As the seminal hardcore band of our nation’s capital, Minor Threat played fast, impassioned music that defined the genre while never succumbing to its shortcomings. The quartet had both a sense of melody and a sense of purpose. “Straight Edge” was among the first hardcore songs to call for abstinence from drugs and booze, and the band’s self-titled theme song acknowledged both the aspirations and realities of political punk rock.
The posthumous Minor Threat compiles the band’s two initial 7-inch EPs, released on the group’s own label. The twelve selections effectively define the city’s hardcore sound, with a powerhouse adrenalized rush and Ian MacKaye’s explosive and articulate vocals. “Filler,” “I Don’t Wanna Hear It” and “Minor Threat” are some of the classics of the genre; if you haven’t heard them, you have never — repeat, never — heard hardcore. One of the most intense, ungodly-force-of-technology records ever launched.
Out of Step, the group’s only true LP, shows Minor Threat coming out of adolescence and slowing down to merely quick tempos where they have more room to move. If less a direct rush than the early EPs, the tradeoff is a good one: dynamics and crashing hooks come to the fore, replacing the old burn with a punk musicianship up there with only the Ruts (a prime influence) for crack precision. Out of Step is a whale of an LP, one that made their ensuing demise (the pressures of being the most revered and hardline message-oriented hardcore band taking its toll) that much more of a tragedy. Not surprisingly, nothing has come close to matching their ability, drive and emotional level since. (Complete compiles the band’s entire recorded career into one handy CD. Look no further!)
Sometime after Minor Threat’s 1983 breakup, MacKaye joined forces with the three musicians from another recently disbanded DC hardcore band, Faith (ironically, Faith’s singer was Alex MacKaye, so he was effectively replacing his younger brother!), to form Embrace. After a brief existence, Embrace also disappeared seemingly without a trace. A 1987 LP of their 1985 recordings was released, making it apparent that the group should have stuck around a bit longer. If not equal to Minor Threat’s one-of-a-kind sonic excellence, Embrace are strong and muscular, an effective backdrop for MacKaye’s lead vocals. The confrontational lyricist rages through “Money” and “No More Pain” like a hellfire preacher, condemning a corrupt and greedy culture. Overenunciating, shouting, cajoling and screaming at the top of his lungs, this is an impressive performance by a seemingly possessed man, transforming an okay mid-tempo punk LP into a great one.
MacKaye subsequently reunited with Minor Threat drummer Jeff Nelson for one terrific single as Egg Hunt and then formed Fugazi with old Rites of Spring leader Guy Picciotto. (He also records occasionally with Ministry’s Al Jourgensen as Pailhead.) Nelson joined up with Senator Flux for a while; bassist-cum-guitarist Brian Baker (ex-Government Issue) spent time in the Meatmen and Dag Nasty and can now be found in the metallic Junkyard.
The Teen Idles were MacKaye and Nelson’s original group, prior to Minor Threat. Minor Disturbance, also a 7-inch EP, was the very first Dischord release, and served as a blueprint for the DC hardcore scene. Interestingly, MacKaye doesn’t sing lead (he was the bassist and main songwriter) on these seven songs of typical punk-teen ennui and self-determination (plus one inaudible live cut). Structurally, the music is basic punk on its way to becoming hardcore, dominated by singer Nathan Strejcek’s (later of Youth Brigade) youthful blare and MacKaye’s catchy bass riffs. The lyrics to “Deadhead” (“Driving that train high on cocaine/The music is really lousy, the fans are a pain/Troubles behind, troubles ahead/The only good deadhead is one that’s dead”) are as funny today as when the teenaged MacKaye wrote them. Minor Disturbance was later reissued on the Four Old 7″s album with other Dischord EPs by S.O.A., Youth Brigade and Government Issue.