In a day and age when nothing is hard to find, and the most obscure and forgotten acts from my youth are given deluxe reissue treatment, it's hard to comprehend a band like Germany's HARMFUL being so relentlessly ignored on these shores. One of their albums, 2003's "Sanguine", got released here via SPV, and a couple years back, FAITH NO MORE's Billy Gould produced and played guitar on their "7" album, and even toured briefly as the band's rhythm guitarist. Still — over a decade into their existence, eight albums into what I hesitate to call their career, I'm left navigating Amazon's German-language site and paying the kinds of prices once reserved for cash-grab Japanese imports with OBI strips, all to get my HARMFUL fix.
Given the accolades on the front sticker from producer and BARKMARKET frontman Dave Sardy, I'm the third of three Americans in the fan club (maybe me, Sardy and Gould can form a tribute band for 'em, or something). It's a fitting endorsement, given HARMFUL's very 1990's approach — think HELMET (in the vocals and low end), think QUICKSAND (in the guitar work), throw in some of the minor-key melodies of JAWBOX (and that band's innate sense of chorus and songwriting) alongside a little bit of the ol' BARKMARKET abrasiveness. The result is catchy, accessible, but heavy and disquieting — deceptively simple songs built on propulsive bass lines and chiming, vaguely dissonant guitar lines, full of melancholy and steeped in a 90's angst without coming across as dated or hackneyed.
If I thought anyone was still reading at this point, I'd point out that "Cause" is a really nice mixture of the aggressive, jagged and more metallic earlier HARMFUL sound with the more streamlined and melodic bent they've taken since 2005's "Sis Masis". And that maybe anyone into the more moody post-rock of bands like FAILURE or later CAVE IN would really dig these guys. But at this point, I'm almost convinced that I've made the band up in my head, and that their albums are exercises in whether the tree falling in the forest actually makes a sound if I'm the only one in a 2000-mile radius to notice. I can only hope that a land exists where enough HARMFUL fans populate a city to at least fill up a decent basement-sized club... or that, if I cheerlead long enough and they release another eight or ten records, someone besides me, Dave Sardy, and Billy Gould will notice. Give these guys a chance, will ya?