Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Crust For Beginners

I stumbled upon this head-slappingly bad listicle about "crust punk" that was published during the pandemic lockdowns. I don't want to bag on the writer (I suspect that she wasn't paid for any of her work, so there's no need to rub salt in the wound), but there's so much wrong with this that I was compelled to issue a corrective.

I'll admit that a lifelong hesher like myself is a questionable authority on the crust/d-beat/anarcho punk genre - but I've been a fan since I first discovered the Distortion Records roster in high school, and used to make weekly trips to ABC No Rio. So I figure my metal-centric take on what's essential has some merit. And hey, I'm not getting paid for this either so [shrug emoji].

[Plus, the world is once again forced to live in fear while nuclear superpowers engage in a dick-measuring contest, meaning that the cold war nihilism that defined crust is more relevant than ever.]


There aren't many hardcore bands whose influence has been as far-reaching or long-lasting as Discharge. The sheer number of bands who adopted the "Dis" prefix in their honour should be evidence enough, but Discharge's influence can also be heard throughout thrash, death, grind, and black metal. Discharge were the foremost evangelists of crust, and Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing is their gospel.


Credited with inventing the "d-beat" (the drum pattern that's literally synonymous with crust punk), Varukers hail from the same town as Discharge, and were just as pioneering. The short, speedy anti-war tirades on Bloodsuckers and Massacred Millions helped solidify crust as a distinct entity within the larger world of hardcore punk as the genre began to take shape throughout the Eighties.


Combining the raw fury of early hardcore with the heavier sounds of Black Sabbath and Motörhead, Amebix pioneered an apocalyptic version of anarcho punk that planted the seeds for bands like Neurosis and Tragedy, as well as predicted crust's eventual comingling with black metal. Allegations that Venom based their style on Amebix may be risible (and are probably just some old-fashioned trolling), but highlight how similar the two bands were in their sound and occult interests. Unfortunately, Amebix frontman Rob Miller's interest in esoteric knowledge led him down the path to conspiracy theories and holocaust denialism, irreparably damaging the band's legacy. But listen to their landmark debut Arise! to experience Amebix when the band was at its most forward thinking, and before they came to embody the opposite.


Doom emerged a few years after Discharge and Varukers; and while they may not have had the same monumental influence as their UK peers, Doom precipitated crust punk's inevitable embrace by the death metal scene. Their ultra heavy sound saw them rubbing shoulders (and holding their own) with Autopsy and Darkthrone on the Peaceville roster. Max Cavalera and Lady Gaga have both shouted out the band (though perhaps the latter's stylist should get the credit for that).


The Swedish anarcho/crust/discore scene is renowned, and the likes of Skitsystem, Wolfpack, Disfear, and Martyrdöd merit their own "top ten"; but Anti-Cimex were amongst the earliest Scandinavian adopters of the sound, pioneering chaotic bursts of speed and aggression that was known regionally as "mangel". It wouldn't be long before the Swedish scene set the standard for crust punk. Members of the Swedish death, black and grindcore scenes often moonlit in crust bands throughout the years, and crust's raw, unpolished sound became a shared aesthetic across the Scandinavian scene.


Almost as revered in crust circles as the Swedish scene (if not quite as well known), Japanese anarcho bands developed their own individual take on the style. Picking the most important ones is best left to someone with a safety pin through their ear, but GISM were one of the earliest. They were also one of the first Asian bands to embrace the style, leading to the flowering of multiple crust scenes throughout the Pacific and South China Sea. GISM's idiosyncratic take on hardcore would later incorporate speed metal, noise, and grind, but they never lost the crusty sensibility that characterized their earliest recordings.


Describing their sound as "equal parts Discharge, Crass, Black Sabbath, Slayer and Pink Floyd", New York's Nausea brought crust back to punk rock's birthplace, and gave its sloganeering a newfound authenticity. Nausea weren't content to simply wear leather jackets or dye their hair: The lyrics on Extinction were a reflection of their actual squat-dwelling, cop-battling lifestyle.

Extreme Noise Terror

Grindcore and crust have always had a chummy relationship - no surprise really, since members of Napalm Death, Carcass, and Bolt Thrower cut their teeth in the anarcho/crust scene before Earache made them "The Gods of Grind". Extreme Noise Terror never completely crossed over into metal, and their approach to grind favoured the simple arrangements (not to mention strident politics) of punk. Swapping d-beats for blastbeats, they straddled the grind and crust scenes, and inspired the likes of Disrupt, Destroy and Disassociate to do the same.

His Hero Is Gone

Emerging from the fertile music delta of Memphis, His Hero Is Gone ushered in crust's next evolutionary phase. Like many iconoclasts of the Nineties underground, HHIG revived a flagging genre by ignoring its musical dogma, mixing crust with grind, death, and sludge metal. Upon splintering, most of the members of HHIG resurfaced in the equally monumental Tragedy, whose ominous sound created the blueprint for the melodic/dark/neo crust style that's taken over the genre (and shows no sign of abating).

From Ashes Rise

Like Tragedy, From Ashes Rise ushered in crust's millenial renaissance, crafting songs that employed slower passages and melody without losing the genre's activist heart. Their influence isn't limited to their own discography: FAR guitarist Brad Boatright went on to become a respected and sought-after producer, and his expertise can be found on some of the best hardcore and metal releases of the last decade.

The Best Part Of The Pie:

Mixtape 81:
Territory (Perth)