While bands have traded in gang imagery since rock’s beginnings, few have done so with the thuggish authenticity of this big, ugly cabal of blue-collar Brooklynites. Every bit as steely and rugged as the hardcore rappers who developed in the same borough — albeit a few neighborhoods over — the quartet manifests both antiquated macho posturing and bare-knuckled social commentary. Recently, it has augmented those characteristics with music that stimulates something besides the mosh reflex.
In the late ’80s, when its members did everything but drive the shuttle bus between downtown Manhattan’s hardcore punk hangouts and Brooklyn’s metal clubs, Biohazard was known for a violent following and morally ambiguous songs that seemed to pick up where Charles Bronson’s Death Wish character left off. The foursome’s unrelentingly heavy debut is riddled with lurid imagery of the simpleminded boot-boy variety — as evidenced by “Survival of the Fittest” and “Retribution.” Bassist and primary vocalist Evan Seinfeld has a drill-sergeant bark that powers some of the more iffy ideas home on the strength of jut-jawed authority alone, but there’s absolutely no way to defend the odious “Howard Beach,” which reproaches the media for its harsh indictment of the white neighborhood that fomented a racially based murder that made national headlines.
Urban Discipline isn’t exactly an about-face, but there is a sense that Biohazard has learned to think before making pronouncements like “Black and White and Red All Over,” a cryptic missive that seems to call for racial brotherhood. (The band walked that walk when it teamed with the equally obstreperous Onyx on “Slam” and the theme to Judgment Night, neither of which is included here.) Guitarists Billy Graziadei and Bobby Hambel pull away ever so slightly from textbook thrash progressions, adding some impressively distended riffs into the icy “Chamber Spins Three” and “Business.” While they spend altogether too much time ranting about uniting against the outside world (so much so, you’d swear David Koresh was one of the songwriters), there’s the seed of-believe it or not-a sense of humor. But that still doesn’t explain the purpose of covering Bad Religion’s “We’re Only Gonna Die (From Our Own Arrogance).”
The Onyx collaboration clearly had a big effect on Biohazard, since State of the World Address is shot through with hip-hop tinges, both obvious (“How It Is” has a cameo by Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog) and subtle (Seinfeld’s newfound hip-swang). Likewise, rather than simply switch off one song at a time, the vocalists pass the microphone line by line on tracks like “Tales From the Hard Side,” evincing the dizzying on-point alacrity of a polished posse like Wu-Tang. And while there are still moments (the absurd “Human Animal”) when you wish they’d shelve that dog-eared Nietzsche Cliff’s Notes once and for all, they’re even beginning to manifest traces of incontestably adult thought — see the downtrodden-working-man’s anthem, “Five Blocks to the Subway.”