One of the oddities of first wave punk was a fascination with Nazi imagery that had much more to do with juvenile shock value than any particular political ideology. To the extent that they're remembered at all today, the Afrika Korps are usually mentioned as one of the more egregious examples of this: besides the band name and album title, this record was originally released on the band's own Iron Cross label. However, although Music to Kill By is by no means a classic of the genre on the level of the first albums by the Clash, the Ramones, or the Sex Pistols, it's an intriguing little oddity with some historical value. For one thing, Music to Kill By was one of the first completely D.I.Y. punk releases in the United States: although independent labels were already sweeping through the U.K. by 1977, pioneered by imprints like Stiff in London and Rabid in Manchester, the idea was still in its infancy stateside, where all of the first wave of New York punk bands signed with major labels. Even more impressively, this Washington, D.C., conglomeration (which at times, both live and in the studio, had up to 17 members, although the core group numbered five) was actually a scenester supergroup of sorts: its three key members, Kim Kane, Kenne Highland, and Solomon Gruberger, had already released records by their own bands, the Slickee Boys, the Gizmos, and O. Rex, respectively.
But the most interesting thing about Music to Kill By is that in its original vinyl incarnation, the album featured 22 songs in just under 40 minutes. Bear in mind, this was in 1977, when British punk was a peculiar intermingling of pub rock energy and glam theatrics, and when most New York punk bands still took the majority of their musical cues from Lenny Kaye's epochal Nuggets anthology of vintage '60s garage rock singles. Compared to what came just a few years later, first wave punk was still a comparatively "normal" musical style rooted in pop convention. The 30-second to two-minute blasts on Music to Kill By wouldn't become commonplace for another three or four years, when punk was supplanted by hardcore. (It may not be coincidental that one of hardcore's birthplaces was the Afrika Korps' hometown of Washington, D.C.)
That said, most of Music to Kill By bears some stylistic comparison to the New York punk bands: the sardonic "N.Y. Punk" is a dead-on parody of early Ramones, complete with an absolutely flawless Joey Ramone impersonation by Gruberger. Other tracks are enjoyably amateurish takes on '60s warhorses like the Kinks' "Till the End of the Day" and the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul," and songs like "Jailbait Janet," "Crazy Jill," and "Wild Mouse" are in keeping with the bubblegum pastiche at the roots of bands like the Ramones and Blondie. (On the original album, Gruberger uses the pseudonym Solomon Spector to make the connection that much clearer.) The album's sound, even on this remastered CD, is incredibly primitive, so muffled that it sounds like the microphones were encased in cardboard boxes in the studio: the 12 bonus tracks include eight even more amateurish and poorly recorded early songs, five of which didn't make the album, and a capper of four high-energy live tracks that sound like they were recorded on a cheap cassette deck from the discount store. Audiophiles might steer clear, then, but punk historians, obscurantist fanboys, and others with an interest in the roots of the American indie scene will find Music to Kill By an enjoyable, if scattershot, history lesson.