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Iron Fist Magazine

VAULTS: REPULSION “We thought we were cutting our own throats”

They only ever made one album, but in those 18 short, furious blasts a whole new level of extremity was born. From Flint, Michigan’s punk scene and its creators warped and horror-addled brains grew ‘HORRIFIED’ and genocide paved the way for REPULSION. The stench still lingers today, as JIM YOUNG discovered in Issue Three.

The rancid tale of Repulsion is not an unfamiliar one. But unlike many bands that faded away, were plagued by obscurity, bad luck or bickering, redemption was found when the corpse of Repulsion was resurrected in 2003. They may not be recording a successor to the landmark ‘Horrified’ any time soon, but that album ensures their permanent residence in the league of extreme metal reserved for the perverse pioneers, the virile visionaries and the ephemeral elite… Before becoming ‘the fastest band in the world’ (and pretty much inventing grindcore) Repulsion’s story began in 1984, when they were known as the hardcore-baiting metal brats Genocide, in Flint, Michigan, dubbed “the worst place in the world to be an extreme musician”. “You pretty much had to do your own thing, there was no real scene to speak of,” explains bassist/vocalist Scott Carlson. “That’s really how we got involved in punk. No matter where you went after punk came out, there was a scene. It had such a huge impact on the world that there was a scene everywhere, unlike heavy metal, which hadn’t made its mark. We got involved in that just because we knew people that were putting on shows, making their own records, whatever it was they were doing things themselves. And because we were playing music that wasn’t in any way remotely popular, it just kinda fit for us. Flint’s hardcore scene immediately took to this strange new group, albeit after some initial reluctance. “When we were going up to the first gig, we were getting a little bit of hassle from skaters because we had Marshalls and the kinda gear that they considered to be lame, and our guitar players had real guitars [laughs]. But, once we set up and started playing people loved it because we were fast and aggressive, they could thrash to it and that’s what they were there for; people seemed to go to hardcore shows just to get some aggression out and you were able to do that to our music, so people just dug it.” Despite Genocide’s hardcore upbringing, and opening for the likes of DRI and Corrosion Of Conformity, political lyrics and imagery was (thankfully) eschewed for gore and horror; a natural choice for Scott. “I’ve always been into escapism since I was a little kid. I grew up watching Universal and Hammer Horror films and just always loved it, and I was reading HP Lovecraft when I was 13 years old, so it just came natural to write about gore and horror.” One film in particular resonated especially with the young Carlson. “I remember seeing ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, it absolutely blew my mind. It’s sort of lightweight material, but when it came out, I was like 12 or 13 and it absolutely shattered my being. All I did was think of gore after that [laughs]. I got a year’s subscription to Fangoria Magazine and read that cover to cover and listened to heavy metal all day long and those two things just sort of added up.”Gore and horror didn’t just inspire the band’s lyrics and imagery, however. It was a crucial part of the mentality behind the music of what would eventually become Repulsion. “The climax of ‘Re-animator’ was sort of an inspiration for our music because there was just a million things flying at the screen, gore coming at you from every direction, and that was how we wanted our music to sound, like the musical equivalent of the climax of ‘Re-animator’ or ‘Evil Dead’.”

In the Spring of 1985, having been penpals for some time with Death visionary, and fellow imbiber of the goblet of gore, Chuck Schuldiner, Scott and Genocide guitarist Matt Olivo moved to Chuck’s native Florida to combine forces with Schuldiner and drummer Kam Lee, after the line-up of Genocide collapsed. “We thought that was the answer to all of our problems. Matt was my song-writing partner and Chuck had Kam who was his song-writing partner, but almost immediately Kam decided he didn’t want to play drums anymore and didn’t want to be behind the kit, he wanted to be the front man so he went off and eventually formed Massacre.” “We were great friends with Chuck, he had the same sense of humour as us but he had a completely different level of drive and determination and he was always very much into the idea of being really technical,” continues Scott. “That’s not what Matt and I wanted to do, we came from a hardcore background, we wanted to just bash and make noise.” The unholy union lasted only a few months before Scott and Matt parted ways with Chuck. “We wrote the first couple of songs while we were still in Florida playing with Chuck and they were really fast and he thought they were too simple and too fast, so we were like, ‘Let’s just go home and start our own band, because I think we’re onto something here’.” Upon returning to Michigan, however, they were faced with the same dilemma they had before going to Florida:

