So, the Texas 30 has been revealed at last. And it's a good list, too: Well-considered, fair and complete. Even if a lot of the records that got picked tend to be a little... well, pussy, I guess is the word I'm looking for here.
Now, that's no surprise, really. When you take a poll of the top music writers in the state like the crack staff at the Houston Press has done, the more extreme bits of musical Texana are sure to slip past the consensus. But the fact is that the Great State has produced more than its fair share of brow-wrinkling punk and metal in the past three decades that's too good to be wholly ignored.
While the best and brightest our vocation has to offer were consulted to assemble the Texas 30, I didn't consult anybody for this list. These are my picks for the best punk and metal albums written in Texas since the release of The Genuine Texas Handbook, the dated-1981 guidebook that inspired the Texas 30. Be sure to toss in your two cents in the comments section to let me know why I'm wrong or who I missed.
In the meantime, plug in those earbuds, because we're about to give YouTube a workout.
10. The Sword, Warp Riders (2010) The Sword, Austin's thunderous Sabbath acolytes, put out the most consistent of their four full-lengths a couple of years ago with Warp Riders, a high-concept sci-fi triumph produced by Matt Bayles. Chock full of smoky, vintage riffing and howling, haunted vocals, the album sounds like the lost soundtrack to a very special issue of Heavy Metal. It's literate without being proggy -- an album ripped from the heavy-lidded dreams of laid-back Texas tokers everywhere.
9. Really Red, Teaching You the Fear (1981) Stop us if you've heard this one before: A talented Houston band creates incendiary music around which a scene develops, brilliantly toils away in obscurity for a few years, then fades away quietly, leaving behind little besides the hard-won scars inflicted on Those Who Were There. That was the familiar story of Really Red, the leaders of Houston's punk scene in the early '80s.
Luckily, the group managed to get some tunes on wax, and they were pretty damn good: Singer Ronnie Bond was an agitator in the Jello (Biafra) mold, and crucial songs like "Teaching You the Fear" and "No Art (Houston)" managed to both excoriate the band's hometown and uplift it. An essential.
8. Insect Warfare, World Extermination (2007) Houston's Insect Warfare didn't invent grindcore, nor did they take the genre in any innovative new directions. What they did do is absolutely perfect it on 2007's World Extermination, the band's sole album. Impeccably produced (for grindcore, that is), the record is a tight and furious stream of nihilistic auditory violence with just enough musical variation to keep things interesting through all 20 wince-inducing tracks. Simply put, it's on the short list of greatest grindcore releases of all time.
7. Scratch Acid, Scratch Acid (1984) One of the gnarliest, noisiest bands in Austin's history, Scratch Acid didn't make so much as a dent in the mainstream consciousness with this 1984 release, but that doesn't mean it was no good. It was simply ahead of its time, anticipating the rise of grunge, post-punk and even pummeling '90s metal back in the heyday of Motley Crue.
A highly influential generation of musical weirdoes managed to share and discover the record over the years, including Kurt Cobain, who listed it as a favorite in his journals. Vocalist David Yow and bassist David William Sims would go on to greater infamy with their next project, the Jesus Lizard.
6. Riverboat Gamblers, Something to Crow About (2003) Few Texas punks ever gave themselves over to pure guitar power as successfully as Denton's Riverboat Gamblers. Muddling the line between garage-punk and power-pop, their 2003 album Something to Crow About captures the feeling of having consumed just the right number of drinks to cut loose and get live. Furiously upbeat tracks like "Rattle Me Bones" and "Ooh Yeah" are some of the best singalong cuts out of Texas in the new millenium, putting all the energy of a live show into your earbuds or car speakers. Just try going the speed limit with this baby blasting.
5. Big Boys & the Dicks, Recorded Live at Raul's Club (1981) The twin titans of Texas hardcore, Austin's Big Boys and the Dicks are practically inseparable in the minds of punk fans. They frequently played together alongside other bands in the Texas scene, including Really Red and the Butthole Surfers, at Raul's and a couple other places in the capital city.
This split album, the first LP for both groups, captures the wild, live energy around which the hardcore movement revolved in the early '80s. The two bands were harder, weirder and gayer than Texas music had ever been before, and they left an indelible mark on the national scene.
4. deadhorse, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That's Time-Consuming (1989) "Horsecore" was the name given to these Houston metal lords' unique sound, blending blistering thrash with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a smattering of early stabs at death metal. It went over huge in the band's hometown, regularly packing out clubs like the Axiom.
While the group never truly broke through outside of Texas, it really probably should have, as the songs on its debut album attest. With deadhorse active again -- minus songwriter Michael Haaga this time -- the progeny of yesteryear's stage-divers are now being turned on to the headbanging likes of "World War Whatever" and "Bewah."
3. D.R.I., Dirty Rotten LP (1983) The Dirty Rotten Imbeciles recorded this hyper-speed monument less than a year after playing their first gig at the Omni in Houston. The band would soon relocate to San Francisco as part of an unprecedented Texas punk brain-drain alongside fellow scenesters MDC, the Dicks and Verbal Abuse, where they'd help pioneer a blistering "crossover" sound that heavily influenced the burgeoning thrash-metal scene there.
They were never more raw than this, though. Originally released as an EP that crammed 22 songs onto seven inches of vinyl, The Dirty Rotten LP set a new land-speed record for hardcore, violently shoving the genre in an even more extreme new direction and inspiring skaters to thrash harder than previously understood to be possible.
2. King's X, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989) One of the most inventive hard rock/heavy metal bands of the '80s, Houston's King's X achieved the pinnacle of their critical and commercial success with Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, a rollicking, progressive collection of ear-pleasers that firmly established the band as a creative force to be reckoned with. Successfully mixing together metal, funk and soul, the record was a hit, named one of the top five albums of the year by Kerrang!
Front man Doug Pinnick's lyrics revolved around the often difficult experience of faith, a relative rarity in the genre then as now. While King's X never quite had the right look or attitude to hit the very top, the band maintains a loyal legion of fans worldwide thanks in large part to the memorable tunes found on their second album.
1. Pantera, Cowboys From Hell (1990) Cowboys From Hell isn't Pantera's best album, but it is the band's most important. In fact, it may well be the most important Texas metal album of all time. Cowboys crystalized a completely new "groove metal" sound for the group, which got its start as a Van Halen-esque hair-metal outfit. It was the heaviest thing the mainstream had ever seen upon its release.
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Behind New Orleans transplant Philip Anselmo's powerful vocals and the histrionic shredding of guitarist "Diamond" (soon to be Dimebag) Darrell Abbot, the record was a resounding breakthrough, taking Pantera from being familiar faces on the Texas metal circuit to certified metal gods. Twenty-two years later, it remains a landmark release in Texas music history.