Fight Fire With Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
Let’s talk crossover. We haven’t dabbled into the genre yet in this column, so what better place to start than with Suicidal Tendencies‘ self-titled 1983 debut and D.R.I.‘s Dirty Rotten EP debut, also from 1983?
These records are both absolute genre classics, we love them both and they both hold up perfectly over the years, the youthful angst in them actually translating into something that still sounds relevant decades later, which isn’t always the case.
So, yes, two great records. But one is better. Read on to find out if it’s Suicidal’s suicyco punk moto-ramblings or D.R.I’s blinders-on take on HC/crossover that we crown king of the crossover records today in Fight Fire With Fire.
Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies
This album was where we were introduced to the wonderful rantings of vocalist Mike Muir, and while the band underwent many changes in sound and lineup over the years—putting out albums that I much prefer over this one, even, and albums that are much more metallic—there is absolutely no denying that this is a punk/hardcore/crossover masterpiece.
Sure, we all know “Institutionalized” to an almost exhausting degree (which is impressive; not many crossover albums of the era—or any era—had a song that became this ingrained in everyone’s mind, punkers and metalheads alike), but this album is just hit after hit after hit, and they come fast and furious, as they should on a good punk record.
The ST saga in years to come was one of highs and lows indeed, and it often confused us along the way, but this record is an amazing document of punk, hardcore and crossover, and while they would drop albums far more metallic, they would rarely tap into the anarchic power and glory of this record.
Take manic opener “Suicide’s an Alternative/You’ll Be Sorry”, the vocal tradeoffs a thing of beauty, the pure punk forward momentum just perfect; then the quirky ST personality comes in at around a minute and a half, immediately establishing this band as something different—really, something different from any other band, to this day.
“Two-Sided Politics” shows off some cyco guitar soloing in its one-minute runtime, the band also managing to craft incredibly memorable songs—memorable vocal lines, memorable riffs, hell, memorable drum beats—and “I Shot the Devil” (with Muir’s unforgettable opening scream of “I shot Regan!” both setting the song in a particular time and era and also, somehow, making it ageless) continues that, being a mixture of catchy crossover, quirky ST, and great Cyco Miko ranting.
“Subliminal” also places the album very much in its era, given how much of a going concern subliminal messages were in 1983 and for several years after. This song is a bit longer but rages hard, the slower verse making way for the great, speedy chorus, ST showing off how great they are at both here, the verse sticking in our heads forever, and the chorus just forcing us to turn off our brain and slam dance until we’re seeing multiple Muirs dancing around in angsty glee in front of us.
“Won’t Fall In Love Today” barely hits one minute and is a classic loner anthem, the band managing to squeeze in everything a song needs—couple verses, couple choruses, guitar solo—in 59 damn seconds. And it’s catchy, hooky—it’s ridiculous and not talked about enough just how well this band was crafting memorable songs back on this album.
“Institutionalized,” well, we all know it, and you know what? I’m not sick of it, I don’t think I’ll ever be sick of it, it still rules, Muir still wants a goddamn Pepsi, and I still want more of this song, which honestly just sounds better and better as the years go on. This is a classic for a reason.
The second half of the album doesn’t lose any steam, as the band slam through great song after great song: “Memories of Tomorrow” and “Possessed” may not get stuck in anyone’s head as much as anything discussed so far, but as soon as you hear them, yup, it all comes back in a heartbeat, no matter how long it’s been. “I Saw Your Mommy…” threatens to wear out its welcome at almost five minutes, and it’s pushing it as far as the humor goes, but, hey, the choruses are classic raging crossover, although it’s the goofier verses that we all remember regardless (even though the verses kinda sound like choruses and the choruses kinda sound like verses).
“Fascist Pig” is a classic punk call to arms buried way deep here, while “I Want More” nods heavily to what the band will sound like two or three albums from now, something far more serious and mature; it’s easy to forget this song is on here, given how much it sticks out from the rest, and that’s a good thing. Well, the slower parts anyway; the fast parts then blast right back to IQ-bashing punk/crossover.
“Suicidal Failure” ends the album perfectly, a great companion piece to the opener, some killer solos and a slower tempo foreshadowing what will come a bit later, like “I Want More,” the band stretching out just a touch, and in the process helping to give this album a bit of variety, adding immensely to its longevity.
No one player really stands out as incredible, the sound more of enthusiastic young punks than virtuosos of any kind. It’s fine: we don’t need—or want—virtuosos in punk, we want spirit, which this record is just absolutely overflowing with.
Good god, what an album, perfect crossover, great punk (yes, definitely more punk than crossover, if we’re splitting hairs), tons of personality—this thing just drips with personality—from a band that made a career out of always showing off that personality. The production holds up just fine, the teenage angst that this album is built on actually transferring to an enjoyable listening experience for all ages.
