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As an ethos, punks hate metal. As a reality, punks love metal. The problem with reality, as far as I see it, is that many punks love the wrong metal. For a long time, after the pre-teen experience many of my generation shared, of headbanging to Metallica, as a punk, I was resolutely uninterested in metal. Any experimental forays in the genre resulted in disappointment. Now older and wiser, I still fail to understand the fascination many punks have with the majority of metal out there. I mean, let’s face it (back to the ethos part), it’s moronic, commercial, overproduced, and moronic. Thankfully for thirty-something punks not willing to spend hours trading tapes with basement-dwelling longhairs in acid-washed jeans named Dieter, Al Gore invented the Internet. My previous experience of hearing supposedly awesome metal that actually sucked has been replaced by the experience of hearing supposedly terrible metal that actually sucks—in just the way I can appreciate: lo-fi, primitive, unpolished, simple, aggressive, uncommercial, and moronic. Thank Satan for South America.
Anyway, 1985–1986 was, as far as I can tell, to death metal what 1980–1981 was to hardcore (though this analogy has some problems we’ll leave aside for another discussion). It was the period of experimentation and of simultaneous discovery in separate geographical domains of the same form, which would coalesce into death metal. But before it became death metal as such—while taking influence from the tangle of hardcore, speed metal, crossover, thrash, etc.—it was much more exciting, in my opinion. Though not everything featured on this mixtape is from those years, some of the best primitive, ultra-fast, and unimaginably aggressive metal is. Consider this mixtape both an introduction to the invention of death metal and a sampler of some of the most primitive and ugly metal of the 1980s, two fields that would overlap in a Venn diagram.
To begin, White Hell, from Japan, with a member or two from New Zealand, is a perfect example of the Shit-Fi aesthetic: completely accidental greatness. These Venom-worshipping lads made it so close but remained so far. What more do you need to know beyond the ultra-(not)-menacing lyric “I wear the cross dirty, filthy, and upside down”? Recorded in one take, methinks. The band received a mention in a Japan scene report by Roger Armstrong in MRR #26. Next up is Exorcist from Poland, a country with a surprisingly strong metal scene in the mid-80s. This band is the best one, as far as I can tell. More on the thrash tip but without the “good” production endemic to that style, this ripper is from their 87 demo. Hadez from Peru is a recent discovery for me, but their 86 demo, “Guerreros de la Muerte,” might be one of the finest achievements of primitive South American metal. It certainly gives some Brazilian contemporaries a run for their money in the speed and brutality departments. Though not quite at the level of Parabellum, Hadez nonetheless is transcendent and essential for fans of extreme music of any genre. One of the first US metal bands to release a record that would today be recognized as primitive and proto–death metal was Black Task. Their 4-song 12" has been a collector classic for a decade at least, with more and more scums catching on. Luckily, an official reissue is on its way soon. Insanity, Archenemy, and FCDN Tormentor constitute the classic California trifecta of underground inventors of death metal, as far as I’m concerned. That’s the order of quality, too. FCDN Tormentor was the least innovative, but they were ultra-fast and very crude. Warhammer, with Shane Embury of Napalm Death, was the first death metal band in the UK, and a lo-fi one at that. At this point, the underground metal tape-trading circuit and the hardcore punk tape-trading circuit had significant overlap, as zines from the UK of the period demonstrate. From New Jersey, Savage Death was another of the inventors of death metal, with their 1985 demo, where this ripper originates. Lace up high-tops, condition long hair, watch porno, drink 12-pack of Busch, listen to Savage Death, fight guidos in the 7-11 parking lot—all in a day’s work for NJ metallists circa 1985. Virtually no information is available about Sons of War from Brazil, but “Fuck Off or Die” from 1986, ostensibly recorded live, is a prime cut of early Brazilian death-thrash, with ultra-fast drumming, thin guitars, and all-around primitive, violent mayhem. The two volumes of the “Warfare Noise” compilation would lead many in Brazil to call this type of brutality “war metal.” Now that your ears are beginning to suffer repetitive stress injuries, it’s time to get real. Dead, from Florida, who released the “Musical Abortions” demo in 1986 set a new standard in ultra-rough, totally unhindered by talent, shit-fi metal. Few who are not readers of Shit-Fi would likely appreciate this, well, musical abortion. Check the review on Metal Archives: “Before going ahead with the review I'd like to point out that I myself am a fan of very raw, primitive music on the occasion. I am fully aware of the purposes and goals of such a style of production and composition, and I can confidently say that when done right, that shit kicks ass. . . . However, that being said, it is the single worst sounding pieces of recorded music that I have ever heard.” Indeed. Trust me: metal like this—which verges on industrial and/or noise—should be left to punks to appreciate, because ‘bangers just don’t seem to get it. (See, also, Hellhouse.) I had to include a song from Possessed’s “Death Metal” demo because some claim it’s the original source of the style. I disagree, but this ripper is noteworthy nonetheless, even if it’s not as extreme and raging as some of the other songs included herein. Next up is Insanity—as good as it gets. Nuff said (also, see Dull Knife #6 below). Many aficionados believe Master’s unreleased LP, and particularly this version of “Funeral Bitch” was the high point of the invention of death metal. Few songs are quite as aggressive and ripping as this one, so it seems worth highlighting, even if, from my point of view, the uninteresting aspects of post-86 death metal are beginning to creep into the picture here. To conclude, I once called Necrófago the second most primitive Brazilian metal band. Surely you have been wondering for years what the most primitive one is. Bestial War, naturally. Forget the invention of death metal. These cavemen pretty much invented Norwegian black metal too. It’s another example of a band that deserves acclaim from the Shit-Fi perspective but most metallists scoff at—just check their review on Metal Archives.