While heavy metal and punk rock go hand in hand in modern times, that wasn’t the case in the early days. Passing their 1970s embryonic periods, the two camps extreme music spent the bulk of the 1980s engaged tribal warfare. For the most part, punks and headbangers did not mix and that was the end of it.
Although animosity ran high at the public level, bands from each respective scene took sonic notes and visual cues from each other constantly. Punks borrowing from metal famously lead to the crossover scene, while influential figures such as Slayer axeman Jeff Hanneman and Metallica bassist Cliff Burton openly thumbed their nose at metalheads who had a problem with hardcore.
A number of bands from the early hardcore punk era have proven to be pivotal influences on modern metal in terms of music, visual style, and attitude. Here are ten groups that every headbanger should know:
As both genres developed in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, punks and headbangers didn’t see eye-to-eye on much. Bitter enemies as they were, two bands emerged from each tribe that bridged the gap enough to create a tentative peace. The olive branch from metal came in the form of Motörhead, while the most unifying export from the punk side was undoubtedly Discharge. Formed as a traditional Sex Pistols-esque act in the working class English city of Stoke-On-Trent in 1977, the band’s sound quickly mutated from stripped-down rock and roll into a pulverizing barrage of galloping drums, crushing riffs, and desperately shouted vocals.
Their first five EPs and debut LP Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing make up the essential building blocks of the d-beat sound, and bands like Metallica, Anthrax, and Exodus were all seen sporting their shirts well before it was socially acceptable for metalheads to stand with the punks.
The Pacific Northwest was fertile ground for ferocious punk and metal in the early 1980s. While Vancouver band D.O.A. likely coined the term “hardcore” in 1981, no band married pure intensity with musical talent quite like Portland’s Poison Idea. While their debut Pick Your King EP is as stunning an example of blistering riffs and in-your-face attitude as any punks had ever committed to vinyl, subsequent releases would unapologetically fuse hardcore with hard rock. Poison Idea were a major influence on thrash, grunge, and groove metal and have been covered by everyone from Pantera and Machine Head to Metallica and Fucked Up.
Few bands did more to define the second-wave punk aesthetic than The Exploited. Formed in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1978, the band’s antagonistic style, working class pride, and sonic ferocity became the blueprint for the UK ‘82 street punk movement (the term UK ‘82 comes directly from their song, “Disorder”). Although their debut album Punks Not Dead fits neatly into the more rock and roll leaning oi! pantheon, subsequent releases continually upped the ante on speed and ferocity until they basically became a metal band by the end of the 1980s. Look no further than Slayer and Ice-T’s medley of Exploited songs from the Judgement Night soundtrack for confirmation of their importance to thrash and crossover.
Aesthetics go a long way. While Dead Kennedys’ surf guitar twang and Vaudevillian shouting has more in common with the B-52’s than anything traditionally characterized as punk or metal, the San Francisco band’s viscous satirical lyrics and brutal imagery have had a profound impact on much heavier groups up until today. Their logo is just about the most simple and yet coolest looking image in all of music, with an employment of sharp angles that any self-respecting metal band should be jealous of. Dead Kennedys might not sound particularly heavy to the naked ear, but original frontman Jello Biafra’s vocal cadence and delivery was a clear influence on System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian while guitarist East Bay Ray was a major inspiration for Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman. Still don’t think they are punk or metal enough? Covers by Napalm Death, Mayhem, Sepultura, Trivium and Megadeth might help change your mind.
They don’t call it Detroit Rock City for nothing. Although predated by the likes of Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Necros, no band married raw intensity and abject pessimism quite like Negative Approach. Taking influence from local heroes The Stooges, MC5 and Alice Cooper, they fed the proto-punk sensibilities of Motor City rock and roll through a high-speed meat grinder to forge an uncompromising brand of terrifyingly furious hardcore. Negative Approach has been covered by Pig Destroyer, Biohazard, Converge and Exhumed.
