Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Direction: Straight Edge Punk, Youth Crew and Hardline

Youth of Today in their prime.

In a recent post I discussed the anarcho-punk movement and its offshoots, crust punk and D-beat.  All of these genres fall under the general umbrella of hardcore punk but were unique in that their songs were very often highly political. 

While a few punk/hardcore bands in America were extremely political, most notably the Dils, the Dead Kennedys, Corrosion of Conformity, Reagan Youth, and MDC, in America most bands have not adopted a well delineated political stance.  However, there have been some American punk scenes that have cultivated a stronger political identity.

The most obvious is the straight edge movement.  In America the movement first blossomed in the nation’s capitol, most notably in the work of Ian Mckaye, first in the band the Teen Idles and more notably in his band Minor Threat.  Minor Threat music consisted of short fast blasts of high tempo sonics with simple shouted vocals by McKaye. ”I Don’t Wanna Hear It”, “Minor Threat”, and “Straight Edge” (from which the movement took its name) are under two minutes long and blast through like a bullet train.  The sound falls somewhere between Black Flag and Bad Religion.

But it wasn’t primarily for their sound that Minor Threat were known.  They also took the then-radical stance of living a “clean” lifestyle free of drugs, smoking and alcohol.  Rather than wallow in controlled substance excess for its shock value like other punks, Minor Threat and similar bands (SS Decontrol in Boston, 7 Seconds in Reno, Nevada) hewed to this more ascetic lifestyle, and this eventually became more widespread as others flocked to this movement. 

In the late 80’s and 90’s several bands merged straight edge beliefs with a more hardcore-influenced sound strongly influenced by 7 Seconds, who were arguably the first to meld straight edge ideals with a purer hardcore sound.  In addition, other ideals, such as anti-racism, anti-war and violence, pro-environmentalism and –pro-vegetarianism became incorporated into the package of the straight edge belief system.  This package become generally known as Youth Crew, named after one of the major bands on the scene, Youth of Today.  Youth of Today formed in the mid-80’s in Connecticut and quickly became a major force in the straight edge hardcore movement.  Three albums and on EP are available on iTunes, 1985’s Can’t Close My Eyes, 1986’s Break Down the Walls, 1988’s We’re Not In This Alone and the 1990 EP Youth of Today.  Most of their songs have titles and lyrics that reflect the band’s positive outlook and clean lifestyle, including three of my favorites  from Eyes, “Youth Crew” (the song for which this movement was eventually named), “Positive Outlook”, and “Take a Stand”.  These songs are loud, fast, and heavy, but YoT’s music was also surprisingly melodic.  They also hewed pretty close to the punk sonic architecture, never putting much metal riffage in their songs.    I also like “Make a Change”, “Stabbed In the Back” and “Shout It” off Break Down the Walls; I particularly like how “Make a Change” occasionally slows from its breakneck speed into a chugging, sing-song  chorus; this reminds me of everything from “Split Image” by Excel and “Clean Up Your Act” by west coast punks Stalag 13.  “Stabbed” has an interesting bass interlude and also mixes it up from superfast to slow and chugging.

Youth of Today broke up in 1990 and its various members went on to form several other influential post-Youth Crew acts.  Vocalist Ray Cappo formed the krishnacore band Shelter.  Krishnacore was a short-lived movement that, in addition to the pacifist, vegetarian, positivist message of straight edge also incorporated elements of the Hare Krishna religious belief system.  The Cro Mags were the pioneer krishnacore band; I have “World Peace” by them off their 1999 album Before the Quarrel.  Shelter’s sound sounds like a crisper, chunkier hardcore music crossed with Check Your Head era Beastie Boys and often lyrically incorporates positive and clean life messages; “Message of the Bhagavat” off their 1995 album Mantra is a good example.  Cappo also formed the band Better Than A Thousand, who’s sound is more firmly traditional hardcore.

Youth of Today member Walter Schreifels went on to form Quicksand, whose sound was very reminiscent of that of Ian McKaye’s post-Minor Threat band Fugazi.  In fact, the guitar on “Backward” reminds me of “I Will Never Forget You” by Husker Du crossed with Steady Diet of Nothing era Fugazi.  “Delusional”, which like “Backward” is off their 1995 album Manic Compression, is a chugging, shimmering, majestic song that almost reminds me of a guitar version of “Eva Braun” by the Screamers as covered by Factrix. 

