A Short History on the Hardcore-Thrash Fusion Known as Crossover
Band Photo: Metallica (?)
Beefy funny man, Billy Milano once said “Skinheads and bangers and punks stand as one Crossover to a final scene.” This insight he offered on S.O.D.’s 1985 release “Speak English or Die” would serve as a rallying cry for hardcore punks and metal heads to come together. Not only did this song help create a mindset for bringing together two scenes; it also constructed a formula for the two styles to merge. Known simply as metalcore or crossover, the term came to describe how hardcore bands added metal’s solos and heft to their arrangements, while thrash absorbed the speed, attitude and brevity of hardcore to their compositions.
Milano also claimed “It’s not the way you wear your hair, it’s what’s inside of you.” Even though these words ring true twenty-seven years after publication, and so often we see the two lines blurring together, hair styles have pretty much remained the same (minus poodle hair and mullets). Short hair, often bald or spiky, is still relegated to punks, while long hair is a feature of head bangers. Regardless of attitude and opposition to the mainstream, many punks and metal heads prefer to segregate.
After hearing an inspiring hardcore/crossover album from "The Casualties" and attending festivals such as Fun Fun Fun Fest and Chaos in Tejas that mesh metal and hardcore in the last year, I felt the need to research and write an article on the history of this topic. Through the usual resource of the Internet, Ian Christe’s book “Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal” and a first person source, I hope to shed light on this phenomenon. In the following article, we will look at the interchangeable qualities of punk and metal, as well as delving into each style’s social constraints. We will look at the bands that started this movement and analyze how the art form has evolved. Ready yourself for a crash course on punk-thrash crossover movement.
Bands hailing from Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip were the commodity of not only L.A. but the whole of America. Motley Crue, Poison and L.A. Guns were flashy, colorful and appealing to mainstream radio and television. This being so, the jeans-n-tee look and aggressive stance taken by the thrash artists in the area wasn’t conducive to the Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Metallica couldn’t find gigs in their home area of LA, so they started playing in the San Francisco area and subsequently moved there in 1983. Considering their disenchantment with the scene, it’s no surprise L.A. thrashers such as Slayer, Hirax and later, Megadeth felt more comfortable in the hardcore scenes than the “metal” scenes of the time.
Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag and Circle Jerks were among the hardcore acts that influenced L.A. thrashers. Black Flag’s conflict with L.A.’s metal scene was chronicled in the Misfit’s boxset biography. Ex-Danzig and Samhain member, Eerie Von in the writes, “In 1982, The Misfits toured for “Walk Among Us. Before a show at Whisky A-Go-Go with Black Flag, Glenn Danzig and Henry Rollins chased “some Sunset Strip, cock-rock band named Motley Crue down the street.”
Hardcore transformed punk rock into a faster, meaner beast. Bands such as the Misfits from Lodi, New Jersey, Bad Brains from Washington D.C. and Negative Approach from Detroit, Michigan initiated this new, angry form of music. A second wave of acronym-and-initial-titled bands such as GBH, SNFU, MDC and D.R.I. sprung up in the mid ‘80s. The film “American Hardcore” lists 1986 as the end of hardcore. If this year signified the end of hardcore, it welcomed the age of crossover/metalcore.
Metallica was instrumental in bringing hardcore and metal together. Due to a constant diet of Samhain and The Misfits pushed on them by bassist Cliff Burton, Metallica released “Garage Days Re-Revisited” in 1987. Metallica aimed a spotlight at The Misfits when they covered “Green Hell” and “Last Caress” on said EP, which came after The Misfit’s demise in 1984. Playing live versions of these covers brought so much attention to The Misfits that Rick Rubin encouraged Danzig to split Samhain and start his solo project, one that still exists today. In the meantime, facets of the punk movement such as moshing and stage diving became par for the course at thrash shows. In 1988, Exodus (“The Toxic Walz”) and Testament (“Into the Pit”) penned legendary songs about moshing.
Due to New York City’s large hardcore scene where clubs such as CBGB’s began to mingle hardcore and metal, The Big Apple became a major site for “crossing over.” Anthrax members Scott Ian and Charlie Benante rejoined with ex-bassist Danny Lilker to form S.O.D.—Stormtroopers of Death. Front man and former Psychos bassist, Billy Milano imbued the act with a sense of toughness and humor. Each track on the group’s 1985 debut “Speak English or Die” was a tempo blur (Benante has been credited with inventing the blast beat here) that often lasted less than a minute. Its twenty-one tracks clocked in at only 28-minutes. These short tracks spawned a tradition that’s especially noticeable today.
