Friday, September 18, 2009
Scaterd Few - Sin Disease (1990)
There are a handful of very public personalities that are so widely known that one need only say their name, and immediately an idea of who that person is would be formulated in the mind. Perhaps that person had an impact on culture, politics, religion, or society in general that their very name elicits reactions from across the spectrum, though the overwhelming majority of people would agree that their existence was pivotal to that point in history. There are a number of examples: Martin Luther King, Elvis, Ronald Reagan, and of course, Jesus Christ.
With music, there are landmark albums that either helped to define a genre in its infancy, or embodied that genre so completely that they are considered to be archetypal recordings for their particular musical leaning. That would be the case for Scaterd Few's debut LP, "Sin Disease". Several bands had released punk music in the realm of Christendom prior to this. Notably, Undercover (early proto-punk), Pat Nobody (aka Nobody Special), Lust Control, One Bad Pig, and a number of others. However, despite the quality of material these artists all put out, none of their albums up to this point was the pure visceral experience that "Sin Disease" was, and still is. The album is a quandry because it so fully embodies punk in both aesthetic and approach, but also combines so many other elements that it transcends the realm of punk at the same time. While it may appear I'm veering head first into hyperbole, humor me and read on.
From the first snare hit in "Kill the Sarx", and the driving riff and backbeat, you know you're in for an album of punk fury. The music sounds tight and well played, but also sounds as if all this is barely contained. Ramald Domkus (aka Allan Aguire) wails in a near Perry Farrel fashion, but with his own feel, and the combination of driving bassline, relentless riffing, keyboard touches, and his howling makes the song effective. "Sarx" is Greek for "flesh". Considering that in just under a minute and a half you feel like you've just run the marathon, you get an idea of what this album is capable of delivering right off the bat. "While Reprobate" doesn't pummel the listener quite as heartily, but serves up a chunky riff that transitions quickly into pure punk adrenaline. The background vocals only add to the uneasy atmosphere that Ramald's wail creates. The scream before the guitar solo is effective, and his semi-whispered vocal coming back into the music creates the right mood for the transition. "Beggar" is a bit longer, and has quite a bit of groove to it. The song employs a typical quiet-loud dynamic from verse to chorus, but also has some interesting funk bass going on which adds a unique element to the song. Ramald's double-tracked vocals work well here, and the guitar solo work toward the latter part of the song is quite good, considering the band is playing punk music, which isn't known for adept solo players. "Lights Out" is longer yet, at nearly 3 minutes, and starts out with a bottom-heavy rhythm that intros the song well. I like the funky guitar scratching, and I think the dynamic in the verses between heavy riffing and scratching perfectly fit the sung/spoken vocals Ramald delivers. His high-pitched wail in the chorus is also fitting. The eerie sounds at the end of the song cap it off nicely.
"Later (L.A. 1989)" begins as a much more subdued song, with a rolling bassline and some nice atmospherics. A subtle spoken word vocal by Ramald and simple, effective cymbal & drum work in the background slowly give way to a full instrumental attack around the 1-minute mark. A very groove-laden riff fills the song here, and Ramald's wail contrasts nicely against the catchy riff, emphasizing the disparity between the melody and the lyrics. I also like the play on "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny and Cher in the lyrics. "Groovy" is just that - an acoustic guitar rhythm scratched heavily over a funky bassline, and combined with a groovy (sorry, pun intended) distorted guitar riff, and combines to great effect. This instrumental breaks up the flow a bit, but is a nice break. The punk fury of "Glass God (No Freedom in Basing)" comes crashing in shortly after, and with a short intro of atmospheric goth-punk you get into the primary verse with a lot of rapid-fire vocals from Ramald. The chorus is intense, with a major wail by Domkus warning of the dangers of "freebasing" cocaine. The bridge is creative, with a lot of rimshots and drum rolling. Another good solo here capping off the song. "As the Story Grows" has a pretty acoustic/clean guitar sound to it, and a lower register vocal from Ramald that has quite the goth rock feel to it.
