Sunday Old School: Suicidal Tendencies
Thrash metal is a hugely influential genre which brought the heavier side of metal to mainstream attention with some big names and albums back in the eighties. Many bands such as Hirax and Vio-Lence were as thrash metal as it gets, while some brought new ideas and new styles to the genre. Today's column looks at a band which did just that, one which went from gang associated skaters to thrash stalwarts with danceable bass lines. Of course, this could be no one else but the one and only, Suicidal Tendencies.
Suicidal Tendencies was formed in 1981 and was originally intended as just a party band by vocalist Mike Muir, but before long, their live notoriety and popularity had the group creeping to the front of the singer's life. What helped create such a buzz around Suicidal Tendencies was the rumours surrounding them, mostly that they were involved with gangs, in part due to Muir's blue bandana and in time, a gang that revolved around the group called Suicidal Cycos sprung up in California. The band, which also consisted of guitarist Mike Ball, Carlos "Egie" Egert on drums, and bass player Mike Dunnigan, soon recorded their first demo and appeared in the Surfpunks documentary, performing the songs, "Kill" and "Parents For Adoption." Egert left after the first recording and Mike Dunnigan's brother, Sean took his place, though both brothers left after their appearance on the Slamulation compilation.
Eventually, the band gained the attention of independent label, Frontier Records for whom they released their self-titled debut in 1983. By this time, Muir was the only original member still involved and the rest of the lineup consisted of drummer Avery Smith, guitarist Grant Estes and bassist Louiche Mayorga. Unlike the thrash metal and funk directions they took in the future, the album was straight up hardcore and earned them recognition for the first band to score a hit single with the song, "Institutionalized," which featured a mostly spoken word style from Muir and spawned the phrase, "All I wanted was a Pepsi." It also featured the song, "I Shot the Devil," which originally titled, "I Shot Reagan," but were reportedly ordered by the FBI to change the title.
Though Muir and Mayorga decided to form their own label after the debut's release, the only official release containing new Suicidal Tendencies material was the split, "Welcome to Venice," which featured the song, "Look Up...(The Boys are Back,)" before the band decided to call it a day. This decision was reversed in a short time however, as Muir and Mayorga returned with fan favourite Rocky George on guitar and drummer RJ Herrera for the 1987 album, "Join the Army." The record is their first step towards the crossover thrash sound which they are now cited as a major part of, alongside the likes of D.R.I. and featured several classic songs including the title track, "War Inside My Head" and "Suicidal Maniac," as well as spawning a music video for the song, "Possessed to Skate." It's regarded as some of their best work by fans and earned them enough recognition and exposure that major label, Epic became interested and offered them a deal.
The thrash metal influence which was brought in by George became a major part of the band, enough so that a second guitarist, Mike Clark was hired, having been a part of the speed metal band, No Mercy with Muir. The quintet recorded the third Suicidal Tendencies album a year later, which was released under the title, "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today?" which had shed most, if not all of their hardcore roots, but displayed a much greater sense of musicianship and maturity than previous releases. The title track was a popular hit with fans, as was the song, "Trip at the Brain," while the album itself peaked at number 111 in the Billboard charts and received some excellent reviews from critics.
Following this, the band released, "Controlled By Hatred/Feel Like Shit... Deja Vu," which caused some confusion as it was marketed as their fourth album, as well as made to look like two EPs, but comprised mostly of previous material, including two different versions of "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow" and No Mercy covers. As a result of this, many critics cited their next release, "Lights... Camera... Revolution" to be the follow up to "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow..." It was another landmark album, as it was the first to feature bassist Robert Trujillo, whose funk background became another integral part of the band and reared its head on this record. It was quite a successful one, thanks largely to the success of the single, "You Can't Bring Me Down," which was aimed at the PMRC, as was another single, "Lovely" and went on to be nominated for a Grammy in a losing performance to Metallica.
They took part in some big tours after the album was released, including one with Queensryche and most notably, the Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth, Slayer and Testament in Europe, where Muir had a war of words with Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, which included the vocalist calling out the outspoken frontman for a fight on stage. Nevertheless, they still had time to record a new album, "The Art of Rebellion," which was released in 1992 to a generally positive response. The funk influences were very prominent by now and featured Vandals drummer John Freese, though he was soon replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso. Despite the funk and alternative sounds, the record was very much rooted in punk and thrash and so helped them attract more fans, rather than losing many at the expense of this direction.
Since "The Art of Rebellion" was the most commercially successful of their career, the band decided to give greater exposure to their old work by releasing an album of re-recorded material, "Still Cyco After All These Years," which spawned single releases for early favourites, "I Saw Your Mommy" and "Institutionalized." It was received well by critics and fans alike, though some of the latter felt that the youthful energy wasn't quite as present on these versions. This was succeeded by "Suicidal For Life," which was critically panned and received a lukewarm response from fans, many on both sides feeling that Muir had dumbed down his lyrics. Though it still sold quite well, problems within the band and the expiration of their deal with Epic, along with Muir and Trujillo's focus on their group, Infectious Grooves, led to the second collapse of Suicidal Tendencies.
Once again however, Muir brought Suicidal Tenences back in 1997, though to the disappointment of fans, Trujillo, George and DeGrasso were unable to take part due to other projects. Instead, Muir was joined by Infectious Grooves guitarist Dean Pleasants, Josh Paul on bass and Brooks Wackerman, another Infectious Grooves alumnus, to record the EP, "Six the Hard Way," which was received very warmly by fans of their earliest work, while the more metal orientated listeners were a little disappointed. The EP was followed a year later with the album, "Freedumb," which continued their rekindled interest in their hardcore punk roots and was received very well by critics working in the more leftfield publications.
Only a year later, another album, "Free Your Soul and Save My Mind" was released, which got a better reception from critics generally and was enjoyable for fans, as it was a mostly hardcore release but touched on all the styles the band had utilised in the past. Though quite well received, it was to be their last album of new material for some considerable time as compilations, re-recordings and live efforts were put out while Suicidal Tendencies focused more energy on performing live, which including appearing at some big name festivals in the UK, Germany, France and Turkey amongst others.
Finally, the wishes and prayers of fans were answered when the band released their first album of new material in thirteen years, titled appropriately enough, "13." The title was used for multitude of reasons, as in addition to the aforementioned gap in albums, the record featured thirteen songs and the number itself had been used by Muir frequently, while it also has connections to Mexican gang culture. It scraped into the Billboard 200 at 187 and received a generally positive response from critics, while fans were happy with it, as well as delighted just to hear new material from this respected, revered, copied but never imitated band, who helped bridge the gap between metal and hardcore fans in the eighties and brought new ideas to the thrash metal fold. Whether or not they succeed "13" with more new material remains to be seen, but fans will be glad that the band are still destroying stages worldwide and moving as many asses as they do heads.
Suicidal Tendencies - "Subliminal"
Suicidal Tendencies - "Possessed To Skate"
Suicidal Tendencies - "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow"
Suicidal Tendencies - "Waking the Dead"
Suicidal Tendencies - "You Can't Bring Me Down"
Suicidal Tendencies - "I'll Hate You Better"
Suicidal Tendencies - "War Inside My Head"
Suicidal Tendencies - "We Are Family"
Suicidal Tendencies - "Pop Songs"
Suicidal Tendencies - "Come Alive"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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