In the fourth of our series of Record Boxes commissioned by The Space, Shane Embury from Napalm Death explains how grindcore came into being, exploring the elements of its genetic make up with records from John's own collection.
Slade were one of the biggest bands of the seventies, selling over six million records in the UK alone. They were major proponents of the glam-rock sound, which was integral to the development of popular music, its trademark excess helped to provoke the punk scene whilst simultaneously informing the new romantic movement that would come to define the eighties.
You could argue that Slade are best remembered for the ever present christmas anthem "Merry Christmas Everybody", but in 1972 "Slayed" captured the band at their peak, their third and most successful album showed they were more than just Noddy Holder's distinctive voice; their heavy rock sound acted as a precursor for a lot of the rock music that followed.
The Sweet were a rock band in denial, in the early seventies they found fame with their management team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who wrote a string of hit singles for them. Throughout this period the band struggled with the pop aesthetic that afforded them their glam rock lifestyle. "Blockbuster" was their first number one single in the UK and is a perfect example of the conflict at the heart of The Sweet, it's a hook laden pop song but the b-side is an altogether different beast, "Need a Lot Of Lovin" was written by the band themselves and like all their b-sides from that period, is indicative of the heavy rock band they aspired to be.
Formed in 1968, Black Sabbath changed the landscape of popular music and sold seventy million records in the process, they were a quintessential heavy metal band before anybody understood what it meant to be a quintessential heavy metal band; heavily distorted down tuned guitar riffs and ominous lyrical themes became the blueprint for other rock bands to follow.
Their sixth album "Sabotage" was released at the end of a five year period of creativity that redefined rock music, it came as both success and turmoil began to take its toll on the band, as law suits with their former management team strained the recording process and forced the band to their very limits.
Judas Priest are recognised as being one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time, selling over 45 million records worldwide, the band's fifth album "Killing Machine" marked their move towards a more commercial heavy rock sound. Their American record label changed the album name to "Hell Bent For Leather" in a bid to appear less threatening, but the move mirrored their thematic change, as this was the album that saw them move away from darker subjects towards songs about partying and S&M. Their studs and leather image acted as the precursor to the excesses of glam metal that followed in the eighties.
Throbbing Gristle set out to explore the darker side of the human condition and in the process created an entire genre. Abrasive, provocative and challenging by design, their industrial music didn't just move the boundaries, it removed them completely. "D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle" was their second self released album and arguably their most accomplished, tape loops and ambient noise make up dense sound collages reflecting their intense philosophical take on human society, as journalist John Doron noted, "The moronic complaint by Musicians Union types back then that synthesizers and electronic gadgetry were putting 'real' musos out of work were met by Throbbing Gristle who seemed to be saying: Yes, we know. That is the point".
Killing Joke released their self titled debut album in 1980, their primal brand of post punk wasn't a huge commercial success but it became highly influential. Their skill as musicians meant that they provided inspiration to players from many different scenes, and the strength of their message informed everything from the burgeoning industrial sound to grunge a decade later. The album itself was seen by many to be a reflection of Thatcher's Britain, filled with cold war paranoia and dystopian imagery, it remains as powerful and relevant as it ever was.
In 1981 The Dead Kennedys released "Too Drunk to Fuck" to a largely shocked public, however their unique and twisted take on surf music made it one of the defining songs of the era, possessing one of the most memorable guitar riffs of all time. The band's morbid sense of humour, a brash mix of satire and shock value, would become a fixture in the hardcore punk scene of the early eighties, until obscenity charges and bans on their music resigned the band to infamy.
As many of the UK's first wave of punk bands began to get serious with their experimentation, with what would later become known as post punk, bands like Charged GBH were taking the speed and the aggressive edge of punk more seriously. Named after their then bass player's actual charge for GBH, the band helped pioneer the hardcore punk movement that followed, playing faster and harder than those that came before them.
When Discharge released their seminal album "Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing" in 1982, they brought the ideas of punk and hardcore together, taking elements from each, but stripping out everything nonessential. What was left became the blueprint for much of the extreme music that would emerge throughout the eighties - a sound dominated by heavy grinding guitars, intense blasts of drums and highly charged political themes.
