Barbaric Softworks has signed a licensing agreement with Austin, TX-based continuation thrash band Birth A.D. to use Birth A.D. songs in Barbaric Softworks’ newest title, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment.
Unlike most video games, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment has no winners. You just lose a little less, and survive a little longer. American and European ratings authorities will have a field day with this violent game notorious for its irreverent mockery of death, suffering and humanity’s pretense of individuality.
In a similar vein, Birth A.D. has rocked the house with mockery on its latest opus, I Blame You. Recalling the golden days of DRI and SOD, this band nonetheless forges on in a continuation of what those bands created and does not rehash the past like the retro bands who are so thoughtless that it is tempting to lace their Capri Sun with antifreeze.
The combination of Birth A.D. and Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment should thrill even the most dour metal fan with its high splatter and body count, and the corresponding middle finger to all values that society holds dear. The game is due out in a later quarter of 2013.
(To get the full effect, hit “play” on both videos at the same time.)
Back in the early 1980s, before the teenage metal magazines got a grip on the term, there was a genre called thrash because it was invented by thrashers, that is, people who got around on skateboards and were as dropped out of society as the hackers and anarchists. In fact, there was a lot of overlap.
In the thrash genre, there are three big names who simultaneously invented this style of putting metal riffs in punk songs without losing the integrity of either genre, and those were DRI, COC, and Cryptic Slaughter. They crafted short songs out of 2-3 riffs and creative re-stylings of those riffs in the punk style, but using chord progressions and phrase-oriented riffs like metal bands. The result was a genre all on its own that was neither metal nor punk and literally invented a category for itself. Of those, COC had the most feeling of a classic punk band and got closer to what Suicidal Tendencies and MDC were doing, which was to make punk songs with a metal edge and play them faster than anyone else had ever done before.
For most of us, the only COC we could afford was the Caroline records issue of Eye for an Eye + Six Songs with Mike Singing on CD, since all we had before that were fifteenth-generation tape dubs from someone’s brother’s girlfriend’s uncle’s drinking buddy’s vinyl dubbed in a basement next to a rack of molotov cocktails and homegrown indo. These songs are brief punches of angst and insight, opening with pure outrage at the ongoing failure of humanity and transitioning to an energetic desire to do something about it, much like a mosh pit itself. Over them, gruff vocals are almost totally incoherent and drums mostly keep time but diverge when they want to for added emphasis.
Eye for an Eye + Six Songs with Mike Singing won most of us over for its raw creativity. It lifts some material, including a bass riff from Yes and at least a couple riffs from Black Sabbath, but that’s immaterial; the point is that each of these songs is a small story, and although circular one that mimics its topic matter and thus, each song is distinctive and yet within the same style so that the album holds together like a wartime journal and yet has enough variety to be heard time and again. Thrash lives with this re-release that brings the original material back to life for a new generation who may need a guidepost beyond the pre-packaged categories of music product.
Success in life often comes down to timing. Some of metal’s best bands, by virtue of being ahead of the curve, simply get there too fast and go too far to be as noticed as the others who plod along and thus are right about where their audience expects them to be, thus understands them and thus can appreciate them.
It reminds me of the friend of mine who wrote an English paper in high school that the teacher dismissed as nonsense; when he handed it in at college, he got an A. He was just too far out ahead of the curve. In the same way, Houston’s Dead Horse were just too ahead in too many ways at once for most people to grasp. Thrash is a hybrid between punk songs and metal riffs, so named because of its popularity with thrashers or skaters. Thrash bands like DRI (also from Houston), COC, Cryptic Slaughter, MDC and Fearless Iranians From Hell (from San Antonio) were famous for short intense songs of social commentary that was more existential and practical than political. Dead Horse took it even further to a nearly literary level.
After producing a series of demos that were well-received in the underground and even among “normals,” Dead Horse recorded and self-released their first album, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming. After that, they gigged like maniacs and finally got on a larger label to release their second album, Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers, at which time a death metal and progressive metal influence was flowering in their music. But after that, they never really got a handle on things again, despite releasing a pair of well-received EPs. As often happens in Texas, the local scene swallowed them, in equal parts of taking them for granted and resenting them for rising so far so fast.
