We haven’t had a new feature in quite a while, so it’s my uttermost pleasure to introduce to you NOISE UPON A TIME, hitting your screen once every month. And let me tell, this one is a delight!
The daily life of music journalism is often marked by catching up with the constant stream of new releases. You wanna find those albums worth recommending to your audience – so keeping on track with new stuff is mandatory. That’s one of the reasons we’ve decided to create A SCENE IN RETROSPECT, and it’s also one of the reasons for our new feature, NOISE UPON A TIME. We gonna party like it’s…well, 1989 in that case!
We wanna look back to certain years, ranging from 1960 to 2010, and a couple of our writers are gonna tell you about their favorite releases from the year – but even beyond that, our writers have the chance to request an album from that very year to delve into, curated by myself. We are happy to present you our first episode, in which we turn back time to 1989 and showcase some of its very best music!
Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
released April 7, 1989, by Roadrunner Records
revisited by Jake Walters
In 1989, I was six years old. That’s right, I’m old. Well, old-ish I suppose. Regardless, 1989 feels like a long time ago. I suppose it actually was a long time ago. The late ’80s were alive with incredible music, and the transition into a new decade was in full swing in the many metal subgenres that were blossoming at the time, but one band stood out. 1989 was a strange year in that many notable heavy bands of the time took that year off. Death, Metallica, Slayer, and so many more were absent from that year. Sepultura, however, were locked and loaded with their third official release, Beneath The Remains. Finding a perfect mix of death and thrash metal, Beneath The Remains is an absolute powerhouse of a record that is filled with fresh ideas, surprise guest spots, catchy riffs, and light progressive moments that make every listen a joy.
There have been days when I listened to nothing but this album. Over and over and over. My opinion on what makes this doable is the simple fact that the songwriting on Beneath The Remains is top-notch. The mellow acoustic guitar draws me into the opening title track with aplomb. The fiery riffs from Andreas Kisser and Max Cavalera and the furious drumming of Igor Cavalera push and pull the song along from thrashy tempos to downright nasty death metal moments. If you want to keep my interest, you have to mix things up, and this opening song alone is a genuine masterclass on how to write a metal track that’s exciting to listen to without sacrificing any edge or personality. The vocal attacks from Max are punchy and effective and have stood the test of time. Damn, I love this song.
“Inner Self” has a Metallica-esque riff that keeps things very, very simple for the first moments of the song and after the first vocal break, things start to branch out. Then back to simplicity when the vocals return. This sort of songwriting just works. It lets the right moments shine through by showing the intent through this kind of arrangement. The moments of toying with the guitar tone to give additional depth and contrast are employed to great effect, and this track is defined by it. “Stronger Than Hate” is where some guest gang vocalists show up by having John Tardy of Obituary, Kelly Shaefer of Atheist, and others join in the fray.
If you want to get me hooked, coming out swinging is really the best way to do it. Beneath The Remains, in this regard, is hitting me with uppercuts and lead hooks until I can’t fucking see straight. “Mass Hypnosis” enters the ring like an amateur boxer, swinging hard and wild after the bell, but matures quickly by taking a much more methodical approach as the song unfolds. Amazing solo work, tempo changes, gruff vocals, the sweet science is perfected by the end of this song, and it’s one that I come back to over and over again. Dynamics like these are what make this album and all songs contained therein easy to listen to and engaging every time I do.
I really could elaborate on every song on this album. “Sarcastic Existence” is the side B opener, and I’ll probably sound like a broken record, but the riffs here are just so damn good. As are the moments that the band just let the song breathe by opening up the space between the instruments and slowing the tempo. “Slaves of Pain”, while being a sort-of cover of the Pestilence song of the same name, feels fully owned when performed by Sepultura. For real, y’all, this album just beats the brakes off of everything else from that year. “Primitive Future” is the final nail in the coffin of riffs that just seals this whole thing as one of the finest death/thrash records of all time. I know lots of fans prefer Arise and perhaps Roots, but for me, this is peak Sepultura and will stand as one of the finest records of 1989 and the thrash and death metal lineage of the 1980s.
