Sunday, February 16, 2014
Send In the Clowns
1987 was a great year for thrash metal icons crossing over into hip hop. First there was Kerry King called upon to provide the guitar solo for "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," from the Beastie Boys' infamous debut Licensed To Ill, a performance which is on the shortlist for Best Gratuitous Solo By a Famed Rock Guitarist in a Non-Rock Song (right alongside Skunk Baxter's work on "Hot Stuff," and Eddie Van Halen's monumental string-scorching on "Beat It.") Then Anthrax up and recorded one of the few rap-rock hybrids worth listening to, and definitely the only one with a fucking El Duce reference.
"I'm the Man" was a goofball, Beasties-style one-off that the group turned into an EP that crazily enough went platinum. Anthrax's comedic side may have turned off some purists, but clearly there was a sizable audience for their forays into foolishness.
Even the one that were supposed to be serious.
I could tell, even at the age of twelve. It was the cover. The saying goes, "You can't judge a book by its cover," but yeah, that applies to books. This is an album. I'm perilously close to turning into an incredibly mixed-up zombie just recalling State of Euphoria's cover.
Why are there multiple aggrieved bro-heads? Upon careful observation, those aren't renderings of the individual band members, and may very well be the same bro. And why so angry to begin with? Is it because the state flag of New Mexico has turned into a pinwheel?
The back cover is little improvement, further solidifying Anthrax as the court jesters of thrash metal. Mad Magazine caricaturist Mort Drucker doodled the band mascot, known as Not-Man, alongside the Shorts-Boys (with a pecky rooster keeping watch near Dan Spitz's sneakers). While this was certainly a great thrill for Anthrax, it doesn't do anything to quash the ambivalence engendered by the front cover.
Opening up the packaging confirms the doom. The boys compiled "The List," a compilation of thank-worthy folks numbering in the thousands (or not, I dunno, my already-poor visual acuity dropped by the tens after just glancing at the damn thing). This is/was standard album fare, shouting out various friends these men have made roamin' the country with one unique feature: virtual illegibility. Not only is the print eye-fuckingly small, but there are so many names that most orbs will tap out halfway through the section headlined "The Friends."
Scott Ian penned the lyrics, while Charlie Benante handled the music. Clearly the muse for both men was parched.
"Be All, End All"--Cello does not make me think "all-conquering behemoth warrior." But Anthrax love them some call-to-arms, and they've earned gargantuan goodwill with pep talks intended for the young people who've come to depend on their music to get through each day.
The faceless, pulseless "order of things," governing actions both potential and actual, can stop us dead. We the people are not faceless, not pulseless, and everyone of us at a certain time needs a caring, thoughtful push in a better direction. Songs like "Be All, End All" have been inspiration to people shunned and/or shamed by so-called family and friends.
So when the cello cycles around--on the heels of a stupendously melodic fade--I don't hear a cry to battle. I hear an invitation to peace.
"Out of Sight, Out of Mind"--Either some subliminal diss action ("Take a riff, take a line") to a specific racket-gang of shark-biters, or a general displeasure to a number of rapid apes.
"Out of Sight" suffers from the same handicap that plagues most of SOE: riffs that are okay in execution, but sorely lacking in charisma. Trod-plod-pedestrian breakdown-reboot.
"Make Me Laugh"--Polemics towards preacher sure were popular in the 80s. Metallica filled space on Master of Puppets two years prior with "Leper Messiah," and Slayer…well, they're Slayer. 'Thrax kinda let the lecherous likes of Swaggart and Baker off easy, calling out their duplicitous behaviors and shameless avarice with all the zeal of a sleeping snail. They might as well have given us a four minute litany of motherfuckers begetting other motherfuckers.
The subdued "machine-gun riff" section occurs too late in the song, is too short, and I described it with the adjective "subdued."
"Antisocial"--I am proud to be antisocial. Have you noticed society?
An emasculated cover of a song by the French punk band Trust. I shouldn't have to tell y'all which card in the Uno deck this would be.
"Who Cares Wins"--Never will the phrase "There but for the grace of God" appear, sincerely, in a Slayer song. The sentiment is grand, but nothing stops "Who Cares Wins" from sounding like the start of an 80s documentary on "the homeless problem."
"Now It's Dark"--By the length of five tractor trailers, here is the best State of Euphoria has to offer. Scott Ian runs to a greater artist for inspiration yet again; this time, David Lynch's surrealist mystery masterpiece Blue Velvet, and more specifically the film's infamous villain Frank Booth. The creep-bastard vibe is irresistible (women go crazy for "the fuckin' well-dressed man") and Anthrax sound like they're enjoying holding court by the gas tank as much as Frankie baby loves taking hits from it.
So much props to Charlie Benante for evincing the mind's descent into madness with nothing more than sticks, skins and shoes.
"Schism"--The intro is a fade-in, drums to boot, which Charlie B. certainly does. (Ride the wave, man.) The riff is mildly engaging in its buoyancy, but that's the issue. "Mildly" is not a word I should use in these reviews when speaking on the music. This ain't Starland Vocal Band.
The chorus is hideous: "Schism! Sch-sch-sch schism!" Jesus guys, you left the house with that on?
(In 2009, the word "schism" entered the public conscious briefly when the national sports media decided the troubles between Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and the teams coaching staff were worth airing out. The number of people who claimed ignorance of "schism" both depressed and amused me, because if a group of Noo Yawk thrashers with a jones for horror flicks and Married…With Children know the fucking word and what it means, it ain't exactly the exclusive property of Mensa members.)
"Misery Loves Company"--Anyone unfamiliar with the novel/film Misery is unlikely to find this musical book report very interesting. Shouldn't a superlative work of art inspire someone to create their own work that is equal to or greater than, and not be satisfied until they have? Joey Belladonna embodying Annie Wilkes does not jibe. In fact, Joey for much of this whole album does not jibe. Admittedly the lyrics leave him in the lurch: a lazy recitation of the superfan psychosis, wish fulfillment and gruesome fallout. Kathy Bates could easily rock Joey and Dan to sleep in one-on-ones. The other guys I make no guarantees, but them, I got money on.
chugga chugga chugga chugga
DOUBLE BASS ACTION!!
"13"--Hotels and apartments don't offer rooms or floors marked "13" for a reason.
"Finale"--An anti-love song that beseeches men to be men. To wear the pants and soak the panties. To remember that a good girlfriend will not always make a good wife.
"Finale" is also an anti-good song. It is filled to bursting with all the freneticism that the ultimate track of a metal album should have, but it's wasted.
Or is it? Am I not richer for hearing a bunch of dudes singing about a woman who doesn't "know (her) place" and then bemoaning how said woman "raped my mind"?
Such an oddly frat-brat way to end the record.
State of Euphoria does not quite qualify as an aural disaster. Its reach exceeds its grasp, but the reach itself is not terribly long to begin with. The devotees still bought it, earning the fellas another gold record, but its rare to see it cited as a favorite. (Charlie Benante has gone on record naming SOE his least favorite Anthrax full-length.) Dull, dumb, damn-near dispiriting enough to keep you from listening to music for 24 hours. I was almost frightened to the point of trembling hands at the thought of what they would come up with next.