The Oral History of NYC's Metal/Hardcore Crossover
Excerpted from the book Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, published by It Books and available May 14
Biohazard's Evan Seinfeld
New York is a music mecca—the Brill Building, Broadway, street performers, subway buskers, the Metropolitan opera—but it's not known for its abundance of successful metal bands.
Sure, the city has produced some heralded heavy luminaries, including KISS, Anthrax, and Helmet. But for a volatile period from the mid-'80s to the early '90s, a batch of passionate, aggressive, and sometimes violent bands terrorized the Lower East Side, even turning legendary new wave/punk club CBGB into a metal mainstay on weekend afternoons in the '80s. The phenom was all the more surprising because back in the day, if a New York punk fan lined up for a Slayer show, or a headbanger dared enter the moshpit at a GBH gig, fists were likely to fly. Never mind the sonic similarities between the Sex Pistols and Anthrax—the cultural divide between metal and punk was too great for any band to breach at the time. Then a few bands brave enough to merge the two styles finally surfaced. In keeping with the city's gritty rep, they often featured thuggish musicians who were equally adept at swinging a beer bottle as slinging a guitar.
Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, and S.O.D., which featured Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante, were among the city's first bands to combine metal and hardcore, creating the crossover genre. Later, Biohazard and Carnivore (featuring volatile young singer Peter Steele, who later found more mainstream success with the doom-gloom Type O Negative), made the scene more visible.
In an effort to cash in on the emerging crossover bands, which also included non–New York groups like D.R.I., Corrosion of Conformity, and Suicidal Tendencies, promoters booked them on the same bill as established metal acts like Megadeth and Slayer—with sometimes dubious results. What was most surprising about the crossover scene was the intense violence that followed New York bands, who were as unrelenting and tough as the city that bred them.
Unlike many metal musicians, who craved the spotlight and perks of fame, crossover bands tended to act out their troubled personal lives both onstage and off. In LA, metal bands handed out flyers and chased women; New York bands looked for fights and chased each other, often with lethal weapons. Sometimes fights were between the band members—including the on-and-off friction between Cro-Mags' founding bassist, Harley Flanagan (who last left the band in 2002), and vocalist John Joseph, which erupted in stabbing and biting at Webster Hall in July 2012.