Before we get this going, let me make a brief statement: Pepsi is wack. Thanks for attending my non-copyright infringing stage chat. Crossover thrash, on the other hand, is not wack in the eyes of many a metal fan, including at least two people on the EIN team, and I don’t have the heart to disagree – most of the time. One of the pioneers of this unholy matrimony of (hardcore) punk and thrash metal are Suicidal Tendencies, whose self-titled début record turns 40 years old in five days.
40 years ago, thrash metal didn’t exist as we know it. Depending on who you ask, it was either in infancy or not even properly conceived yet. Me, I’m decidedly, though not very loudly, convinced that we can trace thrash as far back as Queen with “Stone Cold Crazy”. There’s a reason why Metallica covered it.
Anyway, no matter how you look at it, there’s a band that really brought something extra to the table and helped form some of thrash’s more common tenets. Suicidal Tendencies get a lot of credit for navigating the hardcore punk landscape well, and sure enough they did. Their early albums smacked of Dead Kennedys aggression and dark humor, not to mention sociopolitical insights you may not expect from teens from Venice, CA (though that’s on you – punk and metal have always spoken to young people and informed us of various injustices and ills in the world). The late ‘80s would signal more of a pivot to thrashed-up music by the band (and greater heavy music landscape) and make up the majority of an early career hot streak for them (Join The Army’s good, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow… is great, and Lights…Camera…Revolution is an early ‘90s gem that rides the same wave as Leeway’s equally amazing Desperate Measures), but their self-titled debut is about as stylistically bare bones as it gets.
In hindsight, I still think Suicidal Tendencies (the album) is their best overall work, from aesthetic to lyrics to music. The youthful energy, however underbaked you may think it is, was so on point. I’ll level with you in saying the production is NOT great, but it’s up to personal taste (ST actually fully re-recorded this album in 1992, but more on that later). What matters more to me is the meat, and there’s plenty of it.
Pretty much every single song is a banger, action packed with tons of speed and precision – not bad for a few Cali kids. For me, the train really gets rolling with “Two Sided Politics”, which has some pointed lyrics that are, unfortunately, still pretty relevant today (don’t you just love when an album made 40 years ago talks about the same bullshit-ass problems we deal with today with next to no progress?):
‘I’m not anti-society, society’s anti-me
And I’m not anti-religion, religion’s anti-me
And I’m not anti-tradition, tradition’s anti-me
And I’m not anti-anything, I just wanna be free
‘Fascist state, no freedom
Unless you control yourself
Use self-expression, lose your freedom
You’re undesirable, you go straight to jail!’
It’s subtle, but I love how vocalist (and writer) Mike Muir puts the onus and aggressive nature back on the system instead of the oppressed person taking on the role of the aggressor. The poor, working class is constantly acting in defense of itself when it comes to institutional violence – to suggest otherwise is to misrepresent the nature of our society that always operates in varying depths of fascism. See, you know the music’s good when I’m already on my soapbox about shit.
“I Shot the Devil” is a great track with a rumored, but believable story behind it. It was originally called “I Shot Reagan”, not particularly surprising since those are the first words Muir bellows on the song. Allegedly, the FBI approached the band to change the title – also believable. Though we were two years removed from the PMRC being a thing, this was still an era of Satanic Panic, and distrust and paranoia of media among other things with it came to parents and their children. Couldn’t have a song with a title like that getting into kids’ hands, right? Oh well, Non Phixion did it in 1998 and got away with it.
There’s a lot of opportunities to point out ST’s immense power level, but “Memories of Tomorrow” is one of my go-tos. Goddamn, it’s nice and quick – less than a minute, vocals on turbo mode; fuck it, all performances on turbo mode. Just listen to the guitars. It’s no wonder Slayer covered it. This is also a great time to point out the bass tone as well. Louiche Mayorga was awesome with it, and he co-wrote a lot of the tracks on this album, “Memories of Tomorrow” included. It has some of the darkest, most biting lyrics too – visions of an apocalyptic end with nuked cities and irradiated people killing for scraps left over from civilization. It makes the final verse all the more impactful: ‘I’d kill myself/I’d rather die/If you could see in the future/You’d know why’.
