By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
At least as far back as the legitimate Bush administration, metal has been rife with hairsplitting. Every hesher has a choice of subgenre riff poison. You've got your death metal, your black metal, stoner rock, doom metal, darkwave, romantic black metal, power violence, folk metal, grindcore, neoclassical metal, technical metal, goth metal, and, yes, Viking metal. (Really, how could there not be a "Viking metal"?)
The year 2001 is a boom time for metal in general, what with Korn pounding latchkey sorrows into tinny thrash, Tool coiling Genesis chord changes into thick bundles, and Bizkit decking out hip hop in hard-rock drag. Metal-the-ideal is as diverse and annoying and non-ironic and knowing and rude and brutal as ever. And just as current grand dames Metallica and brilliant bridesmaids Slayer once ruled the underground while Poison and Cinderella made putatively "heavy" noises atop the charts, so doth the underground overflow with riches in these mooktastic days of the Nü. It's a great time to stop caring and dig the screaming.
The glottal aarrrgghh and no-fi guitars of black metal received the most late-Nineties hype--hard to question the satanic nature of a scene where stars actually kill each other and burn down churches. (You might recall the dozens of early Nineties Norwegian church burnings attributed to black metal fans, and the case of Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes, sole member of the band Burzum, now in prison for the 1993 stabbing death of black metal scenester Euronymous.) At the same time, British bands such as Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, and the mighty Carcass were winning fans who were equally at home with the Germs and Sabbath. By the late Nineties, the distinctions between lots of heavier post-hardcore sounds and metal were becoming increasingly tough to make. And so metal's new millennium has seen the evolution of a bastard spawn of hardcore and death metal called grindcore (also known as metalcore): a stew of the impossibly fast, the intricately brutal, and the vocally incomprehensible. If some death-metal dudes probably don't even consider the stuff metal, well, that's the nature of All Things Heavy today: There's never been so much compelling, weird false metal.
Relapse Records' tenth anniversary double-CD compilation Contaminated 3.0 provides an invaluable snapshot of the influential indie-metal label's death-and-grind catalog. From Brutal Truth to European grinders Nasum and progcore superstars the Dillinger Escape Plan, 3.0 gives a real hundred-flowers-blooming feel to these angry weeds of rage. Relapse is also home to Pig Destroyer and Burnt by the Sun, the latter a modern grind supergroup sporting members from the excellent Human Remains, Time's Up, and Cosmic Hurse.
Virginia-based Pig Destroyer's 38 Counts of Battery is almost prototypical grind: violent images of decay, hellish tempos, and aggravated vocals. But PD's lineup of voice, guitar, and drums (no bass, no second guitar) removes a little density from the sound. There's something approachable about stripped-down grind. Though there's no reason why an articulate five-piece couldn't temper their aural output, it's reassuring to know there's only so much a band can fling your way.
Burnt by the Sun's 2000 split single with fellow New Jersey grinders Luddite Clone is a primo place-filler while the groups develop full-length projects: There are three tracks in seven minutes. Burnt's tunes cross over nicely to gentler audiences: Slowed down, their riffs and time changes might be at home in a Sunny Day Real Estate song. (See what I mean by false metal?) But Mike Oleander's ragged howl and Dave Witte's hectic drumming keep the proceedings at grind's minimum speed limit. Burnt and Luddite make a sound that's equally at home at VFW halls or the increasingly important Milwaukee Metal Fest.
Witte might be contemporary grind's closest thing to a superstar. He drums at particle-accelerator speed, creating the sort of tempos that prompt other drummers to gawk at shows. Like a jazz drummer, Witte works with umpteen bands. His other main group, Discordance Axis, created a grind landmark with 2000's The Inalienable Dreamless. Combining Witte's drum with Rob Marton's emo-metal riffs and Jon Chang's wounded-hyena scream, DA created a grind classic. Inalienable comes in an ultramodern DVD-style box adorned with futuristic fonts and vague symbols, such that it could almost make this pass for a new age record.
Witte also recently collaborated with power-violence legend and Slap-a-Ham Records founder Chris Dodge on a tape-trading project called East/West Blast Test. This is a compelling pairing: Witte belongs to a proggy metalcore tradition, while Dodge's band Spazz were the ultimate power-violence/fastcore punk act, heading up a Nineties scene that was a scuzzy, roaring antidote to Green Day's stiff little melodies. As a result of this stylistic mix, East/West has a real meeting-of-the-minds feel. The recorded results are refreshingly diverse, ranging from orthodox thrash to jazzier, artier bits--think the world's heaviest Tortoise album.
Minneapolis has its own self-sufficient scene, with bands that blur the line between emo, metal, grind, and hardcore almost to the point of genre invisibility. Probably none of these bands have ground their influences into a pulpy new sound as skillfully as Anamnesis, both on their slightly muddy, self-released Pushing Away the Sun demo EP as well as a solid split EP with fellow scenesters Encroach (whose own excellent tracks fall closer to the hard emo side of the fence).