“But what about Punk Rock?”
Punk and metal have always had a weird, sometimes difficult relationship. In a way this is strange, as the two styles share many influences and are both loud, extreme forms of rock music. However, though both styles cater specifically to outsiders – they originally appealed to slightly different breeds of said type. Metal’s theatrics and more direct ties to classic and progressive rock represent more of a withdrawal from the world into a realm of fantasy and darkness. Punk on the other hand, was always more grounded in everyday hatred of popular culture, the emptiness of 1970’s corporate rock and the meaninglessness of modern life. Where metal looks at the world and tries to escape, punk looks to lampoon and destroy it. So it was that in the late-1970s and for awhile afterward, they had a very unfriendly attitude toward one another.
But, like two nations sitting side-by-side, some communication and race-mixing was inevitable. With the advent of thrash metal, grindcore, crossover (e.g. DRI, Suicidal Tendencies, SOD, The Accused) and eventually early metalcore and grunge throughout the 1980s, it was clear the two groups had become well acquainted. Of course, the interaction began on rather shaky ground. According to Stephen Blush (as he notes in his interview for Get Thrashed: The Story of Thrash Metal), the punks thought the metalheads looked stupid and the metalheads didn’t understand the nuances of the hardcore scene. But eventually the scenes developed a mutual respect for one another, as it became cool to like Motorhead, Slayer, Anthrax while still listening to The Exploited, Discharge and The Misfits. Song’s like Motorhead’s “R.A.M.O.N.E.S” and SOD’s “United Forces” should make this even clearer.
As someone born in 1987 and who got into underground music around 2001, I have no axe to grind either way, and regard anyone who still carries the old animosity as either an ignoramus or a snob. But for those readers who have always heard about punk and would like to know where to get started, I hope you’ll find this list helpful. For educational purposes, I’ll stick with the early stuff (PS- be sure to check out both the book and film documentary versions of American Hardcore for a good primer). But keep in mind, the spirit is still very much alive, as this video essay from CVLT Nation should prove to anyone feeling pessimistic about punk's future.
Have Spotify? Check out our handy playlist: Punk for Metalheads!
An incredibly obvious choice I know, but I’d argue any list that left out the Ramones would commit a grave injustice. An even greater injustice of course is classic-rock radio’s insistence on only playing “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Blitzkrieg Bop,” as if the entire rest of the catalog doesn’t exist. With their buzzing guitar, fast tempos and catchy lyrics- they set the template for the original 77’ sound in the US, along with its counterpart across The Atlantic.
See also: The Dead Boys, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Damned
The original punk sound of 1975-1979 always had three strands running through it: pop-catchiness, artistic flair and raw aggression. When the original movement imploded at the end of the decade, these three essential split off into their own styles: New Wave (pop), Post-Punk (artsy) and Hardcore Punk (aggression). Of that third wonderful style, Black Flag is almost universally recognized for getting things started. Angry, raw and chaotic records like Damaged stand as some of the finest releases the genre has to offer and the foundational statement of first-wave hardcore (spanning roughly 1980-1986). It was also their visit to Seattle in 1984, touring on their slower material, which would inspire people like Buzz Osbourne and Mark Arm to start another scene you might be familiar with.
See also: Germs, Fear, X, Circle Jerks
For anyone who doesn’t know, this is the band that started the straight-edge movement within hardcore punk. But Minor Threat’s music was not solely focused on chemical abstention, but tackled many other social issued as well, all in an aggressive yet thoughtful manner. Ian McKaye would later clarify that he was never trying to preach or create some sort of philosophy, but that he mostly wanted people to think about the way they conducted their lives. Oh, and Fugazi kicks ass too by the way.
See also: Teen Idles, 7 Seconds, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Fugazi (…duh)
Both metal and punk are commonly known as predominately Caucasian-filled genres. But as bands like Living Colour, King’s X on the metal-side and hardcore punk standard bearers like Bad Brains show, there are very notable exceptions to this. Rising out of the same Washington DC-scene that spawned Minor Threat, the band’s energetic and spastic sound would go on to inspire bands up and down the east coast and beyond.
See also: Iron Cross, Government Issue, Youth Brigade
Most metalheads are at least aware of The Misfits, as Metallica had covered them multiple times on their Garage Days Revisited recordings. And they obviously know who Glenn Danzig is and of his other work. With their horror-movie lyrics and the dark atmosphere that permeates their sound, records like Walk Among Us and Earth A.D should be easy to sell to any metalhead. And when October comes around, don’t forget to check out our list of Misfits songs to get into the Halloween spirit!
See also: Samhain, Danzig…but seriously don’t bother with most of the other horror punk stuff as it’s blatantly derivative of what The Misfits already did.
The late 1970’s and early 80’s were a rough time for Great Britain. With the empire gone and the collapse of the post-war economic system, the reaction of Thatcherism led to further strikes, instability and the stirring of political radicalism. And few bands embody this radicalism and discontent better than Discharge. Though their influence on d-beat, crust and street punk cannot be denied, the mark they left on grindcore and thrash may be even more significant. In both their political/apocalyptic lyrics and crushing, razor-sharp guitar work, Discharge sowed the seeds for much of what we consider essential to modern metal.
See also: The Varukers, Skitsystem, Doom, Conflict
Speaking of radicalism. As with the UK, the United States experienced similar convulsions through the late 70s: stagflation, economic insecurity, etc. This led of course to Reaganism in The United States and a similar stirring of dissatisfaction. Jello Biafra’s spitting and ironic lyrics were complimented by East Bay Ray’s innovative guitar work, which would have significant influence on guitarists like Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman and others.
See also: Bad Religion, MDC, DOA
While many of the original UK punk bands had either broken up or surpassed their raw, fast and loud beginnings, other bands took the sound and radicalized it. In Great Britain, this took multiple forms: street-punk, Oi!, crust and the aforementioned d-beat. Though it would take several lists just to cover all of this territory, The Exploited are probably the best band to represent the 82’ movement as a whole. They also represent another trend among bands of their generation: they eventually went metal (Death Before Dishonour, Beat the Bastards).
See also: GBH, Subhumans, Blitz, Red Alert, Cocksparrer, The Anti-Nowhere League
Most conversations about first-wave hardcore tend to revolve around the usual suspects of Black Flag, Minor Threat and Bad Brains. But often criminally ignored are New York’s Reagan Youth. You remember that song “Degenerated” from the movie Airheads, right? That was originally a Reagan Youth song. In fact, their satirical take on the Hitler Youth would become the foundation of anti-Reaganism in much of the punk scene. Oh, and they have a cool , groovy tune called the "Heavy Metal Shuffle."
See also: Descendants, Adolescents, TSOL, Battalion of Saints
There are many things we now associate with hardcore (e.g. intensity, brutality, an angry young man screaming in your face), many of which we owe to Detroit’s Negative Approach. Though the band was only together for a few years, their output is undeniably some of the best and most memorable of the entire genre. As the 1980’s wore on and would see the rise of crossover, youth crew and the eventual merging of those two styles into what we now think of as just “Hardcore” rather than “hardcore punk” – bands like The Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front would guide the sound into the future.
See also: Gang Green, Antidote, Necros, SS Decontrol, Poison Idea, Jerry’s Kids