Sepultura, ironically, will probably never be listed as one of my favorite bands of all time unless we pare it down to the early years. While I’m not going to say that the band’s output after Arise isn’t good, per se, I’ll just say it’s not for me. What I’m driving at here is this is also a record that sort of helped me get over the mental hurdle of only liking certain eras of a band or artist. It’s something I struggled with from time to time because I like loving things fully and embracing all an artist has to say. I am constantly at war with myself to keep from becoming one of those fans that only like a certain set of albums from a band, mainly because it’s kind of a slippery slope from here to elitism, which is something that I always hope to avoid. So, thanks to Beneath The Remains for helping me get over that mental hurdle and just embrace the good wherever I find it. If it’s the entire catalog, or just one album, latch on to the good and leave the rest.
Slint – Tweez
released July, 1989, by Jennifer Hartman Records
revisited by Christopher Henry
“The Poeple We Knew”
A poem for Slint‘s Tweez
We were fighting.
Fucked-up headphones and half-torn pages.
Skimmed production notes.
Which side did we come out of?
Listening or speaking?
Chains dragged across the garage.
Fret-buzz and clipped harmonics.
We were the houses they painted.
We screamed, throats dried.
Cheerful shuffle in 7/4 and languid tranquil chords.
Christmas trees in mind.
When did the pocket get so deep?
Horrific or beautiful?
Distortion clouds lavished by cymbal finesse.
Cannon snares and yelling at an echo.
We asserted, you know what happened to them.
We stitched punk-metal to ASMR.
Goddamn tweezers and aroused degenerates.
Had a young Primus toured through Louisville?
More overtones or basement dwellers?
The meters were mixed up.
Space expands and expands.
We knew them.
Soundgarden – Louder Than Love
released September 5, 1989, by A&M
revisited by Dylan Lawson
Soundgarden’s sophomore release Louder Than Love presented us with what I consider to be a recurring theme of 1989, where many artists were releasing albums that, even if they lacked on the avenues of commercial success, reflected a sort of new direction the band would explore, or even a new element they would add to their sound that set them apart from the herd, so to speak. On Louder Than Love, this is exactly the kind of forward-thinking we got out of Soundgarden, and in many ways this album showed early aspects of what would make them such a notable act with future releases like Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. Particularly with Soundgarden, their sort of trademark ‘prog-grunge’ started to find highlights here, with its proficient use of odd-timed rhythms, metal-driven tones and themes across virtually every track.
The emphasis on experimenting, trying new things, going in different directions, and just generally rebelling against any and every norm was definitely a philosophy of sorts subscribed to by a multitude of artists and individuals in general throughout the ‘80s. The way it specifically translated in the world of music and the sub-culture surrounding it was a monumental sensation that was so influential, we see many avenues of media practically emulating or attempting to recreate it even today. It’s clear that this time-period set a tone for the future, and songs on Louder Than Love such as “Ugly Truth”, “Power Trip”, and “Loud Love” would help soundtrack and further empower it.
One thing I’ve personally always loved about Soundgarden and recall being a highlight on this album is their ability to make instrumentally complex and interesting songs, but with catchy and memorable hooks and choruses as well. What Chris Cornell achieved as not just a songwriter, but performer, was unlike virtually anything most had ever seen in the music world, especially in a more mainstream sense. Most of the artists who were doing anything like that around this time period were sadly either not put under exactly the same sort of spectacle as Soundgarden, or just unheard by the masses in general. But the legacy left by this band could likely have a starting point attributed to elements served by Louder Than Love.
Terry Date wearing the production hat on this record, even with a bit of the typical reverbed ‘80s flair that also spilled into the ‘90s, the entire album has a strong, angsty, aggressive tone that likely helped construction, service, and shop workers alike turn their wrenches with much more adrenaline while it played in the background. Chris Cornell mentioned that the band made a point of avoiding typical ‘80s production techniques, another factor that likely aided in setting it apart and giving it more of that ‘outside-the-box’, unconventional atmosphere, even though he’d also go onto to write the album off as ‘just a few degrees too produced and too clean’, but mentioned he’d never change a thing about it.
Let us also not forget that this album featured wide use of the notorious Drop D tuning, so rest assured it’s absolutely a metal record, right? Not to mention, with additional note to the ‘forward-thinking’ and rebellion angles touched on in an earlier paragraph, we get some interesting and socially-conscious lyrical content on tracks like “Hands All Over”, where Cornell makes mention of how humans defile the environment. Perhaps it is odd to apply a sense of rebellion into the idea of actually respecting and caring for the natural world around us, but, unfortunately during this time-period, you had to be a ‘free-thinker’ or ‘progressive’ to actually give a shit about anything or have empathy of any sort, it seems. In some ways, that is still a part of the world today, too. So some things truly never change, I suppose.
