As ‘Through Silver in Blood’ removed the veil from millennial eyes and ears in the mid-90’s there was a distinct anxiety left hanging over heavy music, knowing this thread had to expand yet expecting it to be a tragic exploitation of that new modus aimed at our Prozac enfeebled generation. I don’t remember which magazine it was, probably Metal Maniacs or whomever had at least pulled slightly away from the strung-out straggler era of hair metal by 1997, but next to a chromed photo of Neurosis there’d been an advertisement for another fresh Relapse Records signing with a double exposure of a man playing guitar and wincing in pain nearby a pentagram being impregnated by three tiers of sperm. This was the post-‘Dopesick’ world we were living in, where Eyehategod could shoot rocks, Unleashed could pour on the mead and both could hang on a major label just as well as a major festival tour. For whatever reason reading the words “Today is the Day” meant something ‘real’ and new to me at the time — Inspiration, or total internal collapse, either way it was much needed direction. Maybe I was a suicidal teenager looking for guidance or maybe it was all the death metal up my ass telling me that pentagram was the right thing to do but, I absolutely ate ‘Temple of the Morning Star‘ (1997) alive when it hit.
Twenty three years and seven albums later (eleven total) who Steve Austin is isn’t in question but rather what direction his well-loved project will take next within the space of its eleventh hour-long set. Seeing an early 90’s noise rock band evolve towards an avant-garde metal clusterfuck of grind, sludge, and various other slivers of extreme metal saw Austin described as a sponge, a taste-maker, and a visionary of heavy music’s underground by popular outlets. The decades have reinforced that thought but only recently began to describe the man as a survivor, or persistent and important voice. In these apocalyptic times, where all eyes are meant to be opened on the same plane, you can see the bigger picture he’d gotten long before you were born. If Austin is truly a sponge there’d be some acidic organelle at its core that when squeezed and tapped for inspiration it’d drop a certain nihilistic, self-destructive hydrochloric agent — A resurfacing through screaming pain, hitting you twice as hard by gravitas and oxidation as you knocked on Today is the Day‘s door. Within the half-decade struggle beyond a triumphant return to view, (‘Animal Mother‘, 2014) the space in between has been defined by an old stranger, pain, and the fear of a helplessly catatonic death. Even at peak sickness, a most pure lament finds Austin snarling and clawing at the walls equally considering defeat and fighting it while getting every last “fuck you” on his list out — Yet the expected spitting and gnashing unto a portal to hell never comes, and instead the void is filled by a brilliantly personal valuation through the eyes of… Love?
‘No Good to Anyone’ could be a baptism by fire with some metal-assed cock swinging story behind it if you’re desperate to swerve that way but, this record is far more ruminant than the fun of hyperbole would suggest. Austin does what he knows best when turning to music for a mirror as hard times hit and there are layers of mortality getting there that’d make any Jungian psychologist proud. Intermittently crippled by bouts of side-effects due to Lyme disease, Austin‘s wrenched and balloon-swollen joints offered the perspective of the enfeebled, the deepest outsiders among us who are set out in the cold for their debilitation. The 90’s kid within me who’d for years seen Today is the Day almost revel and rebel at once in response to the adversity of life expected a knock-down drag-out fight, and there is the sense of that here and there on ‘No Good to Anyone’, but instead I’d gotten a brilliant point of light in reflection of the last three decades of the project. It is as much a response to the journey towards today as it is the way forward with a newly attuned heart. The full listen shapes itself accordingly, expressing excruciating pain, resignation to weakness, grief set free with the horrible face of death in view, and a fond ache for the trip from the early 90’s ’til today.
Back in 2014 ‘Animal Mother’ had been a dream come true as a fan who’d gone backwards in Today is the Day‘s discography after my introduction to their first commercial high point in the late 90’s. Discovering those Amphetamine Reptile innards had me hoping for years that their particularly wild take on noise rock would resurface. Sure, that take suggests I’d missed everything beyond the ragged opus of ‘Sadness Will Prevail’ (2002) in hindsight but more importantly ‘No Good to Anyone’ isn’t ‘Animal Mother Part II’ in any sense, aiming for some of that psychedelic noise rock sparingly while still very conscious of never becoming redundant or self-parodying. With this in mind, the title track and opener offers a hint of Today is the Day‘s lean towards avant-grindcore in the early 2000’s, a sentiment that could easily be dissected into atmospheric sludge metal atmospherics and black/sludge wallops. Bites and torn off pieces of that darker extremity peak early in the record as “Burn In Hell” offers the last salvo of blackened roughness. No, you’re not getting a Lord Mantis or Tombs styled record out of Austin but there are small fits of that hiss as ‘No Good to Anyone’ sparks up Side A. In fact I would suggest an eclectic slither between atmospheric sludge metal aesthetics, industrial rock influenced grinds, and that extreme psychedelic noise rock sluice the project should probably be known best for at this point.
