If the Mayan kooks are more accurate than Harold Camping, we don't have much longer to live. So what better way to commemorate the end of the world as we know it than with a second bout of Grindcore Bracketology?
This time out, I’m asking you to pick the best guitarist grind has to offer and, unlike last time, I’m throwing the doors open to all eras past and present in search of the six stringer you think best typifies grind or has done the most to proselytize for the blastbeat lifestyle. As with the last go-round, I’ve arbitrarily selected 32 guitarists who I think best represent grindcore in four categories: The Old Guard, The Innovators, The Punks and The Technicians. We'll winnow each division down until the last men standing go head to head: Old Guard vs. Innovators; Punks vs. Technicians. Then the survivors go mano-a-mano (fingers-a-fingers?) for fretboard dominance.
I’ll kick off the voting next week. Meanwhile, pore over the list and let me know who needs to be added, deleted or reordered.
For the more visually inclined, you can peruse the upcoming matchups at Guitarmageddon.
The Old Guard
The Geezers of Grind (or, AARP-core as 206-Grind once brilliantly put it). Here are eight guitarists from that first and early second wave who were instrumental in defining what fast-hardcore-with-screaming would later be.
1. Matt Olivo/Aaron Freeman (Repulsion)
Matt Olivo is the protypical grindcore guitarist. His Slayer on a meth bender guitar stylings laid the foundation for pretty much everybody who would come after. Every guitarist who has riffed over a blastbeat has stolen a page from his playbook. [You've convinced me. Freeman gets his due too]
2. Bill Steer (Napalm Death/Carcass)
To grind over a single classic album is more than most guitarists will ever achieve, but Bill Steer was riffmaster general on two in a single year, shepherding both Carcass and Napalm Death to career highlights. What’s even more amazing is how different the two albums are, proving Steer was not just an innovator but a chameleon.
3. Brent “Gurn” McCarty (Brutal Truth)
Grindcore had barely taken its first few toddler tumbles when Brutal Truth were forcing it to run in new and unique directions. Brent “Gurn” McCarty’s frenzied, askew guitar curveballs were the perfect foundation for a band determined to dynamite musical preconceptions that had already grown stale. Through three albums with Brutal Truth, his playing grew increasingly abstract, avant-garde and unconventional. His playing is still instantly recognizable more than a decade after he retired.
4. Jesse Pintado (Terrorizer/Napalm Death/Resistant Culture)
No other grinder’s career has taken such a tragic arc as that of Jesse Pintado. From the stone classic of Terrorizer’s posthumous World Downfall, he jumped to Napalm Death in time to try to live up to the legacy of what many consider to be the band’s best album. His Napalm Death tenure was marked by the band’s meandering low point (though I’ll still sing the nostalgic praises of Utopia Banished, the most Terrorizer-ish of the post-Mick Harris albums). His unceremonious ouster from Napalm Death and the ill-starred Terrorizer reunion would have been a depressing epitaph were it not for his contribution to a great Resistant Culture album as well. Despite the ignominious end, Pintado’s earliest work earned him immortality.
5. Kurt Habelt (Siege)
At the time Siege were terrorizing Boston basement shows, grindcore didn’t even have a name. They were just punks kicking out the jams at terrifying speeds and Kurt Habelt was charged with keeping it up all in line. While drummer Rob Williams may get more acclaim for his contribution to the proto-blastbeat, Habelt wrote the riffs that just seemed to fit the hyperspeed hardcore freakouts.
6. G. Toshimi (S.O.B.)
Though S.O.B. helped invent grindcore, it was never enough to contain the organized – if sabotaged – Japanese punk barbarians. Evolving through thrashcore and a few questionable dalliances with experimental music, guitarist G. Toshimi kept things crusty and concise on classic albums like Gate of Doom. While defining grindcore, Toshimi et al also made sure the nascent noise wouldn’t box itself into too small of a space.
