Metal Cum Laude
STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH (S.O.D.)
September 15, 2005
"speak english or live" DVD
"20 Years of dysfunction" DVD
"Speak english or die" CD
Have you ever noticed that these days heavy music seems to come in two varieties?—cookie cutter and Cookie Monster. To find the good stuff, you know, the stuff with integrity, balls, power and maybe, God forbid, a sense of humor, sometimes you have to go back in time.
In 1985, the iconic metal band Anthrax (whose only recent claim to fame is as the #1 unsolved mystery of 9/11—does anyone remember this? George, are you listening?) was taking a little hiatus. The rhythm section (the section that really matters in any metal band worth their salt), Charlie Benante on drums and Scott Ian on guitar, joined up with Nuclear Assault bassist Dan Lilker and inexperienced, extremely obnoxious singer/ranter Billy Milano for a one-shot side project called S.O.D.—Stormtroopers of Death. Their debut was a refreshingly un-PC LP called
Speak English Or Die
The debut sounded like a scrapbook of simple and ingenious New York hardcore punk and metal riffs with their Bronx nightmare of a vocalist spitting out hilariously despicable lyrics. These guys not only parodied every hardcore, thrash and death metal cliche, but they improved on them, at some points hinting at the Platonic Ideal of Metal. Meaning MTV's Headbangers Ball used their music to advertise their show.
Most of SOD's songs are brutal and mean spirited, but blissfully short, rarely clocking in at over two minutes—some a short fistful of seconds. Take "The Ballad of Jimi Hendrix," for example. It starts with the opening riff to "Purple Haze": da-DUH, da-DUH. Then the whole band joins in "HE'S DEAD!!" And that's it. Nice and simple. And what some mathematicians would describe as "elegant." The gift that keeps on giving is the anti-Arabic theme that runs through the album. Who'd a-thunk it would still be relevant 20 years later?
The title track "Speak English Or Die" and "F@!k the Middle East" contain singer Billy Milano's sheik-seeking, rapid fire, projectile vomited string of insults, sure to warm the hearts of young American boys everywhere. Any true fan of heavy music needs to pick this CD up.
If you're already a fan of the band, they just released a live DVD,
20 Years of Dysfunction
. The main course is a collage of fan bootleg footage from SOD's 1997-99 tour. Crushing versions of most of the songs off their first album, hilarious interviews, and extreme moshing are scattered haphazardly through the DVD. Much like Metallica's
Cliff 'em All
, the video and sound quality varies. The vocals suffer the most, although he usually sings so fast, it's hard to tell what he's saying.
The extras include a few bonus concerts, interviews, music videos, and the true prize-an extra CD of a live bootleg from '85 that they stole from other bootleggers (a la Frank Zappa). It's a very raw, ugly and powerful snapshot of the band's earliest incarnation. All in all, a great package for less then 20 bucks.
If any of this sounds remotely interesting, by all means pick up the band's CD first. But if you can appreciate the irony of a band getting a roomful of Japanese punks to scream "Speak English Or Die!"—get the DVD.
Andrew Shkolnik works at Request Records, 10 N. Market St., Wailuku, 244-9315, and is not really snobby but knows way more about music than is necessary.
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