Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

DRI - Dealing With It

Dealing With It

Released 1985 on Death
Reviewed by arasamasai, 01/06/2005ce

Perhaps no single band’s career so handily illustrates the arc of the hardcore/metal crossover as that of seminal thrash outfit DRI. Formed by bored punk kids in 1982, Houston’s DIRTY ROTTEN IMBECILES debuted with 1983's “Dirty rotten EP” 7" (later reissued on 12" as the “Dirty rotten LP”); even in an era of short songs, fast playing and rough sound quality, the record’s 22 bursts of raw, chaotic noise created quite a stir. With non-existent production values and song lengths measured in seconds, “Dirty rotten” (along with similar efforts from GANG GREEN, NEOS, LARM and DEEP WOUND) seemed to have pretty much defined the outer limit of the early hardcore aesthetic, about as far from the technicality and high-gloss presentation of contemporary heavy metal as possible. That such a barrage of insane speed could provide an exhilarating rush is undeniable, but the formula also leaves no room for progression or further exploration. This was hardly an appealing prospect for any band not content to churn out xerox copies of the same record, and like DISCHARGE, RAW POWER and many more of the fiercest hardcore units, DRI soon set out to hone their chaos into something sharper and more controlled. Their next record, 1984's “Violent pacification” EP, hinted at the band’s impending direction with its longer, more powerful title track, although the other songs continued in the simplistic but effective loudest/fastest vein of the first record. The full extent of DRI’s pioneering fusion of thrash and metal would have to wait until the band’s first real full-length, 1985's “Dealing with it” LP.
Viewed twenty years later, “Dealing with it” represents the crossover ideal. With its blinding speed, pissed vocals and 25 tracks, this is very much a hardcore record, entirely bereft of frills or pretence. That said, what makes it not just another hardcore record, but rather one of the finest ever made, is the skilful recuperation of metallic influences. The overall sound is a thick, burly double-bass-driven roar, with frantic leads erupting and collapsing back into buzzsaw rage and blunt-instrument chug. Brief steamroller passages break up the thrash, and a couple of outstanding mid-tempo tracks prove no less potent than the otherwise consistently mach speed numbers. Upon its release, DRI became perhaps the most popular hardcore band in the world. While 1985-86 saw the first wave of hardcore bands mellow out or break up (BLACK FLAG, DEAD KENNEDYS, BAD BRAINS, HUSKER DU, MISFITS, SS DECONTROL, DOA et al), and countless three-chord outfits peddle a tired rehash, the crossover bands alone were able to retain the power and intensity while still offering something new, and DRI sat comfortably at the forefront of this movement. Never a band to be overly concerned with subtlety, and no doubt eager to capitalize on this new-found status, they chose to name their next record “Crossover”.
Released in 1987 on Metal Blade, “Crossover” was a huge disappointment. While one might not be advised to judge a book by its cover, this LP would suggest that one might easily do so where a heavy metal record is concerned; in place of the rough, unpleasant artwork found on earlier records, the jacket bore a garish silver rendition of the band’s “moshing man” logo, and that was just the start. A quick survey of the back cover revealed a mere dozen tracks, and things only got worse upon the needle hitting the groove. The metal elements with which DRI had deftly fortified their hardcore on the preceding LP had taken over nearly entirely, with a much slower, “heavier” approach prevailing, and a cleaner, production job sapping the fast parts of their ragged energy and leaving a powerless, monotonous drone. From frantic but unfocused hardcore through tight, ripping thrash and onto routine, tedious metal, DRI had provided a handy guide to the potential and pitfalls of the punk/metal crossover in three successive albums.

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