7. Mitch Harris (Righteous Pigs/Defecation/Napalm Death)
Napalm Death’s other Harris, Mitch got his start with Las Vegas’ Righteous Pigs, collaborated with his Napalmed namesake in Defecation, and yes, has been holding down the guitar fort in Napalm Death for the past two decades, providing a semblance of stability amid the rotating carousel of cast members. He’s a punky, metally performer who has quietly just done his thing with aplomb regardless of trends of collaborators.
8. Mitch Dickinson (Heresy/Unseen Terror)
Mitch Dickinson embodies grindcore’s earliest punk and hardcore roots, first with the seminal Heresy and then later tag-teaming with a drummer named Shane Embury and a sometime singer named Mick Harris (I know, it’s like having all the right pieces but putting them in the wrong order) in Unseen Terror. Nothing Dickinson ever did would ever wander too far from its Brit punk hardcore roots, which would always come blaring through his riffing. But as the originator and (as far as I can tell) sole purveyor of Garfield-core, the guy deserves a nod.
Some guys just aren't content to leave well enough alone. These new jacks shook up grind for the better, forcing their square pegs into the scene's round hole, often with explosive results.
1. Steve Procopio/Jim Baglino [Since I'm adding duos, Baglino needs a shout out too] (Human Remains)
Nobody before and nobody since has ever wrung the kinds of bizarre sounds out of their instruments as New Jersey’s Human Remains. Human Remains was just plain weird. Fifteen years after the band’s demise, people are just now beginning to hip to what guitarist Steve Procopio was up to with his six string shenanigans. Slanting, bouncing, unsettlingly askew, Human Remains lurked in the uncanny valley of death-grind. You think you know those instruments, but something just isn’t right. Where were any of us when Human Remains were laying down a template for the future?
2. Scott Hull (Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Pig Destroyer/Anal Cunt)
Scott Hull is the first true grindcore auteur. With Pig Destroyer, he draws from classic grind, Melvins insanity and unsettling atmospheres to cradle the insalubrious spirits being descanted by frontman J.R. Hayes. Hull writes Hellraiser riffs that can unsettle you on their own. Adding in Hayes’ nightmare fuel is only adding to the exquisite torture. If that weren’t enough to earn him some serious accolades (and it surely is), Hull also dragged the early Earache guitar sound into the modern era with Agoraphobic Nosebleed. He gave it a post-millennial sheen by pairing it with abused drum machines and frayed FX boxes, penning Ballardian odes to a fragmenting society.
3. Mieszko Talarczyk (Nasum)
Nasum were one of the first true 21st Century grindcore bands. While Mieszko Talarczyk’s influences were no secret, he developed a riffing style that seemed fresh and vibrant at a time when grind was in danger of going stale. His other innovation came from behind the mixing board where Talarczyk made sure that all the care and craft he put into his songwriting could be set off to maximum effect.
4. Richard Johnson (Enemy Soil/Drugs of Faith)
There has not been a facet of grind where Richard Johnson hasn’t made a contribution from mixing punk and drum machines with Enemy Soil through bringing the rock to the grind with Drugs of Faith. In between you can find him shredding tonsils and morals with Agoraphobic Nosebleed. From his earliest noise assaults, Johnson has grown as a master musical craftsman who knows a great hook is the backbone to a quality tune.
5. Eduardo Borja (Maruta)
Maruta’s guitar tone is infinitely recognizable – Eduarda Borja’s slouching, slurring scrape is completely unique among their grind-violence peers. That tone is pressed into service lugging along some of the sickest modern grind misery. That tone has so much definition and physical presence that In Narcosis was one of the heaviest albums not to feature a bass.
6. Papirmollen (Parlamentarisk Sodomi/PSUDOKU)
Norwegian nihilist Papirmollen could have easily taken a run for the top of The Punks for his crusted, crepuscular work with Parlamentarist Sodomi. But anyone who astral projected to the sonic acid trip that is PSUDOKU knows that would be selling his oeuvre far too short. It turns out he’s not only punk as all fuck but no slouch with thinking outside the usual four musical dimensions. The one man musical menagerie is responsible for several of the best albums of the last several years, regardless of his chosen musical identity. I predict now we’ll be discussing them for several more years to come.
