Rise of Crust
Reprint of the classic article Rise of Crust by Felix von Havoc.
Crust is an extreme offshoot of hardcore punk that originated in the mid ’80s in the UK as a collision between the hardcore punk and metal music at the time. Think of Discharge & Disorder + Celtic Frost & Motörhead = Crust punk sound.
Among the first crust records were considered the 1984/’85 recordings of Amebix and Antisect, which were then taken to a whole new level of intensity and speed by the likes of Hellbastard, Deviated Instinct, Concrete Sox, Sacrilege, Axegrinder, Electro Hippies, Extreme Noise Terror, Doom, and Japanese bands like Acid, Macrofarge, Asbestos, and S.D.S. In its early days, the style was known as stenchcore (coined by Deviated Instinct) but later on evolved into crust with landmark Hellbastard’s 1986 Ripper Crust tape.
The following article—focused entirely on the first wave of crust—was written around 2002 for Profane Existence #40 by the Minnesota hardcore punk veteran Felix von Havoc after some heated discussions on the now defunct PE message board. Felix was a columnist for both PE and MRR, founder of Havoc Records, and widely known for his bands like Code 13, Destroy!, Damage Deposit, etc.
“Rise of Crust” by Felix von Havoc
I touched on this in MRR a few years ago but after some discussion on the Profane Existence message board I’d like to enter my opinions on the Rise of Crust.
First of all, I use two terms quite frequently, crust and crusty hardcore or crust-core. I’d like to explain the difference before we proceed.
To me true crust is very metallic, like Hellbastard, Concrete Sox, Deviated Instinct or later Amebix.
Crusty hardcore or crust-core on the other hand is pretty much based in thrash and dis-core such as Disrupt, Extreme Noise Terror, and Doom.
Also some bands that have a big crust following I would argue are neither, Napalm Death were very popular during the rise of crust but their music is probably better described as grindcore or later on death metal.
Similarly, Resist and Deprived were big in the crust scene but played more traditional punk-rock. This month we will begin our examination of the rise of crust with the early English scene. American crust (Nausea, A//solution, etc) we will deal with next issue.
A note on my personal involvement: The rise of crust occurred when I was in my late teens and early 20s. I was a very active participant in this scene. I was doing a small distro, tape trading, reading zines and writing for Profane Existence, which covered a lot of these bands.
By the late ’80s hardcore in the USA was pretty beat up. With the exception of Straight Edge Youth Crew most bands were playing bad metal or indie-rock. I had been really into the early ’80s UK bands like Discharge, Conflict and Icons of Filth. And it was towards England that my ears were turned in the late ’80s. I was at the “import” section of the record store every week looking for the latest from Heresy, Concrete Sox, Disorder, Napalm Death, Ripcord and Legion Of Parasites.
However, I was not a participant of the scene in England and experienced the Rise of Crust vicariously through fanzines, pen pals, and tape & record trading. So any errors, omissions and half-baked opinions result from me being thus far removed from the action. The PE letter column next issue will be filled with scathing letters from people who were in England in the ’80s telling me I got it all wrong, I’m sure.
I don’t feel, however, that Crust started with just one band. It was a number of influences coming together at the same time colliding for a brief point then each process of musical progression continuing on its course. Undeniably, crust punk started in England. It took much of its politics, lifestyle and ethics from the early ’80s peace-punk/anarcho-punk movement. But musically it borrowed heavily from both American and British Metal, US Hardcore, Brazilian, Scandinavian and Japanese hardcore. Ironically, much of the music that was to influence early crust was in turn influenced by early UK punk/hardcore bands like Discharge, Disorder and Chaos UK.
I think the most important influences on the more metallic crust were bands like Antisect, Anti System, Sacrilege, Amebix and the last Varukers LP (One Struggle One Fight) These were the bands that started in the peace punk scene but played more of a hardcore style. As metal influence started to grow in hardcore around ’84-85 many of these bands took on distinct metal influence.
Note of course this was the same time American bands like DRI, Dr. Know, Corrosion of Conformity and such were “crossing over” into metal territory. One principal difference was the political stance went with the UK bands while the American bands dropped most of their politics and embraced the music industry. This was a critical point in the development of what would today be called DIY ethics. Also metal pioneers such as Motörhead, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Trouble certainly had their influence in the heavy riff and rhythm department.
Amebix & Antisect
I think Amebix and Antisect were the first true crust bands. Both bands however, started out playing in a more different style and by their later releases evolved into the new style that became known as crust. Amebix’ first two 7”s Winter and Beginning of the End are more influenced by bands like Killing Joke and UK Decay.
The aesthetic though was dead on, post apocalyptic dark and morbid. Life in a nuclear winter, a scarred barren earth, the cold embers that the meek would inherit after mankind wasted the planet. With No Sanctuary 12” we begin to see their dark hardcore sound developing more into what we would think of as crust today. The titanic 1985 Arise LP really codified that sound, the dark grinding mix of early anarcho-punk/dark hardcore and Motörhead influence. The final LP Monolith is a little too metal and over produced for my liking, but it’s most people’s favorite. Here the Amebix really turned up the metal and Motörhead influence to create one of the definitive crust LPs in music history.