Fast-forward to last year. Most of Dead Horse is now gallivanting around in Pasadena Napalm Division, while original frontman Mike Haaga makes his living making oddball soundtracks and performing live. Like many talented people in metal, he left it behind, probably outraged at the simple inability of metalheads to unite to do anything, a self-defeating practice that delights their detractors (what’s better than an opponent who commits suicide?). But the other band members have continued on and played a show in Houston which was memorialized in their Making a Dead Horse Live DVD.
According to most recent reports, the band is returning for a live performance at Fitzgerald’s this Saturday, possibly with Kurt Brecht of DRI making an appearance. It’s good to see this legend rise again, and this time, perhaps stay in flight.
The problem with success is that it can become a cage: you get known for doing something that meant a lot to you at the time, but time goes on. You want new horizons. It’s hard to express them, and you see others succeed for doing a lot less.
Suicidal Tendencies launches 13 into a time where metal and punk have both decided to commit suicide by melding so extensively with other genres as to lose their own identities. Melding itself isn’t bad, but when a whole genre does it, it essentially obliterates its unique voice and makes itself another flavor of rock music.
13 escapes Suicidal Tendencies’ past by mixing in a number of alternative, improvisational and extrinsic styles. In particular, you’ll hear island-based world music, Rage Againsst the Machine, and even the keg-party reggae-influenced rock of bands like Sublime, all mixed into what’s essentially a punk band playing metal. The locus of the action has changed: where the original Suicidal Tendencies want to make a point with its songs, these songs want to set up a convivial atmosphere and into that speak some ideas with lyrics. The original songs resembled their content; these songs are a mixture of fun and diverse elements, and expression occurs in the lyrics.
With this album, Suicidal Tendencies demonstrate how an album can be quite good and not satisfy its original audience. I think this will be a huge hit among the alt-rock and nu-metal crowds because it’s more musically interesting than most of the kiddie music. It’s based on firm grooves, catchy melodic vocal hooks, and an insanely over-the-top constant lead guitar jam that gives this music a breadth that is rarely found in music you hear on the radio.
However, for metal fans this one is going to be a failure. It has lost the metal spirit, and it essentially party rock with some metal riffs. The cool guitar work and occasional shredding give this some power, but it doesn’t switch it to the viewpoint a metal fan will appreciate.
Whenever society gets too complacent and considers itself to be a success, Birth AD pops up out of a nearby container and reminds it that civilization is failing, most people are idiots and we’re probably all doomed. The difference is that Birth AD is funny and has good music, while just about anyone else criticizing society is a bore.
Coming to us from Austin, TX, Birth AD is a continuation of the crossover movement called thrash from back in the 1980s; if you remember how everyone and their brother wore a DRI shirt when they went to the skate park, you remember this movement. It was a cross between hardcore songs and metal riffs, and the result was unique and spoke clearly to the fears of the age.
While there have always been retro-bands looking back toward this style, Birth AD took up the style while looking forward, and have carried it into a new dimension of what it always could become. We’re very fortunate to have Jeff AD to speak with today.
What were your influences in formulating your style, and how did you update it without having it be assimilated by newer forms of music?
There aren’t any new entries that motivated me, it was all the classics. SOD, DRI, Dr. Know, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Cro-Mags, Nuclear Assault, and other usual suspects were touchstones. I willfully refused to let my material reflect any late-model sounds. Why would I? I was there when the sound was at its peak (admittedly I wasn’t even a teenager yet, but it still counts).
I felt like a lot of bands from that period had one really crucial album and then fizzled or stumbled. Bands like SOD and the Cro-Mags were effectively lightning in a bottle in that they each made one massively influential album and then fell apart. There was so much potential, so much more to be said, and I wanted to create something that was a direct continuation of those great releases, free from the adulterants of current conventions. Crossover is a very specific hybrid, and a band simply cannot invoke the term without cultivating a handful of necessary elements.
