Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: Suicidal Tendencies, "13"

Most metal fans are probably looking a little more forward to another album titled 13 later this year from a barely known band called Black Sabbath. Me, too, but I was also quite intrigued by Suicidal Tendencies’ album of the same title.

I was a big ST fan in the 1980s, both the energetic hardcore punk of their self-titled debut and the thrash sounds of their later albums in the decade, like Lights, Camera, Revolution. The 1990s were a bit shaky for the band, though, with the very commercial The Art of Rebellion (which I haven’t revisited in quite a while, but seemed anything but rebellious to me at the time), the more metallic and underrated Suicidal for Life and a couple of uneven albums in Freedumb and Free Your Soul … And Save My Mind, both of which had their moments, but were fairly unmemorable.

It’s been 13 years since the release of that last album, and on their comeback record, Mike Muir and Co. pay tribute to both their punk roots and their thrash conversion, often in the same song. But, in truth, it’s not the thrash or punk numbers that shine here, it’s the groove-based pieces.

Easily the strongest number on the record is “Who’s Afraid?” It’s got a huge grooving riff at the beginning that gives way to the rhythm section of bassist Steve Bruner and drummer Eric Moore, as Muir delivers some bipolar vocals. Then we’re right back into that groove riff for the chorus, which also has some hip hop-style vocal hits. After the chorus, Dean Pleasants delivers some smooth tasty guitar licks. I’m dancing in my chair throughout, and it’s just a winner from start to finish.

Album closer, and 13th track, “This World” is another. It’s perhaps the mellowest song on the record — something the younger version of me gave the band hell for on Art of Rebellion but the 40-year-old me likes here. Smooth is the only way I can describe it. Moore and Bruner are tight again, locking into another big groove. Pleasants delivers some fantastic, hard-hitting wah-wah guitar licks and, later on, some nice acoustic leads. Then there’s a wispy guitar riff during an interlude in the middle that reminds me of a 1970s Alice Cooper tune.

“Life (Can’t Live With It … Can’t Live Without It)” reminds me a little bit at times of “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow…” though there’s a lot more funk in the bass lines and the wah guitar. The jazzy flavors that Muir has played around with more in recent years come out on “Till My Last Breath,” which later breaks out into an Infectious Grooves-style funk rock number. The song was definitely a grower, but after a few listens, I couldn’t resist it.

There’s no shortage of heavy, aggressive tunes, either, beginning with opening track “Shake it Out,” a manic, chaotic track that still manages to maintain a coherent groove. Muir announces in an appropriate shout, “Suicidal’s back.” There are also lyrical nods to the band’s history, including my favorite: “Can somebody please get me a Diet Pepsi?” I laughed for the rest of the song after hearing it. Fans will get it.

The punk comes out on the opening of “Smash It,” with Muir delivering his vocals rapid-fire, reminiscent of the band’s early albums. After the chorus, it moves into more of a thrash mode, then back to the punk. It’s one of several true crossover tunes on the album. This Ain’t a Celebration” leans more toward the punk side, while lead single “Cyco STyle” has more of the thrash vibe.

One of the best thrash riffs on the album comes on “Make Your Stand!” It’s a big slab of a headbanging riff and Pleasants just goes crazy over it with the leads. There’s a hit of punk on the chorus, and then they step off the throttle again, returning to that opening riff. This time around, Bruner gets a chance to lay down some noodly bass lines.

There’s another one on the opening of “Slam City,” which erupts into a big, metal gallop with just a little bit of a classic hard rock flavor. The “slam city” gang shouts get a little old by the end, but it’s still a very interesting song, offering something just a little different like most of the songs here.

Though you may not recognize any of the names in the band other than the bandleader and Pleasants, Muir has surrounded himself with another incredibly talented group of musicians. I’ve always liked Pleasants, but he really impresses on these songs. Bruner booms on the bass, and in concert with Moore, he provides a rock solid underpinning for Muir’s crazed rantings.

It’s obvious that the break did Muir some good. He’s energized, and he’s got a fresh band around him that is the perfect vehicle for that energy. I like this album better and better every time through. It’s not quite like anything that Muir has done before, but it’s also a bit of everything that he’s ever done. Welcome back. Suicidal for life.

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