Antisect’s self-titled 1983 LP is powerful and dark anarcho punk/hardcore but to me it’s not really a crust record. The Out From the Void 7” released in 1985 however, is pure crust genius, a genre defining record in terms of style and music. There were some demos recorded in this period as well (’85-86) that I think really set the tone for bands that were emerging at the time such as Deviated Instinct and Hellbastard.
Hellbastard & Deviated Instinct
First Hellbastard. Their 1986 Ripper Crust Demo was the first time I remember hearing the term crust used from someone. Hellbastard’s first two demos Ripper Crust and Hate Militia (Ripper Crust was later bootlegged on vinyl) along with the LP Heading for Internal Darkness are among my favorite early crust releases. I would say that if I had to pick a record/band/sound to define what I thought was “true” crust, I would pick this early Hellbastard stuff. There is also an early Hellbastard 7” They Brought Death on a German label (Temple of Love Records.)
Hellbastard’s later material is pretty predictable metal. But the early stuff has all the elements of truly great crust. Gruff, usually reverb drenched vocals, grinding, churning metal edged riffs, pounding bass, and wicked but brief leads.
Along with Amebix, Antisect and Hellbastard the most “true” early crust band in my opinion is Deviated Instinct. Their two demos Tip of the Iceberg and Terminal Filth Stenchcore were followed by the 1987 EP Welcome to the Orgy on Peaceville, the label with whose name the rise of crust will forever be linked. Welcome to the Orgy was followed by 1988’s Rock and Roll Conformity LP also on Peaceville.
Deviated Instinct had the metallic grinding riffs that really defined the more metallic crust, that chug, chug, chug wail, chug, chug, chug wail with the stops and starts accentuated and some double bass beneath the surface. They also had the look down with the black and white record covers featuring the bizarre mix of Celtic motifs and metal looking ghouls and demons, somehow tied into anarcho-punk politics.
Concrete Sox was one of the first UK bands to drift heavily from hardcore into metal territory. Their 1985 LP, Your Turn Next featured some blazing metal leads and chugging metal riffs. I always felt that the early Concrete Sox stuff was more influence by thrash metal like Metallica and Kreator than traditional UK crust influences like Antisect and Discharge. But I think a lot of people would want to argue that point with me. Suffice it to say this is more thrash-influenced crust as opposed to say Amebix more Motörhead influenced crust. Perhaps it’s just the guitar tone, which makes me think metal as I don’t think Sox was tuned as low or produced to maximize the bass as much.
Bolt Thrower & Sacrilege
Two bands I think are very important to metallic crust, but don’t strike me as truly being crust bands themselves are Bolt Thrower and Sacrilege. I’d have to qualify both these bands as hardcore/crust influence but pretty much metal. The First Bolt Thrower LP In Battle There is No Law certainly has elements of crust and hardcore and appealed to a crust audience.
Likewise, Sacrilege started out playing fast metal influence hardcore, especially the Sacrilege tracks on We Won’t be Your Fucking Poor, and Angelic Scrape Attic flexi. But the first LP they were already pretty deep into metal territory. And both Bolt Thrower and Sacrilege were full on metal by their second LPs. (as was Hellbastard I must note) That said Sacrilege’s Behind the Realms of Madness and the first Bolt Thrower LP are two absolute total classics, near perfect mixes of metal and hardcore.
Axegrinder, Anti System, Legion of Parasites
Axegrinder played a grinding crust very reminiscent of Amebix and Antisect. Their Grind the Enemy Demo is much more raw and Antisect sounding. It was another year or two later that the Rise of Serpent Men LP was released on Peaceville, recorded in 1988 but I don’t think it came out until 1990. This LP is probably the last of the truly great early crust records out of England. The production on this LP leans a little more towards a professional sounding metal LP but it’s crisp compared to some of the muddy early crust stuff. Axegrinder is probably the only band to come close to the Amebix playing dark heavy crust.
Some other bands that I think were influential to early crust sound were AOA, Anti System and Legion of Parasites. AOA were more straight ahead hardcore in the Crucifix/Discharge style. They did an LP and a split LP with Oi Polloi, which are both excellent. Anti System started out more in the Discharge/Icons of Filth style but added an increasing degree of metal influence to their sound. They did a 7” In Defense of the Realm, an LP No Laughing Matter a split 7” with Morbid Humor and a final LP A look at Life. Personally, I think their earlier more straight ahead hardcore material is the best. Legion of Parasites’ 1984 LP Unexpected Guests is more straight ahead hardcore punk but their second LP Prison of Life brings in some crust influence and their final 1987 LP delves into metal territory rather unsuccessfully.
