From Crossover To Metalcore: The Genesis Of A Genre
How hardcore punk and heavy metal fused into something beautiful
Last year Agnostic Front's timeless Victim In Pain album turned 30, this year the great hopes of British metal While She Sleeps will release their new album. Those two events, bands and albums, may not appear to have much in common, but they do. In a way they are the opposing ends of a strand of heavy music that has evolved, peaked, nosedived, been mocked, misunderstood, adored and survived in the intervening time since punks and metalheads took those first tentative steps towards each other decades ago. And with metalcore rising once again we take a deeper look at one of the most divisive movements of our world.
The link between punk rock and heavy metal is clear for anyone to see. It's there in Jeff Hanneman's love of Crass and The Dead Kennedys, Cliff Burton sporting a Misfits t-shirt way back when and in the crossover thrash of DRI, Suicidal Tendencies and Cro-Mags. These were bands whose fans frequented a skate scene that would happily play Black Sabbath AND Minor Threat on stereos around skateparks. Sure you'd struggle to find a Clash fan at a Judas Priest concert, and vice-versa, but as punk became heavier and metal became faster the two began to assimilate in the mid-80s. Listening with fresh ears it's hard to know just where to put an album like Cro-Mags' Age Of Quarrel. Visually and aesthetically they were resolutely a hardcore band, but the music is undeniably metallic. Even in 1986 the lines were beginning to blur.
As the '80s turned into the '90s, the popularity of alternative culture drove both traditionally-minded metal and hardcore even further underground – with labels such as Victory and Roadrunner happily signing bands from either camp. Roadrunner in particular had an eclectic roster that featured death metal legends Obituary and Deicide rubbing shoulders with uber-positive, Krishnacore pioneers Shelter. They also released albums by New York hardcore exponents Madball and Biohazard, who both crossed over into metal territories. But the band that created the blueprint for metalcore as we know it today were Vision Of Disorder. Their first album had seen them tour with Sick Of It All and other NYHC peers, but on their second album, 1998's stunning Imprint, they tore up the rule book, made the riffs more technical, the songs more brutal and the approach more metal. They still looked and played like a hardcore band, but as they toured the US alongside Ozzy, Machine Head, Pantera, Fear Factory and the rest of the '98 Ozzfest package, your average metal fan would find plenty to enjoy in their monstrous aural assault. They weren't the only ones either, Integrity have long been considered the first band to be called metalcore, combining a clattering punk rock fury into massive metallic riffs and lyrics about religion and the occult. They never enjoyed the same level of commercial success as VOD but pioneered an approach that was rife in the underground punk scene as the '90s drew to a close.