Crass used music to punctuate their message of political freedom, working as a collective they were fiercely independent, organising acts of political protest and relentlessly encouraging others to do the same. "How Does It Feel?" was written as a direct response to the Falklands war and inspired both introspection and outrage from the public and the political classes. Its impact was such that Margaret Thatcher was asked in prime ministers question time if she had heard the song, and conservative MP Tim Eggars attempted to have Crass prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, saying in a radio interview at the time that the song went "beyond the acceptable bounds of freedom of speech, being the most vicious, scurrilous and obscene record that has ever been produced."
The Exploited were part of the UK's second wave of punk bands, harnessing the aggression of punk and using it to get across their message, they helped spearhead the hardcore punk scene through the eighties. This single reached number 31 in the UK singles chart which spawned their now legendary performance on Top of the Pops.
By 1983 the musical climate was starting to change, the heavy metal that was popular in the seventies had evolved into a polished heavy rock sound, punk had begun to marginalise itself by focussing on the aggressive politics of hardcore, then Metallica released "Kill 'em All" and turned it upside down. They combined the musicianship of heavy metal and the speed of punk with a righteous fury that reinvigorated the scene. "Kill 'em All" is referred to as the true birth of thrash metal, it is one of the most influential albums from that period and has now sold nearly four million copies.
Swans pushed boundaries with the visceral nature of their music, trading speed for power and creating a sound that was equal parts disturbing, abrasive and compelling for its listeners. "Cop" was the band's second album, it took their no wave beginnings to a level of intensity that became highly influential. The uncomfortable nature of their early recordings and performances were both the appeal of the band and the reason they were not a commercial success at the time.
Slayer are synonymous with thrash metal. Their major label debut "Reign in Blood" played a large part in making that happen, as did recruiting Rick Rubin to produce it. The small refinements Rubin made in the recording process dramatically altered the results, which helped the band to create the clean yet breathlessly unforgiving sound which became so influential. As Phil Anselmo says "Slayer invented the style of heavy metal I adore: odes to Satan with discordant axe harmonies and thundering drums. They invented the style - that says everything."
Sabotage Organised Barbarian, or S.O.B for short, were a hardcore punk band from Japan who pushed the limits of the genre. Although the band aren't well known outside of Japan, the global tape trading scene in the mid eighties was such that bands from opposite sides of the globe could share music and fuel each others creativity, which allowed "Don't Be Swindle" to become a pivotal album in the development of grindcore.
Slab! recorded three Peel sessions over the course of their career, but they couldn't build the following that their music deserved, they remained an underground name until splitting up in 1991. "Descension" was their debut album, it captured the band at arguably their most innovative and accomplished, showcasing the band's potential to be stars of the industrial metal scene, which in 1987 was just beginning to become widely recognised.
"World Downfall" was recorded over two days in May 1989, it's seen as the quintessential grindcore album; mixing extremely fast blast beats and a punishing guitar sound with socially conscious growls and screams. Terrorizer imploded almost as soon as they had begun, splitting up before the album had even been properly released, it's members went on to play important roles in other pioneering bands like Morbid Angel and Napalm Death, but the influence of this album on grindcore has never been in doubt.
Three years before its official release as "Horrified" in 1989 this collection of songs had been distributed amongst the tape trading community under the name "The Stench of Burning Death". When it made its way to the UK it became highly influential for bands like Napalm Death and Carcass in the rapidly developing hardcore scene. The relentless intensity that Repulsion generated set them apart from everything that had come before, they coupled machine gun drums and an overdriven guitar sound with gruesome apocalyptic lyrics, which would later become the norm in the gore driven scenes they helped to inspire.
This album, along with Terrorizer's "World Downfall" and "Scum" by Napalm Death, are referred to as the ground zero for grindcore, the point from which it all began.
Napalm Death are credited with creating grindcore - the songs on their debut album "Scum" became the blueprint for the genre, and just as they pushed the limits of hardcore punk to generate their sound, they continued to build upon their own blueprints throughout their career. This was the first of three Napalm Death Peel sessions, recorded on the 13th of September 1987. It features many of the seminal songs from "Scum" which when captured by producer Dale Griffin are an entirely different beast, not only was the sound quality much better but the band were a little older and wiser, which made the songs much more potent and intense than the original recordings.
Napalm Death went on to find widespread success, which paved the way for extreme metal bands from all sub-genres, opening up a larger audience to them and helping the scene to flourish in their wake. It wasn't always so, and it hasn't always been, but for a time Napalm Death were the fastest and heaviest, the most influential and extreme, the most exhilarating and innovative grindcore band on the planet.