“There were no guys who could play death metal, which was just becoming a term at the time. We couldn’t find a drummer.” It wasn’t long, though,before they found a depraved saviour in the form of Flint’s own, Dave ‘Grave’ Hollingshead, then a drummer in various local punk bands. “One day, we were at the local record store that we hung out at all the time and there was an article torn out from a newspaper, which is actually on the inner sleeve of ‘Horrified’, that was hanging on a door where you could hang up flyers and shit. We were reading this thing: ‘Youth involved in grave robbing’ and we were like, ‘That guy is perfect for us – he’s a punk rock drummer, he’s a grave robber, let’s get him to be our drummer’. Once Dave joined the reactivated Genocide, Scott and Matt immediately put him to work. “He was used to playing punk rock speeds and we were trying to be brutal and heavy and as fast as we possibly could, so we were just pushing him every single day to get faster and hit the drums harder. I think he probably hated us, we used him like he was our slave, we were like, ‘Faster, harder! Faster, harder!’ He became a much better drummer because of it, but he probably doesn’t have very fond memories of learning our songs or working out the music because we were constantly badgering him [laughs].”

This speed abuse was inspired by the likes of Cryptic Slaughter, Heresy, NYC Mayhem and DRI, “bands who really were mixing punk and hardcore and metal early on”. “It really wasn’t any metal band [that inspired us], it was hardcore bands that were playing really, really fast,” explains Scott. “We liked Possessed and we also liked NYC Mayhem, Slaughter and DRI, and we thought, ‘Let’s be as heavy and evil as Possessed, but as fast as DRI’. So yeah, it was definitely important for us to have that hardcore element in our music.” Genocide’s sound was also born out of a maniacal need to make music more extreme than anything previously heard, an ideal the boys were passionate about, to say the least. “We were definitely obsessed. If we heard a band with gore lyrics we’d be like, ‘Ours have to be gorier than that, otherwise what’s the point?’ If we heard a fast band, we had to be faster. If we heard a distorted bass, the bass had to be more distorted. I loved Venom but I thought, ‘Imagine if Venom were faster and had even more distortion!’ That was sort of the mentality.” Their need for extremity was not without consequence, and like many trailblazing bands, Genocide was misunderstood and under-appreciated. “We didn’t realise we were breaking ground, in fact we thought we were cutting our own throats, because the more extreme we got, the less people seemed to like it. It was inspiring to get letters from people like Shane Embury, who at the time was 13 years old, and Trey from Morbid Angel wrote us a letter and sent me a tape. I was like, ‘Wow there’s a band that’s way more musically adept than we are’. Around the local scene with the hardcore bands and stuff, the faster we got people just weren’t getting it. People just kinda stood there and scratched their heads when we played live.”By 1986, however, the band had consolidated their sound with Dave ‘Grave’ and the addition of Aaron Freeman joining on second guitar. Genocide then changed its name to Repulsion and it became time to finally record a demo under this moniker [Genocide had recorded three demos before the name change]. The 18-track recording, ‘Slaughter Of The Innocent’, was originally intended to be sent to labels in the hopes of getting signed and recording a proper album. However, this demo would become the band’s sole LP, ‘Horrified’, and wouldn’t see an official release until 1989 “It was recorded in a few days I think,” reveals Scott. “We recorded at this small studio in the basement of this guy who recorded radio bands and things like that. When I started recording the vocals, he literally fell out of his chair and rolled on the floor laughing, which didn’t make it any easier to record them.” ‘Slaughter…’ was recorded for $300 during a “quick and painless” three days in June 1986, with drums, bass and guitars tracked in a single session.“The week before recording the album we rehearsed intensely until we had the material down very well for when we went in the studio. Although, there are pretty serious mistakes on the record because none of us had been in a studio, so when we fucked things up we didn’t even bother to go back and fix them [laughs].

One of the fortunate mistakes that appears throughout the recording is the oft-imitated, but rarely-duplicated, Repulsion bass sound, which lead Napalm Death’s Mick Harris to coin the term ‘grindcore’. “I used to play a giant PA cabinet instead of a bass cabinet, so the bass always sounded really extreme and that was because I was really into Cronos; the bass sound that he has on ‘Black Metal’ is just amazing,” explains Scott. “When we recorded, I ran my distortion pedal straight into the mixing desk, in a scratch track so Dave could hear it in his headphones while he was doing the drums, and we recorded the amped bass track later on. But, the guy recording our album was smoking insane amounts of marijuana and he accidentally erased some of those amped bass tracks. So, we ended up having to use the scratch track because it was the only one that was there throughout the entire recording and it’s just a fuzz pedal going directly into a mixing desk [laughs].”