Although technical flare usually took a backseat to raw aggression in the early hardcore scene, there was one band who not only could play circles around just about any musicians in the entire world; they could do it while nailing Olympic-quality backflips. Originally a jazz-fusion group called Mind Power in 1976, the Washington, D.C. group changed their name to Bad Brains and shifted styles after being exposed to the burgeoning sounds of punk and reggae. Having been blacklisted by many venues in their hometown in 1979 due to the rowdy nature of their shows, Bad Brains relocated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and became the foundational pillar of the New York hardcore movement.
Already a huge influence on thrash, when the band expanded their sound to include elements of funk and traditional metal in the mid-1980s they sowed the seeds of inspiration for groups like Faith No More and Fishbone. Bad Brains songs have been covered by metal bands like High On Fire, Lamb Of God, Deftones, M.O.D. and Entombed.
One of crust punk’s defining and most enduring acts, few bands have ever married the passion of hardcore with metal’s epic sense of drama and melody quite like Amebix. Initially founded in West Devon, England in 1978, the group took cues from the radical leftist beliefs of Crass, the dystopian anguish of Killing Joke, and the propulsive firepower of Discharge and Motörhead to forge a maelstrom of unapologetically political sonic fury. Their brand of blistering avant-garde doom was a major influence on the likes of Sepultura and Neurosis. Amebix have been covered by the likes of Cult Of Luna, Panopticon, and All Out War.
While not as directly influential to the sound of metal as Discharge, no American punk band had a greater impact on the look and feel of extreme music than The Misfits. Fuelled by the look of b-movies and comic books as well as the sounds of Black Sabbath and The Ramones, the New Jersey horror punks were cult heroes in their own time before their first breakup in 1983. In an interview with Thrasher magazine from August 1986 , James Hetfield explained that Metallica bassist Cliff Burton (who famously had a tattoo of the Crimson Ghost logo) turned the rest of the band onto The Misfits, saying: “All of his friends were into them and he taped some stuff from his friends.” The combination of Metallica’s covers of “Last Caress” and “Green Hell” as well as frontman Glenn Danzig’s successful foray into metal exposed the band to an entirely new audience in the late 1980s and 1990s.
New York City is a very different place today than it was a few decades ago. Forged on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1980, Agnostic Front was the living embodiment of a turbulent time. Taking inspiration from the burgeoning British oi! scene as well as the fury of Minor Threat and Bad Brains, the band merged these influences on genre-defining early works like the United Blood EP and Victim In Pain LP. Frontman Roger Miret explained to The Village Voice that Agnostic Front’s songs “are totally inspired by the streets of New York and my life and what was going on with my friends. It was dangerous. We did what we had to do to survive by any means necessary. It was like a war or a battlefield, and we stood our ground.” As the decade progressed, the skinhead band became one of the first acts to openly fuse hardcore and metal on their crossover masterpiece, Cause For Alarm. They paved the way for crossover greats like Biohazard and Life Of Agony and have been covered by the likes of Fear Factory, Lamb Of God, and Hatebreed.
While off-the-rails experimentation might be commonplace today in metal and hardcore, it was deeply frowned upon for extreme bands to stray too far from the stylistic path in the early days of each scene. Fortunately for all of us, Black Flag never gave a shit about what anyone thought. Formed in Los Angeles in the mid ‘70s by guitarist and primary creative force Greg Ginn, the band’s first three EPs and early live shows were instrumental in defining the west coast hardcore aesthetic. Having arguably perfected this brand of hyper-aggressive punk with their landmark in 1981 on their debut LP Damaged, Black Flag spent the rest of the decade traveling an ever-deepening psychedelic wormhole.
Borrowing influences from noisy free jazz, the Grateful Dead and Black Sabbath, each new release gleefully alienated one corner of their fanbase while inspiring another. Doom titans like Saint Vitus and Cathedral owe as much to Greg Ginn’s work during this time period as they do Tony Iommi, and pretty much every Seattle band that developed during the grunge heyday can trace its lineage back to My War, Slip It In, and Loose Nut.