The lyrical dynamic is also interesting in that we have songs that speak on those hard-hitting subjects, and then get met with tracks like “Full On”, which the band have said they titled based on words used by ‘a friend who slept with another friend’s mom’. Similarly, “I Awake” originally featured lyrics that were part of a note written by Hiro Yamamoto’s girlfriend. The fact that we have a fine mix of obscurities, morally-driven statements, and immature subjects in the lyrics helps make this album all the more entertaining, despite how unfocused that range may be.
We may never get another band quite like Soundgarden, and that sentiment could likely be applied to a lot of the greats that rose up in the late ‘80s. But, as The Dillinger Escape Plan founder and guitarist Ben Weinman noted, recalling seeing the band live and speaking on news of the death of Cornell in 2017:
‘It’s interesting — I personally remember the first time I saw the video for “Rusty Cage” on 120 Minutes or something, and not being able to headbang to it because it had a weird time signature. I sat on the side of the stage the other night, counting time signatures and watching people in the crowd. It’s funny because they really couldn’t bang their heads! They were totally into it because they were singing along … but still. That just shows you how brilliant Chris Cornell was — he could make that kind of stuff relatable to the normal folk. Nobody else really had the courage to do that. Nirvana, Alice In Chains: good bands, but they were just writing riffs. Soundgarden was pushing boundaries, musically. They say that Nirvana was the punk band of grunge, Pearl Jam was the jam band, Alice In Chains was the metal band, but Soundgarden was the prog band. They were the most innovative.’ (Source: https://clrvynt.com/chris-cornell-rip/)
Pixies – Doolittle
released April 17, 1989, by 4AD/Elektra
revisited by Daniel Reiser
I can still recall when I first heard Pixies. Obviously it was on the Fight Club soundtrack, obviously it was “Where Is My Mind”, obviously that’s on Surfer Rosa, and we’re talking 1989, so obviously I’m about to talk about Doolittle. Frank Black’s high-pitched desperate wail was immediately burned into my brain, and I was intrigued by something that sounded so off the wall and different while championing an overall acceptance of just not being ok sometimes (it’s a shame the normies got their grubby commercial hands on this one with all their 6 billion coffeehouse covers). While Surfer Rosa is a certified classic, Doolittle has always been my favorite. After mastering their craft, Frank Black decided to get even fucking weirder, and more artsy with his philosophical inquiries, sexy/sinister whisper/scream tracks, and sugar rush hyper energy blasts. This entire album packs such a weird, all encompassing punch that you really can’t even do much other than just sit back and enjoy the fuck out of it.
The guitar work all over this album shares the genius out of the box delivery that became commonplace in art punk moving forward. It’s kind of hard to think about how different things would be without their driving influence. Additionally, Kim Deal’s heavy-handed bass pulls everything to the ground as if it was a weight tied to a balloon, never letting it float too far away, centering the beautiful weirdness of it all in focus.
All of it comes off like a mapping of one’s mind. Doolittle is ripe with irony, contradiction, non-sequiturs, and just general functional everyday absurdism. Opening track “Debaser” still sounds as fresh as it did 33 years ago, and injects a healthy amount of rejuvenation and excitement into the listener, laying the groundwork for what’s to come. The ironic pairing of “Tame” with its dark delivery and shadow spirit, followed by the whimsical and reflective presentation of “Wave of Mutilation”, shines a light on how these art punk weirdos operate with all of their confusing nudges and winks.
After delivering a solid 7 tracks of sporadic vaguely violent outbursty absurdism, everything seems to take a turn after we get to “Monkey Gone To Heaven”. When I was young and impressionable I thought this track meant something, some sort of philosophical outlook I couldn’t yet understand; fast-forward to re-listens in my adulthood, and I still don’t understand what the fuck Frank is going on about, but at the same time, it’s all absurdist nonsense, so why the fuck can we not just chill out and fucking vibe? Because man is 5, and the devil is 6, and God is 7, just like this track… that shit sounds profound, or like nonsense, but who really cares anyway? We’re all here for a short period of time, and the Pixies were just trying to have a good fucking time.
Later on down the line we get the absolutely desperate strung out banger “Hey”. With all of its emotive blundering, Frank seems like he’s lost in the midst of an ever-evolving relationship that extenuates confusion beyond comprehension. More absurdist lines follow, as the gentle and fragile stringy guitar work that builds up to more trademark Frank Black vocal bursts. Kim again grounding the track, and not letting Frank get too ahead of himself or lost in his own shit, with her soft vocal ‘hey’s in the background.
