With two songs in the early ‘80s, Minor Threat, whether they liked it or not, defined a movement that 20 years later is still going strong. First there was “Out of Step (With the World)”, in which a young Ian MacKaye screamed “I don’t drink / I don’t smoke / I don’t fuck / At least I can fucking think.” And then of course was the seminal track “Straight Edge” in which the chorus, “I’ve got the straight edge” became a defiant reply for those who refused to get messed up on drugs that were rampant in the scene at the time.
Straight edge has grown into a huge movement since the creation of that song. While MacKaye has distanced himself from what “straight edge” has become, many young punks are still inspired by those words and a whole industry of bands, ‘zines, and clothing are available for those who wish to celebrate their lifestyle. Even the very definition of straight edge varies from person-to-person. For some it means abstaining from alcohol and drugs only, while for others it extends to include celibacy and veganism. At its core, however, is an idea that one can live life to the fullest without indulging in what are perceived as negative influences.
But for all the progress the movement has made, the music by and large remains the same. Embrace Today are a straight edge band and, unless you’ve never heard a straight edge band before, sound like dozens of similar bands that has come before them. Marrying hardcore riffs with metallic overtones and employing the kind of galloping rhythm you’ve heard a million times, We Are the Enemy is an amazingly dull listen. Worse, the album, though tracked at three different studios, sounds absolutely terrible. The mix is awkward, pushing the vocals abnormally high, while everything else sits in a stale mid-range, offering little in the way of dynamics. The album is a sonic wash in which most of the instruments are lost.
Lyrically, singer Steve Peacock offers the usual “me against the world” style ruminations that in this case are also vague to the point of being meaningless. “Walk Alone”, I think, is about forging one’s own unique path in the world. But lyrics like this: “Let me change my life? No / Let me be the one to rise above / Help me take my life? No / Plan out my death? No / Let me be the one to change world” don’t make things very clear.
“Diamonds Are Forever (An Inspiration from the Dead)”, Peacock makes a reference to being oppressed but doesn’t really clarify in what way, shape or form he is dispossessed: “Thanks for the memories / You’ve made me stronger / With years of bitterness / I found a way / With years of bitterness / I’ll break these chains.” The only song that makes its point clear is the requisite ode to the X that appears on all these types of albums. “Tempted to give up all that is right / I remain true to myself / True to my friends true to my X / Strength is my weapon as I remain defiant,” Peacock sings on “Bullets Over Boston” (whatever that means) and it’s the only time the ferocity in his voice matches the emotion of his lyrics clearly.
It’s somewhat interesting, then, to hear Peacock sing on “Demonized”, “I believe in a better tomorrow.” The problem with the modern straight edge movement is that much of it is scenester navel gazing. Too busy in maintaining one’s X and writing about the struggles of temptation, the movement curiously ignores punk’s larger idea of changing the world. And Embrace Today is no different.
Though Peacock wants a different world, there is nothing here to suggest in what way he would like to change things or even how being straight edge would help. Given the climate of American politics right now, with thousands of young men and women returning from the Middle East dead or seriously injured and the exposure of raw racial divisions unearthed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it’s hard to find much sympathy or take much interest in the straight edge movement. And the fact that Embrace Today fail to move even the music forward into this century certainly doesn’t help.