Review Summary: Angst and non-conformity delivered cleverly and aggressively. One of the finest hardcore punk (or crossover thrash) releases.
For the contemporary listener, there is not much wrong with highly influential hardcore punk/thrash metal band Suicidal Tendencies (which also pioneered "skate punk"). Angry lyrics addressing youth frustration/rebellion, depression and suicide? Those are not uncommon in mainstream radio stations. A possibility that band members may be involved with street gangs? Well, there was Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., 50 cents, etc. The name itself, "Suicidal Tendencies"? So what, it's just their friggin' name! But when Los Angeles based ST formed in the early 80's, such issues were fairly new to most of the North American population. After all, genres like Grunge and Thrash Metal (which would emerge soon) did not exist and hip-hop was on its infancy, not being associated with gangs and street-culture like it is nowadays. During the same time period, hardcore punk was trucking on with acts such as Black Flag, Minor Threat and D.O.A. still kicking around despite some of them running into hardships.
By the time ST released its self-titled debuted album, the band had garnered a fair share of publicity - largely negative. Allegedly, they had gang connections, with lead vocalist and frontman Mike Muir constantly sporting a blue bandanna and then-drummer Amery Smith bearing the initials "V13" (supposedly a gang in the band's hometown) in a group shoot; such allegations gained credibility as many of ST's early concerts turned violent. The band's anti-establishment, angsty (albeit witty) lyricism provoked reactions within a public not used to these themes, and even its own name, "Suicidal Tendencies", made some parents wonder what the Christ their kids were listening to nowadays. Nevertheless, the vibe the band had generated was too big to be ignored and it found itself an independent record label, Frontier Records. Suicidal Tendencies
was released in early 1983 and eventually became one of the best-selling hardcore records of all time. Surely, free publicity stemming from all of the controversies was a factor that influenced the album's performance (as well as the song "Institutionalized" receiving MTV airplay) but Suicidal Tendencies
could not have been the financial and critical success it turned out to be if it did not have good music, of course.
The most recognizable feature within Suicidal Tendencies
- or any ST record, for that matter, is Mike Muir's vocal performance and lyrics. He never quite sings in the traditional sense or goes off in a shouting spree. Rather, he rants - or "semi-sings", rarely changing his voice's pitch. There is no doubt about his sincerity - the fast-paced, aggressive delivery is as raw and understandable as it comes. Although Muir is indubitably angry in most songs, it does not mean he is incapable of adding some wit and humor to his songs. Some of them are actually quite clever and funny such as Fascist Pig
: "I want to be a fascist pig/ Love to fight what a thrill/We don't stop until we kill" or I Shot The Devil
:(which is also one of the most memorable ones of the lot) "You're gonna rot in heave, hear an angel's voice/You're too bad for hell, although it's you first choice". In other tracks, however, he lets his ideas AND his fury loose. Case in point is Two Sided Politics
: "Protect yourself in everyday war//You're a minority, you go straight to jail" and Subliminal
: "Mind control the easiest way/Sponsored by the CIA(..)./They're ***ing with me subliminally". Regardless of whether if the listener agrees with Muir's views of the world, he or she will at least respect his extreme sincerity and occasional sagacity.
But Muir was not the only one working towards making Suicidal Tendencies
an excellent record. Riffs and the drumming bear much resemblance to the thrash sound (Slayer, Metallica, etc.) that emerged months after ST had released this one - although the guitar and the bass is not as heavily distorted and down-tuned, it is played just as fast and with a more percussive intent than in say, Slayer's Raining Blood
and keep the songs highly energetic. The drumming is also fast-paced and snare-heavy, successfully enhancing the feeling of violence and abrasion given off by Muir's rants. Yet the instrumental section is not an all-out assault on everyone's ears: the instruments do slow down at times, often when the rant is building up or reaches a point where throwing words at high velocity is just not worth it. And an oddity for a hardcore punk album - Suicidal Tendencies
is packed with dashing guitar solos by Grant Estes. The short length of most songs do not bar him from throwing in a few seconds of sonic goodness in them, even in the 59-seconds long Won't Fall In Love Today
. But his best performance is in Institutionalized
, where his fluid playing flows perfectly in the verses. Bassist Louiche Mayorga gets to shine a few times as well, such as in the ever-moving introduction of Possessed
In terms of tracks that truly stand out, the most recognizable one of the lot is Institutionalized
. Addressing the issue of "generation gap" (parents not really following their children's thoughts), Muir assumes the role of a misunderstood teen. He seems to be fairly normal according to his rant, but his parents believe he is "crazy" and "on drugs" and ultimately places him in a mental institution. Although the message being conveyed is serious, he employs some humor and throws in a bathos: "Why don't ya (mom) give me a Pepsi?/"She goes, "No, you're on drugs!", that's it, something as minor as a request for a soda grows into a point of contention between the teen and his mother. The speaker's' distress is mirrored iny the guitar work, which grows faster, more frantic as the rant goes on. On the other end of the spectrum, there is I Saw Your Mommy
. Featuring a highly graphic description of the mutilated body of a mother's body as well as showing the speaker's delight with her condition, the track's main riff eerily contrasts with the morbid imagery, being very uplifting and not brazen as in nearly all other songs in the album. This may as well be the most disgusting track ever written by a hardcore punk band, yet it is bizarrely catchy. And there is Suicide's An Alternative / You'll Be Sorry
, another track containing rapid yet smooth guitar soloing. But its most interesting aspect is its lyrics - at first listing all of the issues one has to worry about, and suggesting that "Suicide is an Alternative", the speaker "tells a story" about Satan tempting him to take his own life in exchange for a good life in hell - and ultimately, he tells the mean red devil to f*** off. Who would expect that a band named "Suicidal Tendencies" would sing against suicide?
is full of opinions, anger, wit and great musicianship. Mike Muir's straight-forward, kinetic and full-of-rage ravings, combined with the thrash-ish sound stemming from the instrumentalists gave ST their much lauded sound while the lyrics' focus on (then) modern issues helped spawn further interest. The only real downturn the record contains is its amazingly short length for an LP - as mentioned previously, only 28 minutes. While it turns out to be just enough to show ST's worth (as well as the abrasive nature of hardcore punk music), no room is left for the band to attempt an adventure - although that at least prevented ST from trying something then falling flat on its face. Regardless, Hardcore punk and Thrash Metal fans alike must own a copy of Suicidal Tendencies
, and it is a good first album for those who want to delve into either realm. After twenty-six years, it is still a hell of a listen - with the advent of widespread prescription of anti-depressants to kids, higher government intervention and , tracks such as Institutionalized
and Memories of Tomorrow
ring truer than ever.
Suicide's An Alternative/You'll Be Sorry
I Shot The Devil
I Saw Your Mommy