It wasn’t that long ago when a little outfit named Napalm Death, hailing from the very birthplace of heavy metal itself in Birmingham, England, set out to destroy the idea of music as we know it. They ended up inventing grindcore itself on their debut album, 1986’s Scum, an unholy matrimony of death metal, hardcore punk, and abrasive noise music sure to wreak hell on the layman’s eardrums and invoke the disapproving grimaces of parents worldwide for generations. This first germination of grindcore involved micro-songs (one notoriously only a second long), nigh-indecipherable vocals, an anti-authoritarian streak a mile long, and some of the best riffs on the planet. And ever since Scum, grindcore has gotten even more extreme and unorthodox. While newer grindcore and deathgrind acts have made the style more brutal and amusical than ever, cybergrind bands like Genghis Tron and Agoraphobic Nosebleed play their songs over a whirlwind of chaotic digital blast beats, goregrind acts like Last Days of Humanity manage to sound just like the flesh-tearing massacres described in their lyrics, and the less said about pornogrind the better. Liberteer, however, is in a world of their own. Formed entirely of sole member and grind veteran Matthew Widener of Citizen and Cretin, Liberteer merges traditional grindcore structures with Widener’s incendiary anarchist-minded lyrics and a healthy dosage of musical influence from…marching band and propaganda music? Wait, what?
As left-field and eyebrow-raising as all this sounds, don’t get the impression that this is some trust fund hipster’s vanity project, co-opting a metal subculture he read about in a book for his Sociology class and turning it into something “better” by adding unnecessary bells and whistles. Unlike a certain black metal Brooklynite I’ve already talked about way too much, Matthew Widener knows exactly what he’s doing. The grindy material on the album includes lots of instantly catchy shout-along choruses and memorable riffs, only intensified by the addition of horns and strings to the arrangements. The pulverizing riffs and menacing growls of the album’s grindy material coexist perfectly well with the militant marches and surging anthems of the half-fascist march and half-movie soundtrack orchestrations. Take a section about a third of the way through, where the rampaging grind of “Class War Never Meant More Than It Does Now” gives way to the soaring and anthemic “Rise Like Lions After Slumber.” Or how about the penultimate track “I Am Spartacus,” where a feverish grind becomes a guitar-aided war march that could have been written to a Reichstag-style raising of the black flag over the burnt-out and bloodied husk of the New York Stock Exchange. These are the kind of musical moments that can topple governments. It’s pretty amusing to me that grindcore needs to crib from the very forms of music it was created to subvert in order to remain controversial and head-turning, but you can’t argue with the results – especially when they’re as rewarding as Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees.
Album: Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees
Label: Relapse Records
Release Date: January 31, 2012