Ah, the d-beat—perhaps the most inspiring drum beat on the planet. The deceptively simple but incredibly catchy beat was originally popularized by UK punx Discharge in the early 1980s (d-beat = “Discharge beat”) and has evolved into a worldwide underground phenomenon.
The beat functions like an upbeat, energetic heartbeat through punk, conveying rage and desperation and at times even feeling anthemic. The crusty impact of the d-beat could be the subject of its own book, but the point of this article is to discuss the absolute beauty that is adding d-beat to goregrind.
Goregrind is an offshoot of grindcore that augments basic grind principles with gore/medical atrocity imagery and pitch-shifted vocals. Putting purposefully toilet-sounding vocals over top of crushing blastbeats makes for a deliriously exciting listening experience whose emotions are hard to put into words (think of the times music has made you want to frantically mosh around your room, but with a monster voice).
I contend the only way to make this sonic torment even better is to add in d-beats, a simple ingredient that enlivens everything it touches.
The catchiness of this combination is indisputable and has given rise to numerous goregrind bands over the decades who use the d-beat as a centerpiece of this sound. In fact, judging by patent ripping alone, I contend this sub-sub-genre is more important to the history of music than “bands” like the Beatles or Metallica. Indeed, as Vomi Noir guitarist and vocalist Pierre de Palmas puts it, “If you get the right good mix of blasts, d-beats, catchy and disgusting pitch-shifted vocals, it’s a perfect flesh-mangling storm!!”
As such, it’s worthwhile to catalog a microhistory of d-beat in goregrind and to recognize the homies all over the world dedicated to perfecting this fun and opprobrious shit.
It makes sense that d-beat would be a mainstay of grindcore, since grindcore is itself an outgrowth of the punk scene, with bands like Repulsion and Blood taking cues from punx to craft their sounds. Members of Napalm Death have always maintained that one of their goals was to out-Discharge Discharge by taking the d-beat and playing it many times faster.
Sure enough, Napalm’s Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration are full of blast/d-beat/blast combos, and the band would embellish this beat across subsequent releases with more technical guitar work.
It’s important to note here, though, that the d-beat is more than just a beat. Part of the reason it is so engaging is because the mechanics of the beat itself are calibrated for maximum energy. The bass drum pumps away steadily, while the snare drives it all forward, and it is completely hypnotic and driving when played with the appropriate feeling.
According to music nerds, a notation of the d-beat looks like this:
Many grind drummers, while amazing in their own right, may feature d-beats as an incidental part of their (de)compositions, but you can tell a certain feeling is lacking when they play it. As goregrind and punk drummer Travis Bickle notes, that’s because these drummers aren’t necessarily familiar with what the beat actually is. Drummers have to be fans of punk d-beat if they want to get the right energy across.
“That’s what makes the sound stand out so much, because it’s so distinct when it is done correctly,” he says.
Fortunately, as goregrind was (d)evolving from grind into a genre of its own, some early goregrind practitioners were clearly punks at heart and made some critical artistic choices that would inspire d-beat grinders for generations.
Dead Infection’s 1994 classick A Chapter of Accidents is shot throughout with psychotic punk beats (RIP Cyjan!) and Haemhorrhage’s Anatomical Inferno punked up the Carcass goremetal sound. But one OG, goregrind unit really took the “d-beat and blast” formula to heart—Sweden’s Regurgitate, who are definitely the most revered grindfathers of the gorepunk style.
Regurgitate’s 1994 demo Concrete Human Torture in particular is a legitimately flawless release. This mf essentially has two beats—blasts and d-beats—and, coupled with the gnarly riffs and choked pitch-shifter, this rampaging madness leaves listeners feeling exactly as the song “Bludgeoned to Death” suggests (if not also suffering from “Bloody Ejaculation”).
Key to this release is Peter Stjärnvind’s drumming, which is just so, so punchy and tight. It makes sense he’d be able to pull this off, as Sweden is of course a wellspring from which legendary d-beat flows, and anyone involved in the extreme scenes was no doubt also pummeled by a good deal of punk. In fact, as Regurgitate guitarist Urban Skytt has said, “No d-beat? Well then you’re not playing grindcore.”
Stjärnvind’s work on Concrete Human Torture illustrates another interesting aspect of the mechanics of the d-beat, Bickle says. (It’s worth noting that two of Bickle’s bands—Basic Torture Procedure and Festering Embryonic Vomit—are named after Regurgitate songs).
Every grind fan loves ripping fastness in the music, but there is a point beyond which the heartbeat of the d-beat gets lost in the shuffle if played too fast, he says. The sweet spot is around 180 to 200 bpm and has a marked effect on how the music feels, with Concrete Human Torture getting the speed exactly right.
“It just—as cliché as it sounds—makes me want to go apeshit,” Bickle says. “At a show, when there’s a blast, I don’t really want to go in the pit, but when there’s a d-beat, I want to go fuck shit up.”
