Scott Hill clearly recalls the first time he saw the legendary Santa Cruz Bl’ast! and how the event changed the course of his life. The guitarist and singer for long running stoner rock band Fu Manchu witnessed the power of the boundary pushing punk meets metal act at the now defunct Balboa Theater in Los Angeles on a night in November 1985.
Hill was familiar with the other punk groups on the bill—JFA and Die Kreuzen—but when Bl’ast! began playing the pulse pounding bass intro to “Only Time Will Tell” he and his buddies were excited by what they heard and ran down to stand in front of the stage.
“We just got annihilated for 40 minutes,” Hill says of the experience.
On the drive home, Hill and his bandmate in the SoCal hardcore group Virulence decided they had to change their sound after being so impressed by Bl’ast!
“I would say if I didn’t see that show or didn’t get into Bl’ast! then Fu Manchu wouldn’t exist,” Hill says.
Santa Cruz’s biggest punk export until newcomers like Drain, Bl’ast! began making their mark in the Santa Cruz music scene in the mid 1980s. Their debut album, 1986’s The Power of Expression, was released on one of the most influential independent record labels of the 1980s, SST Records, which was run by Greg Ginn of Black Flag.
“During that Power of Expression time is when it all kind of gelled,” Bl’ast! vocalist Clifford Dinsmore says. “And then we just started musically advancing at a really fast rate and we started formulating the songs for It’s in My Blood.”
With its tempo shifts, proficient playing, and unexpected detours, It’s in My Blood predicts the boundary-breaking  hardcore of current acts like Turnstile and Fucked Up. The wild sound came after the departure of guitarist Steve Stevenson and as a reaction to being pegged by some as Black Flag disciples. “The whole point was to be totally different from anything,” Dinsmore says. “We just hated the typical drumbeat of hardcore.”
Guitarist Mike Neider helped the band go into a new direction on It’s in My Blood. “We wanted to do something different,” he says. “Kind of some left turns, downs, ups, and all the way around.”
It’s in My Blood even had an assist from Santa Cruz rock royalty: Ken Kraft of Snail engineered the recording of the album in Mars Recording Studio near Aptos.
“He was so open minded and just cool about what we did that he just helped us get a good sound for the time,” Dinsmore says.
Unfortunately, the band’s next album, 1989’s Take the Manic Ride, found the songs slathered in 1980s style production. “We wanted it live,” Neider says. “We wanted it raw. No studio at all. Unfortunately, we got the opposite.”
After Take the Manic Ride, the band essentially fell apart and came back together again in different iterations—Blackout, LAB—with players like Brant Bjork of Kyuss fame. They eventually came together again for a full-fledged west coast reunion tour in 2001.
There’s been tantalizing bits of progress since then for Bl’ast! fans. In 2012, a lost Bl’ast! recording session was found that included songs from when William DuVall—now of Alice in Chains—was in the group. Bl’ast superfan and rock legend Dave Grohl mixed the session, which was released as the album Blood in 2013.
Grohl came back into the fold for the 2015 single “For Those Who Graced the Fire,” which included Grohl on drums, Dinsmore on vocals, Neider on guitar, and Chuck Dukowski, formerly of Black Flag, on bass. The song includes pummeling and precise riffs and rhythms that testify to the band’s continuing explosive power.
The current incarnation of Bl’ast is a powerful beast that features Dinsmore, Neider, and original bassist Dave Cooper along with former Queens of the Stone Age players Nick Oliveri and Joey Castillo. Bl’ast! recently played a few Southern California shows, where both Neider and Dinsmore were impressed by their own band’s sound.
Bl’ast! plays the big room of The Catalyst—a venue they never got to perform in during their initial run—for the first time in almost 10 years. After that, there might be an even bigger surprise for longtime fans. “If we schedule it right,” Neider says, “you’re going to hear a couple of really gnarly records that will take place with this five piece, maybe with some guests involved.”
Bl’ast!, Excel, and Lost Cause perform Saturday, Oct. 7, 8pm. $25/advance, $35/general admission, $40/last chance. The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. https://catalystclub.com