If there’s a common defining trait among the various underground movements, it’s an obsession with dissonance and heaviness. However, despite being a vague term, noise rock is one of the best examples of the underground’s rejection of the popular, ear-friendly mainstream alternatives in the rock spectrum. Over four decades, hundreds of bands across the US, all from very eclectic backgrounds, found a common place in different scenes, cult labels, while mixing music genres, destroying ears and sensibilities with their unrelenting, chaotic approach.
Collecting noise rock has been one of my biggest obsessions of the past three years, partly due to my interest towards the “heavier” leanings of extreme metal music. All one has to do to realize how connected the doom and hardcore scenes are to the noise rock pioneers is to follow the line of influences, going deeper than most realize with a quick glance. Usually Swans is brought up when it comes to non-metal influences in modern metal (bands that, in most cases, are the heaviest of the bunch), and rightfully so, considering their blend of nihilistic, gut-wrenching industrial noise with post-punk; but most people ignore that many of these bands shared a stage in many opportunities with bands associated to the noise rock, hardcore, post-punk scenes, and as they went on, bonds were created among the musicians, influences collided and styles evolved.
While the intention of this compilation isn’t to provide a thorough guide of this huge subgenre, I’ve put together several examples of the noise factory that inspired and merged many influences which to this day many worthwhile bands consider part of their direct influence. With this in mind, I’ve also decided to neglect some well-known bands in favor of smaller, less familiar acts to give them exposure and to provide a wider scope in this ever-growing scene. Genres will overlap, but the concept remains just the same.
- White Drugs – ‘DMT': Modern Texan band with a fertile career, which includes a tour with the cult band God Bullies. Signed to the illustrious AmRep Records, whose bands feature prominently in this compilation, White Drugs are good example of the kind of heavy material noise rock bands are unleashing even to this day.
- Barkmarket – ‘Grinder': Formed in 1987, Barkmarket quickly rose to eminence in the Seattle scene of the 90s and had a productive career consisting of five LPs and a handful of EPs over the span of ten years.
- Unsane – ‘Bath': One of the most familiar examples of genre blending, Unsane brought new standards of heaviness and harshness with their music, particularly with their violent lyrics and explicit artwork, touching upon themes of criminal and psychopathic behaviour. An incredibly influential band who have enjoyed wide success for two decades.
- Cows – ‘Everybody': Faithful representatives of the noise rock spirit of the 90s, and celebrated for their live shows full of wild physical antics. Their huge grunge/noise/blues hybrid discography sold out long ago.
- Steel Pole Bath Tub – ‘Re-Juvenilated': This noise juggernaut from California was known for their bassy, harsh style, extensive use of movie samples and a long career, which straddled many side projects. It’s difficult to think of them without being reminded of Melvins and Dinosaur Jr.
- DNA – ‘Not Moving': The oldest band of this compilation and easily one of the most influential, their atonal sound became a statement against traditional arrangements. Their drummer, Ikue Mori, was one of the first experimental musicians whose career I followed, mainly due to her works with Zeena Parkins and Catherine Jauniaux (both stalwarts of the avant-prog scene).
- Dazzling Killmen – ‘My Lacerations': A noise/math rock band signed to the mighty Skin Graft Records. Tightly packaged violence, speed and skill.
- Harry Pussy – ‘Smash The Mirror': The very first noise rock band I listened to, and also one of the most picturesque and influential of the 90s due to Bill Orcutt’s acidic guitar and Adris Hoyos’ free-form drumming and harsh vocals. Their songs, typically less than a minute long, fast and sexually violent, were somewhat reminiscent of grindcore and hardcore, while retaining a unique style. Mainly known due to their extensive live career and shows often clocking in at under thirty minutes.
- Godstopper – ‘Don’t Walk Home': Many lurkers should be more than familiar with this band. I’ve chosen to add it here not just because I’ve been obsessed with it for a long time (and even more after their latest single and video) but because their brand of noise rock is remarkable. Had this band existed a decade ago, we’d all be talking about them.
- Bodychoke – ‘Suffer': The only non-US band in the compilation, they managed to release three LPs and play several shows in the UK despite their brief lifetime. Another example of genre splicing, their style combines industrial and gothic-rock, similar to the Swans of the Young God/Filth era, albeit more sexually charged.
- GRIDS – ‘B. Strauss': Another modern band, this time from North Carolina, whose heavy, aggressive, hardcore-informed style made has led to the selling out of all their current material.
- Colossamite – ‘Tooth of Davinci': The band formed after Dazzling Killmen broke up to become one of the main exponents of the math rock genre. Their technical proficiency didn’t outshine their former jarring, dissonant style, and while they tuned the guitar distortion down a notch, the resulting output was as heavy and odd as a noise rock band could have been.
- Cop Shoot Cop – ‘Relief': One of the most iconic noise rock bands of the 90s, known for their extensive use of percussive metal elements and film samples (akin to Test Dept. and to a lesser extent 23 Skidoo), with a strong cult following despite their later output, which was less noisy and abstract.
- Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 – ‘Leaky Bag': Another Californian band with a long career (almost three decades and seven LPs), their albums display a wide range of styles including post-punk, noise rock and psychedelic rock.
- Transmission – ‘Nothing Sacrid': A short-lived project of Adris Hoyos and her ex-husband, the experimentalist Graham Lambkin, a drum and guitar duo. Just like in Harry Pussy, Adris Hoyos is in charge of the vocals, releasing once again her bizarre, deranged lyrics at the top of her lungs.