Schreifels and drummer Sammy Siegler also did stints in another pioneering Youth Crew band, Gorilla Biscuits.  Named somewhat ironically (given their straight edge lifestyle) for a slang term for Quaaludes, Gorilla Biscuits formed in 1987, and their sound was more metallic and closer to thrashcore than Youth of Today’s.  Like Youth of Today, they hewed closely to a straight edge philosophy and many of their songs emphasize thinking for yourself, the strength of community, and positive attitudes.  I recently downloaded “High Hopes”, “Hold Your Ground”, and “Break Free”, and all are good examples of their positive message.  “New Direction” off their 1989 album Start Today begins with a regal horn fanfare followed by a chugging, metallic guitar and breakneck rhythm that are very speed metal in structure. 

Following the breakup of the Biscuits in 1990, lead singer Anthony “Civ” Civerelli went on to form Civ; their sound was much much more pop-infused and melodic.  “Can’t Wait One Minute More” is terrifically catchy, with big rumbling drums, a melodic guitar chug, and a catchy refrain; this is much more pop punk than hardcore.  “Second Hand Superstar” is even poppier and more melodic and falls somewhere between emo and the pop punk of Blink 182.  iTunes has a terrific compilation called CIV: The Complete Discography. 

Another band that had a straight edge audience and whose lyrics preached unity and anti-discrimination were New York’s Warzone.  Warzone remained extremely popular in hardcore circles until the untimely death of front man Raymond Barbieri in 1997, which effectively ended the band.  I don’t have any of their 80’s work—it’s currently not available on iTunes—but I did download their theme song “Warzone” from the 1998 compilation album “The Victory Years”.  This song is pretty much straight-ahead hardcore, alternating between blistering rhythms and slow lurching passages.

In 1990 another band, Vegan Reich, released the EP Hardline, which espoused a particularly rigorous form of straight edge espousing no drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, veganism, animal rights, and hardcore ecology.  Hardline has since become a sub-genre of straight edge hardcore.  Hardline typically also hews to a very conservative, religious opinion on sexuality, being against premarital and/or non-procreative sex, against masturbation, and anti-abortion; these points of view have generated strong criticism of this movement.  One of Vegan Reich’s albums, 1995’s Vanguard, is available on iTunes.  The sound is metalcore/crossover thrash, with shouted vocals and heavily metallic guitar sounds.  “This Is It” is emblematic of their sound.

Earth Crisis is another band that centers its belief system around pro-environment, vegan, animal rights and straight edge messages.  Their music is slower and sludgier than Vegan Reich with growled rather than shouted vocals on songs such as “Inherit the Wasteland” off 1995’s Destroy the Machines.  On their song “Ecoside” they come off sounding like an Anthrax clone.  They have several other albums available on iTunes, including 1996’s Gomorrah’s Season Ends, 1998’s The Oath That Keeps Me Free and Breed the Killers, 2000’s Slither, and 2001’s Last of the Sane.  The band broke up in 2001 but reunited in 2007; their latest album was released this year but isn’t available via iTunes.

Chicago’s Racetraitor had another novel take on the basic straight edge message:  in addition to veganism and straight edge (i.e., no drugs or alcohol) messages, their music also espoused a strong anti-racism and anti-imperialism message.  The band was active during the late 90’s but broke up in ’99. 1998’s Burn the Idol of the White Messiah is one of their two commercially available releases online; “Curse” will give you a good indication of their sound.

While not officially part of the straight edge hardcore scene, Shai Hulud (named after the sandworms in the novel Dune) espouse a message of thinking for one’s self and youth unity.  I recently downloaded “Beliefs and Obsessions” from 1997’s Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion; its staccato drums, traditional hardcore guitar, and shouted rather than growled vocals characterize their sound.  Their most recent album, 2008’s Misanthropy Pure carries on in much the same vein but adds a little speed to the mix occasionally too, like on the song “The Creation Ruin”.

Finally, Detroit’s Walls of Jericho stand out from the metalcore sound of their peers primarily because of their female lead singer, Candace Kucsulain.  Five of their albums are available on iTunes as of this date, I particularly like the song “Through the Eyes of a Dreamer” off 2004’s All Hail the Dead.  Their sound leans heavily on heavy metal riffage a la Slayer.  Like Racetraitor and Shai Hulud, Walls of Jericho were signed to Trustkill Records.

