Possibly the most politically active band around, Earth Crisis spent most of the last decade championing the causes of environmentalism, human rights and animal liberation while simultaneously destroying the notion that only jam-rock bands and their throngs of tye-dyed fans can and will address such issues. No bones about it, Earth Crisis’s demeanor alone negates any comparison to spaced-out hempheads. Karl Buechner, vocalist and founder, assembled Earth Crisis—a group of tough streetwise kids from the Syracuse and New York City hardcore scene who shared his beliefs on veganism, the environment and straight edge (no drugs, alcohol or cigarettes)—with one goal in mind: to present a challenge to the softer brand of entertainment liberalism prevalent in popular culture. What is most recognizable about Earth Crisis is their no compromise attitude: they have appeared on CNN, TBS, FOX and ABC to discuss and argue environmental issues, have spoken out against the hardcore/straight-edge scene’s exclusion of homosexuals, have strong (read neither pro-choice nor pro-life) beliefs about abortion and recently stuck a thumb in the eyes of both the government and the music industry when they addressed Congress on the issue of drug abuse in America. Earth Crisis’s members were probably the anti-bullies at their high school; the tough kids who never really fit in, but also never bothered anyone who didn’t deserve the ass-kicking of a lifetime. You might not agree with all they say, but you have to admire their conviction.
Musically, Earth Crisis is all piss and vinegar as well, playing a bonecrushing blend of hardcore and metal that, politics aside, could get any pit moving. Last of the Sane, their return to New York hardcore staple Victory Records after a brief and unrewarding hiatus on metal label Roadrunner, is a pastiche of cover songs that run a rather strange gamut of rock, hard-rock, metal and punk, three older hard to find tracks and one new track as a tease for their next album Slither which comes out April 20.
Though most of the covers finger the usual suspects, Zep, Slayer, Sabbath, the Stones, Last of the Sane pours invigorated wine into worthy though cliché vessels as they pound and hammer their way uncompromisingly through great songs. Buechner shows, greater vocal range than ever on a CBGB stomp through the Stones’ “Paint It Black”, while he proves that a stint on the initial Ozzfest tour paid off as he invokes Ozzy himself on the Sabbath standard “Children of the Grave”. “Holiday in Cambodia” tries its hardest to improve upon the original politically-infused masterpiece, with amphetamine drumming and deep vocal scowling; a blistering piece of work, it nevertheless rarely comes close because of its shortcomings on guitar—guitarists Scott Crouse and Erick Edwards rely too greatly upon the chorus effect pedal—and because it is a cover of perhaps the most famous underground politi-punk song by the most famous underground politi-punk band of all time, it falls a little short (and no, it won’t be used to sell Nike’s anytime soon unlike a purported recent attempt by members of the Dead Kennedy’s to sell the rights of the track to Phil Knight’s beast). Conversely, “Earth A.D.”, a reworking of the Misfits psychopunk classic presents a potent challenge to the original, taking away Glenn Danzig’s spooky ethereal aesthetics and replacing them with scalding guitar and bass work.
The Earth Crisis original material, which makes up the latter half of the album, keeps the train in motion, but is stylistically much harder as most of it is from an older period when the band was less experimental and more straight ahead hardcore. Of these, the tempo-shifting “Gomorrah’s Season Ends” is the best, a shorts and black hooded sweatshirt full of rage grimacing at you with gruff insolence. “Panic Flood’s”, the only new original track on Last of the Sane is a mosh-inducing razor blade cutting away everything in its path.
Last of the Sane is a potent homecoming for a band that has slowly and uncompromisingly mapped out its niche in the world of music. Earth Crisis’s mission on this release is to woo new fans from outside the cramped closed-in straight edge scene and they succeed in this mission quite well. Though it lacks much of the political vitriol that characterizes past releases, it still rocks with enough nerve shattering intensity to hold the interest of even their oldest fans and pick up a few new ones along the way. Consider this a tasty appetizer of things to come on next month’s Slither.