They weren’t the first band to play grindcore. But since their formation out of the Orange County punk scene in 1990, Phobia have remained one of the most enduring forces in one of the most abrasive genres of music imaginable.
Bands like Napalm Death in the U.K. arose in the late ‘80s and churned out short bursts of musical aggression similar to punk but amped them up with death-metal riffs and blastbeat drumming. This movement – tagged with the name “grindcore” - appealed greatly to Phobia vocalist Shane Mclachlan, who was then a teenage punk rocker growing up in Costa Mesa.
“I was always in punk bands and I was a very passionate person, and a very extreme kind of person,” Mclachlan says, also referencing '80s Long Beach hardcore punkers Final Conflict as his favorite band. “Getting into grindcore was just a step up. It was more extreme [than punk], a lot harder, and a lot faster.”
Despite grindcore rising elsewhere as a force within underground music, Phobia’s early output was still a jolt to the Orange County scene.
“We played a lot of shows where we definitely stood out and were hated,” Mclachlan says with a laugh. “We played a lot of backyard parties where it was just drunken crazy times. I remember one time we played a show, and the place was so crazy, the cops came—one of the many times this happened—but people locked down the pad, cops couldn't get in and nobody would go out, so they were trying to get me for inciting a riot.”
Flinging crusty and chaotic grindcore on appropriately-titled albums such as 22 Random Acts of Violence, the band remains a Southern California favorite amongst punk rockers and metalheads for songs ranging from the socio-political ("State and Enemy") to the irreverent ("Loud Proud and Drunk As Fuck"). These songs inspire wall-to-wall mosh pits amidst a fanbase that is showing no signs of slowing down in its celebrations of brutality.
Throughout its twenty-six year history, Mclachlan has remained the sole consistent member of Phobia. According to Metal-Archives.com – a Wikipedia-style resource for heavy metal – Phobia has seen twenty-three different musicians play alongside Mclachlan. He is pragmatic about the band turnover.
“We really don’t have ex-members,” says Mclachlan. “We have people that are members of the Phobia family, and they play in the band. No one really gets kicked out of Phobia. It’s just people moving on to other things in their lives. They all remain family and friends.”
Some of those old family members will be returning to Phobia for a special pair of shows this weekend. Performing live Friday night at PBW in Pomona and Saturday night at Los Globos in Los Angeles, Phobia will be welcoming back original guitarist Bruce Reeves and drummer Raymond Banda into the fold, both of whom will be playing alongside Mclachlan for the first time in over a decade.
This weekend’s shows were inspired by the production process for Decades of Blastphemy, a four-disc Phobia retrospective released earlier this month. The collection gathers albums, demos, B-sides, and EP’s from 1990 through 2008, many of which have been out of print for years.
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“I never thought about it until I was approached by Karol Pienko at [Phobia’s European label] Selfmadegod Records,” Mclachlan says. “I’m really glad I did it. It brought me in touch with a lot of things from our past, including old members that I had lost touch with. We’re talking again and getting the creative juices flowing again.”
Mclachlan currently lives in Arizona raising his four-year-old son, but Phobia’s grindcore outbursts remain a perennial favorite attraction on the metal and hardcore festival scene.
“Grindcore has always been the outlaw kind of music,” Mclachlan says. “It’s beyond the barriers of what most people think brutal music can be. That’s what’s attracted me to it. I was an intense person and this was music that matched the intensity.”
Phobia performs with Resist & Exist, Apocalypse, The Iconoclast, and Mob Attack PBWLA in Pomona, 296 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 620-2602, www.facebook.com/phobiagrindcore. $10. All ages.