I have to confess, my collecting of most of these songs is primarily for archival purposes; I don’t really enjoy Youth Crew/straight edge hardcore that much.  It’s just too loud, fast, and abrasive to me, but more importantly I haven’t discovered a good hook to any of it—none of the bands sounds radically different and while I appreciate the energy and passion with which they ply their trade, it doesn’t move me enough to be more than an archivist of this music.  I certainly agree with most of the messages they espouse, even if I don’t always follow them myself.  I have great respect for people who try to lead a cleaner, simpler lifestyle and while I’m not a proponent of veganism I respect their right to choose this lifestyle. 

Another major problem I have with bands like this is that their message gets lost in the noise and shouting.  If you’ve got something to say and you want people to hear it, you probably shouldn’t scream, shout, or growl it over a massive wall of guitar noise.  Because many of these bands are articulate and intelligent, I can’t help thinking it’s a waste that they can’t convey their beliefs in a more sonically coherent manner.  I do, however, respect their message and their musicianship; this is not the sloppy, amateurish 3 chord punk of yesteryear, this is very accomplished stuff.  I only wish I could understand what they were saying!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Neo-Psychotic Reactions: 60's Garage Revivalists

Justin Champlin AKA Nobunny, a cross between Iggy and a muppet

In early spring 1988 my on again, off again college girlfriend Stephanie broke up with me for the (mostly) last time.  Like most dumpees, I was devastated, and spent a good part of that quarter as one of the walking wounded.  This was made even worse by the fact that she and I had a class together and saw each other a couple of times a week.  Anyway, on the day she broke up with me, my best friend John drove up from UC Irvine to console me and we ended up driving into Hollywood, eventually stopping at the Tower Records on Sunset Blvd.  On a whim I bought the classic 60’s garage rock compilation Nuggets.  Originally released in 1972 and compiled by legendary Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kay, Nuggets (re-) introduced subsequent generations to the amazing music being made by American kids in the 60’s as a sort of counter-response to the British Invasion.  This collection also gained notoriety and fame for being the first use of the term “punk rock”, which was indeed appropriate; the crude but enthusiastic low-fi sound, the DIY/independent label distribution, and the young snotty attitude were hallmarks of the 60’s garage rock generation as much as they were their 70’s (and 80’s and beyond) counterparts.  I fell in love with these songs; my favorites were “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count Five; “Dirty Water” by the Standells; “Hey Joe” by the Leaves; “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds; “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians; The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night”; “Journey to the Center of the Mind” by the Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent’s first band); “Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz; “Gloria” by Shadows of Knight; “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” by the Blue Magoos; the Music Machine’s “Talk Talk”; “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl” by the Barbarians (the lyrics to this song are extremely reactionary but I love how the intro and rhythm were cribbed from “Ticket To Ride” by the Beatles). 

  In a recent post I wrote about the Lords of Altamont, whose frantic, supercharged update of 60’s garage rock is almost as cool as their monicker (almost).  There are several other bands mining a similar high energy, low-fi, wall of sound style.  One of my current favorites is Tennessee’s own Cheap Time, who have released three albums that highlight this melding of 60’s garage punk and 70’s/80’s punk.  Their sound seems to fall somewhere between the Sonics and Redd Kross, containing some of the snotty teenage sounding vocals reminiscent of Teen Babes From Monsanto with a massive wall of drums and guitar.  “Tight Fit” off their 2008 self-titled debut album is a great example of this.  “Glitter & Gold” sounds more like the bluesy doo-wop components of Johnny Thunders’ solo work but also sounds like punk revivalists the Soda Pop Kids.

Nobunny is the bizarre alter ego of Justin Champlin, who often performs in a weird bunny mask and nothing else and assaults audiences with loud, low-fi guitar riffs melding onto catchy pop hooks and a drum machine keeping time.  I particularly like “Tina Goes to Work” off Love Visions from 2008.

At the other end of the spectrum is Japan’s Guitar Wolf, who come on like a cross between the distortion-heavy horrorpunkobilly of the Misfits and the 60’s garage grooviness of the Count Five with every single amp turned to 12 and produced by Phil Spector.  “Fujiyama Attack” in particular comes across like “Where Eagles Dare” crossed with “Psychotic Reaction”.   “Cosmic Space Girl”, also off Jet Generation, is so loud and distorted guitar-wise that it will destroy your hearing even with the volume turned down; the basic tempo and sound reminds me of “Garbage Man” by the Cramps if they’d recorded it in a bathroom stall with the mikes INSIDE the amps. 

