Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crossover (or: Dirty Rotten Hybrids)

The changing weather that accompanies the months of March and April do more than simply usher out the cold and rain. In addition to longer days and sunnier climes, it also sparks a changing of moods. I suspect that it always has, but in my younger years I was too preoccupied with living fast 365 to actually notice. Mellower me, however, definitely has a handle on the various emotive distinctions that less cold and cloud-driven misery plays in my life.

Beyond providing an elated response to risen temps and an all around desire to stay in the light, it highly compels my music listening habits. While Fall and Winter tend to be reserved for genres like black metal and death metal and everything downtrodden and depressive, once I get that bit of sun during the first whiffs of Spring, I reach for things more upbeat. Spring and summer present those months where I want to slam my skull to the destructive power of grindcore and power violence. Or raise my fist to the sing-along anthems of crust and d-beat driven hardcore. Maybe, as the title of this piece suggests, intensively rage to the vitriol of thrash and crossover.

So then, considering the date and rise in temperature and the noticeably less gloomy Seattle days, I present my choice for the ten best crossover albums within my terribly opinionated library of listening. Editorial to say the least, and not really objective, these records, while often politically sophisticated are my favorite moments of vitriolic fun the genre has to offer.

10. Cryptic Slaughter - Money Talks (Restless/Death Records 1987)

This album just rules, flat out. From the bass sound to the wailing chug of the guitars and reverbed drums it's a blazing crescendo of Reagan era political incorrectness and snotty subversiveness. The vocals kind of epitomize the era, blending the snide sneers and leers of punk with the more brazen verbal scowls of thrash at the time. It's also fast as hell, and entirely decipherable, a trait that eluded groups like Siege or Heresy who peddled similar messages but without any of the fun.

9. Dayglo Abortions - Feed Us a Fetus (Fringe Product 1986)

This album has no agenda other than rabble-rousing and glorifying the irreverent. It's snide and hysterical, tongue in cheek and unremittingly hilarious. Sing along vocals about offensive nonsense with stirring and anthemic metallic punk that rivaled the best crossover had offered up to that point. The production here is a thing of the times, and doesn't suffer for it at all. Furious guitar playing and a rhythm section that basically never stops. And that cover art... amazing.

8. Attitude Adjustment - American Paranoia (Pusmort 1986)

Attitude Adjustment's second album is also their best in my opinion. It's quick and metallic and harsh. The exact middle point of crossover in its purest form, kind of defining the genre in its time. Brazen lyrics driven by a contemptuous sneer that pass for vocals, chanted choruses and plenty of bass solo breaks to break up the relentlessness of the album. The guitar playing is sloppy and the distortion just sounds like someone turned the dial all the way up on a ProCo Rat, but that also works to give the instrumentation a good deal of its charm. Mandatory West-Coast crossover for sure.

7. Corrosion of Conformity - Animosity (Death Records 1985)

Looking over this list retrospectively and at those entries to come, CoC's second long player is probably the most blatantly metal of the bunch. That makes sense considering the direction they went after the Technocracy EP with Blind. Animosity is 26 minutes of the most high octane thrashed out punk you could find in '85. Just a swirling and raging morass of assaulting riffage and thundering basslines, pounding drums of death and snarled vokills with energy and spite to share. Gang vocals? Check... Moshing breakdowns? Double check... Over-zealous anti-religious anarchistic subject matter? Triple check. This album is the whole goddamn package.

6. English Dogs - Forward Into Battle (Combat Core 1985)

You would never know from Forward Into Battle that English Dogs' original sound was more akin to the straight ahead gutter punk of GBH, the Exploited, or Broken Bones. Not to say there aren't punk rock elements left behind here... There are vestiges of it all over the record, most notably Adie Bailey's vocals. But instrumentally this is pure speed metal. Razor sharp and melodically epic, it just fucking shreds. Start to finish, whether we're talking about the killer guitar, slamming bass, or battering wardrums. Not lyrically political in the least, the Vallejo cover art just pushes this project over the top and it's completely awesome.

