Flash Metal Suicide: Discharge

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“In laughter, in anger, for better or worse/Join me when the adverse wind blows” - Dry Your Tears

Sure, you’ve probably screwed a few things up here and there. You might even consider yourself a bit of a bungler. Well, let me tell you something. No matter how badly you’ve blown it, you still haven’t blown it as badly as Discharge did in 1986. They fucked things up so royally that they disbanded in disgrace a year later. With the possible exception of Celtic Frost’s infamous Cold Lake, Discharge’s ‘86 album Grave New World is the most obvious and audacious flash metal suicide ever committed. Time has done nothing to lessen the blow, either. Grave New World has not aged into a forgotten cult classic. It’s still fucking horrible, and Discharge should still be ashamed of it. A year prior to its release, Discharge were one of the most vital and influential hardcore punk bands of all time. A year later, their name was mud. To paraphrase junkie poet laureate Jim Carroll, Grave New World is a constant warning to take the other direction.

But let’s back up for a moment. It’s important to know where Discharge stood in the pantheon of punk. The band formed in Stoke on Trent (birthplace of Lemmy!) in 1977, shortly after the first wave of British punk broke. Initially they were Pistols wannabes until their roadie, Cal Morris, took over on vocals, and all hell broke loose. His vocal style – hoarse grunts, basically – and the band’s stripped-down, ultra-distorted wall-of-guitars sound was the blueprint for 80’s hardcore in the UK.

Later on they threw in some metal leads and became one of the architects of the ‘crossover’ sound. Discharge, along with a smattering of other bands (GBH, Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, DRI, COC) was one of the only punk bands metal kids listened to, and they were highly respected by both camps. Their sound inspired countless bands and still does, to this day. In fact their signature dirty thump has become its own genre, ’D-beat’, and there are dozens of ‘Dis’ bands in operation today. Their first few records are holy grail items to anybody that loves heavy, primitive music. From 1980 to 1985, Discharge were untouchable. The kings of punk, basically. And then something went drastically wrong.

Grave New World was supposedly created after Cal rediscovered Led Zep, but there’s no Zep to be found. It sounds more like a desperate cash-grab from a bunch of dudes who just heard their first glam metal record and wanted in at any cost. Imagine if Guns n’ Roses were the worst band you’ve ever heard. That’s Grave New World. The fact that the lyrics are as grim as ever – most of the songs are about heroin abuse – only makes it more awkward and off-putting. It’s a mind-boggler how terrible it is.

There are hilarious bootleg tapes circulating around to this day of the Grave New World US/Canada tour where the band is subjected to non-stop abuse from the crowd, who pelted them with bottles and garbage and demanded a return to form that they never got. It’s a pretty fantastic example of democracy in action. The band limped through the tour undaunted, though. Cal never dropped the yelping, even when beer cans were pinging off his head. The best/worst had to be their San Francisco gig, where you can hear disappointed kids comparing them to Ratt and Quiet Riot, and at one point, one of the guys from DRI hurls a full trash can at them. Goodtimes.

Shortly before they threw the towel in, Cal quit and was replaced, briefly, by flamboyant shock rocker Rocky Shades of Wrathchild fame. Of all the rock n’ roll stories I’ve ever heard, I think that might be the fucking craziest. Seriously, man…Rocky Shades?

Discharge were never really able to shake Grave New World off. After the breakup, Cal regrouped with new players and released a couple thrashy metal records in the ensuing decade, but nothing really clicked. More notably, ‘77 era guitarists Rainy and Bones got the band back together in 2001 and they returned to their hardcore/crossover roots. There’s a great clip of Discharge brawling with the audience last year, which is pretty fucking punk, especially for 50 year olds. It’s not enough to make you forgot 1986, but it’s a start.

For most bands, one dip into weird new territory would be fine. But Discharge wasn’t most bands. They held a set of principles that punks and headbangers alike respected and admired. With their ear-grinding guitars, ground-glass grunts and lyrics about police oppression and nuclear war, Discharge was the very definition of hardcore, and they threw it all away for falsetto howls and flash metal solos. The betrayal still stings, and I’m not even a punk rocker. That being said, I still have a Discharge patch on my denim jacket. I mean, they’re fuck-ups, but have you ever heard 82’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing? That’s some heavy shit, dude.

Next: Gettin’ high in high school with Madam X