The History Of Dub-Metal
by Chuck Eddy | January 14, 2013
So OK, you might have to use your imagination a bit with this one. Dub reggae materialized in Jamaica in the late '60s, around the same time heavy metal materialized in the U.K. and the U.S. As I wrote in my 1997 book The Accidental Evolution of Rock'n'Roll, their aesthetics have always coincidentally held certain obsessions in common: "noise, slowness, apocalypse, marijuana use, cumbersome basslines." I maybe could have tossed in "distortion," "reverb" and "technological experiments," but those didn't occur to me then. ("Dub has certain affinities with heavy metal," Robert Christgau had first suggested in a Tappa Zukie review two decades earlier, explaining why he wasn't much a fan of either genre, but as far as I know he never elaborated on those affinities.) This playlist attempts to single out music where dub and metal intersect, but be forewarned: In many of these songs, the dub and/or metal may be in the brain of the beholder.
That said, a few choices were no-brainers: Namely, Brooklyn toaster Dr. Israel's mix-opening 1998 mash-up of his own righteous rubadub with Black Sabbath's "The Wizard," and self-proclaimed dub remixes by industrially metallic bands Killing Joke, KMFDM and Damage Manual. Other outfits here (Treponem Pal, Young Gods, Godflesher Justin Broadrick's turn-of-the-millennium side project, Curse of the Golden Vampire) pretty clearly inhabit the dub/metal/industrial cusp.
Einstürzende Neubauten (sheet-metal-abusing industrialists, if not industrial metal per se) get a monster dub mix as well, from visionary producer Adrian Sherwood no less. Sherwood also oversaw noisier-guitared-than-usual "Bastards," from ex-Pop Group punk-funk agitator Mark Stewart. And when you add Berlin goth grandma Nina Hagen and her seemingly ganja-inspired '80s backing ensemble Spliff to Neubauten and KMFDM, Germany just might be dub metal central.
Other selections stretch the concept more. But Public Image Ltd's contribution came off an obviously dub-soaked album originally called Metal Box; those from Pere Ubu and Sonic Youth are respectively titled "Dub Housing" and "The Burning Spear" (the latter presumably named after the great Rastafarian singer, whose 1976 Garvey's Ghost is one of history's definitive dub albums). If you squint, they really do partake in dubbish ideas: cavernous echo, negative space, inversion of background and foreground as rhythm instruments take the reins. Picks from the more frequently metal-slotted bands Queen (probably accidentally), Faith No More (probably not) and Celtic Frost (who the heck knows) sort of do that too, in their own ways. Bad Brains and The Ruts are interesting in that both bands recorded plenty of dub-leaning reggae and metal-leaning punk, just not usually both styles in the same song. Their tracks here at least hint at splitting the difference, but both bands also have discographies generous enough that there might be better examples out there. Ditto Butthole Surfers and Chain Gang, to an extent, though in their cases both the "dub" and "metal" might be inadvertent side effects of just wanting to obliterate the rest of life.
Finally, there's the psychedelic soul crew. How could The Chambers Brothers, Funkadelic (on their debut album), Jimi Hendrix, Iron Butterfly (notably doing a song called "Soul Experience") and Rare Earth -- all recording between 1968 and 1970 -- have merged dub and metal when, at least according to most modern-day history books, both genres barely even existed yet, if they existed at all? Well, maybe none did. But they all, somehow, still stumbled onto sonics that both metal and dub were stumbling onto at the same time. As for which sonics, listen for yourself.