Myriad musical phrases and techniques have earned imitators: What would punk be without Johnny Ramone's buzzing, frantic downstroke, or metal without Dave Lombardo's thunderous double bass-drum kicks?
But when Discharge drummer Terry "Tezz" Roberts punched the accelerator with a syncopated backbeat already familiar to Motörhead fans, he spawned an entire subgenre. That short, barreling drum phrase—the d-beat—afforded Discharge albums their martial urgency and unrelenting momentum. For decades, it's cropped up in punk and metal bands wherever that sort of music exists; once again, it seems to be the loud rock flavor du jour.
A decade ago, Southern Lord Records—the metal-plus imprint helmed by Sunn O)))'s Greg Anderson—branded itself with the tagline "Let there be doom," a reference to the low, slow marches that became synonymous with the label. For the past two years, though, Southern Lord's catalog has embraced both hardcore pioneers such as Poison Idea, The Accüsed and Corrosion of Conformity, and the punk-fueled newcomers that comprise the label's summer showcase tour: Black Breath, Martyrdöd, Burning Love, Enabler and Dead in the Dirt.
That's a substantial shift for the label, but it's not necessarily unique: Consistently cutting-edge imprints like Deathwish Inc. and Hydra Head all boast punk-metal headliners these days. Deathwish's Trap Them uses punk's streamlined intensity to deliver focused bursts of aggression. Hydra Head's Split Cranium—which features members of prog-metal weirdos Circle and Isis leader Aaron Turner—turns d-beat into the springboard for anthemic blasts. But Southern Lord has committed to the d-beat resurgence most enthusiastically.
"The label sort of kind of follows some of the ebbs and flows of my personal tastes and what I'm getting really into at the moment," Anderson explained in January, shortly before his label released a collection of early Poison Idea recordings. "I'm not really necessarily concerned with what genre it falls under or what sub-sub- sub-genre it falls under. It's more about whether it's an intense kickass record, kickass band."
In terms of tempo, this new hardcore-inspired direction is a stark contrast to the glacial pace of the label's longtime staples, but it's not altogether alien. Before Sunn O))) or his Thorr's Hammer, or at the peak of the mid-'80s crossover movement, Anderson played in hardcore bands. At that moment, fervently separate punk and metal scenes realized they shared interests—namely the propulsive blasts of Discharge and their disciples. That momentum launched bands such as COC and Suicidal Tendencies beyond niche status and fueled the sound of thrash metal's Big Four: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica.
The d-beat provided an ideal bridge between the visceral rumblings of extreme metal and the frenzied rush of hardcore punk for this new wave of American metal. Musicians in South America, Scandinavia and Japan marched to the d-beat, too. In terms of overall influence, Discharge now ranks among the most important British punk exports, behind only The Sex Pistols and The Clash.
But historical significance rarely carries over to contemporary relevance. Imitation must turn into innovation, and within the strict aesthetic codification of underground punk and metal, d-beat has mostly maintained its purity. Some acts, like Wilmington's No Tomorrow, manage to invigorate d-beat by sheer force of will. Others expand the narrow scope, bending the sound to new ends. Among Southern Lord's crust-spackled new recruits, two make the most worthy d-beat flag-bearers. Seattle's Black Breath uses the rhythm to drive low-end thunder into songs that beg for audience participation. The band's sophomore album, Sentenced to Life, sprints for 33 minutes through a minefield of sudden shout-along breaks and short-fuse mosh-starters. Sweden's Martyrdöd has indirect ties to melodic pioneers At the Gates and direct ones to crust-punks Skitsystem; on this year's Paranoia, d-beat propels broad guitar hooks and steers low, growling vocals toward something bigger and bolder than its pedigree.
In short, as Anderson might put it, both kick ass.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Crust-stuffed."