Strange Reviews: Among the Living
Lately I’ve been exploring a lot of the music of my past. Specifically stuff from 1986-88. More specifically thrash metal. Extremely specifically a band called Helloween. “Oh my,” you say, as you brush the imaginary dirt from your hand sewn denim skirt that goes past your ankles. “You listened to a band with the word ‘Hell’ in it?” Yes, yes I did.
This “Strange Review” isn’t just about the music, but about the time. A time in which our only limitations was the amount of bus money we had in my pockets. The mountains were right there when I left the front door of the home we lived in for the last 10 years. Summer was our season to hang out in the basement listening to music or watching lame horror movies, that I inevitably always picked, and getting pizza delivered right to our face, the pepperoni oozing the grease so healthy for young dudes such as ourselves. I wandered home with my mind reeling from the images planted by a lot of ridiculous ideas swarming in the culture of Reagan and stupid hair bands only my brother liked and Mtv and leg warmers… We’d drive around in my big Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme doing 5-point U-turns after water-gunning unsuspecting youths, when the thing worked and was available. In the Fall I threw on my jeans jacket and strutted around town in my black Reeboks, listening to my knock-off Walkman to tape mixes of British and Thrash metal, as I traveled to my grandparents home to spend the night watching HBO all night. Winter was the depth of school, snow and cold. We’d hole up again, when together, but a lot of time was with family; holidays were the best of times. Spring was much like Fall, only the dread was a bit heavier because the Heat was coming, but with the heat always came the Fall. And Fall was my favorite. Fall was dark, industrial, cool, and thrash.
I was an angry young man, in a cynical, dark, and yet comedic way. My best buddie, JR could vouch for that. His greatest memory of our friendship was the day I found out my parents were getting a divorce. He said it was cloudy, dark and mellow. If that was the way the day was, it matched my mood perfectly. Throughout these years that day defined me. In some fashion, I had joy. Maybe you could call it relief, more or less. My best friend and I could be angry and sarcastic, shouting and mocking, to a world we were growing into, but deep down we were both “good” guys. We weren’t bullies or jerky-jocks, just kind of angry and loud, but in a funny way. You know, you read some of my stuff… possibly.
As I remembered these times and looked through the itunes store for Helloween and Helloween related music, I came across Anthrax. They were one of the first metal bands that incorporated a harsh rap sound, and they were angry and cynical, but in a funny way. They also had songs based off of Stephen King novels and novellas, which of course this particular author I was very much into back then. Remember back when everyone yelled, “NOT!” in response to any inquiry? I think Anthrax started that too. I found my favorite album, “Among the Living” for only $5.99. I had $6 something after buying a Voivod song, so I was all like, “Buy It.” Then I delved deeper into the past.
Some albums are so tied to a date or a time frame that future listenings seem harsh, like fingernails on a blackboard coming through through the wormhole in your dark, damp basement as you wander blindly, looking for that lost sock… much as Judas Priest is now, my favorite band back then. Anthrax has that feel, although not as bad, and it could be better if the sound was a bit cleaner. So let’s look at each song individually:
Among the Living: This is the title track dedicated to the Stephen King novel “The Stand”. It’s focus is the main antagonist called the Walkin’ Dude. One of the few tracks that doesn’t deal with how angry Anthrax is.
Caught in a Mosh: This song is about how angry they are at people they think are stupid. Key lyrics: “Which one of these words don’t you understand /I’m caught in a mosh! /Talking to you is like clapping with one hand”
I Am the Law: This one’s about angry comic book hero, Judge Dredd, and how angry he is at the criminals in the future that he is judge and jury, and usually ends up killing them. Key lyrics: “A man so hard, his veins bleed ice /And when he speaks he never says it twice /They call him judge, his last name is dredd /So break the law, and you wind up dead”
NFL: Not about football, not worth commenting on except for the fact that they are angry at a lot of different types of people, perhaps businessmen climbing the corporate ladder.
A Skeleton in the Closet: Based on a King novella, “Apt Pupil” one of my favorite stories back then, but perhaps a bit too dark and angry now.
Indians: They are angry at how the Native American Indians were dealt with by our government in the past. Joey Belladonna, the lead singer, is part Indian and so was I and I related to this song. It made me angry at the government. Key lyrics: “Our Indian brothers’ getting burned /Original American /Turned into second class citizen”
One World: This is the one about how scared we all were at nuclear armageddon, and how angry we all were at the government and the people beating war drums from the ridiculous cold war. Oh, did I suck this all in. Key lyrics: “Russians: They’re only people like us /Do you really think they’d blow up the world /They don’t love their lives less. America: Stop singing hail to the chief /Instead of thinking s.d.i. /He should be thinking of peace.” What in the world does “s.d.i.” mean?
A.D.I./Horror of it All: This is one of the cleanest sounding songs on the album, and was an attempt at the epic metal song so common at the time. It reminds me of Metallica’s Battery. It also has some other, deeper meaning that I can’t yet glean, but they are angry about something. See these key lyrics: “My memories there’s nothing harder /Anger and hatred fill the page /So smash the walls it’s time to rage”
Imitation of Life: This one is my favorite and most connected with me at that time. I hated fake people back then, now I more or less disassociate with them. I was open back then as much as I am today, but people had to demonstrate some kind of trust before I let them in. This was before I really started my distrust of humanity during college. I saw a video the other day of some teenage fakery dude taking a self-video about how much he hates all these fake people. Then someone walks by, says, “Hi,” he says, “Hi” then comments on how much he hates her. This kind of behavior makes me just so angry. If you’re going to be angry at fake people, then don’t be fake! What are you thinking? I suppose though he is young and stupid, as I was, but I never was fake like that, and Anthrax sure was out there about who they hated and who they admired and were never a pretender. Obviously this song is about fake people, especially those in the music industry. I suppose a lot of hate could come from that. Key lyrics: “There’s nothing I hate more, than all these plastic people /With all their plastic promises, and all there plastic deals /They just can’t be themselves, and live their own lives out /They’re just an imitation of what life’s all about.” Plus, as a bonus, they rallied against the stupid hair bands at the time: “Bands dress like women with hairspray and lace /I’d pass an image law, stick it in your face! /Let’s see how long they keep dressing this way /Wearing this image twenty four hours a day!”
Amazing that I’m not as angry as I could be filling my mind with a lot of this stuff in my youth. I do so appreciate though the rhythm of that time and that thrash metal was the stuff that connected with me; it spoke my language. This was also the time that JR went a little more death metal, while I was discovering U2 and R.E.M. so we did some diverging there at the time. But you’ve read a lot about that too.