Friday, September 25, 2015

Grindcore 101

Rich Hoak of Brutal Truth/Total Fucking Destruction
Considering half the people I know in KL are in grindcore bands (some of them in two or three), I thought I'd flex my cred as someone who's followed the genre for 20 years, and seen most of the movers and shakers play live (some of them two or three times - suck it, Malaysia). Grindcore has a long history littered with thousands albums that anyone can (and will) argue for - but these are the ten most essential.

Napalm Death - Scum

The album that started it all, give or take a few Massachusetts bands. There were super-fast hardcore bands before Napalm Death, as well as a rapidly expanding death metal scene; but Napalm brought it all together for a newer, faster, nastier form of metal/punk cross-over that has yet to be topped in terms of sheer speed.. And in hyperactive drummer Mick Harris, they had a backseat whirlwind that put all other bands on notice with a new technique he dubbed "blastbeats". Hell, even the term "grindcore" is credited to bassist Shane Embury. Scum provided a milestone in the history of louder/heavier/faster, and the template for every grindcore band that followed.

Repulsion - Horrified

Napalm weren't without their own influences. Repulsion were early death metal pioneers that took what Possessed and Master were doing and pushed it into complete chaos, providing an early prototype for death/grind bands like Carcass and Terrorizer. They only ever released one album, but they never needed more than that. From beginning to end, Horrified is perfect.

Napalm Death - From Enslavement to Obliteration

Of course, Scum wasn't the last anyone heard of Napalm. With Mick Harris as the sole remaining member from the previous recordings, Napalm v2.0 (or 3.0, or 4.0, depending on how far back you want to go). Joining Mick Harris was Carcass guitarist Bill Steer, future Cathedral vocalist Lee Dorrian, and Unseen Terror bassist Shane Embury (who would go on to be the sole remaining member of this line up). It was as perfect a grindcore ensemble as you could want, and F.E.T.O. is as perfect a grindcore album as you could get.

Carcass - Symphonies of Sickness

If the seeds of their genius were obscured in their terrible recordig of their debut, Carcass revealed them quickly in the follow up, one of the best grindcore albums ever. With Bill Steer's Sunlight-worthy guitar tone, Ken Owen's bizarre riffs and drum patterns, and Jeff Walker's ridiculous medical dictionary cribbing, Symphonies of Sickness defined an entire sub-[sub-sub?]genre. Where would Exhumed, General Surgery, Impaled and the like be without it? The gore-grind bands that followed may have upped the ante in terms of lyrical extremity, but none topped the visceral thrill of the original.

Terrorizer - World Downfall

How do you quantify the awesomeness that was Terrorizer? The first death/grind supergroup, featuring future members of Napalm and Morbid Angel, delivered instant classics like "Fear of Napalm", "Corporation Pull-In", and "Dead Shall Rise". A no-frills assault on the senses, and one of the few instances I can't find something to make fun of David Vincent.

Brutal Truth - Need to Control

Say this about Dan Lilker: The man can pick a bandwagon. Ditching Nuclear Assault and the overly saturated thrash/crossover scene, the one-time Anthrax bassist helped found one of the first American grindcore bands, and the first to sign with the genre's flagship label Earache. Their debut Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses was a seminal album and unflinching statement of intent; but with Need to Control, the band (with new drummer Rich Hoak, possibly the nicest guy in grindcore) expanded grindcore's beyond just being fast, incorporating jazzy time signatures, doomy breakdowns, crusty hardcore anthems and...a didgeridoo. ["You might be a 90's album if..."] The album was a flag signaling that, like they do with most things, Americans were quickly about to make grindcore their own.

Nasum - Inhale/Exhale

Grindcore wasn't in a great place in the late 90's; most of the seminal bands had either fallen apart or strayed from their roots, or both. Credit is due to Relapse Records, who uncovered and nurtured a new generation of top tier grindcore bands; among them, the legendary Nasum, who combined the classic Sunlight Studios guitar tone with short blasts of catchy grindcore to create one of the best grindcore albums of the late Nineties. Along with other Relapse finds like Soilent Green, Cephalic Carnage, and Pig Destroyer, Nasum signaled that the genre's best days were still ahead.

Soilent Green - Sewn Mouth Secrets

If Nasum kicked the grindcore world in the pants with their less-is-more approach, Soilent Green achieved the same results by doing the opposite. Throwing every genre and the kitchen sink into the mix and anchored by that greasy NOLA groove, Sewn Mouth Secrets made for a convoluted style that appealed as much to math metal geeks as it did to death and grindcore fans.

Discordant Axis - Inalienable Dreamless

A grindcore fan's grindcore band, Discordant Axis toiled in near obscurity for a decade, despite having one of the genre's best drummers around in Dave Witte (of the posthumously revered Human Remains). They have an extensive and intimidating discography of splits, but their best album may be their last, 2002's Inalienable Dreamless. They called it quits soon after its release, playing their last show with little fanfare to a tiny crowd people at CBGBs (and I know because I was there).

Siege - Drop Dead

Of the two Massachusetts bands that sowed the roots for grindcore (the other being Deep Wound), Siege more clearly provided a path to Napalm Death and beyond, taking the speed of crossover and upping the rage and nihilism to the Nth degree. It's only 20 minutes long, and 7 of those are spent on the dirge "Grim Reaper". In the short pauses between unbelievably short songs, you can hear a bunch of kids in Birmingham getting chuffed and weakened at the same time.