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Starter Kit: Powerviolence

Starter Kit analyzes the ins-and-outs of some of the more obscure and niche sub-genres within the metal spectrum and offers a small group of bands that best represent the sound.

7 years ago

Starter Kit analyzes the ins-and-outs of some of the more obscure and niche sub-genres within the metal spectrum and offers a small group of bands that best represent the sound. Read other Starter Kit entries here.

Ah powerviolence, what a subgenre. Perhaps one of the most commonly misused subgenre labels, it is a style of hardcore punk that is truly unique in all aspects. Stylistically, it is easy to confuse with grindcore, another speed obsessed, slightly humorous, blast beat filled subgenre that arose around the same time as it. But what truly separates powerviolence from its grindcore peers is that, unlike grindcore, it is distinctly, undoubtedly 100% hardcore punk music, no metal involved (many people would argue this).

Powerviolence arose in the mid to late 80’s, influenced by such notable speed obsessed bands as Massachusetts’ own Siege. From Siege came the intense obsession with pushing the envelope of what hardcore punk music could be, as well as the idea that to continually do so there was a necessity to play faster than any of their predecessors. Along with this came a new set of vocal styles, be it the screeches so prominently employed by Charles Bronson, the harsh rasping sounds of Man is the Bastard, or the “cave-man-core” vocals of bands such as Spazz and Infest, as well as an intense love for blast beats and sludgy breakdowns. Through all of this, despite the sharing of ideas with an ever growing extreme metal scene, powerviolence remained distinctly hardcore, avoiding almost entirely “metal” riffs.

The final, defining characteristic of powerviolence is that historically, the genre has avoided the crew culture that became so widely popular in hardcore in the mid 1980’s, seeing it as too confining and as a way to kill creativity in hardcore. As such a sense of humor became commonplace in powerviolence, as it was a way to lash out against the overly serious crew culture that was constraining hardcore. It often relied heavily on extremely dark satire, making light of many things that other hardcore bands took far more seriously.

To conclude this brief intro on the subject of powerviolence, it is not just another subgenre that actually describes nothing, nor are the “powerviolence hipsters” ruining the hardcore scene. It is hardcore’s “evil” twin, the Mike to it’s Bob (Twin Peaks reference), and ultimately the side of hardcore that just avoided the crew, tough guy rule that became so apparent in the late 80’s. It is not just a tag your local crappy hardcore/grindcore band can throw on their bandcamp to make themselves seem more appealing, but a beast all its own that, when done right, is some of the most brutal, punishing music ever created.

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If there is one thing powerviolence bands love more than raging against the government and poking fun at hardcore kids/and or crust punks, it is a good split. Fortunately, all of those elements were tied together in a split 7″ released in 1995 by two of powerviolence’s defining artists, Charles Bronson and Spazz, on one of powerviolence’s defining labels, 625 Thrashcore. The split contains all of the classic powerviolence trademarks, with no song clocking in over a 1:30 long, and blast beats abounding as the vocalists screech out lyrics filled to the brim with tongue in cheek, snot-nosed humor. A phenomenal jumping off point for any new fan of powerviolence, as well as an easy way to learn about two of the genre’s most important artists.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPWo7V2ZWLk

SK-Powerviolence-Subbanner-Infest

As far as most “powerviolence fans” are concerned, this is the only Infest (or powerviolence) record ever released, which they will happily tell you as they also chide you on ever possibly thinking that Weekend Nachos or Punch were powerviolence bands. All jokes aside, however, there is a reason this record is often referenced as one of the most important powerviolence records of all time, as well as many modern bands ripping it off loyally (early Harms Way/Weekend Nachos), minus Scapegoat, who chose to be a loyal Crossed Out rip off instead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvE75TW7jQo

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After the rest of this list, Man is the Bastard will seem extremely, EXTREMELY out of place. However, while they may revel more in the sludgy side of powerviolence than most, they are by far one of the most important powerviolence bands ever, and introduced a new element that became essential to many powerviolence band’s sound (but also widely misused), harsh wall noise. Really, this band is just essential to any modern extreme music fan, and comes highly recommended. There is a reason, after all, why their signature “bastard skull” is used so liberally by bands all across the extreme music spectrum.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZtppO5wW9s

Further Listening:

ExtortionSick
ScapegoatS/T (2006)
The Endless BlockadePrimitive
Capitalist Casualties1996-1999: Years In Ruin
Crossed OutDiscography
Fuck on the BeachPower violence Forever
Weekend NachosUnforgivable
DropdeadS/T
Manhunt/Internal RotSplit
Witch HuntS/T
BanditPLAYFASTORDIE
Venkman7″
Rape RevengePaper Cage
PunchNothing Lasts
ACxDCHe Had it Coming
SpazzCrush, Kill, Destroy
Charles BronsonYouth Attack
Black Army Jacket222

-JT

Jake Tiernan

Published 7 years ago