I first heard Today Is The Day when I saw them live in 1999, six years after this record was initially released. My buddy Kevin and I saw them in a shit-hole club in Nashville on the Relapse Contaminated tour, alongside another future favorite of mine, Soilent Green. And now, almost a full decade later, I’m reviewing a Today Is The Day album AND the new Soilent Green record on the same day… Coincidence?
Yeah, completely. But it’s weird how things work out sometimes…
This Supernova is the re-issued version of TITD’s debut, re-released on mainman Steve Austin’s record label, also called Supernova. Back in the days when this came out the first time, the band hadn’t yet signed to Relapse, hadn’t yet created Temple Of The Morning Star and In The Eyes Of God, albums that are generally cited as their best. Back then, Austin and his revolving compatriots (here drummer Brad Elrod and bassist Mike Herrell) were signed to noise-rock label Amphetamine Reptile. Even though most reports hold the Relapse releases in higher regard, the AmRep days interest me more—and certainly more so now than they did back then. Thus, I’m happy to have these remastered versions to add to my collection of things I like that irritate my girlfriend/cats. As with all TITD records, Supernova is angular and abrasive, touching jazz and grind and whatever else crosses Austin’s mind. This is the sound of a man possessed by rage and possessing an expansive knowledge of music—I’m not certain I’d want to hang out with Steve Austin, but I’d love to raid his record collection.
Back in the last millennium, in that Nashville dump, I’ll admit that I didn’t understand what I was hearing. In defense of Younger Me, at the time, after nearly ten years with Maiden and Priest and Metallica, my metal moon was waning gibbous, and I was spending more time with classic country and ampersand-laden college rockers like the Jesus & Mary Chain and Echo & the Bunnymen. I knew TITD was ugly and angry, and I certainly knew they were loud as all hell, but based on my knowledge of more traditional metal, I couldn’t seem to properly process Austin’s combination of calamitous violence and progressive structuring, his punk aggression filtered through King Crimson expansionism. Whatever you call it, it was outside my comfort zone; it sounded more like simple noise than carefully sculpted complex noise.
In the decade since, with my metal moon now full again and a better knowledge of the band’s inspirations, I’ve learned to appreciate and embrace Today Is The Day. I don’t own every single TITD release, so I can’t compare Supernova to all of them, but I can tell you that it’s rawer than later efforts—it’s overdriven and dirty in that special AmRep way, not as grinding or metallic or produced as more recent endeavors. (I hesitate to use the word “produced,” because it can be taken to mean “slick.” Take this to mean: “less noisy.”) Alongside the predominant hardcore influence, there are many TITD trademarks like angular jazz-inspired guitar riffs (“Black Dahlia,” most every track here), a few space-rock interludes (“Blind Man At Mystic Lake,” “The Begging”), some backwards-tracked instruments (the end of “Timeless”), the occasional barnyard animal (“The Kick Inside”), droning feedback and Fripp-ian freakouts (“Self-Portrait”), and even a nearly complete Chrysler car-stereo ad (also in “The Begging”). Even with those hallmarks of weirdness, this is a punk record at heart, filled with jagged riffs and Austin’s aggravated multi-tracked screams; it’s not as complex or experimental as albums like the self-titled or the overwhelming Sadness Will Prevail. For the longtime fan / record collector, there are two bonus tracks on hand, both of which fit perfectly in with the original record.
There are those who would say that Supernova is a milestone, and in some respects, it is, although I would say that it’s still not the band’s best album. (I like Willpower better, if only because I’ve known it longer.) Regardless of its place in the band’s catalog, in re-visiting it now, it’s clear that Today Is The Day proved far more influential than I’d have thought as I watched Steve scream at the walls of that shit-hole club ten years ago. I’d never have dreamed then how many bands would adopt this confusion; I’d never have imagined that TITD’s ability to meld disparate sonics into one oddly cohesive whole—and yet also a brilliantly disjointed one—would lay the groundwork for a seemingly never-ending wave of spastic metal bands, some good and many more not… For those interested in the history of intentionally challenging music, this album is an essential purchase.