In our first session of Pit Therapy, we discussed why Agnostic Front is both the greatest and most important hardcore band that has ever lived. In a sense, they’re a stone bookend that is holding up one side of an entire collection just waiting to be discovered (or revisited). Since common sense only tells us that every shelf needs two bookends, no other band than the one being discussed today better fits that description. After the period during which most say hardcore went through its final rebirth to date (probably ranging from the mid-late 90’s to the early 00’s), there weren’t very many innovative bands left that were willing to carry the flame through the entire next decade. Many record labels that were once ensigns in the world of hardcore started to sell watered-down, emo/screamo/indie bullshit to a much younger and more exploitable crowd. During this frustrating time, there were still many hardcore bands putting out albums, but 99% of them were generic, throwback-of-a-throwback sounding outfits. With that change, the whole culture was also being infiltrated. Hardcore was becoming more fashionable, shows were less violent and thereby less fun, and the way of life was being perverted and commercialized to the extent that probably caused a lot of bands to just give up.
During this whole mess, there were still those few acts that stuck out like sore thumbs to those who had grown up with hardcore. Although the good shows were few and far between, and the good albums were practically non-existent; the need for those bands was greater than ever, and this need couldn’t have been filled simply by another hardcore band. Hardcore required something much greater… a beacon of light and truth that addressed the actual issues and problems of our time, directed our anger at the right people, channeled our hatred by turning it into yearning for a sense of unity, and fucking pulverized us in the process. To my knowledge, there is but one band that fits this description — the last great hope for a genre and a civilization that have sense been long-lost. Those who seek to divide and conquer didn’t see this one coming. Overdramatic? Tell me that once the session wake up call is over.
“From the last generation, turning their backs to the truth; to the new generation, continue to spread the truth… Ignorant minds hide from the truth… Angry minds defy the truth… Greedy minds deny the truth… as we all SUFFOCATE.”
Bridge Nine Records was and is still known for not fucking around very often. The year was 2003, and the lot of us were constantly scoping out possibilities for one-upping each other in our quest for the heaviest, hardest, most awesome band on the planet. Needless to say, when an awesomely-named band such as this came along and offered up its 5-track self-titled EP as a free internet download, we all pounced on the opportunity to listen and spread the good word, and HO-LEE-FUCK were we all knocked on our fucking asses. Not to mention, the later discovery that Sworn Vengeance members Carl Schwartz and Doug Weber had something to do with this little project propelled us from the floor upon which we had just been knocked, and through the ceilings as we instantaneously shit our pants. While I maintain that the aforementioned precursor to these Rambo-worshipers is thee most pissed of band of all time, First Blood takes all of that rage and channels it into something that’s both thought-provoking and bit more positive.
That same year, as the group also released a two-song split with Blacklisted entitled The Dead Man’s Hand on Deathwish Inc., it became obvious that the group was playing a style of music that was refreshingly authentic and also surprisingly original. If I had to bluntly describe the band’s sound, I’d leave it simply at “a bunch of machine guns simultaneously going off.” But there’s a lot more to it than that. With a genre that’s filled with so many self-inflicted limitations, authenticity is undoubtedly the hardest thing to come by. And yet, no band sounds anything like First Blood. How the band has come up with so many clever song parts just by sticking to a fairly-limited playing style is perhaps the most elusive aspect of the songwriting. You’ll hear no solos of any kind, no showing off, nothing that shouts crafty musicianship and yet… the music isn’t easy to play. The timing of each song part, from the vocals and drum patterns to the chugging, is intriguingly much more complex than the surface would lead you to believe. I’ll get back to more descriptions in a moment, but let’s take a listen to a track off the band’s first full-length, Killafornia, which was released in 2006 under Trustkill Records. It’s fucking heavy, so you’d best not listen on an empty stomach.
“Some see through all the propaganda, others unite as they stand by your side; and when this plan was pulled off with precision, how could you think no suspicions would rise… Let us ask the real questions for the victims who died.”
Now we’re getting somewhere as to understanding just what Carl is singing about, but let’s stay on the musical side of the fence for another brief moment. The most common trap for a hardcore band as heavy as this is the overemphasis of the breakdown. Yes, since Hatebreed‘s groundbreaking EP and debut full-length Under The Knife and Satisfaction is the Death of Desire respectively, breakdowns have been extremely integral in the hardcore songwriting process. The problems come along when bands simply base the entire song around the breakdown itself. The results will put any seasoned fan of hardcore or metal to sleep, and the fact that this lackadaisical formula has been repeated so often is the same reason why less people are giving hardcore a chance these days. Fortunately for those who listen to First Blood, that problem doesn’t exist, as the songwriters of the group possess a formula that is absolutely sound.
And then… there’s the lyrics. In the band’s earliest efforts, carefully placed gang vocals about truth, lies, and corruption helped give First Blood plenty of opportunities for intense, high-energy crowd participation. In later efforts such as “Conspiracy,” the vagueness of the song meanings seemed to slightly fade without the group having to be one hundred percent direct about anything. Although most probably saw tracks like “Conspiracy” as something that was open to the listener’s individual interpretation, lines such as “What made them fall? The answers, hidden from all” actually caused one to think. At this point in First Blood‘s career, it had been well-established that the band was known for stellar songwriting and musicianship, but now they were starting to rise above the average hardcore clichés of keepin’ it real, stayin’ true, and not sellin’ out from a lyrical standpoint as well. After four years of frustrating anticipation for new material and doubting of the band’s activity, fans realized they had only caught a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg that is the band members’ thoughts…
“When I look back to the beginning, to see where this journey began; to see those planes crash into those two buildings, I knew there had to be MORE. THAN. THIS”
Practically out of nowhere, Silence Is Betrayal was released in November 2010 on Bullet Tooth Records, after the collapse of Trustkill (thankfully). It had been practically thirteen years to the T since the release of Hatebreed‘s Satisfaction…, the album that gave hardcore its relatively short-lived rebirth. Now, it was First Blood‘s turn, and they weren’t fucking around. “When peaceful protest becomes impossible, violent revolution becomes inevitable” would become the album’s front-cover moniker, and its message was more direct than ever. With tracks about the blatant lies surrounding the “official 9/11 story,” fascism, fear, oppression and occupation, being politically correct was the last thing the band was setting out to do. With so much civic unrest and so much to be pissed off about, this album quickly became the soundtrack to our rapidly deteriorating society. While it’s very much in-your-face, it still causes the listener to question the heart of many issues that people are either too frightened or to politically correct to address. In short, it offends; and it does so in a stripped-down fashion that’s not to be trifled with.
In every sense, Silence Is Betrayal captures the very essence of hardcore. Musically, it’s more bare-boned than any of the band’s other efforts, as it relies on sub-two minute-long tracks as heavily as it does the more elongated ones. The album features samples from informative documentaries, clips of prophetical statements from the late George Carlin to the theatrical Howard Beale, and ominous audio bites of the very psychopaths we have chosen to lead us straight off the cliffs of insanity. On top of all of that, the concluding few tracks are downright emotional. From lyrics dedicated to a song about the Occupation in the Middle East, to one of the most well-placed voice overs in sampling history in the song Armageddon II thanks to United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter, Silence Is Betrayal drives its message like a dagger straight into the listener’s heart. Whatever lies ahead for now-veterans First Blood remains to be seen, but for now, the group remains one of few lights in the dark corridors through which our world is heading.
Iraqi Civilian Violent Death Count