Al Del Barrio has fronted his hardcore/crossover band Confused since the early ‘80s. According to his personal testimony, Texas was similar to New York in their welcoming hardcore and thrash into the same venues. Edinburg, Texas, a town near Barrio’s border town of McAllen, featured a venue called The Sun Palace.
Barrio states, “The scene down there was not big, but Austin, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston would bring their talent down to The Valley (to The Sun Palace). Confused was around in the early ‘80s and we would actually open for these bands. The promoter gave us a boast and wanted to build a scene. You had the Fart Blossoms, Confused, Disgust, Anastasia, Mucous Membranes and Severance, who were death metal. We were inspired to start a scene.”
Barrio continues, “There was no fighting (between punks and metal heads). We were a unit. When these shows went on there was a mix of death metal, thrash, hardcore and punk. Everybody played together to build a bigger scene. Nobody ever got violent or aggressive over stuff like that. The unity made the scene bigger, the shows bigger and made it interesting. D.R.I. was definitely a big influence on Texas crossover and thrash bands. Because of the style they had, everybody wanted to be a D.R.I. I think our style is between Cryptic Slaughter, Minor Threat and a little D.R.I.”
Barrio’s testimony brought up a good point, a point that promoters have heeded yet have not always produced successful results. His point was that his scene grew due to several types of crowds coming together. It’s important to note how the blending of these scenes led to not only hardcore influencing metal but vice versa. Suicidal Tendencies incorporated melody and metallic groove to a greater extent on their third album “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today.” Circle Jerks slowed down and beefed up their riffs. Neurosis, C.O.C. and Cro-Mags all began to flirt with metal. Of course, history has shown us that Neurosis and C.O.C. jumped head first into metal, although C.O.C. recently revisited crossover elements on their self-titled record.
If hardcore was a ‘80s phenomenon then crossover certainly fits that mold, too. The explosion those bands experienced in the ‘80s petered out in the ‘90s. However, thanks to labels such as Victory Records, hardcore and crossover began to remerge in the later part of the decade with bands such as Earth Crisis, Warzone, Integrity and Hatebreed. These bands slowed down hardcore’s dizzying tempos and added a metallic crunch that would come to define metalcore in the new millennium.
Shadows Fall was one of the most important artists from this period. Although they originated from the East Coast hardcore scene (Springfield), they fused the new breakdown-heavy style of hardcore with melodic death metal and thrash from Sweden with harmonious chorus lines. They meshed hardcore’s tough-guy vocals with pop singing. Other bands to follow suit were Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, Atreyu, and Unearth. Some of these bands such as Avenged Sevenfold were the anti-thesis to ‘80s crossover and hardcore, and in essence recreated the glamorous music hardcore and thrash originally rallied against. Hardcore dancing (real dancing), and the fashion—short, sweep-over hairdos, tight pants and other facets of the “new” hardcore movement caused strife between young and old. Older metal heads and punks still wore the traditional fashions and abhorred the new trends.
With metalcore, punk and metal cycled backwards, but as most cycles go, some things were definitely different this time around. When Virginia thrashers Municipal Waste released “Hazardous Mutation” on Earache Records, crossover revealed it’s original, rapid-fire design to a whole new generation. Taking the party-vibe of bands such as Murphy’s Law and the jaded attack of Cryptic Slaughter, Municipal Waste opened avenues for not only young, new crossover bands but also underground thrash. Bands such as Evile, Bonded By Blood, Vektor, Warbringer, Mercyful Death and Toxic Holocaust burst into the scene in a way that mimicked thrash’s initial explosion.
Few metal bands have found Metallica-like success, but one thing that keeps metal afloat is experimentation. Since the early days of crossover, metal has combined with just about every type of music found in the world. From classical to folk to rap to Jazz to combining about every type of music that exists, metal has changed and will continue to change. Just like all fads in this country, though, metal will always return to previous styles. New York City hardcore’s influence on metal should not be understated. Decibel magazine recently inducted Sick of It All into its Hall of Fame.
While this article is by no means a complete history of the relationship between metal and hardcore, I hope it does show the importance of metal and hardcore’s relationship. Some fans will always stay divided. That’s fine because their reluctance is due to a simple matter of taste. However, putting aside differences such as fashion should be important for opening doors to more gigs and a bigger scene.
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