Ty Segall comes across like a melding of Nobunny and Guitar Wolf, leaning somewhat closer to the 60’s garage rock side of the equation.  Segall was a member of the Southern California rock revivalist group the Episolons before heading out on his own in 2008.   I love “Go Home” and “Pretty Baby (You’re So Ugly)”, off his self-titled debut album.  The latter in particular has the loud, insanely distorted guitar sound Guitar Wolf also favor but its surf music crunch keeps the toes tapping.   I also like the lurching chug of “In Your Car” off 2009’s Lemons.  I have only just started scratching the surface of Segall’s work—he’s been quite prolific, with 4 albums in as many years—but I know I’ll be back for more.

Another garage band that drew as much on the Standells and Them as on the Germs was the Reatards.  The Reatard’s music is also wildly lo-fi, sloppy and intense, particularly on songs like “Stacye”, “I’m So Gone”, and “I Gotta Rock and Roll” off the spectacular and comprehensive double album Teenage Hate/Fuck Elvis Here’s the Reatards from 2011. 

Front man Jay Reatard went solo in 2006ess overtly garage-y than the other artists here, but he often uses swirling organs and catchy 60’s garage pop lyrics to excellent effect.  He released two albums, 2006’s Blood Visions and 2009’s Watch Me Fall, before dying of a drug overdose in 2010.  His music was less distorted and sloppy than the Reatards but still had a manic energy to it that reminds me of the Soda Pop Kids or Biters, two contemporary bands who hearken back to 70’s punk and powerpop.  “Death is Forming” and “It’s So Easy” are cleaned up but still have that frantic 60’s frug to them.  “Ain’t Gonna Save Me” from Watch Me Fall rides along on a catchy pop groove, with Reatard’s shrill Johnny Rotten on helium vocals propelling it forward.  “Rotten Mind” sounds like early Oi!, Sham 69 say, poppified and low-fi’ed.  “My Reality” totally cribs the basic sonic template of Samhain’s “Archangel” and gives it a jangly psychedelic gloss.  Sadly, Jay died of a drug overdose in 2010 and so we’ll never see where he would have taken this music next.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how huge the Paisley Underground scene was in Los Angeles in the early 80’s; these bands, the Three O’Clock, the Bangles, Green on Red, the Pandoras, the Dream Syndicate and others, incorporated 60’s garage and psychedelic rock sounds into their music.  Other bands like the Fuzztones and Thee Headcoats were more purely influenced by the Nuggets bands.  It’s nice to see more bands starting to appreciate the wild abandon of these bands.

I Believe in Anarchy: Anarcho-Punk, Crust Punk, D-Beat, and the UK82 Movement

D-beat and crossover pioneers Discharge playing an early gig in Los Angeles

Punk rock was not inherently political at its outset.  Particularly in New York, the music that came to be called punk was much more about art and freedom of expression.  And with the obvious exception of the MC5, even protopunk wasn’t particularly political; while making noisy music a la the Stooges or dressing up in drag like the New York Dolls sends a message (political and otherwise), it isn’t affiliated with any particular political ideology.  Even the MC5 quickly distanced themselves after the arrest of their manager and political Svengali John Sinclair. 

At the start there was nothing inherently political about English punk either.  The Pistols flirted with anarchy on their first single and artists like Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux adopted swastikas and fascist iconography, but in both cases there was no real commitment to either ideology and they were used predominantly for their shock value.  Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren had famously dressed the Dolls up in communist imagery in his brief stint as their manager before their dissolution in 1975, so the Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” was nothing more than an attempt to rile up conservative England.

Of all the English punk bands, only the Clash hewed to a stronger political stance, mostly an anti-racism, anti-war, pro-left stance.  Songs like “White Riot”, “What Man in Hammersmith Palais”, “Clampdown”, “Police on my Back” and their cover of Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law” had no firm ideological connection to any established political party but nevertheless espoused more completely than other punk bands these stances. 

Within a very short time, however, other bands arose that DID take their politics seriously, very seriously.   Starting as early as 1977, several bands arose that would eventually go on to spearhead what was called the anarcho-punk movement.  Musically these bands often had little in common but thematically much if not all of their lyrical content and other published literature espoused a true anarchist or at the very least an anti-establishment stance.  In this regard they were very much the metaphorical (and occasionally literal) children of the hippie and yippie movements of the 60’s.  Other common causes of these bands include pro-squatting, feminism, anti-racism, anti-war, pro-equality, and environmentalism.

