I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Buck Rogers or collecting butterflies, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Dr. Who fan’s knowledge of the Tardis.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Dr. Who. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article: Can you feel the excitement? Can you hear the legions of KCP fans throwing their hands in the air in celebration, the moment I’ve teased in at least three previous posts is here. You see, it’s a special day, because I’ve finally gotten around to buying the New York bassed Hardcore band Sick Of It All’s third full-length studio album Scratch The Surface, which was released in 1994. I’ve been planning on buying this record since at least 2004 (although it was probably two or three years earlier than that I just can’t remember the exact time), ever since hearing the Title Track on music TV in my very early teens and really falling in love with it. In the mean time I’ve gotten into Biohazard, Madball, Life Of Agony (Ok, those last two were part of this series and I probably liked Biohazard before I heard Sick Of It All, I don’t remember) and talked about Sick Of It All semi-frequently.
Well, with this level of explosive excitement causing my fanbase paroxysms of ecstasy there’s no point going into anything but the actual album, so hear it goes…
‘No Cure’ opens the record with some hi-hat swirling and after a brief build-up kicks into some big beefy Hardcore as you’d expect. There’s a fun bit with lots of floor toms. It kicks into a nice groovy breakdown that reminds me a bit of early Machine Head due to its high pitched guitar noises (I’m not sure if its Harmonics or Feedback to be honest). The production is closer to a Pantera sound than a Machine Head one, and the musical genesis is closer to a Biohazard one, but its got a very unique this-is-the-only-thing-that-sounds-like-this thing going on.
‘Insurrection’ is one of three songs in my iTunes that share that name. (The other two belong to Trivium and Lamb Of God). It actually reminds me a bit of Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s the first time I’ve ever understood the “core” in their “Mathcore” tag. After a while it melts into one of those fun rolling floor tom beats that Hardcore bands do. Halfway through, Lou’s vocals start to sound like Tom Arya on recent Slayer albums. In fact I’m only just now starting to understand how much Hardcore their is in God Hates Us All.
‘Consume’ opens up with a very Faith No More sounding funky bass and drums intro. When the vocals and guitar come in it makes a bit more sense that its actually them making it, as opposed to some guest musicians from a funkier 90s band. Then they mix the funk and the distortion together for a while until kicking into a stratifying chorus. Its still actually got a surprising amount of uplifting Faith No Moreness about it. They probably should’ve released this as a single, it would’ve been a good bridge for people listening to Living Colour and Rage Against The Machine to get into them.
‘Who Sets The Rules’ starts with another quick fast smack in the face of an intro, really reminiscent of 90s Napalm Death in a way, then kicks into a series of great riffs over solid, slightly bouncy music. The main riff has a sort of ‘Breed To Breathe’ quality about it. I could also see it sitting beside anything off Vulgar Display or Far Beyond Driven without looking too weird. This is a very enjoyable track for my particular sensibilities.
‘Goatless’ sounds almost exactly like Slayer’s Undisputed Album. Also, the bit where he keep’s singing ‘Who Points The Finger’ reminds me of the bit in Exodus’ ‘The Ballad of Leonard And Charge’ where he sings ‘Killers of women, rapists of women.’ The song is over in no time at all. I like this sort of thing a lot, but I could do with it being about thirty to fourty seconds longer.
‘Step Down’ opens up with a live crowd noise and a really fun surf-and-skateboard punk bit. It sounds like Fu Manchu mixed with early Green Day, which is sort of odd to think about when the band’s usual sound is more like Biohazard. It suits them well though, and provides some nice variety. I suppose they have to live up to the “Punk” bit of “Hardcore Punk” every once in a while. In a way, the idea of the song reminds me a bit of the idea of Hatebreed’s ‘Every Lasting Scar.’ Y’know, hooray for the underground, and all that. Here’s some of our punk roots etc. Oh wait, I guess that’d be more ‘The Language’ by Hatebreed. A mix of the two. It reminds me a bit of a mix of those two.
