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Hüsker Dü’s “Savage Young Dü” Is Loud, Fast, & Lawless

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Hüsker Dü’s career spanned nearly the entire decade of the 1980s. Despite checking off many of the boxes that make for great metal – guitar-based genuinely heavy music with copious amounts of distortion and even more speed, especially in the band’s formative years – the group barely registered on the metal landscape. In fact, it’s likely that they did more to confuse metal fans by releasing an album with the title Metal Circus in 1983. I’ll bet there was a line of heshers returning it to record shops, confused over the misnomered noise.

That was a great way to describe the early Hüsker Dü output which is lovingly compiled in Savage Young Dü (The Numero Group), a four-LP or three-CD set containing demo, live, outtakes, and alternate versions of the most primitive and primordial music the band ever created. This includes new versions of the band’s 1981 debut album Land Speed Record and a special 7” including five previously unissued songs from the aforementioned Metal Circus sessions.

For someone who loves the band, it’s a treasure trove. For those unfamiliar with the group, it’s a decent introduction to the band’s material before they famously started injecting melody and (more, different) emotion into their sound.

The box set compiles the years where they sounded like The Ramones (even covering “Chinese Rocks”) who themselves eventually became iconic to everyone who liked rock ‘n’ roll, including metalheads. Hüsker Dü also employed the breakneck speed and thrashing noise that became hardcore, although they were a little smarter about it than most. Witness “Bricklayer” and “Afraid Of Being Wrong” on disc three from Everything Falls Apart, both short, sharp, and shocked, pure hardcore, but that couplet is followed by “Sunshine Superman,” a Donovan hit from the psychedelic 1960s. Even then, Hüsker Dü was tough to pigeonhole, and maybe that’s why even underground metal fans at the time had trouble grasping the totality of the band.

Much like how Voivod helped invent death metal and then abandoned it right when it started to take off, Hüsker Dü would abandon the fury so they missed out on possibly crossing over, leaving that to the bands that would come to define the crossover genre. Bands such as D.R.I., and the metallic hardcore prevalent in New York (Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags) attracted the long-hairs. Although that evolution allowed them to become the first independent group to make the jump to the major labels and created their most timeless and enduring albums, that side of the band is only hinted at here.

Interestingly, it was after the band’s demise that metal fans finally started to get into the Hüsker Dü sound, though this did not benefit the band, at least not directly.

Guitarist and vocalist Bob Mould released a few interesting solo albums after the band split up in 1987 that attempted to distance himself from the sound he helped pioneer before finally reconciling his past with a new band called Sugar. At the height of grunge, 1992’s Copper Blue was huge, especially in the United Kingdom where the likes of Kerrang! and Metal Hammer were falling over themselves to finally give Mould metal press. It was even named one of Kerrang!’s “100 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” in 1998.

So, metal fans should definitely pick that up as well as some of the latter Hüsker Dü material – start off with New Day Rising. Even though the mid 1980s material would go on to typify the golden age of college radio where there was little playlist symmetry with the guys doing the metal show, hindsight allows modern metal fans to go where few of their peers went before.

Besides, even though Hüsker Dü didn’t get metal fans in droves like their SST labelmates Black Flag, a few did figure it out. Hit up YouTube and you can hear the likes of Anthrax, Prong, and Entombed covering the band. So did Italian grindcore merchants Cripple Bastards, Irish alt-metallers Therapy? and Sick Of It All does a mean version of “Target.” VH1’s 100 Greatest Hard Rock Artists ranked Hüsker Dü number sixty-eight and featured Kirk Hammett speaking glowingly about the band.

You can also hear the influence in contemporary bands. A lot of Melvins material sounds like Hüsker Dü played at half the speed. Torche have gone on record as loving the band and that is especially evident on 2012’s Meanderthal.

If you listen to the swirling guitar of “It’s Not Fair,” a live cut from 1982 that closes the box set, or the likes of “Ice Cold Ice” from the band’s swansong 1987 LP Warehouse: Songs and Stories or “Pink Turns to Blue” from 1984’s Zen Arcade, neither of which is in the set but are worth seeking out, you can hear the kind of atmosphere that post-black metal bands would be quite content to approximate.

The latter song is sung by Grant Hart, the band’s drummer (bassist Greg Norton rounded out the trio; all three would sing lead on the songs they wrote though Mould and Hart did the majority of the songwriting). Just last month Hart passed away from liver cancer at age 56. While acrimony among the three famously made a reunion very unlikely, Hart’s tragic demise solidified the fact that Hüsker Dü would never play together again.

Fortunately the music is still here and thanks to Savage Young Dü, everyone – but especially metal fans – can rediscover or discover the band for the first time.

—Brian O’Neill

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