Even in Today is the Day’s hard-to-classify catalog (Deeply disturbed psychogrind/doom with apocalyptic deathfolk influences? Intense grindy noisecore with suicidal outlaw country asides? Christ, who the fuck cares?), Pain is a Warning is somewhat of an anomaly. Granted, there are elements on it that have been touched on my the band before — big-ass riffs and quiet, contemplative moments — but… something’s missing. Early TITD albums (and Kiss the Pig, of course) were akin to starting up a conversation with the guy standing alone and twitching at the train station: he’ll be intense, at times hard to relate to, have some interesting things to say, and ultimately very much not for everyone. There’s been a tense wall of standoffishness to the band’s stuff, and that’s what made it great. If it was your thing, it was like someone was speaking to an intensely personal place. If it wasn’t your thing, it was incredibly unnerving. Even the folks in the middle would at least say it wasn’t a band they could listen to every day. That element is missing on Pain is a Warning.

Well, not completely, but it’s more manageable on their new album. And while the NEW THING=NO DEAL! kneejerk reaction awaits, Pain is a Warning, a curveball in a career full of them, is boldly different, and thus, fucking excellent. Whereas something like In the Eyes of God is taut and jittery like a rabid animal, Pain is a Warning is elephantine. We know what Steve Austin sounds like when he’s pissy, losing his religion, furious, murderous, bummed out, depressed, despondent, and fairly angry; what does he sound like when he just wants to bowl shit over? Pain is a Warning answers that question.

Perhaps taking a cue from Anal Cunt’s Fuckin’ A, Pain is a Warning is filled with fucking cock rock. AC/DC riffs, fiery solos, twangy ZZ Top chorus riffs, and other pleasantly surprising flourishes pop up everywhere. That being said, implying that it’s a straight-up cock rock album — or a straight up any kind of album — is misleading. The band shifts gears from song to song, from the aforementioned cock rock (the Foghat-just-after-being-rear-ended viciousness of “Samurai”) to breathy Sonic Youth quietness (“Remember to Forget”) to hardcore, complete with gang vocals (“The Devil’s Blood”). Even the more typical TITD fare — “Expectations Exceed Reality” and “Death Curse” both provide a sneering opening to the record — sounds bigger, more brash. Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly a Today is the Day album (Austin’s scream is pretty hard to mistake for anyone else, after all), but the revelations and asides feel fresh. It’s also the most listenable thing the band has released, and easily the most rocking.

The album’s accessibility is probably one of the ballsiest things they’ve ever done. After a decade-and-a-half-and-probably-more of making abrasive music, then augmenting it with folk and prog, the band flirt with an alien philosophy: being a band people can more easily like. But the difference between this and other bands’ bizarre sellout moves is that it all works and never resorts to pandering. It’s not catchy, but infectious. Kurt Ballou’s production, while certainly equipped with more clarity than Austin’s production work, simply oils a well-functioning machine. So yeah, while it’s theoretically alarmingly approachable, it’s undeniably good. Who knows how the feral animals of the message board community (not you guys below, though. You guys are the best and junk) are gonna treat it, but I hope it’s not too savagely. There are bigger stylistic debates to wage and artistic failures to tear down; it’d be a shame to blow a gasket over something as defiantly likable yet substantial as Pain is a Warning. Plus if the doom-y riff-fest that is “Slave to Serenity” doesn’t give you at least half a stiffy, I don’t know why you’re listening to metal at all.

(4 out of 5 horns)


Metal Sucks Greatest Hits