence is broken…”. Lyrically I feel that in the song “Lifting The Ban” you were in a phase that everything started to go well, after the dark period in which you wrote the song “Conspiracy Of Silence”. Correct?
Josh Fury: Like I said earlier, the scene was picking up, Congress got successful and the kids went insane on shows. When we started out, we felt like we were alone doing this style of Hardcore, but after “Euridium” and this album, we set the standard for the whole H8000 scene; being creative, trying to improve and motivate new kids.

Willem RWHAF: “The Darkside” is another killer song. You felt a dark side inside yourself? That realization led you into despair sometimes? A fear that the dark side of yourself would reign and would swallow you whole?
Josh Fury: Kind of, yeah. The whole concept of the album is quite emotionally if you think about it, hope, darkness, grief, despair… Those were emotions 20-year old adolescents had to deal with a lot, putting these words on these songs worked like a therapy.

Willem RWHAF: I feel really related to this theme, especially the ethical reflections that fight against that reigning dark side. But then comes the song “Sinking In Sin”. Did you think that you couldn’t fight this dark side and thought you sank in sin?
Josh Fury: “Sinking in Sin” is about the ongoing storm, the destruction of man, nature taking revenge on mankind. It’s quite apocalyptic and symbolic. Still frighteningly relevant to these times as well…
Willem RWHAF: But there’s something in those lyrics I do not understand; what have father and our mother to do with this all?
Josh Fury: Mother: earth and Father: god.

Willem RWHAF: I learned that the song “Body Weeps” isn’t a traditional Congress song, since it were Hans and you who did the music and that is wasn’t with Ilja on drums but Hans Sober Mind. Did you still rehearse together at times perhaps?

Josh Fury: That was a ‘Wheel of Progress’-song. Since Hans did drums for that band, we decided he should play and record it in the studio. We played it always with him live to, back  in the days Liar and Congress played a lot together, it was incestuous, hah!
Willem RWHAF: It is about suffering that smoking induces?
Josh Fury: It is and will always be an anti-smoke song!

Willem RWHAF: Can you tell me more about the song “Mainstream”.
Josh Fury: Sure, I always try to swim upstream, against the grain. Making my own rules and not follow the bunch. Of course, being the 36-year old parent as I am, I mellowed a lot. I try to set examples for my kids so I’m not that rebellious anymore but still… You’ll never see me at McDonalds for example and I’m never going to church unless it’s a burial (then you do it out of respect for the deceased) but rules and tradition die slowly for sure.

Willem RWHAF: And then “Grief”, this song is so full of integrity that it almost made me cry when I was a kid. But the combination of those lyrics with the ultra hard music, says a lot. The aggression of the music actually says how you resisted against those sad emotions. You and UxJ really have some musical translation capabilities. Because I feel this song has the hardest and most painful music of the entire Blackened Persistence recordings. Were you aware that you put these lyrics on this music?
Josh Fury: Almost every time we work on songs, the music comes first. When I played the song, lines dropped inside my head. I had to deal with sudden death in my family and so on, so it came quite naturally. The emotion of the music fitted really well with the topic of death and dying. Still, a real emotional song, that’s amongst Congress finest songs for a lot of kids.

Willem RWHAF: Then finally a song about vegetarianism, called “Prayers ’95 “. Interesting connection you make between people who pray (religious people) and killing animals for dinner. But I do not fully understand! Could you explain this?
Josh Fury: Well, in church they pray for peace and life to be spared. In reality Catholics promote death with abattoirs which could be considered death camps. This song deals with the contradiction between religion and rational thinking. Lots of people got this and started a meat-free lifestyle. To this day, people still come to me saying they became Vegetarians after buying Blackened Persistance, I feel like I achieved something and this makes me proud.

