Friday, January 10, 2014

My Experience With Brutal Truth: A Preemptive Memorial

[photo credit: Peter Herneheim; found on Brutal Truth's Facebook page]
This morning, Dan Lilker of legendary grindcore group Brutal Truth announced he will be retiring from being a full-time touring and recording musician on October 18th of this year, his fiftieth birthday. This means no more Brutal Truth. Bands break up all the time for all sorts of reasons, but this is a big one for me. While the majority of my website's content is rooted in black metal, grind has been dear to me for years, with Brutal Truth holding a position as one of my favorites from the moment I first heard them. Even if I hadn't already been fond of their tunes, frontman Kevin Sharp is a vocal beer lover who shares thoughts on what he's drinking with his friends on Facebook, which makes him fun to follow as a metal and beer geek.

While I'm not going to sit and wax poetic about crowded concerts and pure insanity, as I've never had the luck of seeing these guys live, I'm sharing ten of my favorite Brutal Truth songs with you guys as a way of documenting my own experience with this band whose legendary status is well earned. The list is heavy on nineties material because as much as I've enjoyed their two most recent albums, I've had far less time with each, preventing them from sitting in quite as deeply as the material I've had years to absorb.

1. "Denial of Existence" from Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses
This album was probably the first grindcore album I heard that had anything resembling nuance. Until this point, I'd mostly been familiar with bands specializing in spastic blasts of sound, typically with songs that seldom exceeded the thirty second mark. Extreme Conditions brought the intricacy of death metal to the fury of grind in a way that was new to me. This song in particular was among the first to leave its mark, and at a lengthy four and a half minutes it showed me that grind wasn't exclusively an endurance test.

2. "Collapse" from  Need to Control
This song specifically surprised and impressed me when I first heard it and still sends chills down my spine. Brutal Truth proved that speed wasn't the only way to make something sound extreme or heavy. While I was already into a bit of doom metal when I first heard this, the mastery and ferocity displayed here was missing from most of the slower bands I listened to. This had all the rabid aggression I expected from Brutal Truth yet it sounded entirely different. I cannot recommend this song enough.

3. "Dead Smart" from Sounds of the Animal Kingdom
This song was deemed special enough to receive its own music video, although I'll argue that any song from this challenging release is worthy. I really didn't get this album for the first couple of years I had it, but I kept forcing myself to listen until it set in. Eventually, something clicked, and this was among the first songs that I really got into. Straightforward enough to appeal to my desire for aggression, but about two minutes in they introduce a riff so traditionally "metal" and unexpected that it totally changes the simpler trajectory of the song. A true classic.

4. "Time" from Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses
Are those power tools in there? I think so. While the fusion of noise elements and metal has become a bit of a thing these days, this is one of the earliest examples I can find. From what I gather, it's actually frontman Kevin Sharp using these tools to make noises rather than the samples that are so popular in gimmicky gore-based metal songs. Machinery aside, this song displays Brutal Truth's ability to shift speed and mood with perfect grace and skill, something many bands can't do a decade into their careers, let alone on a debut album.

5. "Humanity's Folly" from Kill Trend Suicide
I'm not even sure about half of what goes on in this song, but it's awesome. Textured, almost psychedelic guitars dissolve into a more familiar grinding assault. This "mini-album" is full of weird gems, but this one's an instant attention-grabber.

6. "Sugardaddy" from Evolution Through Revolution
This is one hell of a way to initiate a return to form. This track opens up their first album after a decade of absence in a fashion that most bands who make "comebacks" could only dream of. Aggression perfected, with slightly off-kilter dissonance, yet a far slicker approach than most of Sounds of the Animal Kingdom. It's rare that a band returns with this kind of ferocity; it's a shame they're going away again.

7. "Brain Trust" from Need to Control
Spooky ghost noises, or maybe it's just really low growls, and violently lurching grindcore. This is about as much fun as grind gets in my opinion. This whole album is one of my favorite grind pieces of all time, so it's impossible to isolate a single track, but this one stood out even when I was too young to fully appreciate what I was hearing.

8. "Zombie" from Kill Trend Suicide
This one's got almost a carnival sort of feeling to the spiraling riff that leads into the song. Fear not, grind fanatics, for like most Brutal Truth songs this riff evolves into the ferocious and jagged assault we've all come to know and love from these guys. Wholly unique in the genre, but completely familiar for fans of the band.

9. "Jemenez Cricket" from Sounds of the Animal Kingdom
An acid trip hard rock song that feels equal parts Slayer and Obituary while swirling around itself into maniacal moments of heaviness before the whole thing crumbles into dirge-paced oddness only to revisit its main riff again. I used to hate this song because it was weird, but now it's like if The Butthole Surfers played grindcore in a way. I love it.

10. "Celebratory Gunfire" from End Time
Much like Carcass's Swan Song (until this past year, of course), this album's title is unfortunately accurate. "Celebratory Gunfire" sounds like Today is the Day gone primitive, and is every bit as aggressive as anything they'd have released two decades earlier. It's evident that they've grown so much yet it's apparent they also never lost sight of their roots. What fans of Brutal Truth can take away from this release is that the band ended its career with an album that stands as tall as any other in their storied career. I can honestly say that I haven't heard a single bad track from this band, and that's rare. Even my favorite bands have made some serious missteps in their careers. Perhaps Brutal Truth are dearer to me than I previously realized. They'll be missed, but I look forward to seeing what the members create in its wake.

BONUS: The entire split with Bastard Noise.
Hardly your typical Brutal Truth release, if such a thing exists. This is a foray into pure harsh noise and mechanical horror, collaborating with noisegrind legends Bastard Noise, with a bit of help from Peacemaker and Winters in Osaka. This may not sit well with the metal loving portion of my readership, but those that straddle both lines like me will love the experimentation provided here. Folks looking for something slightly familiar should check out "The Stroy" from the CD version, which is slightly more familiar while retaining the creepy noise atmospheres of the other songs here.

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