DIRTY ROTTEN REISSUE: LEGENDARY PRODUCER BILL METOYER TALKS TO METALSUCKS ABOUT EXPANDED REMASTER OF D.R.I.’S CROSSOVER LP
At least half of the bands playing metal today owe huge debts to D.R.I. — also known as Dirty Rotten Imbeciles — even if the band was an indirect influence. Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman was an early fan, and Kerry King had written off punk as just some noisy bullshit before he discovered the group. Prior to the Massive Aggressive LP, Municipal Waste records were essentially D.R.I. albums. If you dig the Waste and don’t know D.R.I., shame on you. Proceed directly to iTunes or eMusic to catch up on the catalog. It’s a hardcore history lesson.
For a metal audience, D.R.I.’s Crossover is a good place to start. Beer City Records will release an expanded, remastered Millennium Edition of the album on April 13. (It’s already available on iTunes.) A lot of people with credible taste consider it the band’s signature record. I won’t say it’s their worst, but it’s definitely my least favorite — and trust me, I like D.R.I. more than the next guy. They’re gods and should be treated as such. The bonus material makes the reissue a must-have, even if you think the proper LP blows dog.
Crossover is D.R.I.’s Black Album. It was the band’s breakthrough release. But all D.R.I.’s signature elements were M.I.A. Song lengths changed drastically. Rumbling, raw production was replaced with a big-rock sound. Frontman Kurt Brecht’s lyrics were on a downswing. D.R.I. had a new direction. Some fans love the record. Some fans hate it.
One of the Millennium Edition’s eleven bonus tracks is a wicked live version of “Five Year Plan” that starts with an intro which identifies the group as “one of the hardest metalcore bands ever to come out of the Bay Area.” Now that’s old, old footage, and “metalcore” meant something very different then. Everybody was still figuring it out, and if you wanted to know where heavy music was going, D.R.I. was one of the bands to watch.
“Five Year Plan” live video
D.R.I. formed in Texas in 1982, moved to Frisco in ‘83, and became the early kings of metal-hardcore crossover – or, simply, crossover. Hence the album title. (They were also one of the best T.I.S. bands from the Triple Initial Syndrome movement – see S.O.D., C.O.C., M.D.C., S.O.A., D.O.A., S.S.D., et. al.)
As the ‘80s progressed, mixing metal and hardcore grew from a dubious proposition to a major indoor sport. D.R.I. weren’t single-handedly responsible, but they were leaders. 1982’s Dirty Rotten EP (later reissued as the Dirty Rotten LP) squeezed twenty-two songs onto an eighteen-minute 7” 45. Felix Griffin, the band’s second drummer, played proto-grindcore beats that contributed to the emerging percussion convention called the blast beat.
Slayer covered the title track of 1984’s Violent Pacification EP on theie 1996 punk covers LP, Undisputed Attitude. The band can match D.R.I.’s velocity, but Araya doesn’t quite pull off Brecht’s insanely speedy vocal track.
D.R.I., entire Violent Pacification EP – “Violent Pacification” starts at 2:55
D.R.I. signed with Metal Blade’s hardcore imprint, Death Records, for 1985’s Dealing With It LP. Hardcore punk rock doesn’t get much better than Dealing With It. It’s got compelling narratives, emotional weight, sophisticated lyrics, unfuckwithable performances. The twenty-five-song album has some relatively epic tunes like the four-minute “Nursing Home Blues” and the two-minute masterpiece “Karma.” But the tracks average just sixty seconds. Beer City’s excellent expanded version squeezes thirty-seven songs into fiftty-two minutes. D.R.I. played fast, and they played well. They knew Black Flag, but they also knew Black Sabbath.
(Anthrax covered DWI’s first two tracks, “Snap” and “I’d Rather be Sleeping,” on 1999’s Inside Out EP.)
For my money, D.R.I. peaked while they were warming up for their fourth release, the controversial Crossover. The band recorded two tracks for the devastating Complete Death compilation, a label sampler that collected tunes from Dr. Know, the Mentors, C.O.C. and others. The two-minute “Fun and Games” is a straight-up thrasher. And an early version of “Five Year Plan” is arguably the definitive crossover track: Killer chug riff. Head-charge drumming. Whammy-bar solo that sounds like a strafing run. Lyrics about betrayal and revenge. Slow-fast dynamics. Maybe bands like the Cro-Mags did it with more grace, but the original take of “Five Year Plan” is crossover in primal perfection. On the new reissue, it’s included as “5 Year Plan (Demo).”
But if that track left you drooling for the next D.R.I. album, Crossover wouldn’t deliver it — not exactly. The band rerecorded both of those comp cuts in sessions that amounted to the painful birth of D.R.I., mk. II. A new version of “The Five Year Plan” opens the disc. Compared to the original, the album take has a tinny guitar tone with a fatal dose of reverb. The effect was totally trendy, but hasn’t aged well. It’s a subtle distinction, but the second version of the solo lacks focus. The original Crossover LP contained a mere twelve real songs – as opposed the twenty-five on Dealing With It. The average length is now around three minutes, with a few four- and five-minute cuts balancing out the shorter jams. By one method of counting, Crossover gave you half the D.R.I. for your buck.
