While both Motörhead and the Plasmatics successfully straddled punk rock and heavy metal both musically and in terms of their fan bases back in the ’70s, Metallica’s 1983 debut, Kill ’Em All, fired the first specific blow against the subcultures’ dividing line that would eventually crumble under the full force of thrash.
Still, it took a while for longhaired headbangers, Mohawked punks, and buzz-cutted hardcore brawlers to recognize they were all moshing for the same team.
Just witness Zebraman’s famous declaration outside a 1986 Judas Priest concert in the classic documentary, Heavy Metal Parking Lot: “[Punk] sucks sh-t! Heavy metal rules! All that punk sh-t sucks! It doesn’t belong in this world—it belongs on f—kin’ Mars!”
As always, though, musicians plugged in to the underlying frequency—whatever it was that connected Led Zeppelin to Kiss to the Sex Pistols to Iron Maiden to Minor Threat—before fans could fully pick up on it, and channeled it into the next wave of hard rock.
Here now are a devil’s dozen smashing examples.
Money Talks – Cryptic Slaughter (1987)
From the Santa Monica American Youth Soccer League they came, and into the rock history books they went. The high-school-age members of Cryptic Slaughter first met while kicking balls—literally.
Death/Metal Blade issued CS’s ’86 debut, Convicted, followed in ’87 by Money Talks. Renowned for their berserk speed even among hardcore fiends, Money Talks showcases the maturing (although still mostly teenaged) Cryptic Slaughter lyrically and musically. Check out Scott Peterson’s coming-at-you-from-every-angle drumming on the title track!
Life of Dreams – Crumbsuckers (1986)
Crumbsuckers roared forth from leading East Coast heavy metal capital Long Island, New York and made their bones on stage at the birthplace of U.S. punk, CBGB. With a boot in each camp, they adjusted the various scenes to fit them. Life of Dreams, the Crumbsuckers’ 1986 bow, blasts out 13 songs in 33 minutes Every second will snap your neck—33 times.
Carnivore – Carnivore (1985)
Six-foot-six, sunken-eyed, corpse-pale Peter Steele grew up a Black Sabbath-loving Brooklyn boy in the ’70s who fell in with Manhattan’s urban jungle hardcore brutes come the ’80s. Steele launched the edgy metal trio Fallout in ’79, which eventually evolved into Carnivore.
On the frontline of East Coast thrash, Carnivore discharged their self-titled debut in 1985, followed in ’87 by Retaliation. Each is a riot both in the sonic sense and as a vehicle for Steele’s sly sense of humor and, in fact, it’s really a tie as to which album is the greatest. The nod goes to Carnivore out of respect for seniority.
Peter would flower even more fully into his bad self a few years later by way of Gothic gloomsters Type O Negative.
Animosity – Corrosion of Conformity (1985)
Corrosion of Conformity’s dirty, angry, serrated-edged musical beat-downs pummel with the energy of a backwoods bar-fight and stomp with the collective crush of a cement floor mosh-pit. The still very active C.O.C. hails from Raleigh, North Carolina and can boast making a huge impact on the punk-metal crossover before hitting a new peak in the late-’80s with the addition of singer and multi-instrumentalist Pepper Keenan.
Game Over – Nuclear Assault (1986)
Original Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker channeled his rage at getting tossed from the band in 1984 into Nuclear Assault. After playing the New York metal circuit orbiting around the legendary Brooklyn club L’Amour, Nuclear Assault fully detonated in ’86 on Game Over. While outrage over Cold War post-atomic Armageddon figured profoundly into almost all aspects of the punk-metal crossover, perhaps no single LP summed it up more, indeed, explosively than Game Over. Ka-boom, for sure.
My War – Black Flag (1984)
As the most beloved hardcore band of their era, SoCal’s Black Flag rose to the occasion time and again by continually challenging fans and critics’ expectations. Still, even signals such as founding guitar wizard Greg Ginn’s lifelong Grateful Dead love and vocalist Henry Rollins defiantly growing his hair long didn’t quite prepare the crew-cut and safety-pin set for My War.
Side one of My War is more-or-less in keeping with Black Flag’s unique, jazz-inflected spin on punk, albeit with harder and heavier components, particularly on the title number. The three-song side two is pure, slow burn doom metal.
Reviewers gagged and, in concert, crowds actually tried to beat up Rollins (good luck). Black Flag put out several more records that continued to divide listeners at the time, then busted up… and that’s when My War’s roots truly took hold and shot upward.
Cause for Alarm – Agnostic Front (1986)
Agnostic Front’s Victim in Pain (1984) is a hardcore punk masterwork. Cause for Alarm, two years later, saw these New York brawlers stage-diving head first into thrash and other metallic firestorm elements. In the course of nonstop practicing and gigging, founding Agnostic Front guitarist Vinnie Stigma picked up quite a few tricks between the two records, and the band kept pace.
