Minor Threat album cover
Minor Threat

Minor Threat

Dischord Records

To some casual observers, the entire sprawling expanse of D.C. punk boils down to a single song: “Straight Edge,” a 45-second track that inadvertently launched a hardcore subgenre modeled after its anti-intoxication message. It’s a potent statement, but tellingly, it’s one of the lesser tracks on the immortal self-titled 1981 debut seven-inch by Minor Threat, which was later bundled together with its follow-up, In My Eyes, and two tracks from 1982’s Flex Your Head comp. The eight songs on the original EP are simply as good as hardcore gets, with the musicians — guitarist Lyle Preslar, bassist Brian Baker, and drummer and Dischord co-founder Jeff Nelson — bringing a paradoxically relaxed, hard-grooving feel to their breakneck tempos. Skillful arrangement choices, like the way Baker often starts a song with a brief solo pass through the opening riff, build fruitful tension, making the subsequent full-band kick-in feel that much more explosive. MacKaye sounds like exactly what he was, a fed-up teenager railing against religion (“Filler”), alcohol-fueled aggression (“Bottled Violence”), all manner of fakers and shit-talkers (“I Don’t Wanna Hear It,” “Seeing Red”) and even a blowhard with a Napoleon complex (“Small Man, Big Mouth”). The band’s eponymous song, an anthem about embracing the energy and freedom of youth, shows how effective they were even at slow tempos, pointing the way to their more varied later output, including the brilliant In My Eyes title track, which revs up and implodes before launching into a menacing midtempo wind-up, setting the stage for one of Minor Threat’s most furious speed bursts. Their sound would only grow richer and more diverse on 1983’s Out of Step, Minor Threat’s lone full-length, but the tracks collected here laid the bedrock for one of the most impressive and influential legacies in the history of the American underground.

Hank Shteamer

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