7. Pingdum (Total Fucking Destruction)
Only the most psychically unmoored of guitarists could keep up with Rich Hoak’s grindfreak railroad side project Total Fucking Destruction. In Pingdum, Hoak has found a musical foil whose guitar strings come in a chromatic spectrum of neon jazz, fit to flesh out TFD’s purpled grind haze.
8. Kapo (Swarrrrm)
Alright, Perpetual Strife, you got your wish. Kapo's in. Now you've got to convince everyone else. Here's his pitch:
"There is not a single grindcore band I know of that's as emotionally complex, musically varied, and openly influenced as Swarrrm. Kapo's guitar work is central to the band's unique style because of his seamless marriage not only in styles, but songsmanship as rarely does anything in their whole discography feel out of place or sound bad."
Ryan Page moves to The Technicians as a result. Poor Karel is out on his ass.
Any good hockey sniper will tell you he wouldn't be able to do his job without a big bruising body out there making space. The punks don't play the prettiest game, but they leave bodies flying in their wake.
1. Steve Burda/ShaneMcLachlan [If you think McLachlan is getting shorted, he's in too] (Phobia)
The be-dreadlocked Steve Burda is the embodiment of punked out grind guitar. And anchoring Phobia with constant companion Shane McLachlan for 20 years through all the band's ups, downs and constant lineup turmoil has cemented his status as a grind lifer. Simple and to the point, his riffs are prototypical grind. Nobody's done it better for quite so long.
2. Steve Heritage (Assück)
Assück were always a rough and tumble sounding affair and Steve Heritage was a defining characteristic of the band's gnarly, grizzled sound. He chunked and chopped his way through two crucial albums and a handful of splits that defined early American grind. Heritage was one of the progenitors of that thick, chunky riffing that typified early '90s blasters.
3. Chris Richardson (Kill the Client)
Don't fucking mess with Texas. Or Kill the Client, who have built up an impeccable curriculum vitae riding Chris Richardson's consistently strong guitar performance. A little Terrorizer, a little Brutal Truth; Richardson is all grind.
4. Mika Aalto (Rotten Sound)
Equally adept at channeling pure grind and crust punk Mika Aalto (aka Q) has built a career out of to the point blasts of railgun shrapnel with Finnish grind institution Rotten Sound (your second favorite band the last time we did this). How do you say "punk as fuck" in Finnish?
5. Rasyid (Wormrot)
The superlatives start to pile up fast whenever Wormrot's name enter the conversation and Rasyid's ridiculously adept way with an unforgettable riff is one of the chief components of the Singaporean band's remarkable success. With two confident albums under his belt, Rasyid's no frills assault is quickly climbing the staircase to the grind throne.
[New addition] 6. Beau (Insect Warfare)
HeroinJesus caught me. Leaving out Insect Warfare's Beau was a pretty big oversight on my part. It's impossible to tell the tale of modern grind's evolution without at least namechecking the shortlived but extremely influential Texans. Beau's frenzied playing was a huge driver to that band's success. Beau helped bring the punk back to grind. He was pinpoint sharp, twisting like a knife in your guts. Sorry Jerry Flores, but somebody had to get cut.
Another band that's not content to abandon crust wholly in favor of grind, 324's Shinji busts out tune after tune that can just as easily support a blastbeat as it does a gang chorus. The Japanese "darkness grinders" never take a detour when a direct riff will get them where they want to go, which is usually upside your head.
What may get lost in all the hullaboo about Marissa (nee Dan) Martinez's protean genitalia, is the fact that the chick rips out the best Repulsion songs the Michigan band just never got around to penning. Erring on the thrashy side of grind, Martinez's riffs build off of a chlamydia-cathy simplicity that lodges her Tod Browning-core praise of all things twisted and bizarre.