Of course, I can’t pass on the opportunity to talk about “Institutionalized” which is a legendary song that’s still memed on to this day. Perfectly representing the anxiety and emotional stress young people go through as rite of passage (especially if you’re neurodivergent), and how that’s frequently mishandled and misinterpreted by others. Muir himself has talked a lot about the song and its relatability, so I’ll let him handle the bulk of that – needless to say it’s immortal. It’s also been covered to hell and back, one standout being by screamo band Senses Fail, and another being a reinterpretation/modernization by Body Count that makes it more into a Falling Down-esque joke than the acerbic statement it started out as. It’s fine – I too want to just ‘kill some motherfuckers on Xbox’ after a long day.
Oh, and the original video is a fucking time capsule of early ‘80s skater culture along with Mike Muir’s now trademark bandana placed mere millimeters above his line of vision, along with distressed jeans, tie-dye tees, and button-up flannels with only the top button buttoned. Iconic cholo chic. ST were down as fuck. Can you find the Tom Araya cameo?
These days, especially post-COVID, it’s hard to not find “I Want More” anthem-like as people fight to work jobs that can definitely, for sure, 100% be worked remotely. If it weren’t for the delightfully aged production and sound, you’d think this song was written as a fierce rebuke to the ‘nobody wants to work anymore’ crowd in the last couple years.
‘Don’t wanna pump nobody’s gas
I want more!
Don’t wanna kiss my boss’ ass
I want more!
Don’t wanna take the first job I find
I want more!
Don’t wanna dig coal out of a mine’
Guess that goes to show just how long we’ve been fed up with the capitalist hellscape that forces us to work terrible-ass jobs simply to earn the right to survive. Bless all the people who fought hard and died for better workers’ rights – this song’s continued relevance tells us maybe we have some more work to do, huh?
Really, if Suicidal Tendencies – this particular era anyway – came out today, they’d fit right the fuck in with our current hardcore and punk landscape that’s actually becoming nostalgic for this sort of classic sound. This album speaks to their timelessness and for how unfortunate that is when it comes to the themes and lyrics they had, it’s really cool to see where we’ve been since its 1983 release. It was so good and classic that ST re-recorded the entire album 30 years ago in 1993 due to not being able to reissue it because of convoluted rights issues with their label. It’s called Still Cyco After All These Years and it is sonically more welcoming than the 1983 original, but man… that early ‘80s grit’s hard to beat for me. Can’t go wrong though. If you hit play on the debut and find it a bit too faded and grating, or struggle to hear the vocals well, at least try Still Cyco After All These Years which is the same album with some tweaks – both creative and welcomed sonic enhancements – and a few extra songs from other projects thrown in.
Speaking to the band as a whole for a minute, it’s also really telling looking at who they’ve had in their ranks over the years. Robert Trujillo (now Metallica) played bass for six years starting in 1989, giving the band some much needed and appreciated groove. Thundercat – yes, that Thundercat – took up the low-end in 2002 as well, lasting until 2011, which is the longest tenure anyone’s had on bass, and one of the longest streaks for any member of ST. Dave Lombardo (most famously Slayer, most recently Dead Cross and Mr. Bungle) recently put in some years behind the drum kit from 2016 to 2021. Even Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan) has gotten in on the action, doing rhythm guitar since 2018.
It goes to show just how deep the influence goes – thrash legends, modern instrument specialists, and mathcore trailblazers alike all have roots to trace back to Suicidal Tendencies, making them one of the most important legacy acts still going right now. That’s to say nothing of the more removed, recent acts that wouldn’t be here without ST being what they were, like Iron Reagan, Toxic Holocaust, Traitor (from Germany), Gama Bomb, and the late and great Collision (RIP). And it all started with a humble little punk album written by some kids from Venice.
Suicidal Tendencies will always be the band that introduced me to crossover. Before I ever heard “Institutionalized” I was hanging around in the airwaves of thrash and death metal only. Afterwards, I dove headlong into D.R.I., Green Jelly, Butthole Surfers, and of course a whole hell of a lot more Suicidal Tendencies. The staying power “Institutionalized” had on me resonates still to this day where I defend crossover, particularly Municipal Waste, from all the metal elitists that fill the ranks of word dogs here at EIN. I know the truth, though, that deep down, everyone here really just wants two things:not to be called crazy, and a fucking Pepsi. Crossover is forever, Suicidal Tendencies are fucking legends, and have had a long-lasting effect on so many aspects of music it’s hard not to hold this album high, and proclaim it’s brilliance.