The album was an initial disappointment – to this dirty rotten fan, at least. But it’s not as bad as I remember it… Well, the album version of “Five Year Plan” is. It’s got some respectable riffage. The lyrics aren’t among Kurt’s best – see “A Coffin”: “A coffin is ugly / A coffin is sad / Destined to be / One’s last pad.” Guitarist Spike Cassidy is the band’s anchor, and the bluesy “Probation” has a musicality that their peers seldom matched. If you can’t get over the album versions, the live tracks from a 1987 Ritz show present grittier versions of most of the album.
Later, things got better. D.R.I. successfully went metal on later releases like Four of a Kind and Thrash Zone. They opened for bigger bands like Testament. The group headlined big sheds, but never broke into the bigtime. As the previous “Five Year Plan” video demonstrates, the label didn’t have much of a promotional budget. Crossover’s bonus material provides additional insight as to why the band never crossed over further. On interviews, the guys are still fresh-faced kids, and their deep side isn’t facing forward. Sample exchange:
Interviewer: “What do you think of life in general, or the world?”
Kurt: “It’s pretty rough, but it all depends on your situation and what you make of it.”
And, to their credit, the Dirty Rotten dudes probably couldn’t have sold out if they wanted to. Songs like “Probation,” “No Religion” and (later) “Syringes in the Sandbox” and “Gun Control” weren’t a recipe for mass appeal. And that’s not a bad thing.
D.R.I. are still hanging in there. They haven’t made an album since 1995’s Full Speed Ahead. They recorded some killer demos before Spike’s 2006 bout with cancer, though – check out “Against Me” on the band’s MySpace page. Even without new records, they’ve been a perennial presence on the road. After Spike recovered, they returned to the club circuit last year. They have dates scheduled through the end of ‘010, and they’re playing great. D.R.I. were underground heroes, and so they remain.
D.R.I. live in 2009:
To mark the reissue, Beer City connected Metal Sucks with Crossover engineer/re-engineer Bill Metoyer. Metoyer was Metal Blade’s early go-to guy, and his credits include Slayer, Fates Warning and Trouble. The rare interview was conducted via e-mail machines. We were supposed to talk to singer Kurt too, but sometimes Kurt gets back to you, and sometimes he doesn’t. He’s Kurt Brecht, and we say he’s allowed to do whatever the hell he wants.
In the audio overhaul of Crossover, what were you most looking forward to touching up?
I like your term “touch up” much more than “overhaul.” We didn’t go as far as to remix the record. We just took the master version and remastered it to make it a bit clearer and louder. Back when the record originally came out, it was mastered for vinyl, and the loudness of the mastering was secondary. Older CDs in general we not mastered as loudly as they are today. Just the fact that bonus material was added to the record meant it had to be remastered anyway, so I tried to bring it up to today’s standards.
On what’s called “the demo version” of “Five Year Plan,” there are some audible tape problems. What was the source for that track?
Unfortunately, we did not have the original mix tapes of the song, so we had to use an old cassette copy that Spike had all these years. What you are hearing is the normal sub par tape quality of a two-decade old cassette! We would have loved to have the original ¼ inch two-track tape it was recorded to, but we didn’t know where they were. Probably buried in a Metal Blade Records vault, where I would have had to search through thousands of old tapes and maybe would have found them around 2012.
Were you a fan of the band, or did you do Crossover because you were Metal Blade’s guy, or both?
I wasn’t really aware of the band’s music until [Metal Blade Headbanger in Chief] Brian Slagel brought a copy of Dealing With It to the Metal Blade office and played it for me, telling me this band was going to re-release the record on our label. From the first listen I was a fan. How could you not be, with songs like “I’d Rather be Sleeping” and “Madman,” with that incredible intro of Kurt’s dad yelling at the band! Prior to that, I had heard of their popularity but really had not been exposed to their music.
Who was your favorite guy in the band to work with?
I consider all of them friends, and although I have not spoken to the [former] bass player Josh [Pappe] in a couple of years, I’m in touch with the rest of them. I still call Felix. Kurt I talk to at least twice a year, because he still pays any royalties that may be due to me. Spike is my webmaster, so I am constantly in touch with him and consider him one of my best friends.
You were deep in the scene with the bands that birthed the crossover movement. Listening to the Crossover record twenty-plus years later, what catches your ears? How does it sound today?
I think it still holds up. I would love to get the original two-inch tapes and totally overhaul it like I had a chance to do with the first Flotsam and Jetsam LP [Doomsday for the Deciever]. I could make it sound way better with today’s technology, but there is something to be said for that old school sound. As far as the songs go, they are classics, and I believe would still sell if they were released today. If you get a chance to see them live, go. They still kick ass live even if they are old men now!
D.X. Ferris is the author of 33 1/3: Reign in Blood, the first English book about Slayer. Ee-mail slayerbook [ at ) gmail dot com for a free chapter. Follow him daily via Twitter: @dxferris and @Slayerbook.