Whether played slow, fast, or just right, goregrind continued to evolve in the central European scene of the mid-90s and early 00s, which took the genre to new levels of creativity and coolness. The shit that came from Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic during this time was often deliberately odd but made tons of interesting innovations that have now become part of the goregrind pantheon.
One of my personal favorites is Ahumado Granujo’s 2003 Splatter Tekk, which mixes d-beats with the bulldozer groove of bands like CBT and includes cool techno samples between sonx. Jig Ai and Destructive Explosion of Anal Garland play d-beat/blast/mosh combos via trigger-heavy production, and Malignant Tumour evolved from being a Carcass-y band to one of the first progenitors of mincecore, combining primitive goregrind with punk and left-wing politics. (MxTx unfortunately transformed into a gimmicky cock rock band, which was and still is pretty annoying).
D-beat goregrind continued to evolve in other places in the world as well. Japan’s Maggut added a cranky punk sensibility into the mix while the U.S.’ Bodies Lay Broken upped the heaviness quotient of d-beat goregrind and employed cool invented anatomical lingo when titling their songs.
Greece’s Autophagia, while more pathological goregrind than d-beat, nonetheless leaned quite heavily on the punk side of things while Sweden’s General Surgery came out of retirement with some well-produced gems starting in 2003.
All these bands are amazing in their own right, but it was the USA’s one-man-band Dysmenorrheic Hemorrhage that would excrete something equal in primitive ensickment to Concrete Human Torture.
The Last Vapors of Gangrenous Fetor, released in 2004, once again really solidifies what the style is all about—no more and no less than 20 tracks of ultra-rampaging goregrind with great toilet vocals and tight drum programming. It’s completely no-frills, again comprised of basically two beats, but somehow never gets old or any less engaging. (Also of note are DxHx’s tracks from the split with Die Human Race and Feculent Goretomb, including “Public Suicide,” which is straight-up d-beat covered in vocal squirts).
“That drum machine solo project is one of the biggest influences on my drum-programming and riff-writing (a.k.a. riff-thieving),” de Palmas says. “The “Last Vapors of Gangrenous Fetor” demo is an absolute classic – and, by the way, I drew the DxHx logo, one of the biggest pride in my hack of an artist career!!”
Many posers may argue that this music is derivative, all sounds the same, doesn’t leave room for experimentation, etc. etc. And to this I say, yes, exactly! There is little more engaging that a fast, tight d-beat, and I would a million times over rather listen to a grind band from the bowels of the underground than a band made up of self-proclaimed musicians who think “progression” is a necessary aspect of metal. (I remember reading an interview with this pretentious metal band who defended their addition of a xylophone as a really forward-thinking move that saved metal from stagnation—hilarious)!
The Last Vapors of Gangrenous Fetor and Concrete Human Torture were respectively released more than 15 and 25 years ago and still sound fresh as ever. I suppose this does say something about the power of emotion in music versus technicality, but I also think that there is something pretty cool and unique about the d-beat in the context of extremely heavy music.
Many bands simply don’t use it, making the bands that do particularly memorable. Sure, evolution in music is one way to be good, but so is taking the hallmark aspects of certain genres and doing them really, really well. After all, I listen to goregrind because I like goregrind, and I like nerd out and appreciate bands who truly enjoy playing the style. That’s why all these bands are eminently re-listenable despite all sounding the same to outside observers, and that’s why their goresoaked demos are still so inspiring—they make you want to channel the same energy into bands of your own.
Believe it or not, goregrind does continue to evolve. Over the past few years, there has been an uptick in hyperblasting goretrocities drawing directly from Last Days of Humanity’s completely astonishing and unrelenting Putrefaction in Progress, a sub-sub-genre that likewise warrants its own microhistory. But certain goregrind freaks prefer to feel the power of the d-beat flowing through them and will always headband, air drum, and smile as Regurgitate tramples over them.
“[D-beat] just sounds like this disgusting filth, and when you up the ante with goregrind, it just sounds so brutal,” Bickle says.
For further reference, readers are invited to check out the following bands: Active Stenosis, Morgue Tar, Garbage Guts, Hyperemesis, Endotoxaemia, Metastasis, Jugular Embolism, Pancreatectomie, Metrorrhagia, Oniku, Miasmatic Necrosis, Sulsa, Discrow, Hypertrophy, Pulsating Cerebral Slime, Orchiopexy, Failed Treatment, Gangrene Discharge, Meat Spreader, Archagathus, Nyctophagia, and the vastly under-appreciated Decapitated Midgets (who are also named after a Regurgitate song).
While not strictly d-beat grind, special mention goes out to Brazil’s ultra-low-tuned Neurovisceral Exhumation, who churned out an absolute masterpiece in the form of 2004’s Mass Murder Festival, full of insane blasts and mosh parts and a handful of d-beats, including a cover of punk legends Doom).