"U" begins with an acoustic riff, and layers of Ramald wailing in the background, only to break into punk fury & speed near the 30-second mark. The layered vocal in the verse sounds great against the riff backdrop, and Ramald's wail in the chorus section drips with passion and intensity. His vocals get more intense and urgent as the song goes on, with more expression and less regard for whether he is actually hitting the notes or not, though he stays on point. Up-front lyrics in the song appear to call out the hypocrites. "A Freedom Cry" takes a completely different direction, by serving up a reggae track. The reggae element is in full swing here, and the female vocal harmony in the chorus is a nice touch. There's a cool, short guitar solo that sort of echoes in the background nearing the end of the song & adds a little something to the song before it fades out. "Scapegoat" is fairly traditional punk, and one of the only tracks on the album to be this traditional in its approach, but not without the heavy gothic element and the Ramald wail to give it that Scaterd Few identity. I like the stop-start before the solo, which highlights the crux of the message in the song - not blaming God for the problems of our society. "Wonder Why" begins with a slight Eastern vibe to it, then transitions quickly into speedy punk rife with energy. Ramald's vocals go back and forth between a spoken and sung vocal from verse to chorus, then into a more urgent spoken/sung sound. Another great solo here in the last 30+ seconds, and another effective stop-start to set up the last blast. This transitions immediately into "DITC", which could realistically have been part of "Wonder Why". Not sure why they chose to split this into 2 pieces instead of keeping it as one song, but it works well both ways.
"Self" offers up another speedy punk fest, replete with Ramald transitioning between spoken/sung vocals in the lower register, and his more high-pitched wailing. The riff here is one of the most "metal" sounding things on the record, and shows that influence in the song. Great lyrics here as well, getting right to the point that God's word is above the wisdom of men. "Look Into My Side" is the 2nd longest single song on the album at nearly 4 minutes. The interesting drum/bass/keyboard intro sets the song up nicely, and Ramald's lower-register singing compliments this nicely. The song has an interesting rhythmic quality to it in spots, and is also very pretty for a punk "ballad". I like the violin sounds near the 1:45-mark, and throughout. Lyrically, the song almost plays out like a surreal salvation experience, a near-euphoric sense of pleasure one might experience when being filled with the Holy Spirit, as if to temporarily forget about all the junk in the world for a brief moment, akin to a drug high. Great solo caps this song off. "Kill the Sarx II (Apocalypse)" is a fun reprise of the lead-off track, in a lounge style that gives the band a chance to ham it up somewhat & show their less serious side. I like the audience clapping & spoken word bits as well; it gives the song that faux-live feel that makes it all the more ridiculous. The lower-register Ramald vocals work well for this type of thing. The "chord" near the 2:30 mark is of course an homage to The Beatles, and then after a brief fade-out, back into heavy lounge with loads of organ and plodding drum beat. Of course, as the song goes on, we get waves of guitar feedback and distortion added, taking that "lounge" feel and turning it on its ear. The song then veers into more obtuse territory, with waves of sound effects, organ, spoken word, and keyboard "choir" sounds that are right out of Scooby-Doo. A bit of "My Funny Valentine" shows up (lyrically), and some interesting industrial/heavy techno/hip-hop comes in as well. Not sure what the purpose of the girl and baby crying is, or the bagpipes, but it all blends together interestingly as the track winds down into a fade of drums and church bells.
The only real issues I have with this album are more issues in general with punk rock, but seem more pronounced here. The super-short length of the more intense pieces means you don't get the chance to really soak in the song before it's done. I realize that's partly the point, but for killer tracks like "Glass God" and "Kill the Sarx" it would have been nice to have a little more to them. Still, they all come off so nicely this is a minor quibble, and one that with repeated listens I have learned to appreciate within the conventions of the punk aesthetic.
This album is THE seminal Christian punk album. There are other punk albums in Christendom that are just as important and have had nearly as lasting an impact, but none are lauded or respected quite as much as this. It's difficult to fully quantify the impact of this album, as well as to accurately describe the music - you just have to hear it for yourself. In addition, I find that I don't spin this often, but I love it every time I listen to it. That's the hallmark of a great album: when you find yourself enjoying it equallyl every time you hear it. If you consider yourself a fan of punk music AT ALL, and you don't have this in your collection yet, you're missing out. Get with the program! Highly recommended.