Toward a new theory of grindcore, and even metal
MUSIC For years, critics have written about heavy metal using the vocabulary of biology — the increasingly byzantine music was framed as an evolutionary process, a family tree of genre and subgenre. Given the nature of the predominant acts at heavy metal's initial apex, this move made perfect sense. Metal has always been a supremely visceral music, acutely concerned with human bodies, from the imperious god-beings of Judas Priest lyrics (are you standing by for Exciter?) to the figures' inverse: the cadavers depicted by the gleeful medical dictionary versification of Carcass.
Human bodies will always be tethered to metal. But for not entirely arbitrary reasons, I've been finding it interesting these days to map out the unfolding universe of metal spatially — as doom continues to position itself as the vanguard of the music (and with good reason), creating sprawling, planar worlds of tone, this approach seems like a productive step toward thinking about the specifically musical elements that link so many disparate styles within the coordinates of the blanket term "metal." It also seems conducive to starting arguments with your friends about bands and shit, which is a constructive goal in its own right.
If funeral doom represents this (sonic) world-creating move, then grindcore represents its spatial inverse, an implosion of familiar dynamics into dense, indecipherable fragments that are over too quickly to unfold in time. There's always been something hilarious and perverse about this anti-musical gesture, which is perhaps best explained by the genre's bifurcated history — as much as it was an antecedent to later metal styles, grindcore was also fundamentally the next logical extreme of punk rock, and thus, rock 'n' roll reduced to its most unpleasant and confrontational.
Fundamentally, grindcore has always had a healthy sense of humor about itself: former Napalm Death guitarist Justin Broadrick, as quoted in Albert Mudrian's book Choosing Death, recalls doubling over with laughter during early rehearsals as he and his fellow bandmates pushed then-drummer Mick Harris to blast away on his kit at increasingly nonsensical speeds. This pervasive sense of fun underlying even some of the most aggressive bands is perhaps one reason why a genre that tends to allow itself an extremely narrow musical space in which its ideas can stretch out has lasted for so damn long.
Napalm Death's Scum (Earache), the first grindcore record (hypothetical metal-nerd/Siege/Extreme Noise Terror fan: stop yelling at the newspaper; you're making a scene ...) was released in 1987, 24 years ago. Since then, grindcore is still going strong, while countless styles, seemingly more complex, have exhausted themselves and bored their former fanbases in the interim. (Even crabcore, a genre that combined the dynamism of Casio keyboard demos with the showmanship of inexplicably squatting while playing guitar, has fallen by the wayside.)
Speaking of improbable, heroic survivors, what better venue to host the 10th anniversary of Short, Fast, and Loud, a massive showcase of all things grind, than Berkeley's 924 Gilman, which, like grindcore, has been sticking it to the mainstream's delicate sensibilities for more than 20 years by simply existing?