I found it interesting the conversation about my grind mixtape for Invisible Oranges pretty much followed my own thinking when I sat down to pull that together for Cosmo. The process involved three pretty intense weeks of digging through my closet o’ grind to try to winnow down a list of must hear grind to less than an hour. (Cosmo actually asked me to keep it to 45 minutes and do about 150 words of introduction, both of which I completely failed to achieve because I just get so damn excited about this stuff.) But back to the subject at hand, my hardest problem was picking a single song to represent a band, a nation, an album or a songwriting concept. Unlike my punk or straight metal albums, I never pick up a grind record to hear a specific song. Instead, it’s about the overwhelming gestalt of an unrelenting assault upon the senses. Grindcore is synergistic – its sum is greater than its constituent parts. That means I find grind to be more of an overall listening experience than a collection of thematically or musically related songs. I think that insight pretty much defines the difference between an avid grindcore fan and your run of the mill metalhead. However, while I played familiar albums over and over looking for comp-worthy songs, I was forced to really listen to individual tracks and I was struck by how some grind purveyors are able to rise about the sound’s self-imposed limitations to craft genuinely interesting songs that can easily stand on their own.
Carcass have been famously dismissive of Reek of Putrefaction, their (supposedly) malformed firstborn. The band immediately switched playing styles after birthing gore grind, casually moving on to help found the melodic death metal and death ‘n’ roll sounds. But despite their own disavowals, Reek of Putrefaction, for all its under-produced, deliberately low-brow assault, that all barely masks some of the better song writers the earliest grindcore scene produced. “Fermented Innards” is a slow burn masterpiece that allots a full minute –most songs’ runtimes – to build the anxiety and let Bill Steer’s bonesaw leads scrape through gristle and marrow before being blasted away. Far too often grind songs are from the hit it and quit school that giving a song that kind of breathing room is damn near revolutionary. Did I mention the song is more than 20 years old?
Carcass – “Fermenting Innards”
The Sleep of Angels
Can atheists cannonize saints? My crack research staff is telling me no. Well, fuck them because Mieszko Talarczyk should be the patron saint of grindcore. It’s impossible to discuss the style without his name coming up because he was the single greatest songwriter the genre has ever belched up. Nasum had any number of jaw droppers in their back pockets through the course of four full lengths and a bazillion EPs and comp appearances, but when they when they dropped the speed and dimmed the lights on “The Final Sleep” from masterwork Helvete, that’s when their prowess – and their emotional intensity – staked their own square of grind pavement. I love grind, but one thing it doesn’t really do well is emotion. That is, unless you consider “break shit” an emotion. Again, my research staff is saying no. Killjoys. But listen to “The Final Sleep” and you’ll hear anxiety wrapped in a thin pastry of bravado from an artist who swung the kind of sack to let things like insecurity and self-doubt rise to the fore. The only thing more disappointing than Talarczyk’s tragic death is that his emotional honesty is still such a rarity.
Nasum – “The Final Sleep”
Sheet Metal Sheet Music
Scott Hull pretty much perfected the sensory overload style of grind that most people associate with the style between Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope and the absurdly awesome Altered States of America. While that band was pretty much regarded as a curious novelty until it slowed things down enough for the non-grinding masses on Agorapocalypse, Pig Destroyer has pretty much gotten the respect it so obviously deserves from the get-go. In this case get-go means second album Prowler in the Yard where Hull definitely proved himself one of the greatest metal musicians – notice I didn’t just say grind – ever. OK, so when I said I don’t listen to grind albums for one specific song, I lied. Listening to Prowler in the Yard, for me, is all about that sweet anticipation for “Sheet Metal Girl,” easily my favorite Pig Destroyer song. It kicks it with an Exodus-style thrash gallop that’s abraded by JR Hayes’ scathing, psychotic howl. And all that’s before the shrieking harpy guitar leads scythe through the mix sounding as though they had been punched out of sheet metal by some demonic press.
Pig Destroyer – “Sheet Metal Girl”
Who’s the Master? Shoah Nuff!
While I agree with Zmaj that Magrudergrind aren’t quite strong enough to hold their own against the likes of Kill the Client just yet, the D.C. band’s place on the comp was due to more than my own hometown bias. Magrudergrind made the cut for one reason alone: “Martyrs of the Shoah.” I can’t tell you the last time I heard something as affecting as that ballsy little tune’s mix of grindcore and Yiddish folk music. The juxtaposition of rage and sorrow between those two passages is a bold artistic statement that separates them from their peers. Grindwise, “Martyrs of the Shoah” boasts a slow build opening that ponders the senseless loss of 6 million murdered lives with a brooding power violence soul and stop/start precision. And as the feedback slowly crackles out, rage gets swept away by a cappella folk song sorrow, the only possible response to such an atrocity.
Magrudergrind – “Martyrs of the Shoah”
Freakery on a Leash
Befitting their status as a Repulsion-grade grindcore circus of deliberately low-brow and low-fi intention and execution, Cretin led by mistress Marissa Martinez proudly fly the freak flag for the grotesquerie they set to music. But don’t let the carnival atmosphere blind you to the band’s artistic merits, especially on a song like “Walking a Midget.” These guys (and gal) have put some serious thought into their craft. “Walking a Midget” is a masterpiece of deliberately conservative songwriting. At its core, the song is your basic verse/chorus/solo construction, just scummed up for the grind masses. It’s all driven by an appropriately graven Repulsion meta-thrash riff that gets repurposed and recycled throughout the song. The deftest touch to the deliberately retrograde songsmithy are Col Jones’ half-time cymbals that counterpoint the consistently blasting snare, building tension from the percussion up.
Cretin – “Walking a Midget”
Between Jon Chang’s hellboy shriek and otaku fanboy enthusiasm and Dave Witte’s penchant for playing in pretty much every band that ever existed, Discordance Axis’ Rob Marton occasionally gets lost in the shuffle. Oh sure, we all talk about the degenerative nerve condition that ultimate stopped him from performing, but the guy hardly gets any credit for being one of the finest songwriters to ever set plectrum to string. But don’t he wasn’t a prime mover in making The Inalienable Dreamless the most unfuckwithable grind album ever set to tape. Song after song the guy just bangs out mindblowingly awesome, catchy riffs that marry punk simplicity with a Tin Pan Alley ear for a virulent tune. Go grab the album and put on “The Necropolitan,” one of my favorites songs from an CD filled with a dozen “favorite song evAR!” candidates that could be argued for decades. Marton’s swirling half time guitars swim almost languidly against the rabbit heart blasts and Chang’s pneumatic trap, creating a churning, tense dynamic. It’s a deft touch from a band of musical visionaries whose contributions to grindcore are only belatedly being fully appreciated.
Discordance Axis – “The Necropolitan”