The grandfather (and grandmother) of all anarcho-punk bands is the Essex musical collective Crass.  They formed out of Dial House, a squat housing members of two avant garde performance groups by singer Steve Ignorant and drummer Penny Rimbaud, along with other members such as Joy De Vivre and Eve Libertine.  Their first performance was a live gig at a squatted festival (the plug was reportedly pulled after just 3 songs) and they quickly evolved from shambolic beginnings to a more musically, lyrically, and politically focused unit.

Crass became leaders in this nascent musical/political sphere,  protesting everything from skinhead racism and other forms of fascism, hard right Thatcherite English governmental policies, and the Falklands war and other forms of military and cultural imperialism. 

Crass released five amazing albums in the late 70’s and early 80’s: 1978’s The Feeding of the 5000, 1979’s Stations of the Crass, 1980’s Penis Envy,  1982’s Christ, The Album, and 1983’s Yes Sir, I Will.  On each of these they produced songs that were short, loud, sloppy, angry blasts against hypocrisy, violence, greed, discrimination, and materialism.  Standout tracks include “Do They Owe Us a Living?”, “Punk Is Dead”, and “Asylum” off Feeding;  “Mother Earth” and “White Punks on Hope” off Stations; “Bata Motel” and “Where Next Columbus” off Penis Envy; “Mother Love” and “Have a Nice Day” from Christ; and “Track 3” “Track 4” from Yes Sir.

Scotland’s The Exploited, while never fully affiliated with anarcho-punk, were not too far away, being at the forefront of heavily politicized hardcore.  I was a big fan of the Exploited by about ’85 or ’86, and “I Believe in Anarchy”, “Punks Not Dead” (an answer song to “Punk is Dead” by Crass), “Let’s Start a War”, and my all-time favorite “God Saved the Queen” from their 1983 album Let’s Start a War.

The Subhumans were another anarcho-punk first wave band.  Formed in 1980, their early work hewed closely to the sound and form of Crass and other such bands.  The vocals of singer Dick Lucas are snotty and very Johnny Rotten influenced.  iTunes has several of their albums, including 1982’s The Day the Country Died, 1983’s From the Cradle To the Grave and  1986’s EP-LP.  The best songs are traditional punk anthems like “Animal” and “Society”.  I only recently downloaded some Subhumans from these albums; my favorites are “All Gone Dead”, “Minority” (which thematically edges very close to “White Minority” by Black Flag) and the catchy guitar chug and rumbling bass of “Killing” from Day and “Reality is Waiting for a Bus” and “Waste of Breath” from Cradle, both of which highlight the musical growth of the band from their fast, sloppy beginnings into a band with considerable musical complexity.  The almost twangy guitar on “Waste of Breath” is particularly catchy.

Another early pioneer of the anarcho-punk sound and lyrical bent that was never officially a part of the movement proper was Discharge.  Discharge were, however, true pioneers in punk music; their late 70’s singles were the first glimmers of what would become hardcore, and later they were one of the first to infuse metal sounds and stylings into hardcore punk.  Their early songs had a bludgeoning, sound in which centered on rumbling bass and the heavily distorted guitar sound of guitarist Tony Bones.  “The End” is triphammer fast, and is likely one of the songs that gave rise to D-beat (see below).  “Protest and Survive” and my favorite song by Discharge, “Free Speech for the Dumb” both also off their 1982 album Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing are absolute classics; the latter consists of a rumbling wall of guitar and bass with Cal Morris shouting the song title over and over again, and was covered quite capably by Metallica on their 1999 covers album Garage, Inc.  The noodling guitar on “Free Speech” is one of the first metal flourishes to grace any punk song that I know of.  I also like “A Look At Tomorrow”, “Society’s Victim”, “Fight Back”, and “Does This System Work” from their debut album Why?  Even on this early album Discharge was starting to move their lyrics away from rebellion and rage and toward much darker and violent subject matter, particularly on songs like “Massacre of Innocents” and “Maimed and Slaughtered”.

