Repulsion: When Metal Got Mean, Grindcore Was Born

For years, their music was traded on worn-out tapes, whispered about in underground circles. Repulsion were the stuff of legend, their album “Horrified” a holy grail for those who craved the most extreme sounds imaginable.

The image shows the influential grindcore band Repulsion sitting at a bar. The members are casually dressed, with two sporting band t-shirts. Bottles of beer are visible on the bar in front of them. The band is known for being pioneers of grindcore music, and they appear relaxed and unassuming in this setting.
Key Takeaways
  • Repulsion emerged from Flint, Michigan’s industrial decay, creating a brutal sound that blended thrash metal with hardcore punk.
  • Their music, particularly the “Horrified” album, became foundational for the grindcore genre, characterized by its extreme speed and aggression.
  • Through tape trading, Repulsion’s influence spread globally, significantly impacting the development of extreme metal despite their initial underground status.

The Crucible That Spawned Repulsion

Flint, Michigan in the mid-1980s was a city in a state of flux. Once the undisputed heart of America’s booming automotive industry, the city was now reeling under the weight of economic collapse. General Motors, once the lifeblood of the city, had begun a series of mass layoffs and plant closures, leaving thousands without work. The vibrant city center withered as storefronts emptied and once-proud homes fell into disrepair. In the air was the acrid smell of decay and a sense of betrayal.

Flint’s blue-collar identity had always been shaped by hardship. Its people carried the legacy of hard work and an enduring spirit – a work-hard, play-hard ethos that persisted even in dire circumstances. It was within this tense, decaying landscape that a group of young metalheads converged. Matt Olivo and Scott Carlson, united by a shared passion for speed-driven thrash metal, formed the rudimentary beginnings of what would become Repulsion.

Out of Flint’s industrial decay, Repulsion forged a sound as brutal as their surroundings.

Initially, the band existed as Tempter, a name that reflected a youthful infatuation with the aggression and intensity of bands like Metallica and Slayer pouring out of the thriving Bay Area scene. Sean MacDonald joined on bass, his playing infused with the energy of hardcore punk acts closer to home. Yet, something was missing; the band lacked its own unique voice.

The crucial turning point for Tempter was the arrival of Phil Hines. Leaving behind the local hardcore outfit Dissonance, Hines was a powerhouse behind the drum kit, his blistering speed and unbridled ferocity injected a vital new ingredient into the mix. The sonic fusion was transformative; the raw aggression of hardcore punk collided with the speed and technicality of thrash, giving birth to something monstrous, brutal, and entirely new.

It was under this volatile cauldron of hardship and relentless energy that Tempter would vanish, morphing into Ultraviolence and then Genocide. But these names were transitory – mere stepping stones – for the band’s true identity. And when they finally settled on Repulsion, it was a declaration of intent. A rejection of the world around them, a visceral howl against societal decay, and the embodiment of the raw, pulsating sound they had unearthed.

Forging the Extreme

Repulsion wasn’t born out of a desire to emulate their heroes, but rather to push beyond them. They hungered for something faster, heavier, and more brutal than the bands they admired. And while their journey began with the blazing riffs of thrash, it was the raw, unrelenting power of hardcore punk and the emerging brutality of bands like Possessed that further fueled their transformation.

Possessed‘s landmark 1985 debut album, “Seven Churches,” became a guiding star for Repulsion. Its blend of thrash metal fury and the guttural growls that would become a signature of death metal carved a path into the realms of extreme music. It was a sound that resonated deeply with these young musicians from Flint.

From thrash and punk to something entirely monstrous – Repulsion forged their own path.

As disaffected teenagers with a shared passion for the darker corners of music, Repulsion aimed to create something even more ferocious. Their ambition wasn’t simply to play fast – it was to forge a monstrous hybrid, merging the relentless speed and aggression of punk with the distorted, sinister edge of metal. This relentless pursuit of extremity would shape the nascent sound of grindcore.

