Death metal is one of metal’s most varied and misunderstood subgenres. With a sound ranging everywhere from Cannibal Corpse to Gojira, it’s not difficult to see why the definition of death metal can sometimes be lost on outsiders. But if there is one defining musical element that binds all death metal together, it has to be that most aggressive of all drumming techniques – the blastbeat.
Morbid Angel are one of death metal’s first innovators, but original drummer Pete Sandoval can still remember the first time he heard a blastbeat.
“It was those guys in Repulsion,” he says.
“Jesse (Pintado) and Oscar (Garcia) used to listen to Repulsion a lot when we were in Terrorizer. Repulsion were already using a bit of a blastbeat back then…the timing was important, because they were twice as fast as Slayer or Metallica, faster then what anyone else was doing in ‘86. I wanted to go twice as fast for the stuff that we were doing. By the time I was in Morbid, I was already practicing like that, you know?”
Steve Tucker, who collaborated with Sandoval on Morbid Angel’s Gateways to Annihilation, had similar thoughts.
“To me, that stuff is still groundbreaking,” says Tucker, “When I first heard Morbid Angel, a month later there were fifty death metal bands around. But Repulsion were older, more grindcore, and so, so heavy. Everyone loved that shit.”
Exhumed frontman Matt Harvey understands the impact of Repulsion on death metal drumming better then most. He has been on the frontline.
“I played live with Repulsion for a couple years,” he says, referring to his own band’s hiatus from 2005 to 2008, “They are really, really cool guys. They wouldn’t say it, but everybody knew they were the originals. Some people had been listening since 1985.”
Repulsion formed on the gritty streets of Flint, Michigan in 1984. They went through four drummers before releasing their one and only album Horrified, making it hard to pin down who recorded the first blastbeats. But their demos Violent Death and Slaughter of the Innocent circulated through the underground into the hands of the nascent death metal scene.
It may be a foreign concept to young readers, but tracking the spread of music in the pre-Internet age is tricky. Just because something came out doesn’t mean everybody could hear it. This was doubly true for extreme metal, which relied on tape trading, zines and other methods of distribution without major label support. But the scene flourished, producing bands and albums we still listen to today. The big names – Death, Deicide, Napalm Death and Celtic Frost – should be easy to remember for any metalhead. But when it comes to who influenced those bands, it often comes down to who heard what first.
Repulsion predate the terms death metal and grindcore. But they’ve been recognized as originators over the years by members of both scenes, including by Shane Embury of Napalm Death and members of Black Breath, who are named after one of the band’s songs. They’ve toured but never followed up their legendary full-length, which was finally released in 1989. With scene legends lining up to give them praise, it might finally be time for a sequel.
Please? Pretty please?