Of the many revelations in the 1986 cult film Heavy Metal Parking Lot, the best is how much metal dudes used to hate punkers. The subsequent bland fusion of those genres makes one wish punk and metal would return to their opposing corners, rising only to trade blows instead of hugs. Or as Zebraman screamed in HMPL: “Heavy metal rules, all that punk shit sucks!” If only Glenn Branca had been in that tailgating Judas Priest crowd, yelling “Punk rules, all that classical shit sucks!” and waving his arms as if conducting a guitar symphony.
Point being that some genres mix best when they’re fighting. Lesson #1, Branca’s debut solo 12-inch from 1980 and the first release on 99 Records (but a bitch ain’t #1), is a punch-drunk battle between minimalist classical and no-wave punk. The title track Reichs before it rolls, with mirrored guitars feinting rhythm like a basketball game made solely of pump fakes. Tribal drums pump blood into the wounds, cresting into some joyful divisions. That forward motion spills into “Dissonance,” a chugging train of metallic linearity that builds momentum through intermittent halts. Acute’s CD reissue of Lesson #1 adds the filmic “Bad Smells” (or as participants Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo might’ve called it, “Xpressway to Our Sound”), a map-hopping collage of Branca’s best bombastic moves, showing how his splitting of classical and punk atoms begat a mushroom cloud of possibility. The Ascension and Branca’s symphonies prove that point more eloquently, but as Alan Licht’s liner notes detail, the aptly titled Lesson #1 was Branca’s Big Bang.
Branca’s shiny clang here could even be called metal, but only because it uses guitars. Norway’s Noxagt forge metal without said trebly tool, instead employing viola, drums, and the disemboweling bass of erstwhile noisician Kjetil D. Brandsdal. If iron is both a metallic element and a flattening appliance, then The Iron Point is the nexus at which brutal metal and stiff punk (and dark classical and cold minimalism) meet to arm wrestle. Noxagt’s pummel trims repetition to reps, as muscle-building redundancies hammer the band’s Sisyphean rock into rubble. The slobberingly monolithic “Acasta Gneiss” and the toneless slam of “Blood Thing” are post-Branca bombs, grafting Zeppelin stomp and suffocating punk strictures onto arch symphonic struts. Noxagt even cover folkies Pearls Before Swine, voiding the verbiage through a harrowing lurch, proving it’s not always bad for one genre to demolish another.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 2004