Interviews reveal the band’s varied influences. Scott Carlson’s lyrics often drew from horror movies and Cold War anxieties, common interests that likely fed into the decision to form Repulsion. Matt Olivo, the guitarist, articulated the band’s driving force: to push boundaries, to meld the aggression of punk with the darkness of metal and take it somewhere entirely new.

In a local scene focused on traditional metal and punk, Repulsion became an anomaly. Olivo himself recalled that during Flint’s 1986 metal scene, glam bands like Motley Crue were the norm. It was amongst the hardcore punk crowd that they found their initial, if unlikely, home. The unpolished fury of Repulsion’s sound, devoid of solos and metal theatrics, resonated with the raw energy of the punk shows.

The Sound Takes Shape

In 1985, still performing as Genocide, Repulsion stepped into the studio for their first official recording: the “Violent Death” demo tape. While rough around the edges, it marked a pivotal shift within the band’s sound. Tracks were tighter, tempos pushed upward, and the production, while still raw, showcased a refinement compared to prior efforts. This demo hinted at their emerging direction – a distillation of the brutal essence they sought.

This evolution was a testament to their growth as musicians. Individual parts became more defined, their chaotic energy now channeled into a distinct aggression. Raspy vocals, distorted guitars, and Phil Hines’ relentless drumming fused into a more cohesive sonic assault, laying the foundation for the signature sound that would make Repulsion a force within the extreme music scene.

The “Violent Death” demo was rough, but it was the moment Repulsion truly found their voice.

While crucial to understanding their journey, their initial demos lacked a significant element: the relentless blast beats that would become synonymous with grindcore. It was with 1986’s “WFBE Demo” that the picture truly came into focus. Repulsion truly embraced the elements that would feature on their iconic “Horrified” album.

Curiously, a few tracks from the “Violent Death” era were re-recorded without blast beats. Still, this formative demo tape remains a landmark in the band’s musical evolution. It wasn’t the fully polished grindcore assault of their later work, but it marked the clear turning point where Repulsion began to shed their influences and forge a path into uncharted sonic territory.

The Tapes Spread the Word

Long before the internet transformed how music was shared, there existed a dedicated network of enthusiasts that kept the underground music scene alive: the tape traders. This pre-digital world relied on cassette tapes, copied and recopied, crisscrossing the globe in padded envelopes. For bands like Repulsion, tapes weren’t just a way to share their music; they were the lifeblood that connected them to a global audience hungry for extreme sounds.

Repulsion’s demos circulated feverishly through this network. Fans and fellow musicians alike traded dubbed cassettes of “Violent Death” and “WFBE” demos, generating an excited buzz within the darkest corners of the burgeoning metal scene. Scott Carlson, in interviews, revealed the band’s active role as tape traders. Exchanges with figures like Jeff Walker and Bill Steer of the band Carcass helped spread their name and their brutal sound far and wide.

Tape trading wasn’t just about the music; it built a global community for extreme metal.

This grassroots method of distribution was vital. At a time when extreme metal bands lived far beyond the reach of traditional music media and record labels, tape trading became their lifeline. Bands like Repulsion achieved notoriety within the community organically, tape by tape, creating a reputation that would precede the release of their iconic debut album, “Horrified” (originally created as the 1986 demo, “Slaughter of the Innocent”).

Recognition, At Last

Repulsion’s path was not paved with instant success. Their music, born in the decaying heart of Flint, was far ahead of its time. Despite their innovation and growing underground buzz, widespread recognition eluded them throughout most of the 1980s.

Yet, their influence rippled through the global metal scene. Across the Atlantic, the UK’s grindcore pioneers, Carcass, took notice. Recognizing Repulsion’s crucial role in shaping the extreme sound, Carcass made a pivotal decision that would alter history. In 1989, they released a compilation of Repulsion’s material titled “Horrified” through their own Necrosis Records, affiliated with the influential Earache label.

Carcass recognized Repulsion’s influence and took their sound to the world.