‘Maladjusted’ opens with some threatening mechanical bass, like a slowed down version of ‘Linchpin.’ Then it kicks into a sound somewhere between Korn and Biohazard. There’s a fun build up towards the end, and when that kicks back into the main riff, its got an extra bounce, like how Limp Bizkit would do.
‘Scratch The Surface’ is a track I’ve listened to many times. I just absolutely love it. I love the floor tom bits, I love the groovy hanging on the crash, I love the ending a fill on a hi-hat. I love the tempo changes, I love how frequently the short chorus comes back. I especially love how it cuts to the sneaky bass-driven interlude right before the end. Its the unarguable highlight of the album so far.
‘Free Spirit’ starts off with more of that summery punk stuff, but later has a more Hatebreed style chorus and a surprisingly emotional-sounding interlude. Its quick and punchy and effective. Its over quickly, almost too quickly to actually type anything about. [Jeez. Imagine doing this with a Grindcore album… that’d be a challenge.]
‘Force My Hand’ opens with feedback then launches into a big dirty bruiser of a riff. The section of music sounds like its shoving people out of its way. It sounds like the music bouncers are trained to. Its got the absolute best parts of Nu Metal in its DNA but its completely devoid of its bad sides, its much more like a Pantera song. I love the riffs that turn in on themselves, like they’re in a fancy time-sig. Its one of the best songs on the record so far.
‘Desperate Fool’ is another quick, bright and boppity Punk number. Yes, boppity! Its got a fantastic floor tom based bridge that makes me want to dance. This is the song I’d play if I had to edit a video of a fat man learning to surf under pressure from his too-cool-for-dad son on a post-unfair-divorce holiday in Hawaii and subsequently learning to absolutely nail it, winning his douchey son’s respect. Fuck you ex-wife!
‘Return To Reality’ is a slower, moodier sounding number. There’s this sort of weird almost atonal rising bass over the mean-sounding rest of it, sort of disarming the menace. The chorus reminds me a bit of ‘Scratch The Surface’ and there’s a cool twisty riff that comes in, but overall, this is the least enjoyable song so far. It plods a bit I guess.
‘Farm Team’ bangs away with one of those quick blasty intros and into a heavier more menacing version of that quick Hardcore side of Sick Of It All’s agenda. It sounds like its in a hurry, but has a clear purpose. More of a car chase than a fat dad surfing. I makes the smart decision to cut to a big fat groove in the middle, sounding a little like Life Of Agony with a more cutting guitar tone. Its got a big bounce, it makes me bop up and down in my computer chair as I type. If I boxed a punching bag, this would be on my playlist for that. Fuck you punching bag!
‘Cease Fire’ opens up with a surprising clean, slightly Grunge band sounding arpeggio and mid tempo beat. Fuck you, convention! It would not be out of place on a Silverchair record at all. Until, at about the halfway point that is, when the Hardcore comes in and it flaps away with a D-Beat and aggressive vocals. It has a nice chorus-esque bit where they say ‘Cease Fire’ a lot. There’s summore grooves and D-Beats and then it ends.
Then the album is over.
Well, aren’t you glad I didn’t talk about Grunge (well, apart from that odd Grunge intro to the last track) and didn’t mention Black Label Society or Black Country Communion?
So. Anyway… what did I think of it? How do I feel about it? What’s the meaning of life? Well, first off, I enjoyed large chunks of it, 90% of it was very good. It didn’t particularly blow me away with extra special wow-factor, but it was solid. Secondly, I feel sort of medium, it wasn’t as good as Downset or Madball or Life Of Agony, but I didn’t dislike it at all. It was short, and the title track was the best song, but it wasn’t a waste of money. Thirdly, I’m not qualified to answer that, you’ll have to ask your local Draughtsman, or if construction and architecture ain’t your bag, a representative from the Union of Longshoreman and Whalers. Or Parkway Drive’s lyricist… the answers are under the sea, right?
Anyway, that was it. That was the long awaited, highly anticipated Scratch The Surface First Impressions article. Feel free to take tomorrow off, just to get over the excitement. Its ok, I’ll write you a note for your employers and educators. Fuck you, reader’s productivity!
‘Till next time…