Suicidal Tendencies takes themes ranging from adolescent angst, love, conflict, the frustration in an inability to grasp the nuance of politics, puts them in a big pile and lights it all on fire.
“Tense atmosphere in the air/ Riot written everywhere/ Riot squads coming from over there/ Time to go home if you’re square/ Riot squads bash their heads/ Kick their ass until they’re dead/ I want to be a racist pig!” So begins “Fascist Pig”, from the 1983 hardcore /thrash crossover self-titled album by Suicidal Tendencies. These are lyrics which in 2017 take on a far darker and more relatable meaning than the over-the-top punk grandeur and humour with which they were originally written. Inasmuch as music is a reflection of the time, its most angry and boundary-pushing artists can push things far enough that the parody can be appreciated. You can’t just cross a line, you have to cross and go far, far beyond it. Only then can it be appreciated for the exaggerated reality within its sentiments. Sometimes the most far-fetched material is what appeals so strongly to fans of the extremes in music, politics and teenage rebellion.
This record is considered to be one of the most influential punk albums of its era. Lead vocalist Mike Muir lends a falsetto, almost hilariously crazy attack of hardcore thrash which opens with his wretched, psychotic cackling. He screams call-and-response style for half of “Suicide’s an Alternative/You’ll Be Sorry” before the tempo changes to what would become their signature rock breakdown. In and out of blues-influenced metal is an impossibly fast hardcore which sounds like the entire band is in a race to finish first. The start and stop nature constantly lulls the listener into a groove only to quickly bust into a blistering light-speed drum section that makes the record feel dynamic and impactful throughout. On “Subliminal,” for example, an anthem for the tin-foil hat wearing masses who believe the government is using television to control them, the song begins with a slow growl of a riff that suggests a fairly typical metal progression. It then fades out quickly revealing a furiously rumbling bass vibrato which launches into a hardcore blast of fast drums, animalistic lyrical barks and then eventually comes back again giving the user a moment to slow their heart rate.
The most well-known and recognizable track on the record is probably the bands least commercially successful, for obvious reasons. “I Saw Your Mommy”, a track which mocks the idea of not just informing someone but delighting in the fact that you’ve just found their mom mutilated in the street feels like something that simply wouldn’t be attempted today. Consider the jazzy rock-swing with which they deliver “But the thing I liked seeing the best/ Was the rodents using her hair has a nest” or “‘l’ll always remember her lying down on the floor/ I hope she dies twenty times more!”. Muir, along with similar bands like S.O.D. and D.R.I., were part of a movement of bands which used dark humour, delivered through punk music to trigger the ire of less-sophisticated generation of parents and puritans. This generation’s parents had no legacy of punk music and so for them, this was breaking new ground in terrible. Though rock ‘n’ roll itself was its own form of rebellion for their generation, it was banal by comparison. In 1983 such reprehensible themes were enough to make any parent wonder where they went wrong. Indeed, this idea itself is explored throughout this record, particularly on “Suicidal Failure” and “Institutionalized”.
If released today, we might consider this misogynist but the truth is far less controversial. The target wasn’t “moms” or women but rather the person or establishment with which you had a grievance. What could be more satirically disrespectful than to insult that which represents the symbol of everyone’s highest first and most important reverence — their mom.
That, of course, doesn’t stop them from trying. “I Shot the Devil” (which was originally titled “I Shot Reagan”) takes aim at the then-president of the United States. In what is easily the most angry and rapid rant on the record, Muir wails through a furious confession of having shot the president which concludes “…and I’ll shoot him again and again and again!”
Suicidal Tendencies takes themes ranging from adolescent angst, the gap in understanding between parents and teens, love, conflict, the frustration in an inability to grasp the nuance of politics, puts them in a big pile and lights it all on fire. It’s a thrashing tantrum of a record — the sort of thing which leaves you thinking I’m glad I got that off my chest. It’s a record that knows no equal in execution, tone and temporal relevance. It’s regrettable that times have changed so much that what was once shock parody has bled into reality. A modern teen’s day-to-day has crept so close to the boundary of the absurd that with respect to rebellion and even punk music, it’s become harder to just laugh and completely futile to cry out.