Saturday, September 19, 2009

September 19: Suicidal Tendencies, "Suicidal Tendencies"

Artist: Suicidal Tendencies
Album: Suicidal Tendencies
Year: 1983
Label: Frontier

As the 1980's got underway, punk began to die away in its formal meaning, and morph into other, new genres. From thrash and hardcore to post-punk and speed metal, new sounds were exploding all over the musical map. Within this bevy of new musical sounds lived one of the most high energy, aggressive, and controversial acts to ever record. Hailing from the notoriously rough area of Venice, California, aggro-skate-metal-thrash gods, Suicidal Tendencies remain in a class by themselves nearly three decades after first bursting onto the scene. Bringing an unparalleled mixture of speed metal, punk angst, dark themes, and an aggressive nature that remains largely unmatched, Suicidal Tendencies have influenced countless bands from Rage Against The Machine (though there is a longstanding issue between the bands) to Biohazard to nearly every band in the modern day thrash scene. Bringing fantastic musicianship, alongside the phenomenal vocals of Mike Muir, the band demands as much respect and reverence today as they did in the early 1980's. Having released ten studio albums over that time, and persevering a number of lineup changes, Suicidal Tendencies stand today as the "elder statesmen" of the thrash-metal and hardcore scenes. All of the admiration and respect given to the band can be traced back to their extraordinary, intimidating, and overall stunning debut album, 1983's Suicidal Tendencies.

While other bands (Minor Threat, Agent Orange, etc) were making hardcore style music at the time, the reality is, none of them brought the sheer anger and aggression that one finds within the music of Suicidal Tendencies. The bands' attitude is often argued to be past "aggressive" and truly more fitting of the term "violent," and rumors of the bands' members being active within the infamous gangs of Venice Beach have caused controversy to stick with the band throughout their entire career. Along with the music found within, Suicidal Tendencies features a handful of aspects that provided the initial fuel to these issues. On the band photo that was inside the original cassette release of the album, drummer Amery Smith has "V13" written on the bill of his flipped-up hat. This is clearly a reference to his gang affiliation, and Muir's trademark blue bandanna did little to calm those who constantly condoned the band. Truth be told, new gangs sprang up throughout the area, paying tribute to the band by donning names like "Suicidal Cycos" and "Suis" among others. In many ways, this heavy identification gave the band what would be equivalent to "street cred" within the hip hop scene, and it is one of the main reasons why the band gained their extremely intense and powerful reputation. However, even with this "street cred," Suicidal Tendencies would not have achieved this level of greatness without the absolutely amazing music of the band.

By the time the band entered the studio to record their debut album, they had already gone through three lineup changed, and the group that recorded Suicidal Tendencies would change before the band was touring in support of the album. Taking the "classic" rock quartet lineup, and turning the volume and anger up as high as possible, in many ways, the world was simply not ready for the music of Suicidal Tendencies. As a member of the band for only a few short months, guitarist Grant Estes is nothing short of spectacular throughout the entire album. Clearly finding quick chemistry with the rest of the band, Estes plays brilliantly throughout, whether he is bringing crushing chords or speedy solos. As one of the few members to record more than a single album with the band, bassist Louiche Mayorga lays the central role in giving the music its trademark grinding groove. Playing with little distortion, it is Mayorga that also gives the bands' songs the sinister, threatening, and sometimes nearly psychopathic mood. Much like Mayorga, drummer Amery Smith was with the band for the same time period, and the interplay between the two members of the rhythm section is one of the key aspects that sets Suicidal Tendencies apart from the rest of the bands' catalog. The amount of energy and angry emotion that Smith communicates through his drum playing remains largely unmatched, and it is often truly unsettling to experience. Though he does not play a single note on the album, one simply cannot overlook the presence of producer, Glen E. Friedman. Easily one of the most important figures in the entire history of the punk, hardcore, straight-edge, and skate scenes, Friedman is responsible for many of the most famous, early photographs of all of these scenes. His work on Suicidal Tendencies (he also took the albums' notorious cover photograph) is just as important as anything else in his career, and it also stands as a testament to his seemingly boundless artistic talent.

While the three musicians found on Suicidal Tendencies, the true magic behind the band lives within the vocal stylings and lyrics of band founder and the only member to be in every lineup, the legendary Mike Muir. Presenting the vocals with as much punch and fury as the music, Muir constantly switches between speaking, yelling, and what can only be classified as rapping. When it comes down to it, there are true very few frontmen anywhere in music history who performed with the level of emotion and energy that Muir brings on every song. Easily one of the most outspoken musicians of his generation, Muir routinely took shots at pro-censorship groups like the PMRC, as well as being part of legendary feuds with everyone from Dave Mustaine to the entire band Rage Against The Machine. His opinion never fails to come across clearly in his lyrics, and they are always extremely potent and hard hitting. Often taking his lyrics directly from his own life, many believe that the bands' most famous song, "Institutionalized" is Muir speaking of his own childhood. The song perfectly encapsulates the bands' musical style, as it is little more than a fierce, repeating musical pattern with Muir delivering his lyrics in a spoken, almost beat poetry style. The song itself is largely seen as the first thrash/hardcore to gain any sort of national popularity, and though it never even remotely charted, the video received regular airplay on EmpTV. Parts of the song have also been referenced countless times over the years, with bands like Korn and Cypress Hill borrowing one of the songs' most infamous lines, "...all I wanted was a Pepsi..." Bringing a truly unmatched combination of sensational lyrics, alongside his absolutely unmistakable and stunning delivery style, Mike Muir is far and away one of the most extraordinary performers in the history of music.

The biggest hurdle in performing aggressive music is finding the balance between bringing enough energy to make the music complete, and overdoing it to a point that the songs become cliché. An overwhelming majority of bands who attempt the style end up falling into the latter category, and it results in little more than pointless screaming over poorly written music. Showing not only the perfect balance, but presenting a sound unlike any other in music history, Suicidal Tendencies stand as musical pioneers across a number of various genres. Proving that one need not scream to have impact or aggression, Mike Muir stands today as one of the most influential and truly unique vocalists in history. Bringing poetically brutal lyrics like nothing before him, Muir remains in a class by himself, and the authenticity and emotion within his songs is unimpeachable. The musicians Muir brings with him for the debut record from Suicidal Tendencies gels perfectly and quickly, and the magic they capture in the studio suggests that this was truly a special grouping of musicians. With a focus and cohesion that is rarely found elsewhere in music, the songs are all amazingly tight, whilst simultaneously providing ample space for Muir to weave in his phenomenal vocals. In every sense imaginable, Suicidal Tendencies epitomizes a band that refuses to be ignored, and their 1983 self-titled debut remains powerful and relevant to this day, easily making it one of the most important and essential albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Suicide's An Alternative / You'll Be Sorry," "I Shot The Devil," and "Institutionalized."

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