This weekend's batch of reviews is turning into a who's who of legends and journeymen. DARKTHRONE released its 12th album and IMPALED NAZARENE its ninth, and now SICK OF IT ALL not only unleashes its ninth long player (not counting EPs, splits, live recordings, etc), but also is celebrating its 20th anniversary! On "Death to Tyrants" the seminal NYHC band fires a shot across the bow, a warning to all those bands and fans who think that hardcore represents eyeliner, tight pants, and Hot Topic. This is the sound of a band that lives the life and still has something to say. An energetic and very well written batch of songs speaks volume about the group's continued relevancy as well.
Two primary characteristics of the music have always set SICK OF IT ALL apart from many of its hardcore contemporaries: diversified songwriting and a delivery that tends to appeal to both metal and hardcore kids. Both facets are heard on "Death to Tyrants". Pete Koller's guitar work is more than just two riffs and a cloud of dust. While not dazzling with technical brilliance, his playing moves from steel-belted tough riffs to melody-tinged chords. By the same token, bassist Craig Setari mixes it up nicely, never content to simply lay a foundation. Drummer Armand Majidi (who also wrote the lion's share of the lyrics) pummels like a caveman and splashes with color. The team approach results in arrangements that breathe and songs that are built for the long haul. All the while Lou Koller is spitting vitriol about the potential for world downfall and a militaristic, corporate-run U.S. government, hence the title "Death to Tyrants", not to mention "Uprising Nation" and the Simon Bolivar-inspired "Machete".
Songs like album opener and standout "Take the Night Off" talks of giving yourself a break from the political and social nightmares that surround us, the gang shouts of "Let's celebrate that we don't give a fuck" driving the point home in not-so-subtle terms. The song is one of several destined for the SICK OF IT ALL hall of fame and will surely be a live staple for years to come. "Die Alone" falls into the same category, its chorus basic and hooky as hell. But let's not mislead here, this is fiery punk and hardcore, as demonstrated by the uncompromising stomp of "Always War" and "Evil Schemer".
The icing on the cake is Tue Madsen's sound treatment. He has truly captured the band's live energy, as well as giving each instrument its due. Madsen has always managed to give the bass and drums that extra pop and snap, as well as an organic fluidness. This is a first rate production from top to bottom.
Debates will rage as to where "Death to Tyrants" stands among classic albums like "Scratch the Surface" and "Built to Last", and stubborn nostalgia will often interfere with objective thought on the matter. In this writer's opinion, "Death to Tyrants" is a great SICK OF IT ALL album and may ultimately be worthy of classic status.