Of all the disparate subgenres that arose out of the iconoclastic institution that was 80’s hardcore punk, there may be no subgenre more internally cohesive and reverent to its forbears than d-beat. The “d” in the genre’s name refers to the progenitors of the genre and architects of its visual and aural aesthetics: Discharge. More specifically, it refers to a certain drum pattern that Discharge perfected and made central to the band’s style, even if other bands had used it prior to their existence.
Thus, d-beat can somewhat confusingly refer both to this specific drum beat, as well as the punk subgenre formed around it. D-beat bands worship Discharge in a number of ways. They pay homage in name, whether adding Dis- as a prefix to the band name, using a Discharge song as a band name, album title, or both, or just starting the band name with the letter D. They pay homage in sound, most notably with the characteristic drum beat, a simplistic verse/chorus riff alternation, brief intermittent basic guitar solos, and lax production values. They pay homage in their aesthetics – d-beat album art is almost always black and white, while text almost always uses the same font Discharge used on their first few 7”s. The lyrics of d-beat songs are overwhelmingly about world war and specifically nuclear war; a brief survey of Japanese D-beat legends Disclose’s Raw Brutal Assault discography includes the songs “Nuclear Explosion,” “Burned Alive,”“The Holocaust by the Air-Raid,” “The Nuclear Victims,” “Children Not Knowing Peace,” “Smell of the Rotten Corpse,” “The Cause of War,” and “The Aspects of War.”
D-beat can often be formulaic. But it’s a formula which when executed to its fullest extent is invigorating, provocative, and breathtakingly inspirational. Take a look at these ten essential raw brutal selections:
It’s not their best album, but there’s no better place to start with Discharge than with Realities of War. When you set needle to wax, the first sound you hear – Discharge’s sonic introduction to the world at large – is the distinctive d-beat, followed by an aggressive riff with all the tonality of a chainsaw. The lyrics are concise and to-the-point, delivered in a brusque, clipped tone. There may be no better description of Discharge’s sound and aims than they themselves delivered in the EP’s third track, But After the Gig: “There’s no real music / and I’m just shouting and screaming / but that’s the response to an anarchist meeting.” Well-said indeed.
Anti-Cimex – Game of the Arseholes
Of all the myriad bands following Discharge, Anti-Cimex has perhaps the best claim as being the first d-beat band. They began making music early enough to record their debut 7,” Anarkist Attack, by 1981, and followed it up with this classic 7” in 1984. Here, Anti-Cimex helped define the blueprint for the future sound of d-beat, with muddy production and raw, simplistic riffs.
Formed in 1979, British act the Varukers were another of the first groups to adopt Discharge’s sound, and would later share members with the group. The Varukers combined Discharge’s aggressive hardcore with the more melodically-tinged and midtempo UK82 style of streetpunk. Their 1983 debut LP Bloodsuckers compiles a number of tracks from their first two 7”s, Protest and Survive and I Don’t Wanna Be a Victim.
Totalitär - Sin egen motståndare
One of the many Swedish d-beat bands, Totalitär formed in 1985 and began releasing a number of EPs. Sin egen motståndare is their debut LP, released in 1994, numbering 18 tracks in length over a runtime of just 28:26. It’s blistering and pissed-off, with a production value straddling the line between lo-fi and overproduced, and snarling vocals recalling the vocals of 80’s hardcore punk rather than emulating the guttural sounds of extreme metal.
Doom – Police Bastard
Doom formed in 1987 in the UK anarchopunk scene but would take on a much more metallic influence in their sound, sharing members with influential grindcore bands Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, and Sore Throat. Police Bastard is their first 7” and represents a definitive snapshot of earliest stages of what would become crust punk, with its heavy bass tone, frenzied riffs, guttural vocals, and guitar solos consisting of little more than brief frenetic squeals across the fretboard. Track 5, "A Means to an End," shows the band experimenting with metal influences in its alternation between a steady midtempo beat and the accelerated pace more typical of their contemporaries.
Despite a relatively short lifetime as a band, Japan’s Disclose were highly prolific; their discography, Raw Brutal Assault, compiles two volumes consisting of over 150 songs. Disclose were renowned as perhaps the most faithful devotees of Discharge’s original blueprint. This sound is epitomized in their debut LP, Tragedy, spanning 14 tracks of cacophonic brutality.
Framtid – Under the Ashes
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Framtid formed around 1997 and recorded a number of demo cassettes and an EP before coming out with 2002’s landmark Under the Ashes. Aggressive and chaotic even by the standards of the genre, Under the Ashes presents a wall of noise aesthetic, combining relentless riffs, driving rhythms and reverberating, echoing vocals. Unlike many of the other bands on this list, they are still recording new music today, having released an EP earlier this year, The Horrific Visions.
Besthöven – Just Another Warsong
Brazil’s Besthöven – a one-man outfit whose sole member goes by the name of Fofäo Discrust – is one of the few bands who can compete with Disclose in prolific output and strict adherence to Discharge’s original sound, image, and ethos. Besthöven’s sound is submerged in fuzzy production that helps amplify the post-apocalyptic message of their lyrics. Just Another Warsong shows Besthöven’s primal chaos at its best.
Totalt Jävla Mörker - Totalt Jävla Mörker
Formed in 1996, Swedish outfit Totalt Jävla Mörker (translated roughly as “Total Fucking Darkness”) play a mix of traditional Swedish d-beat with the blast beats and tremolo guitar riffs more associated with black metal. Their self-titled LP from 2006 showcases the group’s effective blend of these disparate styles, alternating between standard power chord hardcore riffs, chainsaw black metal attacks, and even atmospheric interludes that one might find in a post-rock or screamo ensemble.
Tragedy – Tragedy
Tragedy, hailing from Portland, Oregon by way of Memphis, Tennessee, play a style of music that might best be described as melodic crust – but the musical heritage of d-beat is crucial to the composition of their sound, a musical heritage they wear on their sleeve by naming themselves after Disclose’s legendary LP. Their self-titled LP opens with a melancholy acoustic intro, topped with achingly beautiful strings, before running headfirst into a wall of heavy guitars over a soaring d-beat. Throughout the album, Tragedy effectively utilize dual-guitar leads, crushing breakdowns, and anthemic shout-along choruses, but the d-beat core of the band is always prominent. Members of Tragedy were quite prolific, playing in the closely related and highly influential bands His Hero Is Gone, From Ashes Rise, and Severed Head of State.
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