It’s also worth mentioning the fake-out on ”Mr. Grieves”. Upon first listen, you think they’re treading into ska territory before bringing it back to Frank Black territory with his pondering cries of hoping everything is alright. Equally confusing yet also stellar, “Silver” jingles and jangles in some worn boots as the two exchange high-pitched soprano vocal lines in between dark blues blips mixed with banjo plucks before it fades away into the more palatable closer of “Gouge Away”.
The impact of this album seems massive. I didn’t do my homework to write this (because I’m not a fucking nerd), but with its absurdism and disinterest in anything serious, it feels as if it paved the way for other weirdos like Les Claypool and Primus, Karen O and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Neutral Milk Hotel, and (to a lesser extent) Wilco. As the ’80s were winding down, Pixies with their visionary view paved the way for what was to come in the ’90s and beyond. It’s a masterpiece, and for the ones who know where to go for good Pixies, Doolittle will always be the standout album in their discography.
Faith No More – The Real Thing
released June 20, 1989, by Slash/Reprise
revisited by David Rodriguez
‘1989 the number, another summer
Sound of the funky drummer’
-Chuck D (Public Enemy, “Fight The Power”)
No, I’m not talking about PE today, as two of their best albums were released in 1988 and 1990 respectively, thus ruling them out of this feature (for now). But I’ve always loved the opening lines of “Fight The Power” (released in 1989 via the Do The Right Thing soundtrack), and it sets the tone for what I am talking about: Faith No More’s The Real Thing.
At this point, I feel pretty comfortable saying that Faith No More don’t quite get their due. I think the band has enjoyed a lovely, almost cultish following over the years, and I’m apparently in the minority of greatly appreciating their last album, Sol Invictus, but it sucks because their 30-plus-year career usually boils down to just a couple songs or Mike Patton himself. In the issue of the latter, I totally get why; the former really sells them short, insultingly so.
The Real Thing is where it all started, and I mean no disrespect to their actual first album We Care A Lot, the sophomore effort Introduce Yourself, or their first vocalist Chuck Mosley, who has since passed unfortunately. The Real Thing saw Patton latch onto the mic for the band, whose only claim to fame thus far was Mr. Bungle, another weirdo rock anomaly of the late ‘80s, since resurrected into a more streamlined thrash metal piece.
Along with pissing off Anthony Kiedis and his, with due respect, seemingly large ego, the band set the rock world on fire with “Epic”, a song that endures on more nostalgia-aligned radio stations to this day. But we also got “From Out of Nowhere”, “Falling to Pieces”, and “Surprise! You’re Dead!”, all of which were singles, and all of which had vastly different approaches to the admittedly broad rock genre. Funk, rap, metal, neoclassical – all of these and more converged upon the instruments of the band and Patton’s lips to create the sort of album that you only get once in a lifetime, one that foresees trends years before they happen – arguably inventing them even. Nu metal? You’re welcome, at least in part. It’s also, for my ears, endlessly replayable thanks to this hardwired, dizzying diversity.
Faith No More never settle into any sort of groove from song to song. You got bass-heavy, abstract rap-rock with “Epic”; love-struck crooning on “From Out of Nowhere”; a droned-out and frantic space instrumental in “Woodpecker from Mars”; even a quite serviceable cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. This is all in the span of an hour (55 minutes to be more exact) and 11 tracks – there’s not any fat here (though I will admit “Underwater Love” doesn’t do much that other songs don’t already).
The Real Thing is one of many reasons that makes me nearly idolize Patton’s vocal range and ability as well. If I could sing like anyone, I’d want it to be Patton because he does it all, and that range only got better and more disparate as he experimented with more and more sounds. He voiced a lot of the Infected in Left 4 Dead for fuck’s sake! The dude does what he wants and does it so well – he’ll always have my respect for that.
Lots of cool things came out in 1989, including yours truly, but The Real Thing is… well, the real thing. A colossal album whose importance wasn’t fully realized until some years later, as all classics eventually are. It’s not for everyone – I know Patton’s voice grates for some – but for those who can get on with it, it’s everything to them. It’s so cool, it’s so hip, it’s all right. It’s so groovy, it’s outta sight.
What is it? It’s it.