A beginners guide to grindcore in five essential albums

Grindcore albums
(Image credit: Various labels)

Of all of metal’s various subgenres, grindcore might well be the most extreme - and it’s arguable whether or not it is actually part of the metal family tree at all. Taking sonic and ideological inspiration from the birth of US hardcore and the crust punk and D-beat bands of the United Kingdom in the early 80s, as well as the most intense aspects of the No Wave and noise scenes, grindcore could be claimed as an offshoot of punk rock just as easily as it could metal. 

But, however you choose to define it, there is no questioning that grindcore is a tough genre to penetrate; its deliberately short, inhumanly fast, indecipherable passages of white noise are alienating by design, but the sound, look, feel and intent of grindcore has evolved fascinatingly over the years without ever losing any of the fury that made it so special. Here are five albums that chart that evolution if you’re looking to understand this most extreme of styles.

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Napalm Death – Scum (1987)

The big bang of grindcore. Yes, there were plenty of other bands aiming for a sky-high level of extremity prior to the emergence of the Birmingham legends; Napalm themselves would surely be quick to point to the likes of Swans, Motörhead, Poison Idea, Discharge, Slayer, Sonic Youth and others as artists that inspired their brand of savageness, but none sounded like this. Scum was a landmark moment, its pace, brevity and themes of urban decay and blunt socio-political commentary taking music to a place where it had never been before. 

Such a shock was the sound that it was picked up by everyone from underground punks to the likes of legendary DJ John Peel, and saw the band on the front of NME, drawing eyes to this new musical form that could never have previously conceived of such extremity. In the process, Scum created the blueprint for what grindcore was to become. Napalm would go on to perfect and surpass the album many times over throughout their career, but nothing will ever come close to the impact and importance of their debut.

Terrorizer – World Downfall (1989)

If Napalm Death invented the initial blueprint for grindcore, then Terrorizer tweaked and improved on the formula. The trio were only around for a few years, and split soon after the release of this watershed album, but the impact of World Downfall cannot be understated. 

While Scum felt freeform, improvised and ramshackle in its approach, Terrorizer tightened up the nuts and bolts and made grindcore sound technically proficient. The result is an album that skillfully blurs the lines between grind and early death metal and was hugely influential to both genres. Band members Pete Sandoval and Jesse Pintado, studio bassist David Vincent and producer Scott Burns would go on to create even greater legacies for themselves, but had they have stopped here it would have been enough to cement their legendary status.

Nasum – Human 2.0 (2000)

Improving on the sheer sonic intensity of grindcore became a difficult task as we moved into the new Millennium; after all, this was a genre that had been born at the very apex of extremity, and thus, left very little room for manoeuvre. So, it’s to the eternal credit of Swedish grind legends Nasum that they found a new gear for grindcore, taking the bluntness, the ferocity and the white-hot pace we had come to expect and imbuing it with the fat grooves and sharp direction changes of alt-metal artists such as Helmet

Everything they did is worth your time, but 2000’s Human 2.0 is, by a hair, their most complete collection. Melding Y2K paranoia and sleek production with their dizzying attack, it still sounds outrageous today. If you dare question Nasum’s influence, look back on the endless tributes paid across the music world to frontman Mieszko Talarczyk after his tragic passing in 2004.

Pig Destroyer – Prowler In The Yard (2001)

It would be utterly absurd to create this list without at least one contribution from Scott Hull included. Across his work as an early member of the controversial Anal Cunt, his time in both Agorophobic Nosebleed and Pig Destroyer and his various production credits, he’s done more than pretty much anyone to shape the sound of modern grindcore. Pig Destroyer’s second album Prowler In The Yard took a genre that many thought could not be any more alienating and disturbing and yet somehow found a way to do exactly that. 

It remains the most famous example of the grindcore concept album (hardly a crowded field, we admit). The story of the inner thoughts of a stalker parked outside of his ex’s house is deeply, deeply unpleasant, and Hull’s gruesome riffs and vocalist J.R. Hayes’ deranged performance represent an intense, and jaw-droppingly shocking, raising of the extremity bar for the genre. 

Full Of Hell – Weeping Choir (2019)

It’s not unfair to suggest that grindcore just plodded along in the years after Powler In The Yard. It plodded at a million miles per hour, obviously, but there weren’t that many aural surprises along the way. Then, in the mid-2010s the genre sprang to life again; Wormrot, Nails, Magrudergrind and more popped up and made some brilliantly ferocious and distinctive sounding records. The band who pushed the genre into wild new shapes with most regularity though, were experimental Maryland quartet Full Of Hell. 

The various releases since their 2009 formation and leading up to this, their seventh full length, showed that they were a band happy to try and bring a whole new set of sonic influences to their music, but Weeping Choir was the point where they strode purposefully away from the pack forever. Electronic noise freak-outs like Rainbow Coil sit alongside the slow, doomy, tar-black metal of Armory of Obsidian Glass and the warp speed, acidic crush and John Zorn freeform jazz combination of Ygramul the Many. Although many may believe it to be just aimless, one-dimensional noise, over three decades after grindcore’s, birth it still showed there were new sounds and templates for the genre to mine. Long may it continue.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.