Once the demo was recorded, Repulsion sent it to “every record label in America”, but were met with “utter disappointment”. “We felt like we were about to get signed to Combat Records or Metal Blade or something like that, we thought we were going places y’know,” says Scott. “We thought everything was gonna happen for us. We weren’t thinking we were gonna be huge rock stars, we just thought we were gonna be a band that would tour with other bands that we liked and be accepted in part of the heavy metal music industry.” But, ‘Slaughter…’ was simply not a direction heavy metal labels in America were prepared to take at the time. “We sent the demo out to all the labels and it was just complete silence. Well, some of the labels were kind enough to at least reply, like Metal Blade and a few others. You know that they actually listened to it, because they said, ‘Hey, good job, but we’re not interested. Keep it up, send us your next material, blah blah blah’. Even the labels that were signing heavy heavy metal bands were not into us.” It would be three disheartened years until ‘Slaughter…’ was released. Repulsion went on hiatus three months after the recording, and then broke up in November 1987. “We were moving in different directions. No one gave a shit, and we didn’t give a shit anymore,” Scott laments. “I guess it was just a matter of being six months too soon. It definitely wasn’t like we were light years ahead of our time, it was just a few months. We started to hear things like Napalm Death and Morbid Angel and realised that there were other bands out there that were like-minded musicians. There was no Internet or anything, it was really like you were just on an island, and had we stuck a little bit longer we would have found more kindred spirits and we would have ended up playing with those bands and being part of that scene.” “Maybe we weren’t even ahead of our time, we just weren’t discovered,” reflects Scott. “But,we were lucky enough to be discovered later on. There are plenty of other bands out there, like Insanity from San Francisco. They never made proper recordings so it took years and years for people to discover them.”

The ‘Slaughter…’ recording lay festering, until in 1989, when Carcass gorelords Bill Steer and Jeff Walker entered the picture. Having recently gained enough clout to start their own imprint on Earache Records, and having been fans, to say the least, of Repulsion for quite some time, Bill and Jeff offered to release ‘Slaughter…’ through their imprint, Necrosis Records. Earache gave Repulsion some money to finally mix the grinding slab, and the demo became the album, ‘Horrified’ “We definitely felt relief,” says Scott, of howRepulsion reacted. “It was like, ‘Fuck yes! This is amazing! I can’t believe this is happening’. You couldn’t ask for a better label at that time to put our record out, we just immediately jumped at the opportunity. It was like vindication, finally people understand what we were doing and we were extremely happy about it.” 1989 was an ideal time for ‘Horrified’ to be released, but to really appreciate how devastatingly groundbreaking it is, consider when it was recorded – there were only a few bands that sounded anywhere near as extreme as Repulsion in nineteen-eighty-fucking-six. But, how does Scott see the album today? “I think ‘Horrified’ is a great record and,without trying to sound arrogant, it’s my favourite death metal album. I don’t really care for bands that are more extreme than that, because in order to get more extreme you pretty much have to start using studio trickery. To me, Repulsion still is the cutting-edge extremity when it comes to just organic sounds, just guitar, bass and drums, our whole ensemble taken to the Nth degree. “I think the fact that it was recorded so organically is what sort of makes it timeless,” explains Scott. “You can listen to it now and it doesn’t sound dated to me. It doesn’t have any of those things when bands started recording at Morrisound in Florida, where you’re like, ‘Oh that sounds like it’s from a certain era’, and then the Swedish death metal thing, which is fantastic as well, but has that sound which makes you think of an exact year. Our record kind of stands on its own because of the way it was recorded, which was just completely natural. It has a signature sound to it I guess.”As much as this is about an album that changed extreme metal, the band itself must be considered too, since this sole LP is Repulsion. “Our creative arc was much like the record, very short and extreme. The band was around for less than a year really, so it was just so intense for those months. That’s like all we did, we rehearsed five or six nights a week and when we weren’t rehearsing we were writing, I was sitting in my room writing lyrics or coming up with riffs.”

Scott, however, remains modest about the whole nine yards (horror, pain, gore, death) of Repulsion’s legacy. “The labels don’t really mean a whole lot because I know that there are plenty of influential bands out there, but I do realise that we are an influential band. I couldn’t be prouder to have been an influence on people like Nicke Andersson, these people have gone on to do amazing things, way more amazing than I’ve ever done. “Some people say, ‘How do you feel about bands like Napalm Death nicking riffs from you?’ and whatnot,” Scott continues. “I’m grateful for it because if it wasn’t for those bands we wouldn’t be talking right now. They put us on the map. We gave them inspiration, but they gave back as much, if not more than, what they took from us, so we are extremely grateful for all those bands.” With ‘Horrified’, Repulsion’s grotesque vision was finally realised and, in typical Repulsion fashion, that vision lasted only briefly, though it still violently resonates in extreme metal today. “I think we reached the pinnacle around the time that we recorded ‘Horrified’, because we actually did go back into writing mode after that and things started to slow down and get a little tamer and we lost our inspiration. With ‘Horrified’, I think we said everything we needed to say about that kind of music. Once we got it out of our system we were done.”

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