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Labeled unbeatable

D.R.I. defies the odds and keeps thrash alive



If you stick with anything for long enough — bell bottoms, asymmetrical hair, hardcore music — it's almost bound to come back into fashion. So it is that Texas hardcore/thrash pioneers D.R.I. are enjoying resurgent interest as they close in on their 30th year of making music. The band has been touring the world and re-releasing all its old albums on vinyl with a new label, Beer City, and has a live anniversary DVD currently in the works.

"The shows have been bigger and bigger — and better and better," says lead singer Kurt Brecht from his Houston home. "We've been selling out almost everywhere we go. [The 2008 documentary] Get Thrashed helped, and all the hype about the big four." (The big four, by the way, are thrash titans Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica and Megadeth, who've been touring together in Europe.)

D.R.I. is short for Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, an epitaph coined by Brecht's father while complaining about one of their garage practice sessions. Kurt's brother Eric had bought drums from a friend, and recruited his little brother to sing and another friend to play bass. Before long, guitarist Spike Cassidy joined. They were inspired by fellow Texas hardcore acts Verbal Abuse, the Dicks and Millions of Dead Cops (MDC), who convinced them to move to San Francisco in '83. (Eric Brecht would get married and quit a year later.)

They fit into the scene quickly, almost immediately landing a tour with MDC and the Dead Kennedys. But after releasing their second album, 1985's Dealing With It!, on Metal Blade's punkier subsidiary Death Records, they moved on to the metal-inflected parent label for 1987's seminal Crossover, an album that marked the intersection of the hard metal and hardcore scenes. A tour with Slayer helped seal the deal for this new "thrash" sound, which combined punk's speed and aggression with metal's riffing and bottom-heavy intensity.

"Slayer started playing really fast, and we started crossing over into the metal genre, so it all kind of gelled in the middle," says Brecht. "It was real segregated when we started out. I can tell you, living in San Francisco, I didn't know any metal kids. But suddenly it became acceptable that I might like this metal, even though I have a green Mohawk. Or I might want to go see this old hardcore band, though I have hair down to my ass."

While thrash would be overshadowed by grunge in the early '90s, D.R.I. kept going strong with its blend of Brecht's rebellious sentiments ("You Say I'm Scum," "Labeled Uncurable," "I Don't Need Society") and Cassidy's hard-edged steely guitar roar. Though the band's last studio album would be 1995's Full Speed Ahead, it kept touring until 2006, when Cassidy was diagnosed with colon cancer.

"It was a shock because it was just two weeks before we were setting out on a U.S. tour," says Brecht. Although Cassidy beat it, the band had to take it slowly while he built up his strength.

Now the guys are going strong, having just returned from their first tour of Brazil. And their story today is a fitting testimonial to the spirit of perseverance.

"We spent more time together than we did with our wives and kids," explains Brecht. "Not only are we friends, but business partners, bandmates and a songwriting team. It's much more complicated and intense than most people would realize."

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