Metal and hardcore spent the 1990s bouncing around between glory days and rock bottom. Miles apart from high-maintenance death metal gods and pop punk pariahs, the resolutely distrustful and scornful DIY movement called powerviolence remains a relic and a curiosity of that decade.

More a regional attitude and social constellation than a sound, powerviolence is an asterisk-shaped bullethole in the forehead of the metal and hardcore genres. The ridiculously fast, short, hateful, and funny scene mostly coalesced in California around Pessimiser fanzine, the Slap a Ham and Theologian labels, and bands like Man Is the Bastard, Despise You, Infest, and Spazz.

The impact was brief and severe, but the legendary moment of powerviolence survives as an inspiration to anyone with stamina and a taste for feedback and obliteration. See for yourself, with this high-speed barrage of over 200 piercing examples of raging powerviolence.

Fighting Music 7", Neanderthal

In the beginning, there was just the caustic, chaotic sounds of U.S. crossover bands like the Accused, Hirax, and Cryptic Slaughter, and UK crust like Doom, Satanic Malfunctions, and Hellbastard. And then countless bands followed that tried to crush them all, like California's Neanderthal, immediate ancestors and creators of the name powerviolence.

Man Is the Bastard / Capitalist Casualties split

The stars and legends of powerviolence are Man Is the Bastard, who set the tone for the erratic aggression with endless split recordings (including one shared with Mumia Abu Jabal), electronic noise, and altered instruments.

Dwarf Jester Rising, Spazz

Spazz are equally prolific and unrelenting as MITB, and though their humor is more evident, if anything it's even more of a weapon.


Although Massachusetts's Anal Cunt had already recorded an 88-song 7-inch record, the Blleeeeaaauuurrrrgghh! series on Slap a Ham Records truly upped the ante by capturing basically a like number of mostly powerviolence bands on their crushing small vinyl releases. Keeping the format in perspective, many songs on this 7-inch and its follow-ups lasted about as long as one single rotation around the turntable. It's fast, I'm telling you.

Despise You / Stapled Shut Split

More broken glass and distortion here from the ever fertile California powerviolence honeycomb.

Crossed Out - discography

Reducing powerviolence to a coarse ongoing abrasion like a joyless sanding belt, Crossed Out are considered the pinnacle of darkness by sensible people who are more afraid of ski masks than corpse paint. This band is the ultimate null vote on humanity.

Youth Attack!, Charles Bronson

These DeKalb, Ill., refugees from sanity were like vigilantes against any kind of normalcy or complacency. If you stop moving, you die, at least that's true of great white sharks.

Dropdead, Dropdead

Rhode Island's Dropdead picked up the New England mantle of powerviolence inspiration from Boston's Siege and pushed that caustic blitz to further extremes through the 1990s.

No Man's Slave, Infest

In the very very beginning, 1986 and the age of crossover, Infest played tight metallic hardcore punk at furiously impatient barking speed. The stage was set, and then it was broken down. Two members went on to form Neanderthal, see above. As of 2013, Infest is active again, so let's hope the cycle of scorched earth hardcore powerviolence has begun again.


Ian Christe is the author of Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, and the publisher of Bazillion Points Books, home to modern classics like Swedish Death Metal, Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries, and Murder in the Front Row: Shots From the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter.

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