Make no mistake, this reissue is a labor of love, Boston's ONLY LIVING WITNESS not making enough of a dent even years after their demise to warrant this sort of archival caretaking. Hell, you can buy both original CDs used for a few bucks if you look a little! So why is Century Media digging into the vaults and bringing these two near-forgotten albums back into print?
It's like that old saying about the VELVET UNDERGROUND — they didn't sell shit for records, but everyone who did buy one went out and started a band. The respect that ONLY LIVING WITNESS has among the musicians' community borders on hero-worship, depending on who you talk to. SEEMLESS, for one, borrow liberally from the band's sound, while SHADOWS FALL acknowledged their debt by covering "December" on their recent "Fallout from the War" collection. ONLY LIVING WITNESS married burly riffs and emotional, melodic vocals long before anyone thought it was a good idea, they wore their heart on their sleeve at the height of grunge's blasé fashion, and they hoisted massive hooks into their music just as it became standard policy for metal to enter a long, dry spell where writing memorable songs wasn't anyone's priority.
"Prone Mortal Form", released in 1993, is definitely the work of a younger band — the riffs are a bit ham-fisted and simple, somewhere between hardcore, Seattle and HELMET's then-new sparseness. Over this, vocalist Jonah Jenkins (easily one of the most underrated singers in hard rock, maybe ever) delivers a rough-hewn croon that'll send chills down your spine. It's definitely a product of its time, but unlike many of those heavily-spun discs from that year, it doesn't sound embarrassing or dated today. The hard-driving "Twitching Tongues", "Voice of Disrepair", and the epic "December" are still as relevant and awesome thirteen years later, and still need to be heard.
But it was a mere two years later, on "Innocents", that a rapidly-disintegrating ONLY LIVING WITNESS released their real masterpiece. The guitarwork on this album is massive and wide-open, a quantum leap over "Prone Mortal Form", creating these huge vistas of sound for Jenkins to deliver haunting, infectious melodies and poignant words. While riffier songs like "Freaklaw" and "Deed's Pride" still sported poppy hooks and more basic structure, "Knew Her Gone" and "No Eden" remain life-changing anthems. These deceptively simple chords and words helped define that year for the few of us who'd heard them, and raised the bar for anyone else who came along afterwards attempting to inject intelligence and real heart into their metal.
There are demo tracks galore on each disc, plus a video for each album. You could pick these up used and get just as blown away, but it's nice to have both albums and all the extras in one nice, neat package. While some liner notes from the ex-members would have provided some welcome perspective on a band always cloaked in a bit of mystery (hell, if I remember correctly, neither of the original CDs even had a discernable band photo in them), the music is enough to have. ONLY LIVING WITNESS is one of the very few bands that actually warrants the cliché "the best band you've never heard", and until you check them out, you're losing.