This article is written in conjunction with the release of Cave Dweller Music’s Violence Against Violence Charity sampler, a 44 track compilation of grindcore and powerviolence from around the globe, with all proceeds going to support victims of war and conflict through Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Order the album HERE
Music has long been a focal point in political movements, calls to action, criticism of the status quo, and raising awareness of an unjustifiable inequity in law or circumstance. While most of it is palatable, even jaunty to the point of it being wildly misinterpreted, see former president and continuing dickbag Donald Trump unironically utilizing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son at political rallies, there are those genres of music that are abrasive and intentionally grating and aggressive, especially when coupled with a social message. Powerviolence and Grindcore are two such genres, pushing limits even within the Extreme Metal community.Cave Dweller Music is concentrating that aggression and channeling into a great cause in our own special way, by promoting little known bands of the genre by way of a compilation with all proceeds going to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders). Why then, do we choose such harsh and violent genres to raise money for a non/anti-violent organization?
The simple answer is that both genres are actually quite heavy in the political realm with anti-war leanings from a large number of bands.The more nuanced answer, and one I shall be exploring further, is that these genres of music act as a sort of catharsis, in addition to offering a safe exploration of difficult subject matter, while calling attention to various issues ranging from war to inequity.
VIOLENCE AS CATHARSIS/SAFE EXPLORATION OF VIOLENCE
While there are invariably sub-genres within established genres that are subsets of even more established genres and meta genres (Noisegrind, Grindcore, Extreme Metal, Metal), with each of those differing subsets/sub genres with their own unique style or variation, one thing can be agreed upon in the case of Powerviolence and Grindcore; they are fucking aggressively brutal. There could be endless arguments and articles (and there are) on the merits of one genre versus the next, and those articles are interesting in their own functionality, yet it is not the function of this article, so for the purposes of this article we will be using Powerviolence/Grindcore as a sort of homogenous entity based solely upon their violent and aggressive tendencies.
It can be easy to dismiss bands within the category of Powerviolence or Grindcore with their, at times, antagonistic band names, and album/merch artwork, relegating them to the status of edgelords, and with names such as Dying Fetus, Pig Destroyer, Wormrot, and Rape Revenge coupled with visceral imagery (see Wrong One to Fuck With or Pornographers of Sound by Dying Fetus). However, to do so based solely upon the first viewable impression would be a large disservice to the bands that employ these names and visuals (if this sounds familiar, it is because I have stated much the same about other genres within the Extreme Metal community).For one, the lyrical content of the bands listed above, along with many others of the genres, contain progressive social messages and/or calls to action, once the listener peels back the additional level of crusty abrasiveness. For another, it acts all at once as a sort of kinetic build up and frantic release of energy caused by operating within a system of societal inequity and dysfunction.To put it another way, if the mainstream culture ever deigns to notice Extreme Metal, like Powerviolence/Grindcore, it is typically with disdain and mistrust, believing it to be vacuously devoid of purpose outside of shock and therefore, is nothing more than a social malady of the morally and empathetically bankrupt. What the lay of Mainstream culture doesn’t realize is that consuming/interacting this type of Extreme Metal is a sonic outlet for an otherwise disenfranchised/disillusioned/displaced feeling group of individuals that have a particular issue(s) with the status quo. For instance, Cattle Decapitation is brutal in both their visual and musical representation, just view/listen to their debut album Human Jerky. Yet, it serves as a focal point of righteous anger, a release valve of sorts, that gives a productive and constructive outlet for those that consume the music, or those that create it-as the band itself started with an entirely vegan lineup predicated on anti-animal cruelty.
Consider also, the devotion to specific sub-genres within the Extreme Metal community, the Internet forums, cover bands, genre-specific festivals and shows (not to mention charity samplers) the latter being the most visible representation of the meaning of cathartic release, the circle-pits, mosh walls, the occasional pogo(with respect to the crust punk roots) and overall body movement that goes along with the music, that is a physical manifestation turned manifesto signing off on every verse spit against corporate greed, pointless war, meaningless slaughter, complacent political inaction and on and on, with every unintentional punch to the gut, or a hardened shove in the back within a circle pit. What is less visible, yet every Metalhead knows-regardless of genre affiliation, is the added internal release found outside of the venues and barrooms when a breakdown hits, or blast beats fires off, or when spastic guitar work tuned to grime, filth and trash cuts riff after riff; a sort of vicarious howling at the world that goes unnoticed by those walking by not plugged into The Locust, or fellow commuters on an overly packed highway or bus not able to hear their blaring of Weekend Nachos at full volume.