Electro Hippies & Napalm Death
Electro Hippies were another critical early crust band that mixed fast thrash with metallic crust. I first remember hearing them on the Digging In Water comp. They did two demos Killing Babies for Profit and Killing Babies is Tight. These were followed by the split LP with Generic then the Only Good Punk Is a Dead One LP. Also recommended is the Electro Hippies Peel Sessions LP. There are two later live LPs but personally, I’m not too much into live hardcore records.
Also very important to early crust but not really a crust band is Napalm Death. Napalm Death also started out playing more traditional anarcho-punk (the Hatred Surge Demo) but soon the line up changed and they headed off into uncharted territory and pretty much jump-started the grindcore scene. Granted they were influenced by fast hardcore like Lärm and Pandemonium as well as metal like Repulsion but Napalm Death really put all the pieces together to create the brutal fast grindcore sound imitated ever since. The Scum LP was so incredibly ahead of its time in speed and ferocity and in my opinion is a total genre defining record that has never, and can never be equaled. Still, I wouldn’t really consider Napalm Death to be crust, but they were certainly influential in the days of the Rise of Crust.
Extreme Noise Terror & Doom
Crusty hardcore or crust-core is the other “wing” of the crust movement. I would differentiate crust core musically as being more influenced by fast hardcore and thrash than metal or Motörhead . Aesthetically and politically though, crust core is almost exactly like the more metallic crust.
In my opinion, the two definitive crust core bands are Extreme Noise Terror and Doom. As alluded to above these bands drew their influences heavily from Japanese, Brazilian and Scandinavian hardcore bands of the ’80s. Discharge, Vaurukers, Chaos UK and Disorder ironically enough had influenced those bands. I think the “gruff” vocal style comes mainly from the Brazilian bands. A lot of the early ’80s Brazilian hardcore singers had really gruff, gravelly vocals. But the speed and fast paced stops and starts certainly come from Japanese bands like Systematic Death, Gauze and Lip Cream. Likewise the brutal Dis-core sounds of Doom seem to be like Discharge filtered through Sweden and bands like Anti Cimex, Shitlickers, Bombanfall and Crude SS.
The first true crust core record in my opinion is the Extreme Noise Terror side of the “earslaughter” split with Chaos UK. This was a totally mind blowing record when it came out. Chaos UK was playing balls out thrash and ENT was just in a league of their own with those devastating vocals and fast crushing riffs. The only thing I remember being this intense about 1986-87 was the Thrash Til Death Comp and Napalm Death Scum LP.
ENT followed this up in 1989 with Holocaust in Your Head, which is an incredibly powerful crusty hardcore assault. There are also several John Peel sessions, and a live bootleg LP from this time period. The last of the critical early ENT records was the split LP with FilthKick, In It For Life. Which should be every true punk’s motto.
Doom is probably my all time favorite crust-core band. I probably like them so much since Discharge and the Scandinavian bands that imitated them are my all time favorites. Doom took the Dis-core style and tuned it down even lower and made it more brutal, then threw in sick thrash parts and gruff vocals for the ultimate crust brutality.
The 1988 War Crimes LP ripped a page out of the Discharge book aesthetically featuring pictures of war victims and casualties of bomb attacks. This is played out today, but at the time it was a breath of fresh air to see a band going back to the roots instead of trying to play metal or indie rock. (We’ll cover Dis-core like Disaster and Discard some other time)
In 1989 Doom returned with a split LP with No Security from Sweden. This LP had even faster roaring riffs that just intensified the brutality. Soon after there was the Police Bastard 7” that has been pressed numerous times in the UK and the US and is still a crust classic. There is an LP of Doom’s Peel Sessions from this era that is pretty boss as well.
Atavistic, Heresy, Ripcord
Atavistic was another early crust band that really turned up the speed. In fact their speed approaches grindcore levels but they weren’t really tight and precise enough for me to consider them grind. More like a crust-core wall of noise. They did two critical 7”s Life During Wartime and Equilibrium, as well as a demo From Within. Their LP on Profane Existence, I thought was rather disappointing. I hope I don’t get fired for saying that.
Two bands that were important to UK hardcore at the time but weren’t really crust were of course Heresy and Ripcord. These bands were more traditional ’80s style hardcore, but at much higher speeds. I think those bands are more like ’80s Italian hardcore or Dutch hardcore (which in turn were influenced by US bands, note the flannels and bandanas) than the UK crust bands.
Some important early crust comps are the Vile Peace LP on Peaceville; the Hiatus comp on Peaceville, and both volumes of Hardcore Holocaust that featured Peel Sessions stuff. Also cool was the Grind Crusher comp (more metal than crust) and the Digging in Water comp, which has a lot of straight up punk stuff too, but at least to me, was pretty influential in exposing some new bands.
I think that just about covers all the important early UK crust bands. As I mentioned above, there was an eager audience for this new stuff in the USA. You could argue that bands like Nausea, Disrupt, Apocalypse, Glycine Max, A//solution, Antischism, Confrontation, and Destroy! were imitating the UK sound of the time, or that the music was developing simultaneously on both continents. But that is a story for another time.