When I was regularly doing the radio show (really, as recently as still only a couple of months ago – even if it seems like longer) I would from time to time get asked why I didn’t focus on classic punk and metal more. It wasn’t something I necessarily interpreted as a complaint as much as another request for improving the programming. It was a challenge in any given two-hour show to really craft a solid theme that produced the past, present and future of metal and punk and hardcore where I was incorporating both my own knowledge and listener requests. Unfortunately, not every show theme always lent itself in the same way to an abundance of old songs of either punk or metal no matter how hard I tried.
So, a few weeks ago, when I re-started posting the Monday Mixtape despite not having aired a show at KAOS radio Austin I figured I would take the time to go back and explore some of the roots of the sub-genres that made up big parts of MPH noise – take the opportunity to showcase classic music that some felt didn’t get enough airtime sometimes on the show. Last week the post was about the hybrids that resulted in one of the most curious and controversial sub-genres of aggressive music to be created: rap metal. However, the reality is, almost everything in metal these days is some sort of hybrid and while we’re on controversial attempts at genre blending I decided I would tackle metalcore again.
Metalcore, as its name readily implies, is where hardcore punk and “traditional” metal (unnaturally) intersect. Back in the days of punk and metal being opposing forces in aggressive music it was often joked the only band they had in common was Motorhead. And, sonically, to some degree this made sense as their attitude and execution really did feel like to should be appealing to both.
However, by the time the 1980s were underway, metal and hardcore punk had more in common than is probably given credit for. The cross-over between the two genres was still siloed off by the expectation of each genre’s fans but the artists themselves were apt to borrow a number of conventions from one another. Metal bands became more comfortable incorporating the mosh pit inducing breakdown as a way to vastly change up the temp of the song’s composition. Hardcore punk began putting an increased focus on the guitar riffing to carry the song identity in a similar structure to metal’s riff-laden approach which would whip up a different kind of fury on the floor. Both metal and hardcore punk bands as the decade wore on would begin crediting one another as influences and especially among younger bands there was a sense that the two genres weren’t really as different as the typical fan would still believe. The results though were pretty divergent including skate punk and speed metal as well as post-looks at the genres like thrashcore and xoverx and splinters like grindcore.
The build up through the 80s eventually gave way to the genre of metalcore itself in the 90s. It began, in part, as a rebellion against the pop stigma of 80’s glam being the face of metal and 80’s new wave having become the face of punk. By combining the most aggressive and extreme aspects of the individual subgenres and pooling together their social deviance they were able to forge something in the new decade their predecessors were unsuccessful at accomplishing while continuing both genre’s underground success in spite of both genre’s newfound pop successes, such as: metal with groove a-la Pantera, nu a-la koRn, rap a-la Limp Bizkit and punk with pop a-la Green Day, ska a-la Bosstones and so on. Metalcore as a hybrid was a counterculture to the counterculture right up until some fiesty marketers figured out how to leverage what were slowly becoming the genre’s cliche’s into something to sell the NWOAHM.
We’ll explore the bands in both metal and hardcore punk in the early cross-over scenes and how that eventually was parled into a combination of the concepts into its own scene. As always, I’m sure I’ll leave out many songs and artists who others might consider critical in the development of metalcore, so be sure to leave your ideas in the comments and lets keep the conversation open. By the way, if you’re left feeling like modern metalcore is punk rock’s problem, you might not be wrong. I often look upon my love of thrash, speed and some aspects of death metal and feel incomplete without some of the hardcore punk references that directly preceded them. That’s ok. And that’s why it’s ok to enjoy metalcore and it’s influence on millennial “metal” too.
Suicidal Tendencies “Subliminal” ST 1983 – Um. yeah. So, IF (and that’s a big IF) anyone were able to do Mike Muir anything like Mike Muir we likely would be having a conversation about something other than crossover thrash for the next half a decade or so. But, since no one could, the approximation of songs like this and “Instutionalized” spawned attempts at doing something similar to some parts of whatever-the-fuck it was Mike and co. were trying to do.
Metallica “Whiplash” Kill em All 1983 – It’s metallic and it’s about being in the pit thrashing all around and about 2:35 it manages to breakdown before kicking back into the solo and there’s that breakdown again hiding in the outro. The demos with Mustaine more than hint at this direction but it’s really something on the functional debut that bring it to fruition. Sure, they become a template of thrash metal and a faceplate for metal as a genre but they began borrowing heavily from punk’s roots as the Garage EP would confirm by covering the Misfits…
Slayer ” evil has no boundaries” Show No Mercy 1983 – Recorded and then released less than a month later in the parting days of ’83 the track is only one of two penned by founder Jeff Hanneman with newfound guitarist Kerry King which would not only define Slayer’s sound for the decades to come but craft the template for the speed metal subgenre of thrash and put a stamp on the crossover scene that wouldn’t easily be duplicated.
Void “Bloodlust” Potion for Bad Dreams 1984 – the 1983 split with Faith along with the band’s legendary live shows in DC put them on the map but as quickly as the band materalized they imploded upon themselves. PfBD is technically unreleased still to this day but even without distribution the effects it had on how bands blended styles in the crossover thrash scene is unmistakable.
Voivod “Warriors Of Ice” War & Pain 1984 – The shapeshifting Voivod might be well known for their progressive prowess but the Canadians began by exploring something that clearly wasn’t hardcore punk nor traditional metal on their debut. It was as if both genres had thrown up on themselves and for several years Voivod found new and inventive ways to push the concepts laid out here. While songs like “Fuck off…” a few years later might be more well known the compositional approach here found there way to not only later voivoid but a number of other bands.
Dirty Rotten Imbeciles “Argument then War” Dealing with it! 1985 – The album equally build upon DRI’s hardcore punk debut and hints not-so-subtly at the band’s crossover potential. This is one of the longer and more developed songs on the album giving the punkers the opportunity to explore the idea of being metallic and it works especially well in how the epic intro hints at the dynamic and tempo shifts of the song on the whole.
Cryptic Slaughter “Flesh of the Wench” Life in the Grave 1985 – The demo itself was enough to draw CS on the map even if it took them, and the scene, another year or so to really come into their own. If you had to actually describe what thrashing music was this really isn’t a bad track to start with since it literally feels like someone took your body and thrashed it by the dictionary definition at times.
Megadeth “Last Rites / Loved to Death” Killing is My Business… 1985 – Channelling his inner, well, something, Dave Mustaine took to crafting a payback good enough for rejection from his former bandmates resulting in this dysfunctional opening track debut. It’s about as awkward as anything from the era trying to hybridize genres not known for their musical prowess while somehow showcasing how musically capable he supposedly was. The result was, well, you be the judge.
Cro-Mags “Life of My Own” the Age of Quarrel 1986 – While their real crossover thrash sound wasn’t fully developed for another album there’s plenty of hints at it throughout the debut. Driving the riff into the ground and the development the intro provides along with the extended solo in the middle feel very metal and yet there’s something about halftiming the riff and attitude of the song that are throwback hardcore punk.
Agnostic Front “The Eliminator” Cause for Alarm 1986 – Songs like “Your Mistake” are certainly covered more but there’s a more metallic flair to the opening track on the record that simply just blisters with the riffing and a nicely conceived harmonized breakdown at 1:40. Simply put, if it were slapped with a lighting bolt style logo rather than punk’s military surplus writing it likely would have gone down much differently.