25th Anniversary: Earth Crisis – Destroy the Machines
I’m at a small venue, packed to the rafters with a dense crush of bodies up by the stage. A lot of oversized hoodies with backpacks slung as far down as possible, Chuck Taylors, a few giant basketball jerseys sporting non-basketball logos, some with shirts under them, some not. Dark black, comically-sized X’s marked in sharpie adorn many hands. A diminutive man with medium-length blonde hair sprouting over a black bandana takes the stage and grabs the mic. He’s wearing a long white t-shirt with some band or another on it, camo shorts tumbling past his knees. The rest of the band is already set up. Then the place explodes in a torrent of windmills, stage dives, spin kicks, and whatever that dance is that looks like kids picking up change from the ground.
There were never introductions at an Earth Crisis show. No “Hey, thanks for coming out. We’re Earth Crisis from Syracuse.” It just went from calm to chaos and if you weren’t ready, you’d probably take an appendage or two to the face. But that’s who they were (or maybe still are, idk) and that’s the experience they wanted you to have. There is no filter, no softened blows. What they are is upfront, honest, and uncompromising.
To understand Earth Crisis and Destroy the Machines, the anniversary celebrated today, you need to have a little feel for setting. As you may know, Earth Crisis is a vegan straightedge metallic hardcore band out of Syracuse, NY. They arose in the early ‘90s at a critical juncture in the evolution of hardcore and the associated straightedge scene.
The East Coast hardcore scene of the time was coming off the decline of the Youth Crew movement, a straightedge and brotherhood-focused hardcore subculture that began incorporating some metal elements into an otherwise punk-centered sound. Like almost any subculture, internal debates raged to define its boundaries. Would it be a small tent or large tent movement? What were its goals? What did you need to believe or do to be part of the club?
One offshoot provided one answer. Vegan straightedge was a small tent, strict rules interpretation of the subculture. Dubbed “hardline” and championed by bands like Vegan Reich and Raid, this particular brand was militant and based on preserving the sanctity of all “innocent” life. This manifested in a number of central tenants, some left-leaning (animal liberation, deep ecology) others right-leaning (anti-abortion, some homophobia, against non-procreative sex). Hardliners often engaged in direct, local action to achieve objectives. Some of that included breaking into animal-testing labs to free animals, some of it included violence against non-adherents at shows or other locations. It was a “with us or against us” type of attitude.
Now Earth Crisis was not a hardline band but they took from, and were inspired by, a large part of the ethos. They were vegan, straight edge, and espoused militancy, often violent, but ditched the more conservative leanings of hardline. Their debut 7”, All Out War, was a call to arms against all who harm animals or the earth. Follow-up 7” Firestorm unleashed one of the greatest straightedge anthems ever, title-track “Firestorm,” a massive ball of crackling destruction about rounding up drug dealers. It was the song and sound that would define Earth Crisis going forward.
Beyond the lyrical themes, Earth Crisis guided hardcore away from melodic, punky bounce and straight into crunchy, chuggy metal. The approach was more abrasive, angry, and heavy with aggressively roared vocals. While hardcore before was also angry and aggressive in its way, Earth Crisis significantly raised the bar. There was no fun in their sound. The world was a harsh, terrible place, and they sought to reflect that in all aspects of the band without flinching.
Which finally brings us to Destroy the Machines, Earth Crisis’ debut full-length record released 25 years ago. While not a complex record by any stretch of the imagination, it is the essence of metallic hardcore of the era, before the words metallic and hardcore were elided and derided. Destroy the Machines took the seething rage from Firestorm and made it more angular, stark, and percussive. The guitar tone took on a harsher, more distorted, and almost tinny quality with rhythms expressed as much through guitars as through drums. The bass gained prominence in the mix and added an essential underlying melody to songs that otherwise rely heavily on rhythmic chugging grooves.
All of this results in an album overflowing with bangers. From opener “Forced March” to closer “Fortress,” every track is a driving, violent indictment against the immoralities of the world (as interpreted by Earth Crisis). Some tracks, like “Destroy the Machines” and “The Wrath of Sanity”, are some of the closest hardcore tracks to my heart—driving anger and aggression transformed into music—with “Wrath of Sanity” having the best breakdown in hardcore history (argue with your cat).
That’s not to say everything is roses on this Machine Destroying record. As with many classics of any genre, the appeal is at least partially based in temporal context: it came out with the right sound at the right time. Metallic hardcore has been more complex, more angry, more whatever-you-want or less what-you-hate since its release and, despite its terrible reputation, continues to grow. Even Earth Crisis staples don’t always find their strongest manifestations on Destroy the Machines. For example, every Earth Crisis record has its obligatory straight edge anthem. The one here, “The Discipline”, is a bit weak, especially when sandwiched between the aforementioned “Firestorm” and the world-destroying title track from their next record, Gomorrah’s Season Ends. Sometimes, you can’t have everything and that’s ok.
Yet even with its warts, Destroy the Machines holds a special place in hardcore history and even specialerer place with me. I played this tape until it broke and, once I got a turntable, played the 12” until it wore out. So now that you’re done getting your learn on, get your play on. Smash that sideways triangle like you’re destroying a machine and turn back the clock to ’95. And while you’re there, tell me not to give away my vinyl collection in five years. It’s really not a big deal to put them in a couple boxes in the car. You will have the space. I promise.