It’s hard to imagine a crossover record better than this. But then D.R.I. come moshing in.
D.R.I. – Dirty Rotten EP
Man, what a glorious racket this one is.
What I love about this album is that while ST’s is a collection of very distinct songs, this one sort of blends into one big mush of chaos, D.R.I. creating a cohesive record here, 22 songs flying past in under 18 minutes, end result being nothing less than one of the most important crossover records of all time.
(And a quick note about methodology here: while pitting an EP against an LP might seem unfair to some, I argue that it’s absolutely not: especially in punk and hardcore, an EP is just as valid a complete work of art as a full-length is, in my eyes [also, in punk and grind, some of my favorite full-lengths ever could fit on a 7″]. More of us are familiar with this release in its reissued form with extra tracks, but in my eyes the extra material lessens the EP’s incredible impact, so we’re sticking with the original release here. And when you’ve got 22 songs on a record and we’re still talking about that record decades later, yes, it can go up against a full-length that’s only like 11 and a half minutes longer than it.)
Opener “Sad to Be” is, naturally, one to remember as it announced to the world, “Here’s D.R.I, they are a mess, and they are awesome,” the band packing an alarming amount of noise into the song’s 2:13, instruments coming and going, a part where the tempo picks up faster and faster, there’s noise, feedback, man, this is barely a song by any conventional sense, but the parts where the band is locked in and raging, and Kurt Brecht’s vocals are a rallying cry, it’s excellent, pure early-crossover DIY underground punk chaos. Then “War Crimes” follows it up with a song that wouldn’t sound wildly out of place on Suicidal’s debut, both bands tapping right in to what makes crossover and early hardcore/punk so great, D.R.I. absolutely nailing it here, scaling down the noise of the opening track for something more conventional, and it’s a huge victory.
“Busted” brings some humor before more chaotic punk/HC, and we’re into a rapid-fire approach now for the next several songs, “Draft Me,” “F.D.R.C.” and “Capitalist Suck” doing what they need to do in their 30 seconds, as does “Misery Loves Company,” before “No Sense” spreads its wings a bit more at 1:16 and “Blockhead” closes off the original side A with another near-epic at 0:55.
Side B continues with some classics, “I Don’t Need Society” and “Commuter Man” kicking it off with a killer one-two punch before “Plastique” and “Why” basically drop the same song two times in a glorious row, and, man… side B is awesome, short song after short song just killing it, “Balance of Terror,” “My Fate to Hate,” “Money Stinks” and on it goes, every song a winner, every song kinda the same at this point in the record, but, as I mentioned earlier, D.R.I. making that work, the songs on this album coalescing into one incredibly satisfying ball of what would later be coined crossover, here, it’s just punk/HC, less metallic than ST but with a heavier sonic punch, more singularly focused and racing to the finish line.
And to the finish line we go, with the frantic “Human Waste,” the fun “Yes Ma’am,” the falling-apart-at-every-second “Denis’s Problem,” then a couple more gotta-love-’ems in “Closet Punk” and classic closer “Reaganomics,” this record’s memorable anthem. It’s maybe not quite as ingrained as “Institutionalized” is in all our heads, but it’s killing me, it’s killing me, it’s killing me, it’s killing you. You know it, I know it, and it’s awesome, what an ending to a totally killer record.
The non-stop drum barrage is impressive, and, importantly, D.R.I. does get mentioned in talks about early blast beats, let’s not forget. This release—in particular, the grinding parts of “No Sense”—often gets brought up in these intense, nerdy discussions, so that gets huge points from us here, as we’re always interested in the history of such sonic extremity. Everyone else does a just fine job on their instruments, and, like ST, it’s more about the sloppy energy than it is any sort of jaw-dropping precision. But, a pioneering release for blastbeats means that we at Decibel HQ are slipping and sliding in our drool.
I love the production on this one too; not sure how punk records from 1983 can sound so damn good to me all these years later, but they do, D.R.I.’s in particular having a bass-heavy, sludgy, raw sound to it that matches the attitude in the music absolutely perfectly.
It’s all about spirit with this stuff, and while DRI’s EP doesn’t quite have the personality quirks that ST’s has, it hits the finish line with a more solid sense of accomplishment; they did what they set out to do, and it just sounds better and better as the years go on.
Both records are fantastic, trailblazers, and have a youthful energy that holds up wonderfully today. I love them both. However, one stands out a bit more due to the band’s never-ending well of personality and sideways humor. Only one has rants that became legend. Only one wanted a Pepsi: today we’re declaring Suicidal Tendencies’ self-titled album the winner in our crossover battle, may Muir rant and rave forever more, soft drinks just out of reach as the echoes of this legendary debut hang above the punk, hardcore, metal and crossover scenes for all time.
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