A new festival arrives in Mexico City
VERSUS: Crossover vs. Speak English or Die
Welcome to another edition of Versus, the series where we look at two albums in metal history, and compare them to each other and see which one was the better record.
In this edition, we are tackling thrash metal again, but this time in the crossover vein. One band, who some would say created the title of the genre with the release of their third record. Another band, who brought the attitude and swagger in their version of crossover, with little hints of tongue and cheek humor. Get your battle vests and a case of beer, because we got a headbanging crossover battle for the ages. I’m calling this one “The Crossover Thrash Bash”
In this corner, we have Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (D.R.I.), with their third record, 1987’s Crossover. Claimed by many. from this record’s title. named the genre, Crossover is D.R.I. creating, some would say, perfecting the crossover thrash sound that we know today. Following up their previous record, 1985’s Dealing With It, the band migrated away from their hardcore punk tendencies of that record and full on embraced the thrash metal sound, but infusing punk elements into the record. Birthing the crossover genre and influencing many countless crossover acts like Municipal Waste and Dr. Living Dead!
Opening the album is “The Five Year Plan.” A live staple of the band, the riff gives off a very Slayer sounding opening riff, accented with building drums by Felix Griffin, who really shines on this record. The song gets thrashier at the quarter mark with vocals by Kurt Brecht, almost an amalgamation of Slayer and Exodus combined into his punk style delivery. I love the wind-down fake out at the three quarters mark before the guitar solo kicks in. “Tear It Down” just hits the ground running as it begins, and the drums continue that pummeling sound. The guitars seem louder in the mix on this track, but can sometimes be hidden or buried behind the double bass. Vocals are more punk tinged in the delivery and less gravelly shouting that is the trademark of thrash. I love the call and response chorus, into a building riff with palm-muted guitars then BAM! Right back into the speed metal/thrash sound. Short burst songs like “A Coffin” also show that even in short on vocals, the band can deliver reliable and fast thrash.
“Probation” has a great opening bass riff in the intro section, so gritty and distorted with building feedback guitar wall. The riff is a more classic heavy metal sound with the lead riff. Once the song picks up and gets thrashier, I love the fast bass playing into the verse section. “I.D.K.Y.” is another standout for drummer Felix Griffin. Even though the guitars are not doing much playing or not playing fast at all, Griffin’s drumming adds drive and tricks the listener into making the song faster than it actually is, which is a creative musical effect. Songs like “Hooked” and “Go Die!” continue D.R.I.’s crossover thrash sound, and are overall strong thrashy tracks with Brecht’s trademark thrash vocal delivery. Another great track is “No Religion.” A driving and ongoing continuation of thrash and with another gritty bass section halfway through by Josh Pappé. Drums and guitars are on point on the track and continue the band’s fury and intensity until the album’s closer “Oblivion,” ending a landmark album in the crossover thrash genre.
In the other corner, we have Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.), with their 1985 debut album Speak English or Die. A completely not politically correct album. Speak English or Die and S.O.D. was the brainchild of three members of Anthrax, guitarist Scott Ian, bassist Dan Lilker, drummer Charlie Benante, and vocalist and former roadie Billy Milano. With Anthrax having extra studio time after the recording of their album Spreading The Disease, the Anthrax members starting playing around with riffs and ideas and got Milano to do vocals on the album and S.O.D. was born. The band took their character “Sargent D,” who appears on the album’s cover, and built the character’s very offensive humor and spawned this crossover classic.
Opening up with the instrumental “March of The S.O.D.,” you can hear the Anthrax influence on the record and a couple other songs on the record. Then we get the track “Sargent "D" and the S.O.D.” Opening with a gritty and grungy bass, then the guitars break the door down and we are off and running. Milano’s vocals have that cliché thrash and anger in him. The song resembles an Exodus sound to it with the vocals and in the production. Songs like “Kill Yourself” and “Milano Mosh” start to showcase the band’s dark and twisted sense of humor over a pummeling d-beat and thrash laden guitar riff.
Then we have the album’s title track. The song is consistently fast-paced and driving. Milano’s screaming of the song’s title I can picture being shouted back at him with fury and vigor. I love the buildup at the halfway mark with guitars so prominent in the mix adding to the thrash tinged sound. The following track “United Forces” is another great gang vocal/call and response of the chorus with a more mid-tempo slower riff compared to a lot of the record. “Chromatic Death” and “Anti-Procrastination Song” are almost grindcore sounding songs with the short song lengths and lack of lyrics and vocals. “Pi Alpha Nu” inspires The Art of Partying era Municipal Waste with speed metal laden guitars with party themed lyrics and almost incoherent yelling.
“Pre-Menstrual Princess Blues” and “Pussy Whipped” tackle cliché themes of women and being in a relationship, over a driving 80’s thrash riff and crowd chanting chorus’ echoing the feeling of frustration with the song’s subject matter. The band would also even make fun of rock and heavy metal itself. Lampooning the trademarks of heavy metal with songs like “Fist Banging Mania” and “Douche Crew” to even short jabs at the track “The Ballad of Jimi Hendrix” before closing the album out on a “extended version” of the song “Diamonds and Rust.”
After all the thrashing and bashing, who had the better record? For me, I would go with Speak English or Die by S.O.D. on this one. Crossover is a strong record and I can respect the history of the album and title of the record, but for me, the album seemed to have some songs that I think can be skippable or forgettable. With Die, the record is almost non-stop crossover. Capturing the musical aspects of crossover, along with the cringe-laden humor and non-P.C. attitude of punk, S.O.D. for me had the better record. S.O.D. would release one more album, 1999's Bigger Than The Devil, before breaking up. D.R.I. would continue to make more records, their last record being 1995's Full Speed Ahead, which is a stellar release. Both bands have left a mark and can both claim being influential releases on the crossover thrash genre.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.