Willem RWHAF: I never doubted that Congress in this period also supported the straight-edge lifestyle. But in contrast to other H8000 bands, you never explicitly used the word. This tells something about your personal view about it, I think. You weren’t so clearly outspoken about it. Tell me about your views upon straight Edge?
Josh Fury: Oh, I was into Straight Edge for 8 years! It helped me to become the person I am today. I made a difference, pushed my musical creativity to the limits being clean and sober minded. Straight Edge was strong back then, it was just the way the scene was, 90 percent was Straight Edge Vegetarian or Vegan. Congress pushed this lifestyle at first but we didn’t want to be labeled Straight Edge through our whole career. It was after Pierre dropped Straight Edge that we dropped the tag Straight Edge too, it would have been hypocrite. Thinking of Straight Edge being an topic in songs, there were a lot of references: “Slaves of Decay” is about drug abuse and-dealers. Body Weeps and Black Demon were anti-smoke songs. Look at lyrics from songs like; “Under Pressure” or “What we Need” on “The Other Cheek”, all very Straight Edge related.

Willem RWHAF: And then again an inside struggle song called “Stompbox”. You weren’t totally out of the isolation? Again about fighting the dark side within, as embodied in a beast? Or was the stompbox, as you amazingly described it, related to something else?
Josh Fury: Hm, if you’re frustrated, you need to find a scapegoat, something that shapes your anger. In this case it was the beast we need to slay. It was hard to find a relevant title for this song, which became ‘Stompbox’ in the end, it fitted with the lyrics.

Willem RWHAF: I also have some speculations or assumptions about the title “Blackened Persistence”, very well chosen I assume. But you will definitely bring forward a better explanation…
Josh Fury: The “Persistence” stood for our endurance, our stubborn lifestyle which was Straight-Edge in those days. We were ready to take over the scene and the world with this band.
“Blackened” because it was always in danger, in shadows. Also there was a certain blackness about our music, it was raging, fast and evil.
Did you know that the original title for the first album would be “Fragments Of Sheer Neglect”? It was Edward who talked me out of this, thank God, there really wasn’t a title as strong as “Blackened Persistence”!

Congress “Blackened Persistance” front cover

Willem RWHAF: Because I grew up in Oostduinkerke I know who made the cover design. It was Yoeri Christiaen, he lived e few streets from my parents house. He is a sublime spray painter and also did many graffiti art on the dyke, someone of the local government gave him permission to do it.
But what about the cover, any specific meaning behind the hooded wizard ? Anything to do with power perhaps? Or did you just found the artwork cool, without a specific reason?
Josh Fury: As with all Congress releases, the album art came last of all. We worked on good songs and lyrics and didn’t care much about covers… I had a vision in mind with a hooded wizard and a fireball, kind of like the reaper holding the lightning bolt (Santa Cruz Corey O’Brien) but hovering above a planet. I didn’t care much about the symbolism although there surely are explanations but I leave this open to interpretation. Later, when Liar did “Falls of Torment” they went over the top with theirs. Americans hated both covers but Liar got away with having the corniest metal art on a Hardcore album…

Willem RWHAF: When I asked about the fact that you never explicitly use the word Straight-Edge or vegetarian in your lyrics, I thought you wanted to keep it silent and for yourself? And for others to interpret? I mean, maybe you thought of it as a personal thing although you wanted to influence the kids with it and make a stance? Seems contradictory to me. Or is it just a cryptic style?
Josh Fury: Well, in those days we played a lot, many people bought our albums and shirts. To most kids, Congress made great music that came with wild shows. For some, who considered themselves Hardcore or Straight Edge, there was more to it than just a cool band, it was a lifestyle, an attitude towards the world we live in. Sometimes explanations were needed in case of a contradictory lyric or statement we made, which we did later on albums like “Angry with the Sun” or “The Other Cheek”.

