originally written by Jim Brandon
Ever since the 1999 release of In The Eyes Of God, Today Is The Day has chosen a path of relentless battery over the psychotic brain-fuckery of everything up to and including Temple Of The Morningstar, and nine albums in, Steve Austin is still tweaking the living shit out of this project. Pain Is A Warning is a significant new chapter for Steve, and assuredly, the first few spins took some folks aback, including myself. Its glacial exterior melts away into a riotous new shape with proper and repeated exposure, yet still retains that one-and-only signature chaos that comes with everything Austin does, and even his more restrained material feels inherently hostile. The focused clarity of his newest album is one of bright, wide-eyed fervor, but somehow, this stands as one of the most accessible works Today Is The Day has ever provided.
Pain Is A Warning is hardly a mellow album, no more so than anything else in the TITD catalogue. However, you can hear the swagger so damn clearly now. It’s practically a fucking strut. All the trademarks still remain: a pipe bomb of a rhythm section (Ryan Jones on the four-string, and Curran Reynolds pounding the skins), along with a grand cascade of Austin’s harshly textured vocals which range from a shriek to a croon, and of course, Steve’s brilliant knack for composing off-a-cliff arrangements. Even so, the measures of merciless hammering on Kiss The Pig and the most aggressive parts of The Axis Of Eden are mostly over for the time being. Leading tracks “Expectations Exceed Reality” and “Death Curse” are as abrasive as it’s ever gotten, so we won’t be lamenting a vast departure too greatly removed from the norm, but quickly to follow, the title track liberally indulges in the heightened sway, both breathy and deeply stoned. “Wheelin’” is a quick and assertive punkish tune that doesn’t sound like anything he’s done in a long time, and as “The Devil’s Blood” comes in with a starkly abrupt and bare opening riff that doesn’t sound like anything he’s ever done, then eventually goes right back to more punky thrashing, it dawns on me how very ‘rocking’ Pain has suddenly become. There’s a looseness that avoids recklessness, and a carelessness that hits each track which feels as though Austin allowed himself to take deep breaths throughout, and never let his brain become too unhinged during the assembly of this album, and that’s a bit different.
That’s still not an endorsement for any sort of convoluted maturity or introspection. The rage remains. There is no suckling from a Wetnurse for sustenance on the creative tip, and there’s absolutely no time wasted on any filler. It comes in like a lion for sure, but not for the entire duration. “Remember To Forget” recalls the earlier title track, and takes it one step further with a softness that reminds me of something written with J.G. Thirlwell while both are heavily dosed with THC: despondent, and strangely resolved to an unappealing fate.
That new adjustment might not exactly win you over, however. The rock element adds a thickness to these events that some will say does not suit the band, and I can completely respect their point. Some fans don’t want to listen to a cock rock Today Is The Day, and just attaching that genre to this band sounds absurd, admittedly. Regardless, it almost makes perfect sense, and that’s where Austin succeeds so expertly this time around. By simply applying the elements to TITD that have thus far been unexplored and twisting the shit out of them as to warp a much less outwardly caustic style into a new design, Pain Is A Warning is a meeting of worlds that usually stay apart. It’s an ugly birth in the process, highlighted by the unbelievably anthemic power-chord-driven “Slave To Serenity” that once again takes a turn into virgin territory that almost comes off as the antithesis of In The Eyes Of God, and “This Is You” goes further into the void with a return to the acoustic frailty of an exhausted, weakened Neurosis: When I look/ you turn away/ all I am/ this is you. The more I try/ that’s when I fail/ I hate to say this is you. No such thing can be said for “Samurai”, as it snaps you out of the haze with even more huge repetitious power riffs and Austin’s terrific tried-and-true, lung-destroying screaming reaching its fever-pitch, rocking hard and rocking commandingly at that. So I guess it’s out like a lion after all.
Moments like these are so damn few. Steve Austin will confuse some and thrill others with his desire to throw a curveball, but the fact of the matter is: It’s still heading in the same direction it always has. There’s still no true let-up. You’re never given a real moment of rest. Instead of coming at you all at once, all the time, the bruises are placed further apart, and the strikes between them allow for a hefty wind-up. Pain Is A Warning is accomplished, raw, and head-shaking in its quality and gumption. Polarizing, perhaps, but the risk is nothing compared to the payoff.