Thursday, January 14, 2010

They Write the Songs That Make the Whole World Scream

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.

Squash Bowels?
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”


brutalex said...

so why haven't I seen your name in Decibel?

Andrew Childers said...

nice of you to say, but this pretty much taxes my time as it is.

brutalex said...

I'll buy that when you have kids(I'm assuming you don't).

Apoctosis said...

Seriously, you're an awesome writer, Andrew! Oh and hey, you should really co-host with me on my radio show, Richard Johnson can join us too!

206 said...

I wonder if Cretin will continue. It would be a shame if a simple sex change operation killed such a perfect band.

andrew said...

last i heard cretin was writing but between commitments to citizen, exhumed, etc. they didn't know when they'll record. but it took 15 years to do the first album, so who knows.

Zmaj said...

I did half-intend to rant about Hull and Talarczyk and metal and grind and catchy songwriting and godknowswhat, but I really would rather just compliment you on the sexy write-up!

Marton was an innovator - I think he'll always be my favorite.

andrew said...

while all the compliments are appreciated, my question still remains unanswered: do you listen to grind differently than you do other musical styles that are more song oriented?

i think my preference for grind and the whole listening experience is also one of the reasons i hate downloads and prefer the physical item.

Miskatonic said...

I apply your reasoning to just about everything I listen to. But I would say that it is especially relevant to grind. I can't imagine listening to grind singles. I know that a single was made for You Suffer but I always figured that was a novelty item. I mean, who puts that thing on to rock out? Too much work for so little pay off. Songs like that are rewarding after listening to a string of ridiculously short songs. They build on each other.

That said, plenty of grind bands will put lengthier songs in the midst of the shorter ones. Yes, they usually are the more skillfully written ones, and I have no problem with singling those out, if you want to do that.

After a very long detour from metal I picked up a Relapse comp called Contaminated #?. It featured a song or two by Nasum. I had never heard of them at the time but the song (Going Nowhere) completely blew my mind. I'm now on the other end of digesting almost their entire catalog and I must say that song is still my favorite... by far. Perhaps it's the law of primacy or maybe it is their best song, but it is , for me, my all time stand out grind track.

Miskatonic said...

I have only one problem with listening to downloaded/ripped music... GAPS!!!!!!! I fucking hate gaps in between songs that aren't supposed to be there!!!!! This is especially irksome when songs bleed into one another. This problem can effect grind worse than any other genre in that the pace of an album can be attributed to how much space is extant between tracks. Imagine being on a roller coaster ride and coming to a complete stop for a split second and then starting right back up again at breakneck velocity. Distracting and jerky as hell!

This problem seems to exist more with poorly encoded files. In my experience VBRs seems to be more susceptible to this problem than CBRs are. So, be careful when encoding mp3s.

However, most of the time, I'm able to completely simulate the experience of the physical item, if I'm careful.

andrew said...

funny you use roller coasters as an example. i lived in germany as a teen and that's pretty much how their amusement parks are. plummet down the first hill, then sloooooooooowly ease around a corner, pick up a little speed around a curve and then ease it back a bit. for someone raised on american engineering, it's.... disconcerting.

brutalex said...

Ever since I started heavily getting into music I've found my self listening less to individual songs and more on whole albums front to back which is, to me, a fuller and more rewarding experience all around. This goes for every genre, from grind to folk to funeral doom. Singles are for the weak, son!

(figured I'd actually answer the question)

Zmaj said...

I like what Miskatonic said. And I listen to grind for the whole experience, but I really do the same with all the music that I listen to (except for generally lyric-centered and/or pop-catchy stuff). I do agree (to an extent) that grind is - like 206 said in one comment - more about the whole thing than individual tracks, but it still depends on the band. The genre isn't what it used to be, anyway. I mean, you said it yourself. Pig Destroyer is all about catchy & headbangable riffs. Other bands are not.

But I also dislike overly synthetic production, triggers on the drumkit (well, on bass drums), and general lack of balls. In the end: I DO listen to grind differently (and considerably so). I like it at its rawest, which doesn't necessarily have to make it neanderthalic (I've got powerviolence for that ;)). Quite the opposite. Grind could be an expression of the sharpest thought. But, I mean, asking "how do you listen to grind" is like asking "how do you live your life?" And I'm not even joking. If I must answer that, I must expand on the answer and say why I listen to grind in the first place.

I say grind was never about breaking shit. It's about a primal statement of total truth - an explosion of the honest self. If it's about breaking something, it's about breaking yourself (free). Sure, it doesn't even apply to the whole genre, but that's the specific quality / expressional extremity that I look for and find only in grindcore.

*ramble, ramble, ramble*

I think I'll just quote Chang now:

"Bands recorded the takes live, complete with mistakes, because there are no mistakes when you are locked on dodonpachi style. "Mistakes" are a invention of producers looking to make pop hits. Perfection has nothing to do with the frayed racket of humanity that is grind. When I am lost in a grind song, it's probably the most honest I'll ever be with myself because ego doesn't matter. It's not about me, even though nothing else will ever be more about me. It's the black box that survives the plane crash and shares it's last moments with you over and over again."

Andrew Childers said...

whoa professor z dropped some serious knowledge. i'm gonna have to ponder that.

where'd you find that chang quote?

206 said...

Zmag said it for me. I figured it went without saying that I want the physical copy with no gaps between songs. I want a full slab of grind, the entire earthquake if you will, not some 40 second after shock.

The new Nashgul is a good example. Place a few seconds of silence in between those songs, or only listen to Crematorio, and it loses both punch and depth.

Andrew Childers said...

though "la plaga" stands on its on pretty well, i think.

Zmaj said...

Andrew: the quote is from an unpublished article that Chang wrote - he put it up right here:

Anonymous said...

grindcore is song oriented.
"from enslavement to obliteration" & "human error" are the perfect albums/examples as both are loaded with high speed-mosh riffs that are so catchy they burn themselves in your audio modules permantly.

both records shred start to finish but each song has its own reason for exsisting that make them greater than just "the sum of its parts".

cuts like "display to me"/"musclehead"/"mentally murdered"/"oblivion descends"/beyond eternity" etc etc are just as catchy as any "traditional" genre of music.from my own taste it seems like most grind bands from the 90's onward seemed more interested in being the most extreme rather than writing ridiculously catchy songs (like old napalm/unseen terror/carcass).

but of course thats just me : )