It would be easy to dismiss Outtakes for the Outcast, an odds ‘n’ sods collection 12 years in the making from New York’s Sick of it All, one of the hardcore scene’s longest-running acts. After all, in a genre where most of the songs sound the same (hard, fast, punishing) and deal with the same topics (social injustice, self-actualization), how does a hardcore band decide which songs end up on an album and which songs are relegated to the vault? And it’s not like there’s not enough space to squeeze a few more tracks on a half-hour long hardcore album. Oh, but I tease, as there’s plenty for hardcore SOIA fans/completists to enjoy on Outtakes for the Outcast, and even folks who can’t imagine listening to hardcore music might find something to their liking.
Even if you’ve never heard a note of Sick of it All’s music, you know their sonic blueprint: a punishing, rapid-fire rhythm section (drummer Armand Majiti and bassist Craig Ahead) lay a thick foundation while Pete Koller’s buzzsaw guitar fights for attention with Lou Koller’s guttural vocals. Most songs are over in under two minutes. Lather, rinse repeat, and newbie listeners know what they’re getting into.
So yes, it’s angry-sounding music, but it’s an anger based in truth. Sick of it All, as this compilation’s 15 tracks spread out over the past decade suggests, has seen some serious shit go down: War, violence, ignorance. And one gets the sense listening to these songs that SOIA’s collective heart hurts, because the band members know how special and amazing human beings can be. And it’s the frustration that humanity isn’t living up to its potential that fuels the band’s heavy sound—it’s anger as catharsis. Just check the lyrics to opening cut “I Believe”, from a 2000 Fat Wreck compilation: “I believe that joy defines success / I’m aware of what causes my happiness / I believe the distance of my reach is far beyond what I ever dreamed / What I dreamed shaped my creed / All I need is self-belief / It’s al you ever really need”. Granted, Koller yells the song like he’s on fire, but delivery aside, the message is an important one. If Norman Vincent Peale was still alive, Sick of it All would be his favorite rock band. Again and again, the band couches its positivist message in an unholy racket: “Straight Ahead” (“look inside yourself and try to find a caring person”), “Soul Be Free”, “The Future is Mine”.
But if being beaten over the head with an upbeat message isn’t your thing, SOIA proves that it’s been a pretty darn good cover band throughout the years, and one with a sharp record collection to boot. In addition to a requisite Misfits cover (“All Hell Breaks Loose”), Two Sham 69 covers (“Borstal Breakout” and “Rip Off”) find the band easing up on the throttle long enough to toss out plenty of Class of ‘77-worthy punk riffs; if SOIA ever gave up the hardcore scene, I’d gladly follow them into the garage. And on a cover of Husker Du’s “Target” (from that band’s debut), Sick of it All captures the Husker’s early breakneck hardcore sound perfectly; it’s miles from Zen Arcade.
Sonically, Sick of it All won’t warm the cockles of one’s heart, and good luck convincing mom that listening to this album is an exercise in self-improvement when she yells to turn down this record, but for those willing to dig through some noise, and come face-to-face with some hard truths about our world today, SOIA preaches a good message.
// Notes from the Road
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