The demise of New York hardcore is reported so often you’d think it was fallout from the local tabloids’ death grip. Regardless of changing fashions or global warming trends, though, a few bands have stuck to their traditionalist guns, making the loud-fast frenzy noise for fans of true mosh power. One of the city’s stalwarts is Sick of It All, formed in 1985 by singer Lou Koller and his guitar-playing brother Pete.
Other than a guest introduction by KRS-One, the explosive but tight quartet doesn’t reveal any original ideas on the clearly articulated debut, but that’s part of the point. Angry thrashers like “World Full of Hate,” “Disillusion” and “My Revenge” state the band’s case with fiery conviction.
Recorded with a new drummer and bassist standing in for the first album’s Arman(d) Majidi and Rich Cipriano, Sick of It All introduces hardcore rhythms to a buzzing metallic environment on the studio side of We Stand Alone (issued on cassette and as a 7-inch). Besides covering Minor Threat’s “Betray,” speaking out against senseless violence (“What’s Goin’ On”) and standing up to false friends (“We Stand Alone”), the band checks in with savage live performances of four songs from the debut.
Reuniting the original lineup, the self-produced Just Look Around (which repeats the EP’s “What’s Goin’ On” and “We Stand Alone”) holds the line on punk’s hegemony, tying the unwavering aggression to distinctive mid-tempo rhythms and a sizzling guitar sound behind Lou Koller’s comprehensible bellowing. An excellent hardcore record that, if not consistently accessible to mainstream rock tastes (check out the sophisticated instrumental coda of “The Pain Strikes,” though), at least shows a willingness to share its righteous anger (“We Want the Truth,” “Just Like Around,” “Shut Me Out”) with a broader audience.
Moving to a major label with a new bassist (Craig Setari), an uncompromised Sick of It All got a radioactive recharge: Scratch the Surface is harsher, speedier and more inflamed than Just Look Around. As a result of Lou’s incessant fifth-gear shrieking, though, the songs’ lyrical content is flooded out. “Step Down” has a catchy enough structure (“melody” would be pushing it), but the proclamation of underground integrity (“Please have more to give than fashion and images”) flies by unheeded; the anti-superficiality title track and “Force My Hand,” with their chanted choruses, make a stronger impression, but the album’s emotional blur is pretty overwhelming. As a blast of unreconstructed hardcore in a time and a place where such a thing was once impossible to imagine, Scratch the Surface makes Sick of It All’s principled point loud if not clear.
For a time, Majidi was also the singer in Rest in Pieces, a New York hardcore contingent notable for contributing guitarist Rob Echeverria to Helmet.