Like the Bo Diddley beat or the Amen break, the D-beat is one of the foundational rhythms of modern music. This simple, pounding drum pattern, made famous by Discharge’s Terry “Tez” Roberts (though John Maher of the Buzzcocks plays it on “You Tear Me Up,” from their 1978 album Another Music In A Different Kitchen), has been the ground beneath literally hundreds of bands across the globe since the dawn of the 1980s. Your average D-beat punk/hardcore act lays down a carpet of ultra-distorted, often metallic guitar, supported by minimal/barely present bass (the odd intro aside), and fronted by some unbelievably pissed-off dude who sounds like he’s been smoking a pack of cigarettes an hour for the last 10 years. But it’s those brain-smashing drums that hold the whole thing together and drive it relentlessly forward.
D-beat bands come from all over the world. Discharge are from the UK, as were followers like Doom and Disgust. Brazil, Japan, and the US also spawned plenty of acts worth hearing, including Ratos De Porão, Disclose, and Disrupt. But the style really took hold in Sweden, for some reason. Swedish groups like Mob 47, Anti Cimex, and Driller Killer played some of the most ferocious D-beat punk around; Anti Cimex’s Raped Ass EP and Mob 47’s Sjuk Värld album — the latter shouted entirely in enraged Swedish — are blistering.
In 1989, Disfear formed in Nyköping, Sweden. Initially a fairly straightforward D-beat act, they gradually expanded their sound over the course of several albums on tiny labels. In 1998, their original vocalist, Jeppe Lerjerud, left, and Tomas Lindberg replaced him. Lindberg, best known for his work with melodic death metal pioneers At The Gates, was attractive to Disfear because of his own D-beat project, Skitsystem (“skit” is Swedish for “shit”). Skitsystem’s debut album, Grå Värld/Svarta Tänkar (“Gray World/Black Thoughts”), is a guttural, blasting disc on which the drums are the loudest element and Lindberg’s vocals are a hoarse, breathless howl reminiscent of Black Flag’s Dez Cadena.
It took the Lindberg-fronted version of Disfear five years to record an album, but in 2003, they signed to Relapse and put out Misanthropic Generation, produced by Mieszko Talarczyk, lead singer of Swedish grindcore act Nasum. It was a much better record than its predecessor, 1997’s Everyday Slaughter. That album was a blurry, noisy assault (13 tracks in 26 minutes) but strictly for diehards. Misanthropic Generation had a dense, grindcore-ish sound that filled your headphones, and the songwriting went beyond D-beat minimalism to incorporate gang vocals, thick Motörhead-style co-lead bass, and actual choruses. You could hear Disfear striving to break boundaries in search of pure punk ‘n’ roll adrenaline, and almost getting there.
Following the release of Misanthropic Generation, Disfear toured extensively. And when they were preparing to record the follow-up, more touring opportunities came along, which pushed things back further. Finally, they returned to the studio in summer 2007, with Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou behind the board, and made their masterpiece: Live The Storm, released 10 years ago today.
The album is dedicated to Talarczyk, who was killed when the 2004 tsunami struck Thailand, where he was vacationing. And that’s a nice tribute from the band to their friend, who did as much as he could to vault Disfear out of the pack. But the truth is, Live The Storm leaves Misanthropic Generation, and pretty much every other hard rock or metal album released in 2008, choking on its dust.
From the instant you hear the floor-shaking fuzz riff that opens “Get It Off,” even before the thundering D-beat and pick slide that launch the song proper, never mind before Lindberg comes in howling “We live in a labyrinth, live in a maze/Twisted and broken, worn out, thrown away,” this is the kind of song that takes over your entire body, making every hair stand on end and your skull feel like it’s going to explode with raw rock exultation. Founding guitarist Björn Peterson and bassist Henke Frykman (who died in 2011) had a new front-line partner: Uffe Cederlund, who’d joined in 2006 after leaving Entombed. His iconic guitar tone was the perfect addition to the band’s frantic gallop, adding elements of Motörhead and the blues to their hardcore/metal firestorm, and it’s that combination of sounds, plus Ballou’s throat-punching production, that makes “Get It Off” one of the all-time great album openers.
But the thing that makes Live The Storm such a landmark album is that it never falls off. Disfear pull riffs and moves from every great, head-down rock and metal band you can think of, and then some — in a Pitchfork interview, Lindberg namechecked AC/DC, Articles Of Faith, the Dead Boys, Jerry’s Kids, Motörhead, the Ramones, the Stooges and Uniform Choice, but added that “they have all been thrown into the melting pot and given the Disfear treatment.” And every song is just jammed with breathtaking moments of awesomeness, whether it’s the drum break pulled from Motörhead’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll” on “Deadweight,” the arena-sized power chords and shredtastic guitar solos on “The Cage,” the way “Testament” leaves Lindberg out there on his own, shouting over nothing but feedback and drums, or the bass break on “In Exodus” that must have had Lemmy himself nodding in approval — not to mention the Bad Religion-esque backing vocals on the same song.
And then there’s “Phantom.” After nine tracks of blazing punk-metal mayhem, all gang shouts and jackhammer drumming, we get a closer that runs past the seven-minute mark and opens with a nearly two-minute doom intro closer to Entombed or the Melvins than anything in Disfear’s back catalog. Of course, when it speeds up again, rising on a scream of feedback as Marcus Andersson begins beating his kit like it owes him money, it becomes as furious as anything on the album, winding down with a false ending, a final burst of speed, and a just-long-enough feedback coda. Live The Storm runs just 35 minutes, but by the time it’s over, you might need a cool-down period.
Not only is Live The Storm Disfear’s ultimate statement, it might be Kurt Ballou’s, too — as a producer, anyhow. And its staggering energy and musical broad-mindedness have been influential. Echoes of Disfear can be heard on songs from Converge’s 2009 album Axe To Fall (“Dark Horse,” “Wishing Well”), but even more than that, the Swedes’ attitude seems to have impressed a six-man gang from neighboring Norway. Three years after recording Live The Storm, Ballou welcomed Kvelertak into his Godcity studio, and they, too, threw everything they had into the pot: black metal, punk, thrash, bluesy boogie, and every other kind of head-through-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll you can name, swirling it into a roaring, fist-pumping sound all their own.
Disfear continue to play shows; they performed at the Roadburn Festival in 2017, did more touring after that, and are on the road now in Europe. But it seems unlikely that we’ll ever see another album from them. A photo of a snare drum with a Godcity logo on it, posted on Facebook a year ago, made fans think a new record might be coming, but it seems like it was just a photo of a snare drum. Plus, Lindberg’s other band, At The Gates, is releasing a new album in May, and will almost certainly be on the road for quite a while after that. So for now, we’ll just have to treat Live The Storm like what it is: a flaming spear thrust into the ground, to burn for all time.