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Thursday, May 21, 2009

CD Review: Earth Crisis - To the Death

Earth Crisis - To the Death
2009 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



No one wants to say it, so allow me... Hardcore needs a bona fide hero.

Not to muck with a style of music soldiered by an adrenalized contingency of self-empowering, predominantly Caucasian neo-straight edgers, but if you want to talk about hardcore as a music form these days, you have to relent the sound has become as much a cliche as emo and corporate rap.

Unless you're bethrothed to this stuff, the sad reality is that hardcore in the new millennium is a largely hopeless platitude music-wise, a tablet-written sequence of speed-halt rhythms bearing predictable skids into obligatory breakdown chuffs, followed by a mandatory exodus into the next frame using rapidly-delivered snare-double bass couplets accompanied by a singular-plucked power chord leading to the next verse, repeat mode as needed...

Countless groups owing their entire existences to Agnostic Front, Terror, Throwdown, Biohazard and of course Earth Crisis have clogged the modern day hardcore scene which seeks to embody itself on Ian MacKaye-borne principles walloped out to a now-boring prototype chug-bark-breakdown motif. Unity declarations cautiously bordering on coercion and clean, chaste living mandated by unforgiving guilt trips are a large norm to this contemporary reinvention of a form of music that was tagged in the eighties to a broad range of bands from the Bad Brains to Agnostic Front to The Exploited.

Today veganism has become a literal platform for hardcore, not necessarily as a means to save other species but frequently it's woofed out merely as a posh ideal. Despite the general nobility of hardcore's internally-governing precepts, its music today is simply shackled by its own scriptures, much less a refusal to look outside the box compositionally-speaking.

Naturally the legendary Earth Crisis have long espoused a pro-vegan, environmentally-agreeable and self-cleansed stance furrowing through their abrasive music. Long credited by contemporary and senior hardcore artists as a pivotal band of their scene, Earth Crisis have always been in the role of antihero, if not baldfaced good guys. They are so militant in their straight edge ethics the sentiments they brutally project differ wholly from the frantic salad days of Minor Threat and Rites of Spring.

Nevetheless, Earth Crisis remains hardcore's answer to Cattle Decapitation and Nuclear Assault, always on constant vigil even in the midst of a seven-year-quietude (not accounting for the random gig or two over said course of time) with stinging eyes, clenched fists, fuming attitudes and blaring volumes.

Though Slither was a change of music ideologies for Earth Crisis and their 2001 album Last of the Sane bore more cover tunes than originals, the return of the real is at hand with their comeback offering To the Death.

A more traditional hardcore album in a proper sense for Earth Crisis, To the Death is a ferocious re-announcement with everything that has made them standouts of their genus. Wielding very few breakdowns on To the Death and only using them to prolong moments of searing intensity, Karl Beuchner and his punk wreckers go balls-out with unrelenting heaviness and a ceaseless barrage of mainstream disassembly.

Crushing beats from Dennis Merrick and guitar belts courtesy of Scott Crouse and Erick Edwards pulverize each song on To the Death, inherently bearing the weight of the world upon the band's highly capable shoulders.

To the Death is genuinely inspired, following Earth Crisis' considerable hiatus. These guys represent themselves in both the elder statesmen position as well in the role of having to be up-and-comers once again. Their reputation is what gains them quick access up the totem and To the Death justifies Earth Crisis' iconic stature with melding numbers such as "Against the Current," "Eve of Babylon," "When Slaves Revolt" and "To Ashes."

Proving Earth Crisis are thinkers on their instruments as much as on the lyric sheet, expect a wailing guitar solo and smart tempo swaps on "When Slaves Revolt" or relish in the mechanized crush during the opening of "To Ashes" which continues in pounding verse-chorus schemes thereafter.

One of To the Death's brightest spots is the marching instrumental "Plague Bearers," which is reminiscent of Roots-era Sepultura before launching into the grinding "Control Through Fear."

Earth Crisis plies their anti-drug messages on "Against the Current" and "To Ashes" with differing results. "Current" comes off like a beacon choice to keep sober, while "To Ashes" opts for a more hedonistic approach Punisher-style as Earth Crisis declares a street war on the pushers. Even "When Slaves Revolt" yields a duality that could be said to be a literal herald for its titular muse as much as it could be for drug-controlled weaklings finding the strength to rise up and kick their addictions, even if it means "fighting back with steel" in hand. Smoking guns, indeed.

To the Death attacks the world as Earth Crisis does more convincingly than others of their ilk, even as Karl Buechner wails "Vegan for life, vegan to the death!" on the title song. Most others embracing his and Earth Crisis' life choices would be far more pacifist in doing thus. Not so in this case; it's almost as if Earth Crisis has distanced themselves from meat eaters and plant suckers in elitist fashion.

Nonetheless, Earth Crisis does stand for something in this life and whether or not you share their beliefs, To the Death is one hell of a loud return and by far the most engaging hardcore album in years. Suffice it to say, if you buy only one hardcore record this year, To the Death is the one to get...

Rating: ****

3 comments:

JP said...

Seconded. This album rules!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Exactly the injection hardcore needs

Anonymous said...

Earth Crisis’ album Neutralize The Threat is out on iTunes for $7.99 http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/neutralize-the-threat/id446578524 . You can sample it on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/EiG8CFyrsrI

Also, they have a contest on Peta2 for free music: http://blog.peta2.com/2011/07/win-new-music-from-earth-crisis.html