It is hard to believe that nearly 14 years have passed since the release of S.O.D.'s Speak English Or Die, the legendary crossover hardcore metal album that influenced most of rock's extreme genres during the 1980s. The concept for the band and its debut was inspired by a crude comic book guitarist Scott Ian had drawn in an attempt to ward off boredom while recording Anthrax's second full-length, Spreading The Disease.
Lyrically, the album was rude, offensive, and decidedly un-P.C. Modeled after Iron Maiden's Eddie, S.O.D. mascot Sargent D.'s motto was "I'm not a racist, I hate everyone." Unfortunately, not everyone was in on the joke and the album was banned in Canada for years.
Musically, what Ian, his Anthrax bandmate/drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Dan Lilker, and vocalist Billy "Mosh" Milano created was more important, born out of an obsession with the hardcore and punk performed at CBGB Sunday matinees in New York City's infamous Bowery. Coupled with the rants of a pitbull-ish, boisterous hardcore frontman, S.O.D. may not have been the first to cross metal with hardcore---bands such as Corrosion Of Conformity and the English Dogs did it earlier---but what they succeeded in creating was a palatable, memorable blend that helped bridge the gap between the styles' communities.
The instant success helped propel Ian and Benante's priority band, Anthrax, which was just coming into its own as one of the four horsemen of thrash [along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer], while Lilker was finally getting his Nuclear Assault project off the ground. Material for a second S.O.D. album was scrapped, and although the band played seven shows in the Norhteast, a proposed tour never materialized and S.O.D. died a quick death, leaving a youthful corpse and creating a legend.
Rumors of a reunion, which began to circulate just weeks after the band's demise, were silenced when Milano publicly accused Ian of walking off with the scraps of unused S.O.D. music and using it for Anthrax's third album, Among The Living. Eventually, the duo solved their differences and Ian produced USA For MOD, the debut by Milano's post-S.O.D. project, M.O.D. [Method Of Destruction].
The bands first reunion took place at their former record label, Megaforce's fifth anniversary bash in 1987, the second on march 21, 1992 at the Ritz in New York. Billed as their last reunion, Ian hinted at things to come when he bid the capacity crowd farewell and said, "See you at the next reunion." The show produced both a live album and a video documentary titled Live at Budokan. A series of reunion shows followed, including a 1997 tour, which crashed when Milano experienced back trouble and announced his retirement. That was followed by talk of an S.O.D. tribute album, which Ian admits got the ball rolling for the band's long-awaited second studio album Bigger Than The Devil, an obvious play on John Lennon's infamous boast that the Beatles were Bigger Than Jesus.
Recorded this past fall and winter at Big Blue Studios in Newark, New Jersey, Bigger Than The Devil finds the band and its mascot fiend in tune with the 1990s, both lyrically and musically. While it's cover art is a dead-on parody of Iron Maiden's Number Of The Beast, the album's 20-odd hilarious tracks include anti-racist songs, parodies of their peers ["Celtic Frosted Flakes" and the Slayer inspired "Evil Is In"], and, of course, their trademark ballads. The perfect companion piece to Speak English Or Die, the album does not diminish what the band has accomplished and will only help to strengthen its legend.
Metal Maniacs: What happened to the S.O.D. tribute album? Scott Ian: The tribute album has a lot to do with why we decided to make a new record. We went out on tour in 1997, played the Full Force Festival in Germany where we co-headlined with Rammstein and returned to the States for 10 dates. It was a lot of fun. After the shows Billy asked us what we thought about recording a new album. I said, "There's really no reason to." And the reason we never recorded [again] was merely a case of "if it was meant to be, it was meant to be." I always thought if we would've recorded a second album, it would've been in '87 when the time was perfect for it. But there was just no way to do it back then.
MM: Was the band victimized by internal strife? SI: No. We were just unable to continue. At the time, between Anthrax and Nuclear Assault, neither Danny or I could've afforded the time to do it properly. Even after the '97 reunion shows, none of us had the vibe to make another record. That's when i said, "What about a tribute record?" What band deserves a tribute album more than S.O.D.? I can't tell you how many people have come up to me during the last 14 years and told me how much the band meant to them. Eddie Vedder [Pearl Jam] cornered me one night at a party for 25 minutes telling me this story about the first time he heard Speak English Or Die and how it affected his life. When word got out about the tribute album, everyone wanted to be a part of it. We were planning on giving bands a budget to record, but we started getting tapes unsolicited. The Deftones sent us "Milk", Impaled Nazarene did "Kill Yourself" and Life Of Agony recorded "March Of The S.O.D." Sepultura---their last recording with Max---covered "Douche Crew." But we can't get our hands on that tape because it was recorded live at the very first Ozzfest in California and the company that made the recording went out of business!
MM: So what exactly is the status of the tribute album? SI: We killed it. We started to speak to labels, but they all said, "A tribute album is great, but why don't you just record a new record." We had a serious list of bands that wanted to contribute, including Marilyn Manson and Pantera, but we realized that everyone is doing tribute albums. What set S.O.D. apart from everyone else was that it's a band unto itself. So we didn't become followers by releasing a tribute. Instead, we decided to record a couple of songs to see what would happen. If it was difficult coming up with new material, we would've thrown it out the window and just played a reunion show every year or two.