5. Septic Death - Crossed Out Twice (Bacteria Sour 1999)

Crossed Out Twice collects the entirety of Septic Death's back catalog spanning the years from 1984 well into the 90's, Pushead's band and flagbearer for Pusmort Records pushed punk rock into metallic territory before just about anyone. The whole of their back catalog a spastic blur of frenzied guitar, pronounced and measured basswork, and the crashing tumult of drums. Pushead's sneering vocal delivery is a huge high point, and he's been imitated by everyone from Infest to Darkthrone's Fenriz. Added to the incredible accompanying artwork from Pushead himself, this is a cohesively atmospheric slab of neck breaking vitriol.

4. Dr Know - Wreckage in Flesh (Death Records 1988)

Yes, take in that cover art... So gloriously terrible. It's up there with None Shall Defy by Infernal Majesty and Shotgun Justice by Razor. Musically, though, this album kills. A furious delivery of snide social commentary disguised as metal as fuck allegory. The vocals are as distinct if not more so than the above by Septic Death, and most definitely an acquired taste, but damn if it doesn't suit the music. A rabid melting pot of supreme thrash riffs, unfortunately by-the-numbers bass playing, and awesomely bombastic pummeling drums. It's not my absolute favorite, but when I think of crossover epitomized, it comes down to this record. From the epic "Mastermind" and "City Wheels" to the apocalypse of "Rise", it doesn't get much better.

3. Excel - Split Image (Caroline Records 1987)

Excel got written off a lot back in the day as a Suicidal Tendencies clone. Playing straight ahead thrash driven crossover, Split Image actually manages to better a lot of Excel's peers at the time. The riffs here are monstrous and sharp as hell, with a deep bass that balances both the guitar and drums, which aren't exceptional, but have a really great sound both indicative of the era and driving the album tracks forward. The vocals may need to grow on listeners. Dan Clements sounds like a bratty teenager cramming stream of conscious politics and societal disparagement into his lyrics, but they really fit well with the whole package. Southern Lord rereleased this lost classic last year, and it's presentation is killer.

2. Christ on Parade - Sounds of Nature (Pusmort 1985)

Christ on Parade's debut EP is definitely more hardcore punk then it is metal, but it blurs the line in the same vein as Portland's Final Warning or Bay Area thrashers Crucifix or Final Conflict. The guitar work is equal parts Motorhead driven hyper blues and Discharged to shit crust, a buzzsaw twang with metallic reverb that will resonate while you bang your head. Bass is high in the mix, and better for it, afforded subtle flourishes that help it to stand out against the raging backdrop. Drums are sloppy and explosive, just as you'd expect. In all honesty, were it not for how young I was when I was first exposed to this album, it would not be so high on my list, but nostalgia is a bitch and this whole article is far from objective.

1. DRI - Crossover (Metal Blade 1987)

Of course it comes down to this record. While the style had been in circulation for a few years, no one had actually coined a term for the genre before DRI put this album to wax, and damn if they didn't do it better than anyone before them. From the world ending riff in the intro to "Five Year Plan" to the pulse quickening armageddon of "Oblivion" the whole album is a journey to the crossroads where punk rock meets thrash as fuck metal extremity. Kurt's might-as-well-be trademarked vocals  are the definition of the style, backed up by the phenomenal riffs and shredding of Spike, whose name should be known by pretty much anyone with even a passing interest in crossover. Josh Pappe's bass is ploddingly measured and low as hell, afforded solos here and there that exemplify him as a player in the genre. And the final piece of the puzzle, Felix Griffin's drumming is absolutely savage. A devastating battery of assaulting pounding and stomping. There are no bad songs here, no filler. Every track is just as vital and mandatory as the preceding and like any classic, as timeless now as it was back then. Essential.

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