Many, many moons ago I used to write for a magazine you’ve never heard of. My editor had a curious theory: Rock and roll had hit the wall during the 77-era of punk. It’s not that he didn’t like music made since then. On the contrary, he was a huge Nirvana fan and was a mainstay on the American hardcore scene of the early 1980s. It’s that rock and roll could only get so fast and heavy before it ceased being rock and roll and started being something else.
I respectfully disagree. It’s true that many strains of rock music are too damn tight to allow for the little shimmy-and-wiggle action that puts the “roll” in “rock and roll.” Greg Ginn discovered this during Black Flag’s early days. He compensated by making everyone play at one-quarter speed during rehearsals, working their way up to the mid-tempo hardcore the band’s post-My War years. Motörhead, on the other hand, are a prime example of a band playing music both heavier and faster than punk with more than enough swing in its step to properly be called “rock and roll.”
It’s been over half my life that I’ve listened to heavy music. An obsession with grindcore and powerviolence marked my teen years. As I got older, however, my tastes became more refined. I’ve always been into every different kind of music, but as I grew older, my palate became more sophisticated. One thing that I began to notice was that little shimmy-shake that gives rock and roll its edge. You can keep that little wiggle no matter how fast and heavy you have to play it. The following albums are proof of that.
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
I’ve deliberately selected an obvious choice everyone has heard to start off. Compare the record to the other early Metallica masterpieces like Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. The tempo isn’t much different, but the rhythm has a bit of looseness to it. The solos are firmly rooted in the blues scale, eschewing obsessions with Phrygian dominant and harmonic minor scales that plague later works. What you’ve got is Motörhead on meth.
- Motörhead – Iron Fist
- Megadeth – Killing Is My Business…
- Testament – The Legacy
Beowülf – Beowülf
Out of the pedestrian and into the truly obscure: This might be the best record you’ve never heard. You’d never mistake this record for anything but a heavy metal record, all phrases like “crossover” and “Venice thrash” notwithstanding. The chunky guitar, chug-a-lugging guitar has a sound with more swing in it than a Cab Calloway career retrospective.
- Excel – Split Image
- Despise You – West Side Horizon
- D.R.I. – Thrash Zone
Tank – Filth Hounds of Hades
The singer, bassist and mastermind of Tank is none other than Algy Ward, he of The Damned’s Machine Gun Ettiquette. Tank were often compared to Motörhead. Both bands were power trios fronted by bassists playing music possibly more punk than metal. This record exemplifies everything that was great about the New Wave of Heavy Metal and set the stage for just about every crossover thrash band that would appear over the next ten years.
- Tygers of Pan Tang – Wild Cat
- Girlschool – Hit and Run
- Sweet Savage – Killing Time
Discharge – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing
It somewhat astounds me that there are people who haven’t heard this record in 2011. To call Discharge a “punk” band is to grossly oversimplify the matter. Discrharge are the UK hardcore band. Legions of bands from Japan to Brazil, but most notably Sweden, immediately took a cue from this record. The fuzzed-out guitars and breakneck pace are firmly rooted in the punk lexicon, but point the way toward newer, heavier, rawer sounds on the horizon.
- Venom – Black Metal
- Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
- Dischange – Seeing Feeling Bleeding
Inepsy – City Weapons
Somewhere along the line, d-beat (Discharge beat — a term attesting to the deep influence the band had) bands started loving Motörhead as much as Discharge. Inepsy are part of a new wave of heavy rock bands that see a doomed future for humanity as a reason to rock. Listen for the pitter-patter of tastefully placed double bass drum and blues-influenced heavy metal riffing on every track.
- Children of Technology – It’s Time to Face the Doomsday
- Disfear – Misanthropic Generation
- Genocide SS – Hail the New Storm