MM: So the second S.O.D. album was finally "meant to be." SI: Me, Danny and Charlie got together at Anthrax's jamming space in Yonkers and wrote four songs on the first day. Although we hadn't jammed on new stuff in 13 years, it felt natural. Dan Lilker: That was May. We really got things together in November, after the demise of Brutal Truth, and started jamming every day. We quickly discovered that the chemistry was still there. SI: The different roads we've traveled over the years made it even that much better when we wrote songs this time around. Now we've come back and written a brutal heavy metal record with all of the influences we've accumulated during the last 13 years.
MM: Does S.O.D. fit in with today's metal? SI: No. Just like 1985, when we released Speak English Or Die, Bigger Than The Devil sounds nothing like anything out there right now. It's a big mosh of our influences. It's not black or death metal; it's not hardcore and it's not homeboy metal like Korn or Limp Bizkit---although there is a song that makes fun of that called "Latkch." The song is our statement on 1990s homeboy rap metal. DL: I prefer to call it the white, suburban homeboy syndrome.
MM: Yet Anthrax in the 1980s was the first metal band to work with rap artists! SI: Sometimes i think that if i could've looked in a crystal ball in 1986 and seen where it all would go, i would've never have done it. Public Enemy was my favorite rap band from the first time i heard them. If Anthrax was going to attempt something like we did, it had to be with Public Enemy. That's why we've never done anything like that again. DL: This may sound arrogant, but i think Bigger Than The Devil is going to do well. There are no "yo's" on the record. People assume that a lot of the stuff out recently is metal. It bothers me that some 14 year old kid, thinks metal is all about wearing pants that are 50 sizes too big and talking using the latest in ebonics. SI: I happen to love the Deftones. They're not a "yo" band like Korn. But i do feel good for any band that is successful. I Would never take that away from them, because i know how hard it is to achieve that. I've seen a thousand bands come and go. Regardless of whether i think a band is great or sucks, I give them credit. It's not as if Korn came out of nowhere and hit it big overnight. What they do and how they look is not contrived. They came from Bakersfield, California and moved to Huntington, New York where they lived in the rehearsal space owned by a friend of mine. He was forever trying to get me to come down to the studio and produce their demos, but i just didn't like it. I kinda kick myself now because if i would've produced that first Korn record, I could've made a ton of cash. The media has given a lot of attention to that style of music, the "new metal," which i think is something that has already had its day. Rage Against The Machine is the band who does it best. Nobody else comes close. I believe the new S.O.D. is the new metal, although it will be much more underground than the stuff you read about in Rolling Stone or Spin.
MM: Can you honestly call S.O.D. an underground band? Won't the new album gain mainstream exposure bacause of its historical significance and the notoriety of the musicians involved? SI: Yes. But if no one knew who we were, our music would never get radio airplay.
MM: How did the deal with Nuclear Blast come about? There were rumors that the band was going to sign with Roadrunner. SI: Nuclear Blast was honorable and respectful. They are a real record label. I've been doing this for a long time and i don't know who these Roadrunner people thought we were, but i guess they think we're a new band. Funny, i've had relationships with some of those people for a long time and all we were asking for was something fair. We were told they couldn't do it. A week later, they signed another band, giving them the deal we were looking for---a band that during their last 20-year existence has not sold as much as S.O.D. has. DL: Nuclear Blast just showed more interest in us. SI: The people who run Nuclear Blast are fans of the band and bought the first record when it came out. They wanted to be a part of the new album. They weren't concerned about how much money we'll bring in during the second quarter of '99. It was obvious Roadrunner would've treated us as one of the 20 or so acts they have whereas Nuclear Blast said, "We just signed Manowar. If we can sign S.O.D., it would be two jewels in our crown." It's the best metal label in the world.
MM: The lyrics for Bigger Than The Devil seem politically correct, unlike the lyrics comprising Speak English Or Die. Did you intentionally tone down Sargent D., who used to be tongue-in- cheek, offensive and racist? DL: That was misunderstood by a lot of people. SI: The character and the lyrics were never racist. We even had shirts that read "I'm not racist. I hate everyone."
MM: But the title track was about the language barrier you experienced when you walked into a candy store in Queens, New York run by immigrants... SI: It was about a breakdown in communication. It came out of a frustration of being in situations where you couldn't get anything done. We're not these jingoistic nationalist Americans who say, "get out of our country," although it may seem that way from the lyrics.
MM: That was supposed to be part of the character's personality! SI: Yes, but who writes the words for the character? It was never meant to be racist. It was born out of incidents each one of us in the band experienced. I remember Danny telling me about going to the Department Of Motor Vehicles and not being able to talk to a clerk. How does a guy who can't speak English work at the DMV? DL: It was taking a sentiment of frustration and blowing it up to exaggerated proportions. SI: It was all about giving the character a reason to hate. Like in the new song "Skool Bus," he's against neo-nazi rhetoric, although when people read the lyric that starts off the song--- "Kill the Niggers, Kill the Jews"---I see their eyes going wide!
