For those who believe that much metal and punk are too parochial and staid, there is a parallel realm of intensity. In the early-to-mid-’80s UK, punk bands like Crass, Discharge and Hellbastard created a weird overlap with metal bands like Venom, Celtic Frost and, most famously, Motörhead. The new punk style morphed into Crust, an aggro mix of raw tones, rawer vocals and many times centered on the “D-Beat,” the whiplash-fast beat popularized by Discharge. Earlier, epochal thrash songs like Slayer’s “Jesus Saves” were models of light-speed-BPMs pummeling, but Napalm Death upped the brevity bar with their 1987 song, “You Suffer,” a 1.316-seconds-long-second-blip-of-a-metal roar. While surely written in jest, “You Suffer” also guaranteed the metal crowd that things were going to get weirder, faster and more intense.
In 1989, the UK label Earache Records released the compilation Grindcrusher. It was a seminal album that featured nine bands all dealing in extremes—including Napalm Death—that challenged, overtook and gutted the then-current metal scene. The sweeping term for this scene became known as Grindcore, launching thrash and death metal into even greater acceleration.
After the ascendance of early-’90s Norwegian black metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone, subsequent musicians adopted that furious mix of thrash, hardcore and defiance toward religion into a syncretic music that actually exceeds the sum total of its parts.
Locally, the grindcore band WØRSEN strongly represents the current environment of inherently uncompromising and assaultive music. Formed in 2012, the band—Tyler Barney (vocals), Justin Hawk (guitar) and Sam Morgan (drums)—are Jacksonville natives and products of the past 30-plus years of intense strains of music.
“It’s kind of a tough way to classify us, since our sound has everything from black metal, death metal, grindcore, punk and D-Beat,” says Morgan, from band headquarters in Murray Hill. “It has aspects from both punk and metal [laughs] in a very oppressive manner.” Locals can check out the band when they share the bill with Shadow Hunter, Dead Centre and Saturnine as openers for Caveman Cult on March 31 at Nighthawks.
Early on, WØRSEN had the fury of extreme metal. Morgan was a middle-school punk-rock kid, eventually discovering stronger doses, by way of NYC-crossover-thrash band S.O.D. “That’s when I first wondered, ‘Why can’t I find something that’s as fast and aggressive as this?’ As I went along, digging deeper into all of this extreme music, of course I’m now a complete nerd about music.”
The members of WØRSEN share that same level of interest of music that’s more obsession that mere fandom. “It’s always kind of pushing it. Discovering music on my own, I was into most things for a very short time, until I found some of these now-staple things that have stayed with me the longest,” Hawk explains. “It’s few and far between, but those bands are always there.”
Last year, the band recorded their debut full-length, Grand Scheme. Over the course of the album’s eight songs, WØRSEN delivers the goods in a brutal way. Co-released as a cassette and CD on the labels Dead Tank, popnihil and drummer Morgan’s own Primal Vomit Records, and engineered by Taz Vega, most of the songs on Grand Scheme (wrsn.bandcamp.com.) clock in at less than two minutes. Delivered in a style that Morgan describes as a “blackened death feel,” the band’s sound is hardcore music for people looking for a harder core.
The song “Understanding” opens with a hammering drumbeat, guitar feedback squeals rising up. Within 10 seconds, the band detonates. Enraged, black-metal-style vocals, a guitar tone that sounds like it’s trying to kill the microphone and that constant drum brutality—by the time you settle in, the song is over.
On “Sacred Hammer,” the lyrics are an open attack and challenge to the God of the scriptures, a being that offsets His eternal love for humanity with arbitrary plagues, floods and Job-style torment. Oddly enough, Hawk and Barney met as kids in church. Never early for choir practice, the pair shared more a sense of personal heresy than mandated holiness. “I grew up in church and was raised that way and for the longest time I didn’t realize how these fucked-up people are valued as higher than others in the name of this supposedly ‘higher calling,’” says Barney. “I think I actually had my own ‘age of reason’ or enlightenment when religion stopped making sense,” says Hawk. “But I’m never arrogant enough to say I know what does and doesn’t exist.” While the band stresses that they aren’t necessarily anti-God, they collectively had to find an individual, albeit louder, faith. “I don’t really have anything to replace [religion] with, other than music,” says Barney.
Many of the band’s lyrics are driven to some degree by the universally frustrating state of powerlessness.
“The bottom line is probably frustration. Some of that is personal; some of it’s interpersonal, dealing with other people and society in general,” says Barney. “Things that are beyond my control and concepts that I think are general enough where people can identify with it, in the sense that they don’t have control over their own lives or how the world is.”
Extreme music—metal or otherwise—is ultimately a result of some kind of experimentation and by its very nature invites further explorations. One of the genius discoveries of black metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone was in realizing that, when things are based on absolute black-and-white—both sonically and graphically—surprising new colors can arise. In the past 25 years, deep underground music like extreme metal, noise and free jazz have arguably blossomed from a strong sense of self-support, loyal communities/scenes and even cross-pollinizing into one another.
“I think all of those genres are the outcasts of the outcasts—they don’t even fit in even other intense scenes and are so misunderstood that they don’t fit into a ‘box,’” says Barney. “Things like noise and John Zorn’s Naked City … that’s not ‘pretty music.’ With grindcore, free jazz and noise, you can’t really zone out to it because it’s constantly forcing you to pay attention.”
Grand Scheme is a similarly demanding listen. There are times when the timbre of the instruments fuses into one staticky sound wave, a kind of shadow-realm psychedelia.
Speaking with WØRSEN, it becomes apparent that the band is realistic about their place in the greater music world.
“Overall, the music is just an outlet for us,” says Morgan. “I don’t really know if there’s an in-between with music like this.”
The band has a batch of new songs ready to record, some of which stretch out the actual length of the tunes with out diluting the fury. In the last year, they played out at least once a month, surely an accomplishment for a local band playing such furious and defiant music. While WØRSEN might be on more of a warpath than career path, it ultimately comes down to the self-satisfaction of creation.
“I don’t think we’re trying to reinvent the wheel,” says Barney. “We just want to make that wheel as interesting as possible for us.”