Love, and Other Indelible Stains

[29 May 2012]

By Craig Hayes

Contributing Editor

The savage mutilation of the human race is set on course /
Protest and survive /
Protest and survive /
It is up to us to change that course /
Protest and survive /
Protest and survive”
—Discharge, “Protest and Survive” (1982)

Visions of War

Like all great love stories, punk rock and heavy metal’s romance began with a fair amount of mutual loathing. Despite their shared devotion to speed, spite, shredded attire and stomping on distortion pedals, their relationship seemed, at first, unlikely. We watched as tentative endearments and provocative glances were passed back and forth, and as their courtship developed we hoped they would be cautious, respectful, and wouldn’t do anything they’d come to regret—you know how frenzied things can get during that first flush of passion.

Yet, although a few lamentable liaisons did occur, punk and metal seemed to forgive each other’s indiscretions. These days, they seem very happy together. However, as any fervent fan of the nexus where punk and metal collide will tell you, there’s a little told aspect to this affair—that of a protagonist from a town famed for its teapots.

Punk and metal’s flirtation began in earnest during the second wave UK hardcore movement in the early ‘80s. Although Motörhead licentiously toyed with punk in the late ‘70s—sparking a sordid rapport—it was the rise of crust and D-beat during UK hardcore’s burgeoning years that found metal and punk ready to commit to something a little more long-term.

Today, the genres overlap frequently in the extreme metal realm, where the distinction between them is often indiscernible—a matter of semantic rather than sonic nuance. However, one of the prime reasons extreme metal exists in its current form can be traced directly back to the rise of UK hardcore. Drawing inspiration from metal’s volcanic heart, UK hardcore’s adherence to bludgeoning tonality and cataclysmic narratives bridged the gulf between two former foes.

The briefest glimpse at the contemporary extreme metal spectrum reveals the enduring legacy of UK hardcore’s most crucial band: Discharge. Although the band frequently goes unmentioned in the list of metal’s progenitors, Discharge changed the metal terrain forever by playing a pivotal role in developing many of extreme metal’s more familiar musical accoutrements. For a brief shining moment, from 1980 to 1983, Discharge challenged prevailing notions of what punk was supposed to sound like, and in doing so revolutionized the prospects of metal.

Tomorrow Belongs to Us

By the early ‘80s the first wave of UK punk was a shambolic, dying circus. The specter of nuclear annihilation loomed, glamour capitalism ignored its incalculable victims, and where punk was once avidly anti-establishment, its aesthetic was co-opted to maximize its populist appeal. Attendees at shows were often more interested in a piss-up and a brawl, and punk’s message was becoming increasingly immaterial. However, an extremely truculent style of hardcore punk emerged to counteract punk’s imminent collapse. It channeled the enmity of the powerless into a vicious combative cacophony.

A proliferation of pugnacious bands, such as Discharge, Conflict, the Exploited and the Varukers, honed UK hardcore to a wicked edge in filthy clubs and squats. Launching incendiary tirades against government and mainstream society, blazingly fast communiqués were the lodestar of UK hardcore’s vision—musical aptitude, if it existed at all, was a lot further down the list. UK hardcore differed significantly from the first wave of punk, pilfering tensile strength from the methamphetamine-fuelled gutter metal of Motörhead and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. The thunderous potency of metal gave UK hardcore significantly more corporeal punch.

UK hardcore’s legacy is underappreciated in the extreme metal realm. Venom, Bathory, Nihilist, Napalm Death, Repulsion and Hellhammer are correctly identified as pioneers of extreme metal, but as characters they arrive in chapter two of the genre’s tale. The story of extreme metal really begins in Stoke-on-Trent, the dainty pottery capital of the UK, where Discharge formed in 1977.

Discharge - Realties of War (1980)

Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing

Discharge has had an emphatic and indelible influence on metal. By fashioning the D-beat and crust scenes, it altered the possibilities of extremity in both genres. Beginning life as a street punk outfit, Discharge steadily upped the pace of its material and layered on screeds of antagonism. By 1980, when the band released its classic triplet of EPs, Realities of War, Fight Back and Decontrol, it had laid a firm foundation for the hardcore scene. The fluctuating lineup didn’t slow the band’s momentum, and on 1981’s definitive 10”, Why?, the fusion of hardcore clout with metal’s brawny backbone was tantalizingly close to perfection.

Discharge’s sound was slathered in distortion and feedback. Vocalist Kelvin ‘Cal’ Morris pontificated savagely via harshly shouted vocals, and guitarist Tony ‘Bones’ Roberts ensured the band remained grossly heavy. The band was scorching live. Astutely gauging that fans seeking the catharsis inherent in both punk and metal would lap up the band’s atonal and uncompromising sound, Discharge then crafted the most important metallic punk album of all time: 1982’s Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing.

