Few bands with longevity remain with one record label for very long. Grievances, sales underperformance, lineup shakeups, and myriad other issues make stability a lazy, laughable ideal. Chances are, bands who’ve been around for decades will see albums go out of print for one reason or another. The most obvious and welcome remedy is for the rights holder to put out a proper reissue, perhaps tied to an anniversary of some sort. That’s not always as simple as it sounds, and in some cases bands opt to do something far more radical: re-recording.

So then, considerable baggage in tow, comes the arrival of Sick Of It All’s Nonstop. Culling from two-and-a-half decades of material, the NYHC heroes rejigger twenty of their tracks in their current metal-tinged sound, abetted by producer Tue Madsen. The sticker slapped on the cover of the “deluxe” import edition boasts: “MAXIMIZED AND IMPROVED NEW RECORDINGS OF SOIA CLASSICS.” This sort of revisionism can provide disastrous in many cases. There are ethical and even existential questions in play. In a hardcore scene obsessed with multi-colored first pressings, the threat intensifies. Is it right for some kid to hear the 2011 version of “It’s Clobbering Time” before or instead of the original?

Everyone from Suicidal Tendencies to Toad The Wet Sprocket has done it, and given the standard and the sorry state of the music industry, one might be reluctant to scold an artist for revisiting their catalog in this manner. Even still, it’s hard to understand why we’re supposed to care about these new recordings of SOIA’s earlier works. (The first week sales seem to support this particular point.) After all, fans’ attachment to a band’s earlier work extends beyond the actual songs and into less tangible emotional connections with the recordings themselves. Fans and newcomers alike are bound to feel a bit cheated even when the quality of the reproductions is high. That’s what makes Nonstop so frustrating: these new versions are really quite good.

I’ve seen SOIA live twice this year, and both times the band impressed me with their energy and ability to update the old songs. When seeing a band in concert, one hopes to hear all their favorites, and this record takes that experience into the studio. But is that really where it belongs? SOIA seem totally enamored with producer Madsen, a constant, repeatedly-praised presence on their recordings starting with 2006’s Death to Tyrants. As with last year’s Based On A True Story, he knows how to get a beefy metallic sound out of the band, and does so deftly with in-your-face cuts like “Scratch The Surface” and “World Full Of Hate.” Ultimately, though SOIA’s attempt to reanimate the corpus appears well-meaning, it’s an odd choice for a band that has been pushing things forward for so long.

(two-and-a-half out of five horns)


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