Love Won’t Tear Us Apart: Post-Punk and Metal’s Budding Relationship

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Cross-pollination is a key aspect of musical evolution. As brilliantly explained in this very blog, “every rock or metal musician stands upon the shoulders of someone”. Recent times have seen a plethora of bands release music that stands with one foot on extreme metal and another on punk rock’s older (in spirit) cousin: post-punk.

Despite its name, post-punk developed in tandem with the larger UK punk scene of the late 1970s. Dissatisfaction permeates both of these subgenres, but this sense of displeasure is expressed in different forms. “Uncertainty lies behind every aggressive posture”, said the pumpkin baby in the context of Voivod’s Killing Technology. If this is true, perhaps punk’s penchant for loud anger stems from hope of changes yet to come.

In post-punk, there is no hope. Bleak and depressing motifs are met not with rage, but rather acceptance, sometimes even impotence. The implications of such a shift are at the same time lyrical and sonic. Introspection, failure and sadness become thematic cornerstones. Distortion, wall of sound and instrumental simplicity are substituted by cleaner tones, space in composition and a fondness for experimentation with synths/electronica, inherited from krautrock (think Neu! or Kraftwerk) and industrial pioneers (think Throbbing Gristle). To my ears, post-punk acts have always displayed a certain je ne sais quoi unfound in their punk contemporaries.

To those unfamiliar with the genre, listen to “New Dawn Fades” by Joy Division in order to set the mood. Please be mindful of the way this song (as many others in their catalogue) is driven by the bass sound. The guitar sound is not overbearing or constant, instead it pierces through to complement the emotional charge delivered by the vocals. The drums that punctuate this track are very high in the mix, serving as a perfect example of the archetypal sound of post-punk drumming.


Psalm Zero

 If it wasn’t for the homie Edward/Breegrodamus, I would have never listened to Psalm Zero and this article would have never existed. In his list of 2014’s best releases was Psalm Zero’s first LP, The Drain. The music hovers above the industrial tinged post-punk of Public Image Ltd. and the jazzy dissonant death metal of Baring Teeth and the like, never landing completely in one territory. It’s skronky, it’s melodic and at times even sweet – the clean vocals remind me of Morissey from The Smiths.


The Atlas Moth

Sometimes the most beautiful art emerges from torment and agony. The Old Believer is proof. In this record, the Chicago band weaved an intricate web of sludge metal and post-punk. Their gentler influences shine throughout the entire LP. Searing guitar leads and clean vocals provide an anthemic counterpoint to the unison harsh vocals and the heavy, distorted riffage that carries the piece. The atmosphere and pace of this record is reminiscent of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. 


Vaura

Based solely on pedigree, I knew this band was worth checking out. I was absolutely floored when I did. The music in their second LP, The Missing, is very experimental but still carries many of post-punk’s compositional tropes. There is a lot of “open space” in between the instruments. The drums carry the signature sound of the late 70s/early 80s, even when blast beats come into play. The bass is many times the element that drives the sound forward, with inventive guitar work circling around it. The vocals, greatly performed, are responsible for taking all the emotion in this music and making it relatable – etching a long lasting impression on the listener.


An Autumn for Crippled Children

There is little I can say about this band’s latest album, The Long Goodbye, that has not already been said in a better, more meaningful way by Stockhausen. You can read his review work of art here. I’ll just ask you to, once again, note how the drums sound, especially in the mid-section of this song.


Bands like Killing Joke have always displayed a metallic sensibility, and some crossover between metal and post-punk could be heard as early as Celtic Frost‘s Into The Pandemonium. However, the amount of bands fusing both genres together has – thankfully – never been higher. Coincidence or not, three of the four bands featured here released their albums under Profound Lore Records, a label that definitely deserves a shout out for this.

Together, these groups deliver some of modern metal’s greatest moments of beauty and poignancy.

(Photo VIA, created by design professor Michael Zollner)

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