When I was a stupid punk teenie bopper I’d basically stumbled onto Suicidal Tendencies‘ ‘Join the Army’, Bad Brains‘ ‘I Against I’ and Cryptic Slaughter‘s ‘Money Talks’ all within the space of a year. I was addicted to punk-metal hybridization that took steps far beyond the comparatively tame Minor Threat, Black Flag and Negative Approach CDs I’d become obsessed with. Caroline Records had issued the ‘Join the Army’ CD, a record that mystified me beyond belief, and the catalog slip included ‘The Quickness’ and Excel‘s ‘Split Image’ which had both been issued around the same time. I mean this was maybe 1993 and the advertisements for a lot of that type of stuff was often a multi-label distro page that was just a wall of text that read out lists of albums you could buy. Suicidal Tendencies had almost finished blowing up by the time I’d caught up with them and as far as I knew Excel was a fancy ST side-project with the vocal affect hanging kinda close to what Mike Muir was doing in the “Possessed to Skate” era. By the time I’d ordered and received ‘Split Imaged’ a month later I wasn’t sure what to make of it’s LSD-assed graffiti cover art (which was later oddly modified for the remasters) but the music itself was transformative for my developing mind.
The amazing thing about the trend of Crossover Thrash in the late 80’s was that you could line-up ten of the best known bands playing the style at the time and each one of them were unique to one another outside of the Agnostic Front influenced me-too NYHC sect. The only thing that had the swinging thrash, slice of life lyrics, and speed of ‘Split Image’ was maybe Crumbsuckers ‘Life of Dreams…’ and even still Excel had a unique approach to bass that would land one member a long-running gig working with Mike Muir‘s various projects. In fact Muir produced this album with Randy Burns (Megadeth, Death, Kreator, Possessed, Crumbsuckers etc.) co-producing and engineering. Even before it was ever remastered ‘Split Image’ had an exceptional sound with bass playing that popped out the speakers like nothing else, I mean if ‘Join the Army’ was onto something ‘Split Image’ was already doing it better.
The structure and appeal of the songwriting on ‘Split Image’ is still relatively untouched by most modern crossover throwback groups with maybe Iron Reagan‘s facsimile approach coming daringly close to some of the faster, simple tracks. I think you could draw some similar lines between ‘Split Image’ and No Mercy‘s ‘Widespread Bloodshed Love Runs Red’ but largely because they two groups came from the same scene, developed together, and appear to have shared notes while they were on the rise, hence the Muir production credit on both and release on his Suicidal imprint. Excel surely carry that somber tone but the lyrics are even more honest, ironic, sardonic and outraged at societal ills. The hardcore punk delivery a la Attitude Adjustment and thrash metal informed instrumentation rarely gets the same credit as progenitors like D.R.I. but the finesse heard on ‘Split Image’ still holds up better than most crossover thrash LPs from the era.
When paired with their equally strong 1989 follow-up ‘The Joke’s On You”, which amped up every aspect of ‘Split Image’, Excel were a huge, huge influence upon my taste in hardcore punk and thrash metal alike. The high mark set by their first two LPs ultimately extended a personal trivialization of understated 80’s hardcore punk that was spearheaded by Cryptic Slaughter, and as a result my obsession waned towards metal thereafter. I lived and breathed this album and the lyrics were my teenage mantras of the self and literally changed who I was and how I saw myself in the world relative to others. I know it might sound kind of stupid to gain philosophical insight from a thrash album as a teenager but there was an honest opening for catharsis in deep-diving the message of Excel. Granted in those same years I spent just as much time jamming Possessed and Helmet while getting stoned… So, yeah, ‘Split Image’ was a big record for me and I think one of, if not the, most essential hardcore punk/thrash metal crossover releases of all time.
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“Shut up kid, you’re in the way” 5.0/5.0
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