Agnostic Front, S.O.D. and 9 More Essential Crossover Bands
I remember it like yesterday.
It was the summer of '85, and I had just returned from the annual two-week trip I’d take with my parents down to the Jersey shore. I would always look forward to coming home, not only because I wasn’t really much of a beach bum type, but because I knew a good haul of the latest hardcore records would have accumulated in my older brother's room in that time; and once I got in there, he’d give me the full lowdown of what had happened in “the scene” during my absence. But when I ran up those stairs and swung the door open, it felt like I walked into a whole new world — a world I really didn’t want any part of.
It seemed like every corner of the space was crammed with record covers adorned with bloody goat heads, swords and other such nonsense. And instead of the usual issues of Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll or Flipside lying around, there were these zines with names like Kick Ass and Metal-Core. Even though bands like Venom and Metallica had already been accepted by some hardcore folks at that point for their visceral charge alone, it just seemed that somehow, a mere 14 days after I left my suburban confines, the hardcore and heavy metal underground had blurred to the point where they were to be accepted as one and the same — and everyone had to go along with it in some sort of Stepford Wives-like fashion.
But my stubborn and righteous 13-year-old self wasn’t going along with the program. Hardcore to me had this righteous message, and metal was steeped in wizards, warlocks and all other kind of made-up bullshit. In the rearview, it is obvious that my dork ass didn’t know dick. Although there most certainly were bands who went overboard in appeasing to a hairier crowd, the crossover of metal and hardcore gave the music not only a recharge, but the pushback to the fusion provided us with the likes of Youth of Today, Warzone, and many more favorites of yours and mine.
So, get your puffy white sneakers and denim vest out of the dry cleaner, because this time around, Crash Course will try to give the most thorough backstory on the murky mix of the two genres that would eventually merge and influence present-day demigods like Power Trip, Iron Reagan and more.
No matter what some former pizza-face might tell you, the impetus of the metal subculture and hardcore punk community melding all falls upon the studded shoulders of Stoke-on-Trent’s Discharge and their unconscious riffmaster general, Anthony “Bones” Roberts. Besides inadvertently providing the metal underground with a new sonic palette to work from, they also opened their eyes to the concept of music being less about scoring loose women and free booze and more about exposing the ills of the world. You want proof? How about “Indians” by Anthrax or “Fight Fire With Fire” by Metallica? Is that enough for ya?
CORROSION OF CONFORMITY
If you’re looking for the U.S version of a band like Discharge, Corrosion of Conformity are the ones for which the merger of hardcore and metal can be hung on, here in our land of idiocy. Southern boys raised on Sabbath and Priest who grasped onto punk’s DIY spirit, the band carved out their own niche musically and aesthetically while taking a shitload of grief from many who felt they were tainting the waters of hardcore with their blistering leads and congenial attitude towards bands wearing studded gauntlets. Their 1985 full-length Animosity is the album to which the fusing of headbanging and moshing can be pinned.
When East Coast-dwelling headbangers started cautiously sniffing around the rough-and-tumble hardcore scene of the Lower East Side in the 1980s, trying to find some stateside bands to get behind, one they immediately cottoned to was Agnostic Front. To meet the heshers halfway, the band’s second LP, 1985's Cause for Alarm, leaned towards a more metallic sound, with members of thrash metal trio Carnivore even coming into the mix to play on the album. Although the record got the stink-eye at the time from most hardcore purists, in the present day it is considered a classic, and an essential piece to the history of crossover.
At the midpoint of the 1980s, it seemed like a good amount of the bands that laid the groundwork for hardcore in the earlier part of the decade were all of a sudden adding double bass drums and a whiz kid lead guitarist to jump onto that careening metal bandwagon — often with disastrous and embarrassing results. A prime example of this to me is D.R.I’s Dealing With It! Seattle’s the Accüsed were probably the one group out of that particular bunch who took to the style most organically. For proof, check out their vinyl trilogy of the Martha Splatterhead EP (1985), The Return of ... Martha Splatterhead (1986) and More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral (1987). Not only do these three slabs showcase a flawless run of material, they also prove that they're one of the most sadly forgotten bands from the era.
While the likes of Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags enticed metal people on the East Coast to look beyond the spandex horizon, Venice, Calif.'s Suicidal Tendencies were the band to take up the cause on the West Coast. They unintentionally brought skankers and headbangers together in the land of the endless summer by mixing bills with the likes of Slayer and Exodus. Touring to this day, they are still heralded as one of the most important bands in the punk / metal mix-up.
STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH
Essentially a goof-off band for members of Anthrax, Stormtroopers of Death was many metalheads' entry into hardcore punk via their debut LP, Speak English or Die (1985). Although the potency of the album cannot be denied, the lyrical content of songs like “Pre-Menstrual Princess Blues,” “Pussy Whipped” and “Fuck the Middle East” to this day comes off like dimwitted tirades delivered by a middle-aged supermarket stock boy on his third smoke break of the day.
Although founded by S.O.D. bassist Dan Lilker, Nuclear Assault never came off like a bunch of metal guys having a laugh at the expense of hardcore. If anything, with their melding of decent lyrical content, metallic precision and crude dynamics learned from hardcore, they always came off to me as the band I wish S.O.D. could have been, but sadly weren’t. Their debut LP, Game Over (1986), as well as Handle With Care (1989), still provide a much-needed crotch punch in this day and age of referential rehashed crap.
After Discharge, England’s answer to the core / metal crossover was extreme to say the least, with bands like the English Dogs and Cockney Rejects releasing albums with titles like Metalmorphosis while consciously distancing themselves from their punk pasts. Birmingham’s Sacrilege seemed to be the band that could balance both genres within their sound while also making either camp feel like they weren’t betraying their roots. Their 1985 debut LP, Behind the Realms of Madness, is not just a timeless platter of authoritative roar, but yet another forgotten pillar on which this whole shebang got started.
The list of bands that emanated from the New York hardcore scene, which informed the cross-pollination of hardcore and metal, is daunting, to say the least. The Cro-Mags, Crumbsuckers and many more can be listed here, but none of them crystallized that merger so perfectly and effortlessly as Queens' pride and joy, Leeway. When the band unleashed their Enforcer demo onto the public in '85, even the straitlaced hardcore lovers couldn’t help but sit up, take notice and say, “Fuck yeah!”
Much like when when you first heard that an orange-tinged ding-dong would be the leader of the free world, we all remember where we were when we first heard Hirax’s “Bombs of Death” on the Metal Massacre VI compilation. I was sitting on my brother's bed getting my first earfuls of the likes of the Obsessed and Dark Angel when this track came on with a riff so molten, I thought it would melt his stereo in half. But when vocalist Katon W. de Pena’s matchless falsetto kicked in, my eyebrow remained cocked for the entire remainder of the track. No doubt about it, the combination of these two elements was all that was needed to prove that the theatrics of metal and the primal thrust of hardcore could live together uncompromised. Besides being in Hirax, de Pena led another criminally underrated band, Phantasm, which held original Metallica bassist Ron McGovney in its lineup. A metal lifer, de Pena still DJs all over the Southern California area, but never when I’m out there. What a bummer.
Cryptic Slaughter were yet another Southern California entity that first appeared on a Metal Massacre compilation, making many an angry youth rear back their head and mouth, “What the fuck” almost in unison. With an overwhelming amount of teenage angst and vehemence, they were the quintessential merger of punks and metal dudes getting together to blow off some steam and play fast as fuck. Their first two LP’s, Convicted (1986) and Money Talks (1987), still sound furious to this day, while Stream of Consciousness (1988) and Speak Your Piece (1990) sound muddy, confused and very forced.