SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, 13 (2013, Suicidal)
If I told you about an album with a skull smashing through a brick wall as the cover, you’d immediately, and not unjustly, assume it would have to be the most cliched thing possible, not even fit for a bad tattoo. And yet, the actual execution of this cover positively screams, “Suicidal!” There’s no mistaking the skull as belonging to anyone BUT Mike Muir, and the rich detail of all the embedded words (mostly lyrics and song titles) elevates this skull from generic to utterly specific. I mean, it’s still a Big Dumb Skull (and a really big, really dumb one at that) but while most BDS bands could swap covers without anyone noticing, this skull pledges his allegiance to ST and no one else, which is nothing to sneeze at. And at least they didn’t top the skull with one of those hats with the brim flipped up.
When I was a young Friar, I was very seriously into Suicidal Tendencies. Their superb crossover classic, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today (still one of the greatest titles of all time) came out right when I started getting into metal as a crabby teenager, and it struck a chord. Although they started as a punk band, this album was more or less pure thrash, albeit thrash tempered by the unique vocal stylings of mainman Mike Muir, who looked a whole lot tougher than he sounded (and I mean that in a good way – Muir’s cholo with a heart of gold persona was a large part of his charm). I still love that album, and the EP Feel Like Shit… Deja Vu (another great title), but my devotion waned for Lights Camera Revolution (with its ridiculous excess of slap bass, courtesy of new member and braid enthusiast Robert Trujillo), and I had more or less lost interest by Art of Rebellion. The writing got less and less interesting, the songs leaned more and more on Muir’s goofy schtick and Trujillo’s funk fetish, and when godlike guitarist Rocky George finally decamped for Fishbone (after a couple more truly uninspired ST albums), I left the band for dead, although they did fart out a couple more truly bad albums in the late 90s/early 00s. I seem to recall hearing that Muir suffered from some health issues after that which sidelined him from the music biz, but he finally put a new band together and 13 is the result. Now, despite my great affection for them in the late 80s, I never saw them back then live, so when they came around last year in advance of 13‘s release, I decided to go, and when they opened with “Smash It!”, a truly excellent new tune, I felt like maybe ST was back! Sadly, as the evening progressed, I felt less and less sure of that comeback, and in the end I left a little early because I was started to get truly bored. Cyco Miko had put together another impressive band (drummer Eric Moore in particular stands out as a monster – check him out in the fusion metal supergroup T.R.A.M.), but for all his efforts in obtaining the most overtalented musicans, Muir had failed to recruit anyone who could write worth a damn. Still, that “Smash It!” tune was great on stage, so when the album finally came out, I gave it a listen and was sorely disappointed. The production is weirdly powerless (especially the guitars) and Mike’s vocals wimpier than usual, and all the energy from the live presentation was missing. And that song is easily the best on the disc! Overall, the style is fairly similar to the thrash of the late 80s, tempered with a bit more of their historical hardcore, and an admittedly impressive amount of dynamics. “Smash It!” is still okay, despite its weakness, and there are a few other decent tunes (“Whose Afraid?” for instance) but the overall vibe is rather torpid. 13 is not a horrible album, and it’s not even close to the worst the band has produced (it’s probably not even in the bottom half), but ST’s discography is so weak overall that even a relatively good album by their standards could reek outright. This doesn’t reek, but it’s dull, and really, dull is about the last thing you expect from Mike Muir. I wish I could say that all it would take for ST to reclaim the crossover throne is a reunion with George and classic rhythm player Mike Clark, but those guys were on more bad albums than good, so it’s probably time for me to just admit that How Will I Laugh and Feel Like Shit were weird flukes and nothing more.
— Friar Johnsen