Excel – Split Image

December 8, 2014 –

excel-split_image

Now that our society has fallen apart further, the 1980s like simple and honest like the 1950s did to people exhausted of modern society in the 1980s. A better outlook might be that however our fallen time, it is a more fallen version of the 1980s, with the same pitfalls and failures. Those who lived through it can tell you how much a time of terror it was, with nuclear warfare and social collapse at every turn, and how this propelled some artists to put their most sacred hopes and fears into music. Excel was not one of them.

Excel created this “crossover thrash” back in the 1980s but really, this album belongs in with the Pantera/Biohazard school of bouncy hard rock in punk form with some added metal riffs. The problem with hard rock is that it relies on a simple mentality behind its riffs and that it aims to attract, so it is the equivalent of carnival music or a dinner theater side-show, which is really obvious music that gratifies really basic desires. That keeps the interest less than something articulated and involved like DRI, which offers its own riff style that obviously derives influence from many places, but does not parrot them. The only hidden influence here would be a more pronounced version of the Orange County surf-rock sound that incorporates novelty and party music into basic rock and projects it onto whatever genre can serve as canvas, in this case the basic punk of Excel. The tendency toward riffs based on playing a consistent trope, then interrupting it so the audience can get excited for it to return, while a technique to some degree in most music here becomes a staple in the most basic, drunk football fan throwing feces at the stage way.

The “crossover” part here consists of faster punk riffs that pick up after the chunky bounce-metal riffs and grandstanding hard rock riffs run out. Over this, a vocalist essentially speaks his lines and ends them on a melodic uptake, and although he deserves some note for periodically sounding like Snake from Voivod, these vocals bring out nothing in the music and mostly try to draw attention to themselves with the rest of the music as background atmosphere. Drums sound like a jogger trying to keep up with the vocals and far too often fall into the same syncopated beat that adds nothing but background noise, since the guitar and vocal hooks are nearly in unison and provide all the rhythm we need. While from a distance this album will appear to be no different than DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies, it lacks the fundamental spirit toward the expression itself as something distinct from and not pandering to the crowd. There is too much pander in Excel, and it dumbs down the music.

Birth A.D. – I Blame You

March 21, 2013 –

birth_a_d-i_blame_youBack in the 1980s thrasher music — a hybrid of punk and metal listened to by skateboarders — was big. In the 2000s, Birth A.D. has resurrected this style not through retro-nostalgia but by picking it up where it left off and taking it further.

Thrash grew up from simple short and fast punk songs with metal riffs and reached its peak with S.O.D.’s Speak English or Die and D.R.I.‘s Crossover. These albums packed the intensity of the blur-speed earlier work into lengthier songs with more emotional depth and variation. Birth A.D. picked up from that point with their first EP, Stillbirth of a Nation, which kept the chunky riffing but added melodic vocals and song structures customized to the topic of each song.

Returning with wisdom and more vitriol, I Blame You shows Birth A.D. reforming their style. The album comprises songs from Stillbirth of a Nation matched to new material which is tighter, faster and harder-hitting. It hits both with ripping riffs and militant time changes, but also with a greater internal contrast between themes which gives these songs a greater poetic intensity.

Lyrically, Birth A.D. emerges straight from the thrash tradition, which is to criticize our society as having made a wrong turn somewhere and now heading for doom. The lyrics defy categorization unless you imagine a systems architect looking at modern society as a whole and suggesting changes that management has overlooked for its own reasons. Of note is “Popular War” which criticizes the tendency of people to really enjoy killing other people when it’s easy, fail-safe and creates a good opportunity for business.

The original thrash movement burned out because it burned too bright. It had a lot to say, but instead of drawing it out into long dramatic pieces, it blasted us with rapid-fire alienation. Easily understood, it was rarely understood, because it was too radical. Birth A.D. bring this idea back not by imitating it, but by upholding its spirit, which makes for an exhilarating and violent listening experience.