Love, and Other Indelible Stains
PopMatters new metal column, Craig Hayes' Ragnarök, debuts with a love story. Like all great love stories, punk rock and heavy metal's romance began with a fair amount of mutual loathing.
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.