Grindcore – that furiously primitive bolt-on to death metal – got cruel and weird in the early 1990s; otherwise known as the end of history. What started as a one dimensional catalyst for new levels of making an unholy racket suddenly morphed into extreme metal’s equivalent of an avant-garde movement. Not all grind went this way of course. Like many forms of extreme underground art much of it quickly devolved into self-parody. But as with so many things in extreme metal, there is a sweet spot to be found somewhere in the early 1990s .
Arizona’s Nuclear Death sat somewhere on the death/grind outer limits with their first two releases, 1990’s ‘Bride of Insect’ and 1991’s ‘Carrion for Worm’. Make no mistake, these two releases shocked and awed me when I first listened to them at a time when I already believed I had broken through the wall in terms of noisy experiences. It is dirty, primitive and ferocious music from the very pits of depravity. With Lori Bravo’s vocals ranging from guttural growl to horse shouting, screeching and furious ranting. She sounds truly demented. With third their release, 1992’s ‘All Creatures Great and Eaten’ they slowed things down somewhat. Somewhat.
ACGAE clocks in at barely twenty minutes in length but manages to express the depth and breadth of negative emotions in all their morbid detail. Bravo’s voice is truly unique in this field. It works almost as a twisted performance piece, expressing the forbidden, unspoken chasms of humanity’s emotions. This is not simply a distorted death metal vocal track, it’s a vocalisation of aggression and despair. A truly noteworthy performance that grants Nuclear Death a special place in the lexicon of old school extreme metal.
Production is as raw as ever, although some of the static from the guitars has been cleaned up somewhat on this release, which lends extra clarity to ND’s newfound proficiency in rhythmic diversity. Drums still blast and pound their way through the listener’s soul, but they now grant more space for the guitars to breath. And breath they do, articulating at times haunting chord progressions that leave one cold before pounding in synchronicity with what has become a pretty tight rhythm section. Despite being their shortest full length, ACGAE is easily Nuclear Death’s most diverse. Now unbearably noisy, now straight up terrifying. All three of their LPs from this time are unique slabs of extreme metal and this final slice is the perfect way to top it off. Well worth the time of any old school fanatic.
A more straight forward approach to grind can be found in Speyer, Germany, and a band called Blood. Blood are aesthetically a death metal band, but to indulge the pedant we must point out that the micro songs they produced on their first batch of LPs were not compositionally developed enough to be called death metal proper. This music was dirty, obscure even, but not without a degree of high fidelity musicianship common to all stripes of metal. With their third release, 1993’s ‘O Agios Pethane’ they streamlined their sound and produced a set of tight and engaging grindcore that never fails to be a joy to listen to.
Imagine primitive death metal has been thrown in a blender with surrealist poetry and well placed intro samples and it comes close to the experience of OAP. The guitars are meaty. Solos and screaming leads ramp up the intensity at various intervals, as do vocals when they leap from guttural death metal growl to bestial screeching. This is a subtler approach to grind than we are used to. They do not see the need to pander to the faster than/louder than/angrier than thou crowd. It works because it is good music. And it is backed up by some of the weirdest and surreal poems found in extreme metal.
Although not overly showy this is more technical than much grindcore. All musicians are able to play with rhythmic unity as they seamlessly pound rhythms and chords into the listener’s ears in unison, able to switch from apparently out of control speed to doom passages without missing a beat. Through this, and discipline in track length, Blood are able to achieve more in under three minutes than many of their contemporaries achieve on a whole LP’s worth of material. And much like the work of Nuclear Death it manages to be at once highly aggressive yet haunting and unsettling at the same time.
So in the battle of the morbs I have to concede this week’s victory to Nuclear Death. Although I have much praise to lavish upon both these offerings of old school extreme metal ‘All things Great and Eaten’ stands head and shoulders above anything that was coming out at the time, and indeed anything that has come out at any time. And that goes for all of ND’s early output. There’s much to love in ‘O Agios Pethane’ and it remains a classic of sophisticated grind. But as I say so many times in this feature, this week it went up against an impossible opponent in Nuclear Death. So get yourself copies of their first three excretions, all together barely an hour and half’s worth of music, and tune out of the ways of civility for a time. God knows it’s cathartic in its own twisted way.