Genres touting the ‘post’ qualification should be regarded with suspicion. These days ‘Post’ has almost become synonymous with ‘meta’. It is after the thing, beyond, transcendent; packed within in this is the assumption that we are done with the original ‘thing’, whatever it may be; rock, metal, modernism. Whatever is flaunting the ‘post’ adornment is the way of the future. Of course, when this term is used in music (much like ‘progressive’), it is not literally meant as ‘after’, it is meant as a specific (and usually shitly intellectual and creatively bankrupt) style of music. Grindcore is technically a form of post post punk, in that it was spawned from hardcore punk, which is itself a form of post punk. But post punk usually refers to something very different. And that would make post grindcore ‘post post post punk’. Well anyway, the title of this piece has simply been selected to emphasise how weird and interesting grindcore became in the early 1990s, especially when one considers its standing as a genre within a genre within a genre. I would never insult the artists I have selected this week by sincerely calling them post anything.
Former Nuclear Assault bassist and scene elder Dan Lilker founded Brutal Truth back in 1990. After ‘Extreme Conditions Demand Responses’, a fairly straightforward deathgrind debut in 1992 that borrowed heavily from New York hardcore, follow up ‘Need to Control’ landed in 1994. This is a different beast entirely. This is not your typical grindcore album, but it flaunts its idiosyncrasy in surprisingly subtle ways. There is something very clinical about the production on this album. Not quite industrial, which often touts a dirty static to enhance the mechanical aesthetic. This is something cleaner but no less mechanical. Which feels like a paradox, because all of the musicians play with more passion, speed, and diversity than pretty much any grindcore album to date.
Vocals vary from a mid-range death metal growl that sounds almost effortless in its clarity, to a high pitched out of control screeching that still perfectly synch up with the rhythm section, creating unity from the chaos. The variation on this album is astounding for grindcore, but as mentioned previously, not in a way that begs the listener to pay attention to how ‘quirky’ or unusual it is. Ferociously fast music that seemingly loses control of itself will give way to cheery hardcore punk riffs, lumbering industrial numbers, sludge metal, and noise tracks. But the conceptual and aesthetic unity at work behind the entire album means all these things feel at home here. They are right where they should be.
The result is an album of crystal clear extreme metal that somehow manages to incorporate aggression, melodrama, humour, and contemplation into a finished product that leaves one feeling cold (cold to existence that is, not the album). This is a sophisticated set of emotions to illicit from a grindcore band. And admittedly Brutal Truth must pull on an array of different influences to achieve it, but the finished product is nevertheless some of the most complex and aggressive grindcore on record.
Of course this approach can be taken too far. Sweden’s Carbonized turned head’s with their debut LP ‘For the Security’ (1991), which is a deliciously weird selection of twisted micro-death metal tracks. Something of a passion project for the members of Therion at the time, FTS is avant-grind at its best. But with the follow up ‘Disharmonization’ (1993) cracks began to show. The blending of elements that are atypical of grindcore with more traditional components began to sound contrived. Let’s be right about this, ‘Disharmonization’ is a fine album. The frustrating thing about it is that it could have been finer.
It combines a vast array of influences from jazz, post punk, latino music, and occasionally some grindcore. Vocals range from the standard death metal rasp found on Therion’s music of this era, to constipated cleanly sung(?) moans a-la Thomas G Warrior on ‘Into the Pandemonium’. Clean guitars and bass abounds, clearly taking many cues from modern jazz; something that holds no interest for me but is nevertheless a pleasure to listen to. And there certainly is something to be said for the excitement of not knowing what exactly is round the corner on this album.
The problem is not so much the existence of these elements, but the execution and placement of them. ‘For the Security’ was a deathgrind album first, a weird album second. ‘Disharmonization’ is a collage of different atmospheres, instruments, and techniques, but all offering nothing beyond weirdness for the sake of it. There is nothing to knit this music together to tell a story. Which makes this a classic case of musician’s music. The offer this album makes is talented musicians playing weird-ass music for the sheer joy of it. Which means for the discerning listener, every build of tension, every intrigue, every engaging idea, is not rewarded with a pay-off, because the musicians have already moved on to the next unrelated idea. Each segment exists in isolation.
Occasionally its even guilty of ‘whacky’ overload; one can imagine the thought process behind certain passages: ‘what if we played a grindcore bit but added clean vocals and slap bass, that would be raaaad’. No, no it wouldn’t. The frustration comes not necessarily from this, but from the ghost of something more behind this. I suppose that ghost is made flesh on Carbonized’s debut effort. But for that reason ’Disharmonization’ falls short.
Brutal Truth’s ‘Need to Control’: call it industrial grind, imaginative grind, progressive grind, it doesn’t really matter, it’s just an outstanding album and certainly one of the best things going in grindcore even to this day. It ticks every box in terms of coherence, variation, extremity, and execution. I simply cannot fault it. Many of these things can be said of ‘For the Security’ in a more primitive and twisted way. But Carbonized’s ‘Disharmonization’ just falls short in terms of being music that wants to be listened to. It is one of the weirdest albums going in extreme metal and certainly a fascinating experience with every listen. But one gets the sense that the music was not made for you, but for the sake of the weirdness. Which is not a sin in itself, but it does mean that this album falls short of being a classic.