MM: What about "Aren't You Hungry," originally recorded by M.O.D. and re-recorded here? SI: The lyrics have completely changed. DL: Back in '85, during the brief illusion of us doing a second record, we started writing new material. Like "Hate Tank." But then everything folded. Billy was doing an active band in that mold so it made sense for him to use that song. SI: The lyrics to "Aren't You Hungry" have been updated. Originally, they were a parody of that "We Are The World" shit. It's now more about American excess. It's taken on more of a "leave me alone, it's not my problem" vibe.
MM: The Irony behind you doing a track entitled "Celtic Frosted Flakes" is that Celtic Frost were supposed to perform at S.O.D.'s 1992 reunion show in New York City. SI: I wasn't aware of that. We thought it was only Agnostic Front and Morbid Angel on the bill.
MM: Morbid Angel yeah but Agnostic Front was originally scheduled to play the previous evening and the two shows were combined. There were kids in that audience wearing face paint, unaware that Celtic Frost had cancelled. Tom Warrior told me a few weeks after the show that it was booked without his knowledge and he just didn't have time to get things together. SI: I knew nothing about that. I can tell you that when we put the show together, Agnostic Front and Morbid Angel were on the bill from the beginning. We were supposed to get up in '86 when Celtic Frost played the old Ritz in New York City [now Webster Hall]. A couple of months after Celtic Frost played the Ritz in December 1985 with Motorhead and Wendy O. Williams, Tom asked us to get up and play unannounced using their gear. It was going to be our way of officially saying goodbye. Then someone came up to Billy and said, "I heard you're going to play three songs tonight." Word had gotten out, so Billy refused to do it. We're big oldschool Celtic Frost fans. We had the music for "Celtic Frosted Flakes" and Billy and I were writing words about the film Taxi Driver. It was a throwaway song at that point---I liked the song, but we weren't getting anywhere with the lyrics. So we're sitting around and---I don't know how the hell it happened---but Billy started singing "Whatever happened to Celtic Frost? Tom Warrior is pumping gas and Martin Ain's got a big fat ass." We went with it over the next week and wrote the lyrics.
MM: Is the title of the new song "Black War" the opposite of Greenpeace? SI: That was born out of a bit by [stand-up comedian] George Carlin where he goes off on the environment talking about organizations with holier-than-thou attitudes that say anything we do is going to hurt the earth. Yes, our quality of living while we're here may suffer, but if Mother Nature really wanted to and had to, she could shake us off like a bad case of fleas... a couple of earthquakes and we're gone. I hate anyone who tells me what i should do. They should just go fuck themselves. Don't tell me not to eat meat. Don't tell me not to wear fur. Just shut up and let people do what they want to do.
MM: These overtly politically correct times seem ripe for a band like S.O.D. SI: It's frustrating. Everyone is afraid to say or do anything. S.O.D. is never afraid to say anything and we have a frontman who certainly is not afraid to speak his mind. DL: We're all in our mid-30s now, so our rants are more articulate and humorous.
MM: Now that Brutal Truth has split and Anthrax is on hiatus, is S.O.D. the priority? SI: We have a bunch of European festivals booked and we're heading over to Japan. We're taking it as it comes.
MM: Didn't the last tour come to a screeching halt when Billy Milano experienced back problems? SI: Who knows? Billy Milano has retired more times than Suger Ray Leonard and Michael Jordan combined. DL: We get asked about Billy's health all over the world and it gets twisted. In Japan they though Billy was going to retire because he broke his elbow. SI: Billy hates touring and he's melodramatic.
MM: Does the current incarnation of S.O.D. intend to exist longer than just a handful of live appearances? SI: We hope so. After touring Europe and Japan, we want to tour the States, but only if it's done correctly. We don't want to go out on a two-month club tour.
MM: What would be the perfect S.O.D. tour? SI: Opening for Pantera.
MM: Whenever S.O.D. tours, there's a feeling the band could fly apart at any second. SI: It will probably be the same way on this tour. DL: There is always tension.
MM: S.O.D. originally died leaving a young, good-looking corpse and now that the band is functioning again, there is always the danger of it becoming another Kiss. There was excitement when Kiss reunited, but people seem tired of them. DL: Nah. Can you think of any other band but us that's gone 14 years between new albums? SI: Not even Boston took that long. We've become to most unprolific band in metal. We never broke up and this is not a reunion.
MM: Wasn't the Ritz performance in 1992 billed as a "one-time only reunion?" DL: Yeah, just like Ozzy Osbourne's farewell shows. I was hanging out in Australia with these guys in Sadistik Exekution,a creative death metal band who say each show is going to be their last. When someone asked them about it they said, "Well it was the last show we did!"
MM: Is it too soon to ask if there will be a third S.O.D. studio album? SI: We don't know what will happen. We know the creativity is there. Once we knew we were going to release a record this year, my goal was to perform at the Dynamo Festival. That was a way to really put it back in people's faces. After all, it is the biggest metal show of the year and there is no better place in the world for S.O.D. to start it's worldwide [comeback]. If we didn't have the goal of getting the new album out in time for Dynamo, we probably would have kept writing. END