Monday, October 19, 2009

October 19: Gorilla Biscuits, "Start Today"

Artist: Gorilla Biscuits
Album: Start Today
Year: 1989
Label: Revelation

The straightedge faction of the hardcore music scene is largely known for its strict, almost militant approach to both music, as well as life in general. Often times coming off as almost arrogant, many of those who live the straightedge lifestyle look down upon those who do not, and this causes a large amount of alienation within the scene. Unquestionably led by the efforts and ethos of Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat, offered (and continues to offer) a safe refuge for those who do not wish to engage in vices like drinking and drugs, yet enjoy hardcore music. However, much like with every other genre of music, there is always another side to the style, and there is one band that changed the entire scene by taking the straightedge sound, and made it an overall lighter affair. Though their "include everyone" approach was largely unpopular at first, the reality is, after experiencing their live performances, even the most militant straightedge fans could not resist the allure of one of the most important bands in music history, Long Island, New York's own, Gorilla Biscuits. Though the band was only together for a few years, releasing only a pair of full length records, their impact and influence rivals that of bands with far more years together. By far their finest studio recording, as well as an album that completely altered the entire music scene, Gorilla Biscuits monumental second (and final) full length release, 1989's Start Today, is nothing short of an icon within music history.

If a music era when "hair metal" was being shown the door, and music was hinged to begin a multi-year transition before grunge began to dominate, the significance of Start Today cannot be overstated. Minor Threat had called it a career years before, and the straightedge scene was being dominated by bands like Agnostic Front and 7 Seconds. Though they clearly share the same attitude and basic life approach, the music of Gorilla Biscuits does bring a lighter and less strict sound and attitude. Also, the songs on Start Today have a bit more of a "musical" feel to them, and often move beyond just crushing chords played at breakneck speed. The title track remains one of the most iconic songs to ever come out of the hardcore scene and has been covered countless times. However, in what can be seen as amazingly ironic, these covers are sadly often performed by completely talentless bands for video game soundtracks. It is on "Start Today" that everything that makes Gorilla Biscuits so amazing comes quickly into focus, as the musicality, vocal delivery, and even the inclusion of a quick harmonica progression make the song far more appealing to a much wider audience. Also, one cannot ignore the cover of Start Today, as it has become almost as iconic as the band itself. Original pressings of the vinyl are among the most highly sought after collectors items, and this serves as a testament as to the music contained within as well as the overall significance of the band.

Gorilla Biscuits formed in what can be seen as the best and most authentic way possible; three high school friends met the rest of the band members after seeing one another at straightedge concerts in the New York area. After a few lineup changes, the band settled in as a powerful quintet, and were soon signed to Revelation Records. The band never used their last names, occasionally using "nicknames" on the liner notes (this is likely where Rage Against The Machine got the idea), and this in some ways, helped the band to keep a bit of anonymity within the scene. Writing a majority of the songs for Gorilla Biscuits, lead guitarist Walter Schreifels remains one of the most highly respected musicians of his generation. Pushing for more musicality within the hardcore genre, Schreifels brilliantly blends high-octane, powerful chords with fantastically melodic and equally fast-paced, more intricate progressions. Creating even more sound and making the music amazingly powerful, Alex Brown brings a second guitar sound, making the sound on Start Today like that of no other band at the time. Easily one of the most mesmerizing aspects of the music of Gorilla Biscuits is the bass playing of Arthur Smilious. Winding through and around Schreifels guitar work, Smilious brings the "menace" that is essential to the hardcore sound, but is also able to simultaneously create fantastic grooves within the songs. Rounding out the musicians strong of Gorilla Biscuits is one of the genres greatest drummers ever, Luke Abbey. Able to often sound like there is a second drummer as on "Time Files," there are few punk-based drummers who can even come close to the skill of Abbey. While they had a unique approach to the straightedge scene, if it were not for their amazing musical talent, there is no way Gorilla Biscuits would have found as much success.

With a voice and delivery that falls somewhere between Henry Rollins and Mike Muir, lead singer Anthony "Civ" Civarelli is a true icon of the straightedge scene. With vocals that are far more measured and clear than a majority of his peers, the songs on Start Today have far more impact as the lyrical content proves to be as important as the way in which they are delivered or the music over which they are presented. Gorilla Biscuits bring the same anti-complacency battle cry as their peers, and it is rarely more apparent than on the anti-TV song, "Stand Still." Calling for doing something more meaningful in life, singer Civ preaches, "...our Lives are led by TV shows, you know it's true...instead of thinking we play Donkey Kong. There's nothing wrong with that...we're made to think life is like a game show. So here we go again...the one who dies with the most toys is the one who wins...I just can't stand it..." It is these unrelenting lyrics, backed by the brilliant hardcore music that gives Gorilla Biscuits as much "street cred" as any of their peers, yet they ability to critique their own scene is one of the key aspects that sets them far apart. Rallying against the fascist, "white power" racists within the scene, "Degradation" remains one of the greatest anti-hate songs ever composed. Again pulling no punches, the band leaves nothing to question when Civ says, "...a loser's way to find some friends, you look like a skin but that's where it ends....True, they're always at our shows, it doesn't mean we fit in with their hatred and racism shit....they ruin our name, you know what I mean...racial supremacists degrade our scene..."

Proving that hardcore music was nowhere near dead, Gorilla Biscuits injected a new spirit and approach into the genre as the 1980's came to a close. Attempting to take some of the "edge" out of straightedge and make it less of an elitist affair, the band remains one of the most influential and highly respected bands of their generation. With fierce musical progressions and all the attitude and angst that one demands from hardcore and punk music, Gorilla Biscuits, much like their influences, understand how to create the perfect soundtrack for regular, small-scale riots. After experiencing Start Today, one can only imagine the wonderful, controlled chaos that undoubtedly defined their live performances. The songs themselves were clearly made to be played live, as they are completely devoid of filler and are completely unrelenting, both in terms of tempo as well as lyrical content. Able to turn the pen on themselves, as well as call out the ills in the world around them, Start Today contains some of the most observant and motivating lyrics ever written, and even the album title alone is a scream against mediocrity, procrastination, and complacency. With a sound and lyrical content that is still as fresh and relevant today as it was more than twenty years ago, Gorilla Biscuits are true icons of the hardcore scene, and their 1989 album, Start Today is beyond essential listening and represents a truly pivotal moment in the overall history of music.

Standout tracks: "New Direction," "Degradation," and "Start Today."

1 comment:

Rory said...

Start Today is one of my favorite rock albums. Nice synopsis! I'm bummed I've never gotten to see them live, though I saw Quicksand a few times. Very different, though also a great band.