I have discovered grindcore. Grindcore is an amalgam of punk and death metal- very fast, with blast beats, heavily down-tuned guitars, and incomprehensible vocals which are mainly growls with a few shrieks. Grindcore is characterized by very short songs; indeed, Napalm Death hold the Guinness World Record for the shortest song ever, ‘You Suffer’, which comes in at 1.316 seconds long. Napalm Death, formed in the Midlands in 1981, are credited as the inventors of grindcore. It is questionable whether the whole thing started off as a joke- Digby Pearson, who founded their first record company Earache records, from his bedroom, admits that he started it as an experiment to see how far he could push ‘unlistenable noise’ on people. But Radio 1’s John Peel championed Napalm Death, and grindcore spread. Despite multiple line-up changes Napalm Death have survived for thirty-five years, released fifteen albums, and spawned countless imitators.
I went to see Napalm Death in concert. They are revered within the metal world for being one of the few bands to take an overtly political stance. They rail against racism, sexism and homophobia. Admittedly their exhortations to civic action tend towards the simplistic, but the sentiment is there. I couldn’t fault their enthusiasm- the vocalist worked himself into an apoplectic frenzy, while the guitarists convulsed along furiously. They sang about fifty songs. I found it very difficult to distinguish one from the next, and was struggling to get past the general wall of noise. There was a curious stillness in the crowd. I would later read Keith Kahn-Harris who wrote of the ‘stasis’ effect created when the music is so fast that the individual notes/beats cannot be distinguished.
Can you say anything meaningful about a song that lasts one second, has unintellible lyrics and muddy guitars? Well, yes, if we look beyond the confines of standard musical analysis.
The radical musicologist Philip Tagg asks us to see beyond the horizontal, the standard Schenkerian techniques of musical analysis, to avoid restricting ourselves to considering music based on its length. He writes about the extended present, about sonic moments, and extreme metal provides moments of shock, disorientation, and simple immersion in sound. The most effective moments in extreme metal are those of unexpected beauty- a delicate harmonic, a high-register passage in harmonized thirds; an unexpected change of tempo. If whole books, theses, Phds, hundreds of thousands of words can be written about composer John Cage’s 4 minutes of silence, ‘4’33’, then we owe it to works that actually have a sound to consider them. There are countless modern classical works which sound no less of a terrible racket than anything by Pungent Stench.
Napalm Death ‘Unchallenged Hate’
Pigdestroyer ‘Burning Palm’
Disgorge ‘Consume The Forsaken’
Sore Throat ‘Horrendous Cut Throat System’
Agoraphic Nosebleed ‘Agorapocalypse Now’
Brutal Truth ‘Dead Smart’
Cattle Decapitation ‘Manufactured Extinct’
Anaal Nathrakh ‘Depravity Favours The Bold’
Brujeria ‘La Migra’