Sheer Terror has always tiptoed on the outskirts of hardcore punk’s musical margins. It’s not that they set out to reinvent any musical wheels within the scene, it’s that their sound and subject matter was a bit too mature to fuel the vapid angst of virginal adolescent boys. Whereas the majority of hardcore’s target audience is drawn to mid-adolescent bands who dribble on about “uniting the scene,” broken friendships, and bleeding heart politics, Sheer Terror has always been the antithesis of all of this. They were never particularly interested in being a part of the hardcore scene’s “big happy family” (stated disdainfully on their eponymous “Just Can’t Hate Enough”), there never was anything “Posi” about their mission statement, and they were certainly not fixing to apologize for this to anyone. This contributed in earning them the billing as a “Hate-Core” band, a classification that would help gain them the following of the Nazi skinhead set (a following that may not have been aware that there were two yids in the band). For these reasons, Sheer Terror didn’t make the fair share of the props during hardcore’s golden renaissance of the early-to-mid-1990s.
So then why is Standing Up For Falling Down relevant two decades plus after the fact? Simply put, because Sheer Terror’s non-attachment to the trendy accouterments of the hardcore scene have made them timeless. Much like thrash metal’s “Big 4,” Sheer Terror sits firmly in the pantheon of hardcore’s “Big 50” (if there were such a thing). While a great number of bands came and went (aping a hundred different offshoot sounds and subscribing to a hundred different fringe socio-political belief sets), the Rev and his crew have done one thing and done it well: wise-ass, hateful, hardcore punk (with a healthy dash of a Celtic Frost influence for good measure).
On Standing Up For Falling Down, the metal influence may have been abandoned just a bit for a more classic hardcore punk sound, but you can still expect the heaviness you’ve come to know, only with a revved up RPM count. This record has an aggressive bite, but the cantankerous bark of their vocalist is the real draw. It differs from past Sheer Terror joints in its updated recording quality, going from their dingy tone to a more tightened-string tone.
Paul Bearer, the band’s vocalist and resident philosopherm is really what gives Sheer Terror its character. He is such an embodiment of the surly, New York working-class hump that at times you wonder if it’s really legitimate. His delivery is so true to the music’s character that you start to think if it’s all shtick — and then you see the man behind the gravelly baritone. One look at this figure (who seems to be the result of a bulldog impregnating Anne Ramsey from Throw Momma from the Train) and you start to feel that there may be a lot more honesty and legitimacy to the piss and vinegar of these songs than one may have thought. While Bearer is certainly no Nazi, he’s definitely a curmudgeonly spirit who is not worried about his personality and views being well-received. Sheer Terror is the hardcore band for grumpy old men and not ideal-hungry youths, with Reverend Paul acting as a pied piper of sorts to working stiffs looking to snap.
His way of turning a phrase is subtle genius, balancing vitriolic contempt with a sarcastic sense of humor; this has been the band’s conceptual calling card for the last 25 years. “The writing’s on the wall and the penmanship sucks,” quips the good Rev on “Ain’t Alright”, cleverly capping an otherwise introspective verse. One-liners like that one are a dime a dozen throughout their discography, and they are peppered throughout this album as well. A remarkable aspect of their lyrical themes is that Fat Pauly is not one to shy away from writing love songs (sort of). While it remains inconceivable to me that Bearer could find a woman to have sex with him, he clearly has had no shortage of material from which to draw from album to album. This records ode to love is “Weird, Jealous and Fat”. While it’s no Shakespearean work in its A-B-C-B rhyme scheme, the self-deprecating tones of this song make it a winner despite its lack of iambic pentameter.
This release is solid, lacking no luster, and by no means have old age and obesity slowed down or softened up that huggable teddy bear dubbed Paul Bearer. The record should have no problems attracting all merch-hungry new-jacks looking to gain cred by being down with an old-fart hardcore band. As for the old, tempered fans, they may be pleasantly surprised that the old mutt and the gang can still belt out hate from the heart. Play this CD en route to go see Agnostic Front’s 27th final reunion show.