I’ve been listening to the Misfit’s Earth A.D. for over a decade now. Every time I listen to it, I hear something different. Sometimes I hear a bruising hardcore album. Sometimes I hear proto-thrash. I most often hear the roots of black metal. Is it a mere coincidence that Quorthon started Bathory the same year or that Slayer’s Show No Mercy was released the same month? Sure, Venom’s Welcome to Hell and Black Metal albums had already been released by the time Earth A.D. hit record store shelves. But the Misfits of Earth A.D. possessed several things that Cronos and his cohorts, or just about any of the proto-black metal bands for that matter, severely lacked.
The first of these key components is speed. I recently read in Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore that Glenn Danzig had tried to get the rest of the Misfits to play slower during the sessions. Thank goodness he wasn’t successful. To my knowledge, the blast beat hadn’t been invented yet in 1983 (Mick Harris didn’t join Napalm Death until 1985), but the blistering speed of Earth A.D. often comes close. A huge part of the album’s power comes from the reckless abandon with which the band plows through songs like “Earth A.D.” and “Demonomania”. It’s a ragged, violent speed, the kind of speed that sounds like the band is going to fly apart at the seams at any given moment. Somehow, the Misfits keep it together for the original album’s fourteen-odd minutes (reissues would include the tracks from the posthumous “Die, Die My Darling” single), but the approach lends a sense of real danger, menace and foreboding to the proceedings that would also be present on second wave Scandinavian black metal albums such as Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or Burzum’s self titled debut.
The second element that pushes Earth A.D. over the edge is brutality. Unfortunately the word “brutal” (and every permutation thereof) has been thrown around in the heavy music world so often that it has lost nearly all of its meaning as of 2011. This is a brutal album. Primitive, barbaric, nasty. Black and death metal bands surely took a great deal of inspiration from the positively corrosive assault of songs like “Death Comes Ripping” and “Hellhound”. Danzig himself sounds like a snarling hellhound throughout Earth A.D., ready to claw his way through your speakers and “rip your face off” while the rest of the band violates their instruments in a manner that’s probably legally questionable in more than a few countries. Earth A.D. was the first Misfits recording where the aggression of the playing and production scheme matched the violence of Danzig’s lyrics. It’s a level of rubbed-raw vitriol that makes early Venom, Slayer, Celtic Frost et al sound quaint by comparison.
What about atmosphere? Earth A.D.‘s got it in spades. Granted, this probably speaks more to Spot’s ineptitude as a producer/engineer (see also: Black Flag’s Damaged) or the lack of a recording budget (probably both), than it does to any grand design by Danzig and Co. Still, the vibe of the album is pitch black and claustrophobic, it reeks of rage, hate and desperation. It’s a document of a band ready to explode and doing their damnedest to take all of us down with them. The fact that the Misfits broke up only a few months after the album was recorded (on Halloween, 1983) leads me to believe that the palpable fury bursting out of every part of Earth A.D. is much more than just for entertainment value (“and that blood’s so real / ’cause I just can’t fake it”).
If all of this doesn’t make for proto-black metal, then I don’t know what does. Add the grotesque, lovably amateurish artwork and black and white band photos, and you’ve got the blueprints for the sound, style and overall aesthetic that Darkthrone would take to the next level almost a decade later with A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Some call Earth A.D. “the speed metal bible”. I’m more inclined to think it’s the goddamn Necronomicon.