This catharsis, however, is not strictly limited to the physical sense of bodily movement found in head banging or fellow fan thrashing (purposeful or no), or the emotional release of the drudgery of everyday life with all its unjustifiable and horrific circumstances-personally experienced or known through second report.It is able to transcend all of that to the exploration of the very act of violence itself by means of lyrical content, and visceral imagery, allowing us to experience and explore it within relatively safe confines. Looking at it from the lens of another equally mainstream-maligned genre of media, and using supernatural Horror/Weird Fiction writer Thomas Ligotti’s words taken from his meditations on the purpose of horror in his seminal, albeit nihilistic, work The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, we can see the point perfectly articulated;
“By its employ, we discovered how to take all the things that victimize us in our natural livesand turn them into the very stuff of demonic delight in our fantasy lives. In our story and song, we could entertain ourselves with the worst we could think of overwriting real pains with ones that were unreal and harmless to our species”.
Simply put, we put ourselves through a simulated horrific encounter, via the processes of the music we consume (in the instance of Powerviolence/Grindcore) because it offers us a varied and challenged perspective. From searching at the record store or cruising Bandcamp and coming across an eye-catching album dripping in blood and viscera, to experiencing the assault of musicianship that forces the blood to pump a little quicker, to finally reading and understanding the lyrics that causes disgust or anger, the listener becomes a willing participant, albeit without giving tacit approval of the violence it imitates, i.e. listening does not equal complacency.In fact, typically and rather ironically, the opposite occurs in listeners of Powerviolence/Grindcore and of Extreme Metal in general, in that it sparks anti-violent sentiments.This is not to say that the average listener of Dying Fetus has their “blood lust satiated” because they listened to Homicidal Retribution or One Shot, One Kill, rather there was no blood lust there to begin with, only a curiosity of the macabre that has been around for centuries- elsewise we would not have tales of horror, and they would most certainly not have infiltrated mainstream and pop culture if such curiosities where the sole province of a select few “blood-lusted” individuals. The main differences between the average listener of Powerviolence/Grindcore and the lay public is the perpetual search for something a little harder, a little faster, and a little more intense that grows in lock step with an appreciation for the crafting of the overall presentation, and the willingness to discuss the harsh realities that are so easily glossed over to the point of the majority of people not being able to look the very real world issue of sustained hostilities in the form of violence in the face.
FOCUS ON VIOLENCE
One of the most powerful, yet overlooked attributes to Extreme Metal, Powerviolence/Grindcore in particular, is the conversations that are formed and pushed because of statements made by bands themselves in their use of visceral imagery and hardened lyrics. Having their roots in Punk and Hardcore, these genres have had an upbringing in subtlety, and instead chose to embrace the crass to expose what would otherwise remain hidden. The main purpose behind some of these choices then, is to intentionally kick a hornet’s nest, to piss people off, to make them feel the sense of displacement or inequity that they might not have experienced otherwise for any number of reasons ranging from classist privilege, and lack of insight/perspective because of regional differences, to being unknowledgeable because of various institutional indoctrination and many others. In short, it’s an exercise in empathy for the “other”, or even for your fellow man, who’s in the exact same predicament you find yourself in and there is a camaraderie formed over commiseration of mutually shared experiences (see also the above in safe exploration of violence as well, as it is an extension of the same). As already mentioned above, Metalheads are some of the most hardcore in their devotion to music, especially their preferred sub-genre and particular bands (potentially rivaled only by Punks, so these particular brands of Metal have genetic predispositions). That devotion can be seen in online forum wherein the Powerviolence Infest’s No Man’s Slave album artwork is still being discussed two decades after its release, the artwork in question being a bound, blindfolded and gagged prisoner of war from the Vietnam War. Ostensibly this could be viewed in poor taste, or exploitative, however, considering the album’s largely anti-war lyrical content of the album, or more specifically the anti-American war lyrical content, it seems more than warranted in pointing out The United States of America’s continuous involvement in heinous wars. From the track Terminal Nation:
“United we stand
One carcass we fall Isolated
A quivering mass
Possessed by greed
Bulldozed to Hell
Another culture decease”.
It is conversations like the ones stated above, stemming from content like this, which makes the overt violence and aggression worthwhile and even purposeful.Rather than turn a blind eye, we choose to turn a volume dial up to the point of deafening, so even if our brothers and sisters cannot be heard, the music inspired by their plights can, and with, the conversations they start.