Alas, for Discharge, it was all downhill from there. Though the band had found chart success, more lineup shuffles and the exit of Bones resulted in 1986’s abysmal Grave New World. (The band decided to inject some glam into the equation; you can imagine how well that went down.) Never again would the band capture the essence of societal unrest and personal unease in such a visceral manner.

Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing‘s odes to pacifism, anti-authoritarianism and disenfranchisement—“Protest and Survive”, “Drunk With Power”, “Free Speech for the Dumb” and “Cries of Help”—are as relevant as ever, proving Discharge to be somewhat prophetic. However, that’s not the prime reason the album is significant. What’s more noteworthy is the construction of its songs. Incorporating ‘conflicting’ influences is hardly a radical act in the contemporary music scene, but Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing was one of the first albums to exploit the explosive energy of punk and metal.

Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing is 27 minutes long, but its influence has been incalculable. It’s rather tragic that it often goes unrecognized as the album that brought punk and metal together. By actively seeking to make music as dissonant and challenging as possible, Discharge set in motion a musical ethos that has left an overwhelming impression on extreme metal—and ensured D-beat and crust remain essential components in many bands’ war chests.

Discharge - Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing (1982)

The Nightmare Continues

D-beat is named after the percussive pattern Discharge established on the band’s first releases, although the beat is extremely similar to the rollicking cadence Motörhead had previously demonstrated. Discharge left that distinctive meter behind once it became more ‘metal’, but once unleashed it remained a staple rhythm for countless bands. An entire global scene has been built around the prefix ‘Dis’ to define the characteristic momentum of a band’s sound—listen to Disfear or Dishammer for proof of that.

Drum patterns were not the only impression Discharge left on metal. The way the band harnessed the gritty impetus of metal paved the way for its greatest legacy: the encrustation of metal. Crust is the feculent nucleus of Discharge summoned into being—a scabrous coating of filthy bass and guitar. Crust acknowledges Discharge’s belligerent assault yet is unafraid to reduce velocity to reinforce its mass. Discharge was not alone in fostering the scene’s evolution. Amebix’s ‘85 release, Arise, was arguably the first definitive crust album—combining a primitive punk death rattle with doom and post-punk. What Amebix accomplished on its debut reverberates throughout the metal and punk scenes today, and Discharge was there to shovel the muck on.

Q: And Children? A: And Children

Of all the metal genres, grindcore is most closely aligned with crust, sharing many comparable ideals. Seminal late ‘80s debuts by British acts such as Napalm Death (Scum), Extreme Noise Terror ( A Holocaust in Your Head) and Carcass ( Reek of Putrefaction) would not exist if the respective band members had not adored Discharge and its progeny.

Originally, all three bands were heavily involved in the UK hardcore/crust crossover scene, from which grindcore developed. They then went on to help establish extreme metal in the UK and around the globe. In the US, Flint, Michigan’s Repulsion, and Weymouth, Massachusetts’ Siege, both of which would go on to inspire endless grindcore and death metal bands, also cited Discharge as a formative influence.

Extreme metal’s propulsion, barbarity and mettle are frequently credited to the riotous UK act Venom. The band’s Welcome to Hell (‘81) and Black Metal (‘82) albums have inspired generations of musicians. However, Venom was clearly influenced by Discharge’s early work. Venom’s blend of raggedy-ass, technically inept metal had a huge impact on extreme metal’s pioneering artists. However, the idea that music so amateurish and jarring, lacking any sense of dexterity, even had a place among metal’s elaborate solos and riffs directly correlates to Discharge’s logic that passion always trumps mastery.

Discharge’s diacritic is stamped upon a gargantuan array of formative metal albums. From the thrash realm—where extreme metal suckled in its infancy—early works seethed with the raw ferocity and resolve Discharge traded in. Works such as Slayer’s Show No Mercy, Exodus’ Bonded by Blood, Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and Sepultura’s Morbid Visions. That hardcore steadfastness was firmly in evidence as Sepultura overcame significant impediments to secure Brazil’s position on the global metal map. That same determination is ablaze today in the crusty hardcore of Tragedy, Heartless, and Full of Hell, all of which combine Discharge’s brutishness with US hardcore’s tenacity.

Heartless - Clean Slate (2011)

Death metal benefited enormously from Discharge’s accent; its essence permeated scores of seminal outfits. As Swedish death metal roared into life it ignored much of the metal being produced in its home country. Instead, crucial catalysts in the scene’s creation were early ‘80s Swedish hardcore punk outfits Anti Climax and Mob 47, which themselves were ignited by Discharge’s spark.

Discharge opened a porous border between punk and metal. Its bulldozing rhythms, encased in a chrysalis of distortion, suffused classic albums like Entombed’s Left Hand Path and Possessed’s Seven Churches, along with countless others. These days, death metal’s grimy sheathing is utilized ceaselessly in punk and metal, best heard in bands such as Bombs of Hades, Nails, Black Breath, and Trap Them. When death metal simmers down to the rockier vibe of death ‘n’ roll, D-beat and crust’s pulse is easily identified.

