Punk has a long history of disparaging artists who forsake the aesthetic upon which they initially based their sound, to the extent that one of the most grievous sins a punk band can commit is to “go metal.” On one hand, this is a fairly ludicrous condemnation, as punk and metal have informed each other since the start, whether that was Lemmy playing in the Damned (or touring with Amebix), Anthrax covering Discharge, or any of the cross-genre mutations that have sprung up when less restricted musicians have seen fit to break down the oppressive and artificial boundaries established by the more tight-assed in their midst. On the other hand, while examples of punk bands who have turned towards more metallic tendencies are legion, examples of bands who have done it well are few. This was the sort of jumping ship that produced SSD's How We Rock, Discharge's Grave New World, and everything Corrosion of Conformity did after 1986 (amongst many others). This, however, isn't to say that no bands could make the transition, and it would take one of the most abrasive and extreme to do it well.
Tokyo's G.I.S.M were among the first punk bands to pop up in Japan, having started in 1980. Their music showed some metallic tendencies from the start, but the performances were chaotic and the recording quality of early releases leaned towards a low enough fidelity that most specific components of their sound were difficult to discern. Early releases like Detestation possessed a ramshackle energy that manages to be menacing in the way that many such bands aspire to and few achieve (aided in no small part by the violent propensities of singer Sakevi Yokohama. Then there's the broken English of songs like “Endless Blockades For The Pussyfooter” and “(Tere Their) Syphilitic Vaginas To Pieces” [sic] – titles that may not have made much sense on a conscious level, but on a visceral level are difficult to top.
The band's follow-up, 1987's M.A.N. (Military Affairs Neurotic) – the band loved their acronyms, with even their name variously representing Guerrilla Incendiary Sabotage Mutineers, God In The Schizophrenic Mind, Gnostic Idiosyncrasy Sonic Militant, and other monikers that may or may not make sense – was not as well-received. The songs were slower with more emphasis on melody, the production values somewhat cleaner, the approach more varied. Even die-hard G.I.S.M fans often have a hard time with M.A.N as it is often seen as work that lacks the abrasive gut punch of Detestation, but listening to the album clear of preconceptions reveals that these judgments are unduly harsh – while it may not have been the manic whirlwind of misanthropy and distortion that characterized its predecessor, it's actually a prescient metal album characterized by a marriage of guitar harmonies and shrieked vocals that would resonate throughout the metal world in the decades to come.
It's easy to try boiling M.A.N down to a formula – Iron Maiden guitars, vocals not far removed from the early Scandinavian black metal bands starting to make noise half a world away, and galloping drums all captured in the sort of tinny, reverb-heavy production preferred by discerning low-budget metal bands of the day. And that's a large chunk of what was going on with the album, but it's not quite the apt summation it might at first seem. What is most easily ignored is that M.A.N was imbued with a songwriting sense that many such bands fail to grasp. The songs weren't just a string of riffs, they were compositions that ebbed and flowed under their propulsive thrust. It's an attention to structure that's imbued in the album as a whole as well, not simply the individual songs. The record builds and releases tension, with the occasional eerie interlude that sounds not far removed from the creepier moments of Whitehouse or Throbbing Gristle. It was an embrace of structure and melody as a means of pushing an extreme agenda rather than as a step down the road to selling out and it was one that, while not always appreciated by their fans, was a testament to the band's creative power.
There's little question that their earliest work inspired legions of crustier hardcore bands but it's difficult to say what influence the band's later work had on metal bands that ended up playing music with similar characteristics. Whether G.I.S.M was aware of these bands is a matter of debate, but the fact that drummer Ironfist Tatsushima has played in traditional black metal band SSORC suggests that, at some point at least, there were some dots connected. Conversely, it's not hard to hear echoes of M.A.N in early Dissection or At The Gates, though such bands may or may not have been aware of G.I.S.M's work and definitely lacked their versatility, experimental tendencies, and sonic menace. Ultimately, G.I.S.M was always a cult band, one shrouded in mystery and notoriety, the type spoken of in reverent terms out of equal parts love and fear. Their influence might rear its head from time to time in unexpected places, but they constantly challenged both their detractors and supporters, making some killer records in the process.