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THE GRINDFATHER: CLEARING MISCONCEPTIONS OF GRINDCORE
In a very arrogant claim that really over steps my boundary as just another overly enthusiastic fan of music come self appointed crusader, I am going to suggest that, by the metal community, grind is at times grossly misunderstood or wrongly attributed. I don’t mean this in the sense that grind is too complex for you to comprehend; merely that given its unique nature and differentiation of character the rule sets and values one holds true for metal are not the same for grindcore – much in the same way we can see a clear distinction between opera and metal. Firstly, I want to stress that I am no authority, and much like anything in music, much of it is subjective and any solid acceptance of understanding is done more through consensus than universal acceptance, and thus the opinions I express are merely my own – but I feel there is much merit to them.
So lets clear up some misconceptions. If you find them glaringly obvious and already part of your overall understanding then good for you, but “better safe than sorry” is not only an approach we adopt in the rampant international orgies we staffers indulge in at The Monolith via Skype (don’t ask), but a philosophy to avoid any confusion.
1. Grind ≠ Metal
Starting with an obvious one, but a truth I myself was unaware of when I first got into grind many years ago is that grindcore is not an extension of metal; myself falling victim many a year back to the Myspace description tags, which listed grind bands under the heavy metal category. I will not be so foolish as to deny that metal has its place as a heuristic factor in the influence of grind, but by all rights and attributions grindcore is an extremity of punk. It was born from punk, and despite its far reaching and constant development the very foundations of it are still undeniably punk. Even your more metallicised grind bands – epitomised in the Relapse Records roster which are increasingly popular as a gateway between grind and metal – still hold dear the musical fashionings and influences punk afforded them.
A great example of putting this in action would be giving first incarnation Napalm Death‘s FETO demo a listen (purely extreme punk), followed by their seminal genre defining album Scum (arguably the first grind album, although retroactively I personally believe prior releases by other actors may now be classified as grind). In doing so, you will see not only do you witness the significance of the punk platform, but of that extra factor that differentiates grind.
2. Genre Autonomy
Pretty obvious and linked with the previous point: grindcore is its own genre. “BUT YOU JUST SAID GRINDCORE IS AN EXTENSION OF PUNK!” Yes I did, but that doesn’t prevent it from being its own separate entity. Music evolves, and grind is a departure from traditional musical norms with a basis in punk in the same way that we treat the blues, rock and metal as separate entities, despite being inherently linked and dependent on one another in a top down perspective. The sheer diversity of it, and the development of its own standards alone qualifies it alone as its own thing. I have never been one to comprehend the finer points of musical theory, but I am sure such a field can offer a more solid reasoning for this claim.
Once again I doubt any of you are arguing to the contrary, but for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, a more dastardly person might throw a spanner in the reasoning and bring up the whole issue of crust punk, and why crusty grind is just a harder hitting version of it. However much alike the evolutionary process many independent but genetically linked strains are developed (some of which the development can occur in parallel, other times border line cases are hard to qualify as there is no fixed standard of what is and isn’t something), each song should be taken on its own merits. A great example of seeing just how hard it can be to decide in what side of the camp a release falls under would be Siege‘s landmark release Drop Dead. Most classify it as a protogrinding wonder, setting much in the way of standards and blueprints for grind to follow – but itself falling just shy of being grind itself.
3. The Need For Excess
If grind ever had a motto, Earache tyrant Digby Pearson’s “Still not loud enough; still not fast enough” would be pretty much it. Generally, the three defining factors of grind are its speed, heaviness and loudness. Although each factor are undeniably at the core of grindcore in general, I personally would add another two qualifiers to the equation: firstly, the rejection of musical norms, ranging from the use of micro songs, rejection of the standard verse and chorus, integration of noise and distortion to name but a few.
Secondly, and in my books most importantly, there must be a discordant edge to the overall sound. This identifier is by-and-large inter-linked with the other factors, but is also dependent on the song writing, and sensitive to the arrangement of the elements in motion. It basically forms the emotional link between listener and music, and gives grind its distinct character. Ironically, its atainment may be a wide range of non-exhaustive variety of emotional outputs, from the dystopian clamor of Suffering Mind to the adrenaline inducing fits of Gridlink‘s technical mastery. Hard to explain, but to me listening to grind is meant to feel abrasive and wrong – yet in a very natural way.
Needless to say, with the exception of the last threshold, all the others are not absolute, and there is no definitive equation into how to achieve grindcore in a systematic approach. We have slow songs like the infamous Pig Destroyer’s “Natasha“; we have soft songs like the ambient weirdness of “Gigantic Brain”; and we have those that follow musical norms. Once again, each song must be taken on its own merits.
4. Grindcore ≠Noise
Grindcore is noisy, but it certainly isn’t noise. What differentiates music from noise is a field of philosophy upon itself, but grindcore most certainly is a form of music, and believe it or not, is often rich in detail and taxing on skills. What may appear to the ear – untrained or not – as a mess of noise is in fact a complex mass of fast paced riffs, blasts and howls, often blurred together due to their fast and loud nature. The prime culprit for this, in fact, is usually the poor recording quality. Personally I love it that way; beefing up a singularity of character that I feel other genres can’t offer, whilst still granting potential for components to shine individually, or a more complex interpolation of elements to play with or off one another.