Cause for Alarm also scored points for the crossover’s cheeky “politically incorrect” abrasiveness, mostly by way of the song “Public Assistance,” featuring lyrics by Carnivore’s Peter Steele. Both sensitive male TV host Phil Donahue and Dead Kennedys’ figurehead Jello Biafra saw fit to tsk-tsk AF over their naughty sentiments.
Welcome to Venice – Suicidal Tendencies, Beowulf, Excel, Los Cycos, No Mercy (1985)
By 1985, Suicidal Tendencies had made enough of a global splash that they sought to raise their fellow SoCal seaside skull-smashers up on the rising tide. Welcome to Venice, issued by Suicidal Records, features an opening track from ST themselves, then brings on their comrades-in-harms.
Beowulf and No Mercy get two songs each. Los Cycos, Suicidal frontman Mike Muir’s side project, gets one (and makes it count). Excel closes the record out with three-in-a-row. As local scene snapshots go, Welcome to Venice is a treasure; in specific terms of the punk-metal crossover, it’s a priceless time capsule.
The Age of Quarrel – Cro-Mags (1986)
Bona fide Lower East Side street punks Harley Flanagan and John Joseph McGowan squatted, scrambled, scavenged, and worshipped and worked with the Bad Brains, as well as pulverizing what-and-whoever needed pulverization en route to forming Cro-Mags.
Their ’86 long-player The Age of Quarrel drew a gory line in the cracked concrete, both in its violent fusion of hardcore and metal, and the introduction of Eastern philosophy. The title itself is a reference to ancient Hinduism; soon enough, Cro-Mags would evolve into “Krishnacore.”
Crossover – D.R.I. (1987)
When referring to “the crossover” in terms of heavy metal and punk rock meeting somewhere between their extremes by way of thrash, thank Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (D.R.I.) for officially coining the term by way of this landmark album.
With so much thrash emanating from specific strongholds on the East and West coasts, it’s remarkable and actually fitting that D.R.I. came out of Houston, Texas—a mid-point geographically and, it would turn out, musically.
Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies (1983)
Venice, California skate-punk Mike Muir combined his love of all hard rock (he cites as faves the Ramones, Black Sabbath, Sex Pistols, UFO, Van Halen, AC/DC, Led Zep, Kiss, and ELP) with the cholo culture in which he grew up to create Suicidal Tendencies. One of rock’s most unique and influential powerhouses resulted.
Suicidal Tendencies, the band’s 1983 debut, features a fully formed onslaught of punk-metal the likes of which no one had previously laid down on record. From this assault came two oddball hits, “Institutionalized” and “I Saw Your Mommy.” The LP is a monster that changed any and all who heard it upon immediate impact.
Garage Days Re-Revisited – Metallica (1987)
As noted in the intro, Metallica really got lit the crossover fuse on Kill ’Em All. Three years later, they were huge heavy metal stars, and they continued to forward the alliance by performing before bigger and bigger crowds while wearing Misfits and GBH t-shirts.
1986 proved to be the most critical year in Metallica’s history, one of both triumph and tragedy. First, the band released their masterpiece, Master of Puppets. Then, horribly, bassist Cliff Burton died in a tour van accident.
Emotionally shattered and not knowing how to both continue on without their brother and follow a monster of Puppets proportions, Metallica went back to their roots and fired off a covers EP, the landmark Garage Days Re-Revisited.
Joined by bassist Jason Newsted, Metallica paid tribute to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal—often described as “metal played with punk attitude”—via Diamond Head and Holocaust songs, as well as hard rock pioneers Budgie.
Truly noteworthy, though, was Metallica’s take on “The Wait” by industrial post-punks Killing Joke and, above all, their Misfits medley of “Last Caress/Green Hell.” After that, punk and metal stood united as one, shouting in unison: “Hey, hey, I’ve got something to say/I killed your baby today!”
Speak English or Die – S.O.D. (1985)
Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.) sprawled forth from nastily hilarious mind of Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, first as a cartoon character he’d draw—Sgt. D, who’d become the band’s mascot—and then in purposefully offensive, over-the-top lyrics written from this cigar-chomping, zombie-faced combat veteran sporting an anarchy sign on his helmet whose motto was: “I’m not racist—I hate everyone!”
As a one-off fun side project, Ian gathered Anthrax drummer and ex-bassist Dan Lilker (who’d moved on to Nuclear Assault) to back howling Bronx beast Billy Milano on vocals.
Speak English or Die slammed like a wrecking ball on fire at the end of August 1985. At a time when humanity possessed the ability to “get the joke,” incendiary anthems such as the title track, “Pre-Menstrual Princess Blues,” “Douche Crew,” and “F—k the Middle East” united punks and metalheads in uproarious sing-alongs.
Long may the S.O.D. march.