In March 1984, Black Flag put out My War. After a long dispute with their record label that prevented them from releasing music, they had plenty stored up. Over the next 18 months, they put out four studio full-lengths, one live album, and one EP. Before they broke up in 1986, they changed the face of not only punk, but also metal.
Side A of My War bridged early (terse, punky) and later (torturous, cathartic) Black Flag. Song lengths rose past three minutes, as Greg Ginn’s guitar got skronkier, but the band could still write singalongs. The biggest one was the title track. Henry Rollins’ vocals obliterate 99% of what passes for “punk” now. He’d jump out the speakers and throttle you if he could. Given such misanthropy, it’s no surprise that black metal would take on Black Flag. Kult ov Azazel recently gave “My War” a nasty, blackened spin. You can hear it here.
Side B was the dealmaker/breaker. Sick and slow, its three dirges repelled critics but attracted countless converts. Googling “my war” “side b” influence yields hundreds of hits. One guy’s MySpace handle is “my war side b”. It’s a touchstone for Scott Kelly of Neurosis. Brian Patton of Eyehategod/Soilent Green told me, “We were just into slower bands, like the Melvins and side two of My War – downtuned, noisy crap”. In a Guitar World interview with Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and the Melvins’ Buzz Osborne, Thayil recalls when he first heard the Melvins in late ‘84:
KIM: Everyone kept yelling, “Kim, did you hear that?” It was like, “The fuckin’ Melvins are slow as hell!” I was blown away – the Melvins went from being the fastest band in town to the slowest band in town. It was a pretty amazing and courageous move. Everyone was trying to be punk rock, a kind of art-damage thing, and the Melvins decided to be the heaviest band in the world.
BUZZ: It was the Black Flag thing.
Those three songs weren’t metal per se. Ginn spent too much time fighting Rollins’ vocals with noodly solos. Bill Stevenson was no metal drummer. But the weight was there. Sludge had entered the world – howling, unwanted, and nursing a permanent grudge.