You’re about to launch your first full-length album, I Blame You, on Dark Descent sub-label Unspeakable Axe records. Can you tell us what’s going to be on the album?
We pulled a Dealin’ With It and re-recorded the entire EP, along with several new songs. Alex Perialas helmed the recording at his world-famous (and gold record laden) studio, Pyramid Sound in Ithaca, New York. We recorded in January 2012, so it has sat in stasis for a bit while we figured out where to put it. Part of this was because I wanted to work with Alex without exception, and January was the time he had available. It’s a good thing we did it when we did, as he subsequently got into a property battle with the city and the whole endeavor would have been shot to hell.
What do you think makes a great crossover thrash album or song?
It has to be memorable and catchy while communicating a coherent idea. DRI was my primary model because they were always good at writing clever lyrics that sent clear and pointed messages. It also helps to be succinct. If you make it past the four-minute mark, you’re doing it wrong.
Why do you think there’s so much interest now in older styles of metal?
It’s natural to look back on 40 years of metal and its variants and wanting to explore it all, especially if you were too young to take part the first time around. In a way, this phenomenon benefits Birth AD quite well, because we’re a new band with an old sound that younger fans can claim as their own. Outside of that, pretty much everything good in the genre has effectively been done, so it’s hard to re-invent the wheel. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to stick with the known quantities to ensure their money is well spent.
We’ve played with DRI before, which was a massively good time. As for Fearless and Cryptic, I’ll get back to you on that once I get the time machine operational. Can you imagine what it would be like if hessians harnessed time travel? “We’ve got a Celtic Frost concert in 1986 to see, we’ll kill Hitler later!”
Why do you think “crossover” thrash arose when it did?
I think it was because so many metal band and hardcore bands liked each other’s stuff and it became imperative for a middle ground to be created. SOD was effectively a one-off tribute to bands like Dr. Know and Agnostic Front, but they ended up sparking a whole new phenomenon because their musicianship was so elevated and the production was so good. In any event, it needed to happen, but after that most bands involved went fully into the metal end of things and lost the punk and hardcore elements that made it qualify as crossover. Birth AD was created in the name of preserving that rarefied sound without the inevitable departures made by our forebears.
How influential do you think “crossover” thrash was on genres like death metal and black metal?
That’s a revealing question in that I don’t think it had much impact at all. Death metal bands were more influenced by proper speed metal like Slayer and Dark Angel, while Black Metal was influenced by the European groups like Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory, et al. Those bands deal in fantasy and the abstract, while thrash is steeped in the rigors of daily life. Crossover is something of a specialized entry, much like a cheetah in that it really gets the job done in one very specific way.
What’s next for Birth AD?
I’m going to be a grandstanding pain in the ass about this album and see where it takes us. I want to tour and spread the word. I think the time is right. In the meantime, I’ll be causing problems and beating up on hipsters as usual. I urge everyone to do the same.
Back 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.
Birth A.D., the “continuation thrash” band that picked up where DRI’s Four of a Kind and SOD’s Speak English Or Die left off and then took the style to new levels of insanity, will unleash its full-length album I Blame You on April 1, 2013.
However, you can make sure you get it as soon as possible by placing a pre-order ($10) with Dark Descent’s sub-label, Unspeakable Axe records, who will be sending this slab of vigilant virulence out to the stores and distros that get it into your sweaty hand.
In other words, get it from the source. Produced by legendary 80s metal and crossover producer Alex Perialas, this disc showcases the best of Birth A.D.‘s work to date, including some tracks from their killer EP Stillbirth of a Nation as well as new material.
Expect this to be out the door very quickly and taking over the world of metal-punk crossover music. Unlike the “retro” musicians who re-live the past by imitating it from a distance, Birth A.D. lives the past by bringing its spirit and technique into the future. The result is heartening for anyone who wanted metal to recover its intestinal fortitude and sense of honest humor.