Discharge’s music represented a branch point for English hardcore in general and anarcho-punk in particular.  Their evolution towards a more metallic sound was pioneering; former guitarist Tony Bones eventually went on to form the hardcore/metal group Broken Bones with his brother Tezz on bass after Discharge broke up in 1983; Broken Bones’ music veered even closer to heavy metal, particularly speed metal, and has been cited as a key influence on the development of crossover/thrash.  I can still remember buying the Broken Bones album Bonecrusher in 1986 shortly after it came out; I bought it at some small record store on Hollywood Blvd. and listening to it at this time, when I was just starting to get into metallic hardcore and crossover/thrash (it was around this time that I bought Metallica’s Ride the Lightning too) it was almost too much for my innocent punk ears.  The leadoff song, “Seeing Thru My Eyes” starts with a rumbling bass that sounds like a Panzer tank rolling by before breaking into the sourest, most awful and despairing metal guitar/feedback wail of all time, then launching into a speed-of-light hardcore assault.  “Decapitated, Pt. 2” is similarly hyperkinetic, starting with a chugging guitar riff before blasting into a tachycardic drum beat.  Broken Bones still occasionally had song titles and lyrics that reflected their former members’ glory days in Discharge (“Wealth Rules” from 1984’s Dem Bones and “Program Control” from Bonecrusher) but they also started flirting with themes that would find full fruition in the death metal and grindcore movement, as demonstrated by songs like “Point of Agony”, “Liquidated Brains”, “Death Is imminent” and “Decapitated”.   The English Dogs took this even further, evolving from a hardcore band to a full-blown metal band in the vein of Iron Maiden, with pure metal riffage and solos and songs obsessed with the mystical such as “The Eye of Shamahn”, “A Tomb of Travellers Past” and “He Who is Bound Shall Be Freed” on their album Where Legend Began, which sounds like a missing Metallica album between Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning.

Other English bands were also evolving toward a hardcore/metal fusion at this time, including one of my all-time favorites, G.B.H. (sometimes also called Charged GBH or GBH).  G.B.H. (the initials stand for grievous bodily harm, a legal term for assault in the U.K.).  G.B.H. started in 1978 and by the early 80’s was a major standard bearer for traditional hardcore, most notable on songs like “Slut”, “Sick Boy”, and “City Baby Attacked by Rats” (all off the album of this last name).  Their look was succinctly encapsulated  by the title of their first EP, 1981’s Leather, Bristles, Studs, and Acne:  G.B.H. were leather and studs clad, Mohawked young punks and their iconic look became massively influential in American hardcore circles during the early 80’s. 

My first G.B.H. album was 1986’s Midnight Madness and Beyond, which I bought shortly after it came out and which showcased their evolution towards crossover/thrash.  G.B.H. was never quite as metallic as some of their compatriots but this sound was definitely an evolution away from their more straightforward hardcore past.  Songs like “Limpwristed” (which sneers at how weak punk has gotten since their 1983 album City Baby’s Revenge), “Future Fugitives”, “Iroquois”, and the title track were amazing punk metal anthems.  “Limpwristed” was my favorite, building up majestically with a stirring guitar riff in a way that reminds me of “Running with the Boss Sound” by Generation X; I also love the line “wake up, the whole world’s gone limpwristed”. 

As Broken Bones and G.B.H. veered toward crossover/thrash and death metal, anarcho-punk also split further into D-beat, which is a term describing bands that continued to follow the rumbling, bludgeoning sound of Discharge (for whom its named; the “beat” in D-beat refers to the speed-of-light drum tempo that Discharge took from bands like Motorhead), and crust punk, a term that described an even heavier hardcore sound with a “dirty” or “crusty” bass sound, hence its name.  One of the main D-beat bands was the Varukers, who formed in 1979 and who’s lyrics were often extremely political.   Early singles like “Die For Your Government” and “All Systems Fail” were heavily influenced by Discharge and the Exploited’s bass-heavy sonic attack but also have sing-along choruses ripped from the Oi! textbook. 

Meanwhile, crust punk was evolving toward a more metallic sound too.  Amebix was an early standard bearer of crust punk, with early songs like “Arise!” and “Spoils of Victory” off 1985’s Arise).  “Arise!” lurches forward on a chugging rhythm that almost reminds of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica before picking up the tempo.  The growled vocals would not sound out of place in the black metal genre either, but the song itself definitely comes from a punk approach and not a metal one.  This is a really great, stirring punk anthem.  The interestingly named Flux of Pink Indians were another crust punk pioneer.  My favorite song by them is “Tube Disaster” off the 1997 compilation Not So Brave.  The sound of this is so raw, so unpolished.