“Attacked by an Angel” is a calming opiate beyond the bitterness of the opener, a two minute psychedelic rock song that bumps into one of two sludge rock breaks that’d stun my mind away from expectations entirely. No, it isn’t exactly a Torche song, I guess “OJ Kush” could’ve been written by Floor, but it is an omen that this album isn’t bringing Today is the Day as a brand but another perhaps less challenging evolution this time around. Read into it or just enjoy the ride, at this point the roller coaster ride you’re on isn’t frightening so much as it is impassioned. “Son of Man” is that thunder rock song you’re going to love or hate and will likely serve as the most pivotal moment for on-boarding with the record’s entire vibe; A rush of moog synth weaves into the groove at the halfway point and a few bars later a heavy sock of double bass drumming blurs everything into muddy mush. Just as the sense of coming wisdom hits, the creeps come out in good form and that sense of “Ha ha, just kidding” knifes in again with “Burn in Hell” hitting upon a most direct point of extremity.
The swerving Head of David-esque jam and trademark pummel of “You’re All Gonna Die” cements this first side of the record as one of the most powerful threads Austin has written. It may appear somewhat all over the place but, who’d expect anything less? If anything this is where reflection upon the past reveals a cumulative examination of the ‘self’, a look back on what hate and destruction birthed and loving it all like a parent with a kinda ratshit kid who’d survived despite themselves. Is this a more humble, tasteful and thoughtful Today is the Day? I do get the feeling that hitting a new low to wallow in has produced no results, that hatred or defiance without any great Satan in mind would feel like a waste of time when survival depends on the help of others. There is a bigger philosophical lesson in there if you can follow my meaning but, the takeaway on my part has been to balance the independent, defiant self with the giver and nurturer within. Of course it ain’t about me and I think the deeply personal examination offered on ‘No Good to Anyone’ is likely to be too nakedly ‘out there’ for a lot of listeners expecting a brutal defiance rather than a peaceful protest.
Side B is not just a peaceful protest but a strike at enlightenment for the sake of relief and appreciation of life. If Austin‘s singing on “Attacked by an Angel” was too much of a paradigm shift wait until you hear the gentle acoustic mourning of “Callie” and the folkish psychedelia of “Rockets And Dreams”; I don’t know if they could’ve worked better rearranged into the deeper context of the exorcism experienced throughout ‘No Good to Anyone’ but, these softer songs do help to keep the sense of adventure going within a wealth of tonal shifts and an impressive amount of versatility on the part of the artist. The bigger picture of this eleventh Today is the Day record finds the protagonist encased in their own darkness, lashing out in pain before gripping onto the most important things in life. Cliche as it might appear the last few steps of ‘No Good to Anyone’ are illustrated in an almost too pure light, away from the darkness that’d driven this project for so long. If you’ve aged with the artist, lived a bit or… lived with adversity for ages, no doubt this will resonate but if you’d never grown beyond the Relapse years this isn’t going to be the part five you’re looking for.
Where I feel refreshed and inspired as a fan, and a fellow prone to roll a deeply personal album on my palate for ages, comes with not being pandered to at all. At no point did I feel like I was getting a ‘greatest hits’ of Today is the Day but a conscious effort for the next thing, a reflection of the artist -now- that isn’t plainly in love with whatever sold best in the past. If ‘Animal Mother’ was a dream come true for the sake of conjuring up righteous early 90’s rock aesthetics that’d birthed the band into spiritual mania then ‘No Good to Anyone’ is a waking, modern moment — A psychedelia-edged stumble out of the cabin into the dark sun-blasted reality of today, letting its radiation reconfigure the DNA without changing the time-carved face of the project. It isn’t a perfect record but ‘No Good to Anyone’ is highly memorable, sneering through garbled fuzz rock slugs and twisting them with inventive breaks along the way. It is what it is, though, and deserves much more than a first impression if you’re not too shocked by those twists and turns. I invested perhaps too much time into it, re-listening to the entire discography a couple of times, watching the documentary again, and yet my thoughts eventually boiled down to the fact that despite the complete overloaded psychosis I’d felt, I’d still had three or four of these songs stuck in my head. Very high recommendation.
Very high recommendation. 4.5/5.0
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