SUICIDAL Tendencies, the 1983 debut album from the seminal thrash punks of the same name is one of those albums. It’s strange, in that amidst this harsh and abrasive collection of songs, songs that jump from double to half time in an instant and back again, there’s something quite, endearing. It’s a distillation; both a product and record of its time, and above all, a fantastic punk record.
Upon its initial release, the record’s lead single ‘Institutionalized’ garnered an amount of airplay that was uncharacteristic for hardcore music at that time. This confidence in the single was spearheaded by MTV, whose propagation of the track assisted the band ultimately selling over 150,000 copies of this eponymous debut. These numbers were pretty much unheard of at the time for a band who were heavier than most in the scene. What sets the record apart from others could be what made it more commercially appealing.
The record begins in a frantic state – the music is instrumentally dissociative for half a minute until album-opener ‘Suicide’s an Alternative / You’ll Be Sorry’ really kicks in. The classic punk drum beat found throughout the record is akin to its engine – the snare hits are the pistons that keep propelling the song throughout. Changing down a couple of gears to the half-time section, the groove that the band infuse into their ferocious brand of punk rock shines through, and this song really works as the band’s modus operandi.
Ever controversial, a couple of songs down the line we hear ‘I Shot the Devil’, which legend states was originally called ‘I Shot Reagan’ until the F.B.I. intervened. It’s so heavy, and its lyrical tone is biting, a political alignment emblematic of early punk music. That song’s placement on the record works incredibly. It’s followed by ‘Subliminal’, a pace-shifting anti-mind control anthem that speaks against subliminal messaging. A vestige of its time perhaps, but this societal awareness is an engaging motif throughout the LP.
Although the music is aggressive, vocalist Mike Muir’s lyrics arrive with potency. Whether they’re delivered as spoken word, as showcased on the album’s mercurial jewel ‘Institutionalized’, or punk-rock shouts as found on ‘Memories of Tomorrow’, the content concerns issues wider than the SoCal scene they emerged from. Muir’s worldliness is an anchor to the record’s lyrical direction and it raises its head more than once.
This is a furious record that embodies punk music at this time. Transcending what it should have been, the record shifts as its centre of gravity moves from early LA hardcore to a new, dirty subgenre of metal. This became known as thrash, and this name does the band some justice in that this is a new, more voracious metal. Songs like ‘I Want More’ sound fast enough to derail like a train, but the innate groove found within Suicidal Tendencies keeps the double-time beats rock-steady.
This is a classic album that even those not especially inclined towards heavier music should give a listen. It is seminal, in that it left a legacy that trickled down through rock. A lot of punk-rock and metal bands owe a lot to the tapestry woven by this record.