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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Notes From the Old School: Where Were You When S.O.D. Came Out?

Thrash started earlier than S.O.D., of course, but if you were there in 1987 when the completely nuts Speak English Or Die came out, you'll likely attest this was one of the fastest albums you ever heard. 

I don't have to rehash the famous (and infamous) legend of S.O.D. since anyone who's metal has sat with this album at least once if not a hundred times.  It takes little commitment, only a half hour of your time, and while it's offensive as hell all over the place, Speak English Or Die is mandatory mosh.

Created in less politically correct times, Billy Milano, Scott Ian, Dan Lilker and Charlie Benante went full throttle on the velocity and then raised their combat boots off of any sensitivity buttons in their proximity.  Sometimes they were spot-on in whom they targeted, i.e. Greek snobs with "Pi Alpha Nu," wimpy husbands on "Pussy Whipped" and especially poser glam acts on "Fist Banging Mania" and "Douche Crew."  If you've lived with an interminably loud woman on the rag, you can certainly enjoy a private chuckle or two at "Pre-Meunstral Princess Blues." 

"Kill Yourself," "Fuck the Middle East" and the title track tend to create far more discomfort these days versus the era in which they were created.  All preluding the explosive turmoil of future desert wars and a hyper-depressed generation with nowhere near the same outlets for their aggressions as their ancestors, Speak English Or Die was a mean-spirited son of a bitch.  I mean, anyone with the cajones to whip a few second faux homage to Jimi Hendrix in which his legacy is pissed on instead of celebrated... 

On the other hand, when you submit yourself to the blinding speed of "Chromatic Death," "Pussy Whipped," "Douche Crew," "Milano Mosh," "Sargent 'D' and the S.O.D." and "Fist Banging Mania," you can probably understand why we Gen X metalheads took to this album.  For me, it was all about the outrageous celerity more so than the lyrical content.  That is the actual reckless lore of this album, in my opinion.  It was, for a moment in time, the fastest shit you could get a hold of outside of hardcore heavies Discharge, The Exploited and D.R.I.

The fact Speak English Or Die was even faster than Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth, the crowned lords of speed metal, was hard to comprehend at first.  Even better there were punk roots to the sucker along with knucklehead humor and breakneck tempos.  It's why the punkers of my school had a copy of it before us headbangers.

I won't forget when a single copy of Speak English Or Die passed through our hands, punks and metalheads, and we all taped copies to wear out in our stereos until the local record stores caught up to speed (pun intended) and ordered vinyl copies.  Then we gobbled them up.  Do keep in mind that tape trading and sharing hardly impacted record sales back in 1987.  Better, they increased sales.  We all knew taped copies blew chunks, but they satiated us until full-presssed packages became available to buy.  We supported our artists to the fullest extent our teenage paychecks and allowances could afford us.  Not so much the case in today's market.

When Speak English Or Die came into my possession, I went out of my skull in my bedroom.  Many times the knock upon the door came from folks with demands to turn it down.  I was relatively easy on my parents, but this album was the most insane thing I'd ever heard and I kept pushing the volume knob as loud as I dared, spinning Speak English Or Die over and over again. 

Even better that MTV gobbled soundbytes from the album for show breaks on Headbangers Ball.  Man, those were good times, even when HBB switched from S.O.D. to Prong.  There have been a zillion metal acts since S.O.D. who've outclassed them on speed.  Slayer, Cattle Decapitation, Pig Destroyer and Morbid Angel come to mind.  Still, this album is one of the craziest, ballsiest and fastest albums the genre's ever seen.


cjk_44 said...

i could be wrong but i am pretty sure i heard "Speak English or Die" for the first time when I was a senior in high school - that makes it late '85 or early '86. maybe it was just a couple of tracks at a party.

i don't think i really listened to "Speak English or Die" all the way through until freshman year in college. i borrowed the vinyl from a dorm-mate who was definitely into punk, thrash, one-offs and Butthole Surfer type acts. he was probably a record store employee who likely had better access to stuff like "Speak English or Die" before it become common in stores. i definitely copied it to a cassette tape.

i remember watching a 20/20-type show on TV in Summer '86 (or later) where the story was based on *evil* music. the episode probably focused on Ozzy, Judas Priest backward lyrics b.s., etc. the interviewer was shown asking two kids about S.O.D. lyrics when the two kids basically told the interviewer that the lyrics were a joke and to lighten up already.

i probably got my own CD copy in the late '90s or early '00s - i don't listen to it regularly but it defintely takes me back in time when i do listen to it.

i was lucky to see S.O.D. at the March Metal Meltdown in N.J. in 2003 - fun times listening to Ian and company rip through their set.

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