Pivotal releases in the development of black metal are scored with Discharge’s taint: Bathory’s self-titled ‘84 debut, Hellhammer’s Apocalyptic Raids EP, Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Mayhem’s Deathcrush EP. Although Discharge of ‘82 would have detested much of black metal’s thesis, those punk philosophies of building a community of likeminded followers and pouring scorn on proficiency were crucial in black metal’s development. Discharge proved that intricate melodies could be kicked aside in favor of slicing straight through the chest; a ubiquitous feature of black metal’s icy lo-fi climes.

One of black metal’s forefathers, Darkthrone, has come full circle, returning to its crustier punk roots on recent releases—one of many black metal bands reaffirming Discharge’s legacy with reductively rancorous works. The contemporary feral black metal of Craft, Thrall, and Revenge, and blackened crust bands such as Iskra, Bone Awl, Masakari, the Secret, Cara Neir, and All Pigs Must Die filter Discharge through the lens of Scandinavia’s inhospitable black metal forebears.

All Pigs Must Die - Sadistic Vindicator (2011)

The ill-omened blues of Discharge is consummately reflected in the crustier underground of sludge metal. The mucilaginous stomp of Eyehategod’s In the Name of Suffering and Buzzov*en’s To a Frown are two early sludge works whose harrowing dirges reflect the churning, cankerous howl of Discharge. Issues of addiction, isolation, grief and pain fill the ulcerated recesses of sludge metal.

Although similarly joyous purges are found in the way Discharge spat into the eye of the world, sludge relays the crippling personal cost of ignoring Discharge’s warnings. This element is skillfully illuminated in the more experimental and progressive crusty doom-laden metal of Atriarch, Wolvhammer, and Young and in the Way—all of which is underscored by the very same maelstrom envisaged by a quartet of UK punk rockers 35 years ago.

Discharge’s influence was rife in the early years of many metal bands’ careers. Discharge’s timbre was all pervasive, from the squalidness of crossover thrash, to genre-defining works by Corrosion of Conformity ( Animosity), Neurosis ( Souls at Zero ) and His Hero is Gone ( Fifteen Counts of Arson). Metal has splintered off into ever more elaborate sub-genres since Discharge’s heyday, but its diffuse nature has not rendered Discharge’s presence mute.

While some bands have shucked off Discharge’s primitive thrust in the quest for compositional complexity, Discharge’s influence remains in their live shows, where bellicosity rules supreme. It’s a testament to Discharge that even bands drifting far from its orbit still cover its songs, both live and on albums. As bands like Wolfbrigade, Avulse, Bädr Vogu, Stormcrow, and Misery pound the crusty metal and D-beat home, it’s clear that although metal and punk move inexorably forward they cannot remove Discharge’s indelible stain.

Wolfbrigade - Piece of Mind (2012)

A Look at Tomorrow

After being so ably fertilized, Discharge’s offspring are thriving—the metal underground heaves with its DNA. The devastating barrages of an immense pool of artists reveal their parentage, the current roster of label Southern Lord teems with crust aficionados, steadfast label Profane Existence continues to be a source of great work, and a simple Bandcamp query overturns a steaming morass of bands that Discharge played a crucial role in conceiving.

That punk and metal would ever consummate their relationship, let alone indulge in such lively intercourse, may have seemed unthinkable to the genres’ ancestors. However, Discharge got punk and metal talking. Admittedly, it wasn’t always an affable conversation. There was fraught, unwanted fumbling, turbulent misunderstandings, and a great deal of sulking in the corner—but that was to be expected with two such obstinate entities.

However, once punk and metal took the plunge, there was no need to suffer whirls of cognitive dissonance if you happened to enjoy bands from both genres. No need to undergo an existential crisis trying to decide which to hide under your bed: your Slayer LPs or your Fugazi.

All hyperbole aside, a scene as broad as extreme metal will never be truly defined by a single band—and no single music column will ever be able to acknowledge the countless other bands that helped foster the creative vortex where punk and metal reside (in)harmoniously. I know, I missed your favorite band. I never mentioned Antisect, Doom, Aus Rotten, or Nausea, and I should have discussed Amebix’s exceptional 2011 release, Sonic Mass. But it would be impossible to overstate the decisive role Discharge played in the creation and fermentation of the contemporary extreme metal scene.

How important is Discharge to extreme metal? Take a piece of paper and try to map its family tree without the band. You’ll soon find you’re missing a vital root. To ignore Discharge’s fundamental role in shaping extreme metal’s topography is to misunderstand its lineage completely. Punk and metal’s relationship has been tempestuous and bountiful, and if you want to truly understand the capriciousness of Discharge’s heirs, it’s imperative the full hot-blooded tale is always told.

Discharge - Free Speech For the Dumb (1982)

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