Using the mosh pit as a ritualistic rendezvous ground and the headbang as a physical rite of passage, both hardcore and heavy metal share an affinity for basic therapy: Get shit off your chest, and do it loudly. Amid a din of ear-bleed speed and swollen riffs, both forms create chain-link bonds of defiance in their respective and sometimes connected communities.
Watching Mudhoney return to the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro last week, this all made sense: A slam-dancing pit erupted early on and skanked its way through much of the heavy Seattle legend's set. Mops of long hair whipped into and above the fury ball, and when Mudhoney's Mark Arm introduced the encore finale as being by a Southern band—albeit one from Southern California, "from the Delta town of Lawndale"—the pit erupted anew. As the band ripped into and out of Black Flag's desperate 1978 anthem "Fix Me," the nihilistic words lit up punks and hessians alike: "Someday/ I'll feel no pain/ Someday/ I won't have a brain/ They'll take away the part that hurts/ And let the rest remain/ Fix me/ Fix my head/ Fix me please/ I don't wanna be dead."
Metal and punk share this sense of alienation and über-machismo anger, so it only makes sense that both hardcore punk and metal are enjoying a wave of purist, revivalist and upstart popularity right now. Maybe you've heard of that war or seen the red numbers beneath most days' Dow Jones indices. In the politically marred '80s, hardcore had an emblematic anthology called Let Them Eat Jellybeans, the cover depicting a dim-looking Ronald Reagan. Today, Philadelphia metalheads The Claw—who will play Friday night in Durham on a four-band bill split between hardcore punk and very heavy metal—delivers its image through that eternal middle finger to proper society: satanic iconography. Pittsburgh's Brain Handle wasn't birthed directly into hardcore. A profile in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes the 20-somethings played in outfits ranging from metallic grind to a band likened to "the Butthole Surfers trying to play King Crimson." But they found their voice in hardcore in 2004, just as George W. Bush was campaigning for his second term.
The cultures of punk and heavy metal, after all, come with a built-in utility, a cathartic use for the music itself. It's an indispensable tool for simply being generally pissed off at the world, or for simply strapping on a bullhorn and speaking out against the powers that be—even better if it's in the face of especially egregious offenders. Durham's Tooth, for instance, is a new band encapsulating metal's thrash urgency in strokes of fast guitar fury, screaming vocals, and string-bending, pointed guitar leads. The band balances nods to metal's broad historical palette and hardcore's later melding with metal. At Tooth's CD release party at Duke Coffeehouse late last year, a slam-dancing pit reacted to the music in an identical way to those men and women at Mudhoney's gig: Both were delivering enthralling, potent tonics to what they were feeling.
That link between metal and hardcore meets best, perhaps, in Raleigh's Double Negative. The band's members were around for the originators of hardcore during the Reagan era, so its tenets resonate strongly in their curt, snarling songs and stiff segues of feedback. They turned back to their most effective anger expression tool, hardcore, for their voice, and have been embraced for it. This month marks a year since the band's debut, The Wonderful and Frightening World of Double Negative, found wild national scene acclaim, and Double Negative's popularity continues to grow. Likewise, these dual communities—tied by their brash, louder/faster voices in the face of an uncaring world—show no signs of slowing down, either.
Brain Handle, Double Negative, Tooth and The Claw play at Bull City Headquarters Friday, June 20, at 9 p.m. It only costs $5.