Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4: The Stains, "Quit The Human Race"

Artist: The Stains
Song: "Quit The Human Race"
Album: The Stains
Year: 1981

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Throughout the late 1970's and the first few years of the 1980's, it was almost tragic how many bands were attempting to find their way under the label of "punk rock," and this led to a massive dilution of the talent and sound that defined that term.  In many cases, a group that did little more than spike their hair and "pose out" on stage found themselves called punk bands, and yet those who truly study the music understand that it is far more a state of mind within a sound than a silly image or other presentation.  It is due to this fact that many of the "true" punk bands remain relatively unknown even within "punk circles," and this is further complicated by the reality that certain names were used by many different bands across the world.  Though one can find a number of names being used by multiple bands, one of the most common and confusing can be that of "The Stains," and yet one cannot deny the sheer power and sound of the Los Angeles-based band that used this moniker.  In existence for only a few short years, by the time that The Stains released their first full-length album on the legendary SST Records in 1983 (though it was recorded two years earlier), the group had all but broken up.  This led to their self-titled full length album becoming a bit of an "underground" classic within the world of punk, and there are few songs that show the ferocity of punk with early signs of a heavy metal crossover than what can be heard on The Stains 1981 recording, "Quit The Human Race."

Much like a majority of the music released on SST, "Quit The Human Race" wastes absolutely no time in asserting itself and setting the tone for the song.  There is a raw edge that runs throughout the entire song, and this almost dirty, organic feel becomes one of the most distinctive aspects of "Quit The Human Race."  This sound is led by the guitar of Robert Becerra, and it is the high-octane drive within his playing that sets The Stains apart from their peers.  It is also the slight distortion in his sound, as well as the tone with which he plays that makes it impossible to deny the heavy metal influence on the group, and the reality is that no other band of the time was attempting this crossover with similar sonic success.  For this reason alone, The Stains played a vital role in the progression of both the punk and heavy metal genres, and one can find this influence on a number of the bands' later label-mates.  However, it is also the incredible drumming from Gilbert Berumen that stands out on "Quit The Human Race."  Not only due to the power with which he plays, but the sheer speed and varying fills instantly separates him from other punk drummers, and again, one can hear elements of heavy metal within his performance.  Rounded out by bassist Ceasar Viscarra, there is an odd, unsettling groove that runs throughout "Quit The Human Race," and there is simply no arguing that the song is anything less than a "lost" gem of the original Los Angeles punk scene.

Yet while the music on "Quit The Human Race" is crushing and imposing in a way that few other songs were able to achieve, one cannot discount the equally strong and impressive vocals from Rudy Navarro.  Though in his tone, he is quite similar to a majority of "punk singers" from the era, it is the energy behind each of his words that vaults him far beyond most of his peers.  While many other vocalists seemed to be shouting because "that's what punk singers did," there is a clear intent and frustration at every turn from Navarro, and the dizzying speed with which he delivers each word remains one of the most impressive aspects of his performance style.  Furthermore, The Stains took the "normal" themes of punk music and yet carried them out with far more focus and quality, as "Quit The Human Race" is one of the finest anthems of frustration with the world in general.  Pulling no punches, the song is an outright attack on what one can assume was the girlfriend of Navarro, and while the first half of the song is brutal, it does resolve itself (somewhat) in the last verse.  Yet "Quit The Human Race" is one of the finest examples of the idea of the way one sings a song being more important than the actual lyrics, as the bite and frustration that one can feel at every turn on this song is the very essence of punk rock, and few groups were ever able to deliver with this sort of unrestrained fury.

In many ways, The Stains can be seen as the definition of what SST Records were known for at that time, as there is no question that each of their songs would have quickly set any live crowd into all out mayhem.  The energy that runs underneath every note that they play has an honesty and urgency that can be almost unsettling at times; and one can argue that it is this intangible element that "is" the spirit of punk rock music.  Throughout "Quit The Human Race," it is clear that The Stains have no time to waste and intent to expel all of the sonic power that they can as quickly as possible.  However, it is the fact that the song has a clear focus which places it above the work of a majority of their peers.  Yet the heavy metal sounds that one can hear all across the song further place the band into a category all their own, as there were virtually no other groups on the planet that were creating a similar sound with such success.  It is due to this reason that The Stains stand as one of the pivotal groups in the development of both punk rock and heavy metal, and yet due to a number of reasons (mostly the lack of a re-issue of their album), the band remains almost tragically unknown.  However, once one hears any of their music, it is impossible to forget their sound, and The Stains rarely sounded better than what one can experience on their 1981 song, "Quit The Human Race."

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