Justify Your Shitty Taste: Discharge’s “Grave New World”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Discharge’s Grave New World.

Metalheads and punks alike know and respect Brit hardcore/punk/crusties Discharge because of their 1982 debut Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing, but we should never forget the about-face the band took on their second (!) album, 1986’s Grave New World, where they switched up their aggressive HC for a totally bonkers, straight-faced take on glam metal.

Make no mistake: this record is absurd. It’s totally out of control, it’s an enormous mistake, and it puts this band’s entire legacy in question.

It’s also a riot to listen to.

The thing is, we can’t really sit around and jerk off over pictures of Joel Grind (uh… here’s hoping my editor cuts that one) while simultaneously crying “sellout!” over this. This record could be released as the next Toxic Holocaust album and we’d barely blink an eye. Inepsy? Grave New World!

Alright, not quite, but the weird reality is that crusties have more than a small fancy for balls-to-the-wall rock, because, hey, crusties are people too, and balls-to-the-wall rock rules. I would say “so why not combine them?” but Discharge don’t really have any of their, well, real sound here, it’s just a full 180, a squat-punk Grave Digger/Digger currency conversion, but with more cock swagger on this band’s Donald Duck.

You know how when you spin Slaughter now when no one’s around you’re just kinda like, “Shiiit, that voice…”? The vocals on this record are like Mark Slaughter on a speed bender. The fact that this is from a former political hardcore band is incredible. Second track “In Love Believe” is just next level, like, this is glam, yes, but it’s really not good glam, it’s just… crusties trying to play glam, irony free and my brain has no way to comprehend or categorize songs like this. This really doesn’t come along that often, as crust punks generally don’t actively try to chase the dollar sign (hey, it can work: that’s basically why Against Me!’s New Wave exists, and I love that record).

The lyrics here aren’t at all what you’d expect from the sounds, and are completely inappropriate for the style of vocals. The first half of the album is vague apocalyptic negativity and actually aren’t half bad, then the second is a sort of mini concept suite about the perils of hard drug use. Again, not half bad. I would appreciate it more if the songs were about the usual glam tropes, but Discharge actually save themselves a little bit here by not dumbing down the lyrical content.

But the music? Unbelievable. This album is so off the charts that I barely ever even hear people make fun of it; it’s just forgotten, seemingly, unless I’m not hanging around the right crowd. But it’s a fascinating historical document of a band failing, and it’s just hysterical, Discharge trying so hard and falling so hard, the end results not being particularly great hair metal or anything—I mean, this is opening-for-Danger-Danger-level stuff—but relentlessly entertaining. Although their fans didn’t think so, as this wildly entertaining audio from a concert during this era documents. And, oh my god:

The album as a whole sort of races past in one big awkward mush of glam glommed on to your ears only briefly before fading away fast and hard as soon as it ends. The reason I can say the words “Unskinny Bop” to you right now and you instantly have a fucking Poison song in your head is because the best glam bands could write great songs (or had the money to have Desmond Child write great songs for them). Discharge, sadly, have no “Unskinny Bop” here, and I’m pretty sure their budget around this era didn’t include a line for hotshot songwriters to the stars. With a background that included legit raging punk/HC, the band were totally ill-equipped to make this jump. This record is a fascinating document of an enormous question mark. It makes zero sense. It is quite literally awkward to listen to. But, as I said before, it’s also a ton of fun to listen to, which is why I can justify it.

Were Discharge trailblazers for the glammy crust/crossover we see nervously poking its head out of the ground today with this album? Or did they actually try and fail to quite literally sell out? To quote this album’s fever-dream of a song “Time Is Kind,” “Pain deadens and tears dry/with the passage of time.” The pain has indeed deadened over the years, band forgiven, the album crusted over and buried with memories of Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing reigning dominant, but the pain remains, with every bizarre fucked-banshee wail, with every failed riff, every ambitious dream of touring with Johnny Crash and Salty Dog left crushed, unfulfilled, forgotten.

But those tears, man, they’ll never dry, because a crust-punk angel cries every time this album is spun, before nervously changing the subject and reaching for Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing one more time. Hey, if you need me, I’m over here cranking the shit out of Grave New World, because there’s no other record on the face of this planet like this one, because crust-punks playing glam is a concept that our tiny human brains just can not comprehend, even all these years later, even as others nervously test the waters. Because sometimes failing is just as good as succeeding.

The savage mutilation of the human race is set on course, sure, but this album offers a glimpse into what a whole other course could have looked like, and it’s even more savage than any of us can comprehend.