Hellbastard formed around 1985; unfortunately iTunes and don’t have any of their early singles, but “Interrogate Them” and Justly Executed” off 1992’s Natural Order show that they were still keeping the flame alive into the early 90’s.  “Justly Executed” has a very metal beginning that reminds me of the Dogtown punk metal of bands like Beowulf and Excel.  It was Hellbastard’s 1985 song “Rippercrust” that gave crust punk its name.

The Electro Hippies also had a heavily metallicized hardcore sound like Hellbastard. “Unity” off their 1988 album The Only Good Punk draws heavily from Discharge and Metallica (who by this time had become much more renowned).  Other songs off this album like “Run Ronald” and “Scum” are closer to grindcore, with growled, incoherent vocals and a wall of guitar noise.

D-beat became very popular in Sweden.  Several Swedish punk/hardcore bands took up the D-beat banner, including the Rude Boys (their song “Raggare is a Bunch of Motherfuckers” is on YouTube) , KSMB (ditto their song “Slemmig Torsk”), and Anti-Cimex (their song “Raped Ass” is one of the noisiest, most insane punk songs I’ve ever heard; it reminds me of “White Minority” or “Six Pack” by Black Flag mashed together, covered by Discharge, with Bobby Ebz of Genocide singing vocals).

In America, crust punk never really caught on as a major movement, but three bands in three geographically distinct locales took some of the sound and leftist political stance into their own sound.  One of the earliest and most committed was San Francisco’s Crucifix. Actually formed in Berkeley in 1980 by Cambodian refugee Sothira Pheng, Crucifix rapidly adopted the leather, bristles, and studs look of their UK82 brothers.  In 1983 they released an album heavily influenced by the sound of classic anarcho-punk and English hardcore bands like Crass, the Subhumans and G.B.H. entitled Dehumanization.  Pheng’s vocals displayed a heavy Darby Crash influence, particularly on songs like “Annihilation” and “Skinned Alive”.  Amazingly, iTunes has this album available and its regarded as a bona fide anarcho-punk classic.  Most of their song titles and lyrics reflect a mix of political topics (“Prejudice”, “Indo China”, “Seeing Through Their Lies”, and “Stop Torture”) and a less political and more thematically dark content more in line with the ideals of Broken Bones and G.B.H. (“Skinned Alive”, “Death Toll”).

Austin, Texas band the Stains formed in 1979 alongside such other first-wave Texas punk bands as the Big Boys and the Dicks.  In 1982 they relocated to Frisco and renamed themselves MDC, for Millions of Dead Cops.  Their songs tended to be heavily political and reflected the anti-establishment, anti-corporate beliefs of classic anarcho-punk:  “Death Burger”, “Business On Parade”, and one of their most legendary songs, “John Wayne Was a Nazi”. 

Raleigh, North Carolina might seem like an odd place for the third major American anarcho-punk band to form, but Corrosion of Conformity both sonically and lyrically were often very much in line with first-wave English anarcho-punk and crossover/thrash.  My favorite songs by this band are “Mine Are the Eyes of God” and “Vote with a Bullet” off 1991’s Blind.  “Mine” is big and chugging with staccato drums and sounds like something off Master of Puppets.  Formed in 1982, CoC evolved from a heavily Black Flag-influenced sound (which itself wasn’t too far from the sound of Discharge in the Damaged days) into a much more speed metal-influenced sound.  Unfortunately, iTunes does not yet have their pre-metal hardcore debut Eye For An Eye, but Blind and 1985’s Animosity (“Intervention” is a good track, apocalyptic and ominous) and 1987’s Technocracy all capture the band in their crossover/thrash prime.    I, uh, obtained an MP3 of “Minds Are Controlled” off Eye many years ago, it’s a song that lurches between a slow chugging rhythm and superfast tempos interspersed and sounds like a cross between Black Flag and the Germs. 

In retrospect its incredible how popular anarcho-punk, crossover/thrash, and the like were in Southern California when I was growing up there in the early and mid-80’s.  On leather jackets throughout the Southland you saw the logos and names of many of the bands featured in this post, most notably G.B.H., Crass, the Subhumans, and Corrosion of Conformity.  Eventually these bands started strongly influencing the first generation of speed metal bands, including most obviously Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer.  These bands and their followers built upon the bridges between punk and metal established by these bands (as well as the hyperfast metal of bands like black metal pioneers Venom) to create speed metal.  Speed metal continued to grow underground throughout the 80’s and eventually created death metal and other genres.  Punk and metal had truly crossed over.