This was a watershed moment. Suddenly, Repulsion’s name and their relentless sonic assault reached a much wider audience. Carcass’s support not only amplified Repulsion’s music but also rekindled interest within the band itself. Inspired by this recognition, Repulsion officially reformed in 1990 and embraced a new era of live performances.

It’s important to note that Carcass themselves were on a meteoric rise. Their own 1988 debut album, “Reek of Putrefaction, became a landmark of grindcore, gaining them radio play with the renowned Radio 1 DJ, John Peel. This further solidified both bands’ places as vital forces within the extreme music scene.

“Horrified” – A Grindcore Landmark

The release of “Horrified” stands as a turning point not only for Repulsion but for the evolution of grindcore as a whole. While technically their only full-length album, “Horrified” became a blueprint, a touchstone that set the standard for grindcore.

It’s important to understand that the album’s journey was convoluted. Though originally recorded in June of 1986 as the “Slaughter of the Innocent” demo, its official release under the name “Horrified” wouldn’t occur until July 10, 1989, courtesy of Necrosis Records. This delay reinforces just how niche and ahead of its time Repulsion’s sound was. They made music for a very specific audience, one that craved the most brutal of the brutal.

Horrified” wasn’t just extreme, it redefined what extreme music could be.

The production of “Horrified” is a defining characteristic. Recorded at a home studio by Larry Hennessy, the lo-fi aesthetic was a deliberate choice. They aimed for filth and chaos, mirroring Scott Carlson’s horror-infused lyrics that reveled in gore, decay, and the grotesque. This approach, while rough around the edges, was revolutionary, and would set a template for the legions of goregrind acts that would follow them.

Musically, “Horrified” is a volatile cocktail of elements. Traces of thrash, nascent death metal, and the raw energy of hardcore were fused into something ferocious. Songs careen through chaotic tempo changes, unleashing bursts of sonic violence fueled by Scott Carlson’s unhinged shriek. Even the guitar solos possess a frenzied, almost unhinged quality that further defines their sound.

The album’s short, brutal tracks are a defining element of their sound. Most clock in under two minutes, favoring bursts of violence over traditional song structures – a central tenet of the grindcore ethos. This unrelenting pace was something rarely heard in metal at the time, pushing boundaries and challenging what listeners and musicians found acceptable.

Grindcore Groundbreakers

Alongside pioneers like Napalm Death, Carcass, and Terrorizer, Repulsion stands as one of the architects of the grindcore sound. The hallmarks of their music – blast beats, heavily distorted guitars, the guttural, almost inhuman vocals, and the fascination with gory imagery – helped form the very DNA of the genre. Their raw energy and uncompromising sound became the blueprint for generations of bands to come.

Repulsion weren’t just extreme, they inspired entire genres to push their own limits.

Yet, their influence wasn’t confined solely to the grindcore scene. The aggression, speed, and rawness of their sound became a source of inspiration for many early death metal bands. While death metal would ultimately veer in directions more technical and complex, for many of its originators, Repulsion served as a catalyst, encouraging them to push their own music into more extreme realms.

Mainstream success was never in the cards for Repulsion. Their music was, by design, meant to disturb, challenge, and repulse. But this refusal to compromise is precisely what makes them so revered. Fans of old-school, unfiltered extreme music hold Repulsion in high esteem. And while their career output might be relatively small, the album “Horrified” stands as a towering monument to grindcore’s earliest, and most primal form. Its legacy is undeniable.

Twisted Opinion

So, these Repulsion fellas… were they just a bunch of talentless hacks who got lucky ’cause their city was going down the toilet?

Nah, they had more talent than yer local hair metal band, with their pouffy hair and spandex pants! But let’s be honest, ain’t nothin’ lucky about comin’ up in Flint. That kinda place… well, it either kills ya or makes ya wanna make music that sounds like a rusty chainsaw ripping through a dying cat. Repulsion, they chose the chainsaw. Can’t say I blame ’em.