Not that many people love grindcore music the way I do and I don't even like it all that much. I mean, it's been on my various playlists for over two decades but I don't go to shows or wear band t-shirts anymore. The problem is that not many people know what grindcore is and most people who do don't really see any value in it. These people are wrong. It's hard to blame them for being wrong about such a niche and hostile music genre, but they are wrong nonetheless.
There is no definition of grindcore available online that everyone agrees upon and there's a good chance that wherever you go, people will call you an idiot for not agreeing with theirs. It's part of what makes grindcore culture so charming in the first place: the intensity of its people. Don't beat yourself over it, though. It's complicated because the genre has been evolving into a hundred different directions since its inception in the eighties and became somewhat of a tentacle monster. I'm here to break it down for you.
What is grindcore?
The first grindcore band Napalm Death meant to play music that mixed the straightforward aggression and social conscience of hardcore punk with the brutality and theatricality of another blossoming genre: death metal. The song structure remained very punk: it used a few chords, breakdowns instead of solos and kept the songs ridiculously short. In Napalm Death's case they went above and beyond in shortness and delivered the world's shortest song, which you can appreciate here. The use of microsongs is still very popular in grindcore today, although I see little value in them. Anything under thirty seconds is just filler.
It's not JUST a mix of hardcore punk and death metal, though. That would be WAY too convenient. Starting with the sonically adventurous Carcass, grindcore started evolving in all sorts of directions, adding an extra layer of theatricality, guitar distortion and various other musical and thematic explorations. It became a free-flowing grey area where extreme musical ideas collide and create things that don't really fit anywhere. There are several grindcore bands that incorporated math rock, noise and industrial music idioms to their sound. Their are complicated bands like Daughters, simple and straightforward ones who enjoy the theatrical aspect of their music more than technical innovation like General Surgery, there's a little of everything for everybody.
I love grindcore because it's a musical genre full of misfits who aren't afraid to try new shit or pursue what they're passionate with even if very, VERY little people care. Nobody gives a fuck about anything in grindcore except anger, passion and making weird fucking sounds with their instruments. That is some kind of Bushido-level of creative purity for me.
What's the difference between grindcore and death metal?
Excellent question. Both styles have been influencing one another, so the answer need to be slightly adapted to every band. Lots of people who aren't familiar with grindcore and death metal have them confused and it's tough to blame them: both use growling vocals, blast beats and are played alluringly fast. Sometimes the difference is evident because some grindcore bands are on the cutting edge of the genre and could very well be called something else. It's nearly impossible to mistake The Locust for death metal and it's also pretty hard to mistake Amon Amarth for grindcore. These two bands are not playing the same stle at all.
But sometimes the difference is not so clear. For example, where does a band like Dying Fetus situates itself on the axis? Are they playing grindcore or brutal death metal? Here's how I differentiate both styles in general: death metal is primarily a musical performance based on virtuosity. There are guitar solos, complicated drum patterns, death metal vocalists take a great pride in performing with unaltered vocals, etc. The musical performance of the band is the primary focus of the genre.
Grindcore is more of a big picture artistic performance where music is only one of the variables. It's the main variable since it's, you know, music but if you're listening to grindcore for the music alone, you're doing it wrong. There's always a superseding aspect to it. For bands like Napalm Death or Brutal Truth it's the social message, but for bands like Rompeprop or Cote D'Aver the overall artistic performance including monstrous lyrics, aesthetics and sound effects is what matters. They are rebellious performance artists, carnival monsters leading the rebellion against contemporary music. And they do NOT take themselves seriously. I mean, see for yourselves.
The subgenres of grindcore
The most extreme subgenres of grindcore like goregrind or pornogrind are often shocking to new listeners. I've heard them being called artless more than once. Although I'd disagree with this dismissal, I'd say that some goregrind and noisegrind bands like Last Days of Humanity or the infamous Anal Cunt are very lean on the music side. They are, first and foremost, an exploration of the extreme. What's the point of listening to a band like Last Days of Humanity for example? They're pushing the envelope of how fast you can play, how inhuman and monstrous you can sound and how extreme you can be in your imagery and lyrical themes *. They're not exploring their instruments per se, their instruments are tools that allow them to explore the extreme. And you guys know how much I love extremes.
While I really love goregrind music, I don't get the fascination with repulsive forensic imagery and lyrical themes. Sure, I understand the commitment to being extreme but in a world where iconic black metal band Mayhem put their singer on the cover of their bootleg record Dawn of the Black Hearts AFTER HE FUCKING SHOT HIMSELF IN THE HEAD, how can you pretend to be extreme and not come off like a fraud? It doesn't make sense to me. I believe there are many conceptual extremes that are being ignored because everyone is so fixated on being explicitely disgusting. Bands like General Surgery and Rompeprop "get" it more than others and make their goregrind more spectacular and carnival-like but the subgenre is still full of unexploited possibilities.
So, there you have it guys. I fucking love grindcore because it's music that you need to step out of your comfort zone and think about differently in order to truly appreciate. It has both a visceral and a cerebral appeal that anyone can appreciate if they have a taste for the extreme. I hope this piece helped you connect the dots and appreciate grindcore a little better!
* It's been rumored they never really had lyrics. Only song titles. The band has been hilariously coy about this over the years.