5. Understanding Powerviolence, Grindcore and Fastcore
These three genres are heavily merged, with artists expressing them simultaneously, but ultimately they are separate in nature from a purely classificational point of view (which although a somewhat redundant and closed minded way of looking at things – with fixed boundaries – they do serve as a great tool in finding similar artists to check out and understanding music in general). Although the key to differentiating these forms of music rests heavily on listening to plenty of them – where distinguishing them becomes natural based on feel – a quick verbal breakdown will be as such.
Grindcore: some encompassment of the criteria laid out in point 3: speed, heaviness, loudness, unorthodoxy and discordance. (Examples: Insect Warfare, Discordance Axis, Agathocles)
Powerviolence: Industrial strength punk, more abrasive and noisy, a strong penchant for tempo changes, and then there are the amazing but paradigm defying acts like Man is the Bastard. (Spazz, Infest, Weekend Nachos)
Fastcore: pretty self explanatory, but basically really fast punk (Backslider, Quattro Stagioni, Hellnation)
This one is a hard one to explain, and on its own deserves a lengthy exploration, but I will strive to cover some of the main points.
It’s less of a crusade for ethical purity in the genre, but more a promotion of socio-politics and DIY ethic. This is a legacy from punk still very strong in grind, with the music often serving as a platform to promote and inform certain concepts that denounce social inequity, corporate greed and war to name a few. Lyrics and imagery are crucial to this. Of course, musically grind is grind regardless of rhetoric – Anal Cunt being a prime example of overblown insensitive satire – but diffusion of such morales through cultural means gives grind much of its history and character.
Starting with a popular one: the separation between grind and ”false grind”, although being an elitist notion, is far from snobbery. To different people “false grind” entails a set of possible culprits: non-grinding music wrongly attributed to grind, gore/porno grind, and those that advocate or commit what is perceived to be immoral under punk conscience. So let’s break down the understanding of each one:
- Music wrongly labelled grind: the biggest cuprit is the deathcore scene, which if I let the intolerant half of me get the better, I must confess is perhaps some of the most terrible music I have ever heard; terrible musicians going to great excess to get a ‘brutal’ sound going, which feels flat, artificial and plain old boring. Regardless of whether like myself you find a certain drollness to it, or a like to it, there is no debate that its music does not constitute grind, therefore no elitism, just common sense. For those of you who remember the Myspace days of music, with the advent of deathcore and related genres, there was a lot of confusion for those not versed in grind as to whether those bands formed part of the grindosphere or not. Now we know better, but at the time it was important to define the boundaries of musical identity.
- Gore/porn, aside from mostly being sub par music, is based in shock rather than any substance. Many people (myself included) find that the overt use of sexism and relish of horrific scenarios to be distasteful. The sting with it is less about how offensive it is, but as a theme it seems rather degenerate and skews the emphasis away from the musical enrichment to a ludicrous set of fetishistic absurdities.
- Immoral grind overlaps with the gore/porn themes of sexism and glorification of rape. Although I am well aware that its more of a lyrical bombshell than a held belief, regrettably there are some grind bands who openly advocate racism and other forms of social inequity, which aside from being morally reprehensible, defies much of the social ethos grind encapsulates. There are a few bands who advocate religious grind – not grind as a religion (however awesome that might be), but the promotion of a religion via grind. Although we respect peoples’ rights to religion, we tend to be atheist/agnostic and find it generally out of character.
- Scion controversy: this one proved especially hard for the metal community to understand. I for one didn’t really mind too much about grind bands being given the use of recording studio time obligation free, as well as the free production of distribution of that release, but I can certainly understand why it upset so many people as it did. Grind for the most part is a DIY effort. Being a profit making entity for someone else and subsequently owning the intellectual property to your works goes against not only the DIY ethic, but does away with the notions that music belongs to the cultural sphere – instead placing it into private ownership. The Scion one is a bit more complex than that, as there is no direct financial gain from Scion, and no obligations of contracts placed upon the artists to owning their music, but there are considerations that the money which paved the way for it were done so with a disregard for human rights, the environment and corporate greed. Not only that, but Scion was in a tight financial situation, and rather than investing that money in sustaining their workforce or keeping the industry alive, they squandered it on a musical project which has no significance to their role, and probably the worst subversive advertising campaign ever. There is also a great issue about what this means for the DIY community, about which Profane Existence offers a very fair exploration of both sides here.
In short, grind places much stock on the value of ethics and the application of them. It is not ideological indoctrination or a holier-than-thou ethos; merely a continuation of a tradition of expressing certain ideas through the medium of the music that by and large makes up the majority of grinds’ ranks. Perhaps it is ideal that the harsh rumbles of grind run parallel (mood wise) to the verbal spews of grind.