Willem RWHAF: And yeah, I was one of the kids who got vegetarian after getting into this record. I think it was mainly because of some lyrics but also because I met with the ODK skaters and was going to Vitality shows. They were all vegetarian in the days. But I think the intermezzo with the man selling meat is really hitting the bulls-eye. Mocking with that mass consumption of food and then even more wrong; eating meat.
Josh Fury: We ripped that intermezzo from Killing Joke’s Age of Greed intro. No one knew that band although they made a huge impact on me as a songwriter and lyric wise too. Really a band that shares the same view as many cool Hardcore or even Punk and Crust bands. The thing with being vegetarian is simple but effective: you do it with persuasion or you don’t and be just like the mainstream. Vegetarianism is the most effective, compassionate lifestyle there is which really pays off in the end. I meet people in their late 30’s who eat meat all the way now, that used to be vegan back in the day. They come with reasons like “oh, our kids need meat” or, “my wife doesn’t want to cook two dishes”, what a load of bullshit! At least try to make a change and keep one day veggie or so. Also, there’s a whole new range of veggie food you’ll find everywhere now, restaurants need to put at least two vegetarian dishes on their menu. We’re living in luxurious Western Europe, there are heaps of veggie alternatives now and way more tasty than say 20 years ago, there’s really no excuse anymore to end being Vegetarian. Oh, and most of those people are complaining about being too fat, having heart or back problems already. I gained some weight to but I’m like never sick and I sleep like 6 hours a night. I raise my daughters veggie too and they are sooo healthy, smart and really good in sports too, veggie for life! Literally!

Willem RWHAF: This record is what many people praise as the Congress record, but how do you feel about this release? Did you achieve what you wanted to achieve with recording this record?
Josh Fury: Well, I always liked the sound of “Euridium” or “Angry With The Sun” better but song wise, this is the hit-album for sure. There are no fillers on it, even “Superstench” is a killer song.
When we played the songs from Blackened Persistance way before the album was out, the kids reacted already wild and songs like “Sinking In Sin” and “The Darkside” became instant classics so we knew that we we’re doing something important. When the album was out, positive reviews were all we got, I remember Edward calling me up saying Onno Cro-Mag wanted to interview me about the most impressive Belgian Hardcore record ever. I couldn’t believe this, I read “Aardschok” from when I was listening to Priest and Metallica back in the day and here we got a page full interview together with a review that rated us 99/100! This was the first step we made into more mainstream ground, back in the day, you had the underground DIY scene and the bigger Euro Core major label scene. We did major support for big bands like Sick of it All and Madball. We headlined small and not so small festivals all of a sudden. This was way beyond my imagination, remember my goal was a 7 inch record? Stuff got out of hand!

Willem RWHAF: Where did you tour to promote this record and with what bands? Any cool stories about that tour, that you think you need to tell me?
Josh Fury: We were big in most European countries but in others we were not known at all. We toured Scandinavia right before the album was out. In those days Vegan Straight Edge was the hype, especially when you were from Sweden. Umea had like the biggest scene in the early 90’s with Refused, Abhinanda, Doughnuts… We toured with End In Sight, had a song on the Good Life compilation but they were like 17 year old Vegan Straight-Edgers that misused their Swedish origins cause they sucked! It was up to us to convince the kids of the strength and style of H8000 which was not known over there, when you spoke of Cleveland, kids stuck up their nose…
After the “Blackened Persistance” was out, we toured along with Blindfold and Liar on a night liner together with our girlfriends at first, boy what a mistake that was! This was the “Steel against Steel” tour. Imagine three bands with girlfriends on one bus, what about space?! It got worse once the girlfriends were told they needed to drive themselves around in cars if they wanted to keep up with their touring boyfriends: Trouble.
That tour was a disaster as well, most kids that showed up were really into Blindfold, the emo kids you know, back then they had a huge scene. Congress and Liar were really not cool to them, I remember one night in Köln, the place was packed and we played like it was a rehearsal; no one moved. After the set I said: “Fuck you and goodnight!” Boy did I get shit for that! I learned that night that no matter what crowd you have, even when there’s only 12 kids, you should give it your best, play like it’s your last show ever. It was difficult cause back in Belgium we were all the hype and kids went insane on gigs. Touring is a hard task for a band!

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