Another lifer who just keeps grinding along with no end in sight, Jerry Flores and Excruciating Terror were part of that early Los Angeles grind scene that also gave us Terrorizer. When that band imploded, he took his signature punk-on-speed riffs to his next band Bloody Phoenix, picking up right where he left off: simple, direct, devastating.
The geeks of grind, these guys are the ones who dazzle us with higher level mathematics workouts in guitar form. Why use one riff when 12 will do? Why play at human speeds when you can force everyone around you to keep pace with your V-8 powered metronome?
1. Takafumi Matsubara (Mortalized/GridLink/Haiyano Daisuki)
Regardless of which band he's anchoring, Takafumi Matsubara makes the impossible sound effortless as he forces every musician around him to step up their game. With one foot in the redonkulous fretboard gymnastics of Japanese speed metal, Matsubara has demolished traditional grindcore in the pursuit of something more physically and emotionally demanding.
2. Rob Marton (Discordance Axis)
Rob Marton could dazzle with his technical acumen, but he never got showy with his skills. All of the guitar pyrotechnics were bent in service of a memorable and powerful song. There are a horde of technically adept musicians, but not many of them really understand what makes music really tick. Prof. Marton has been quietly trying to educate lesser lights for years.
3. Erik Burke (Lethargy/Sulaco/Brutal Truth)
When Brutal Truth reunited in the new millennium, it was a tall order finding a guitarist outre enough to step into McCarty's place. Enter Erik Burke, an upstate New York guitarist who made his mark in the three ring grind/death/hardcore circus of Lethargy (with half of Mastadon in tow) before moving on to the technically demanding Sulaco. So yeah, hopping into Brutal Truth makes perfect sense.
4. Sebastian Rokicki (Antigama)
I need a calculator to balance my checkbook. Sebastian Rokicki of Polish cyborgs Antigama is sculpturing high order wave forms with six strings and an extra-dimensional imagination. Antigama never walks a straight line when they could be slingshotting their way around the sun and back again. Rokicki is the twisty, slippery ringmaster of their outer space excursions.
5. Chris Arp (Psyopus)
I’m pretty sure “Chris Arp” is actually the code name for some DARPA-funded experiment in super powered computer processing transmitting data through musical form. Though commercially less palatable, his original plan to name his band Stranglefuck was probably a more accurate summation of the sliderule-core he's been churning out. This is the soundtrack to all of those non-Euclidean dimensions H.P. Lovecraft kept warning you about.
6. Ryan Unks/Paul Nowoczynski (Creation is Crucifixion)
A twofer this time out, but it's hard to separate the work Ryan Unks and Paul Nowoczynski jointly undertook for the still-underrated, way ahead of their time Creation is Crucifixion. The hacktivists soundtracked the rise of the digital era with circuitry-shaped riffs that rode that vanishing membrane between humanity and its tools. This is where technology and anarchy fuck.
7. Dorian Rainwater (Noisear/Kill the Client)
Shhh don't tell, but I'm pretty sure Noisear guitarist Dorian Rainwater is Erik Burke's genetic clone or possibly a long lost child. Like the New Yorker, Rainwater is a carnival sideshow in audio form, giving musical voice to all the bearded ladies and crocodile boys who never got their due. He never seems more comfortable than tumbling from the heights of the big top, operating without a musical net.
The T-1000 of Czech grind, Karel and Cerebral Turbulency assimilated every musical innovation that came along: industrial, technical death and freaky experimentation and welded them to a chassis of brutish grind. Somehow Karel always made it work even though every Cerebral Turbulency album sounded different from its predecessors. This is the soundtrack to Sarah Connor's nightmares.
8. Ryan Page (Body Hammer/Robocop)
Ryan Page is probably my favorite guitarist (and electric toothbrush-ionist) of the young crop of up and comers. As though combining a love for horror movie soundtracks and grindcore nihilism in the electronic nightmares of Body Hammer were not enough, Page also kicked power violence into the 21st Century with Robocop. Where his contemporaries in the power violence revival are largely content to recycle their forefathers, Page has found a new musical lexicon steeped in horror, information overload and violent body/machinery interactions.