With the decade more than half over, this seems like a decent time to assess the music scene. Who will be remembered years from now? Which bands have made an artistic statement that will last? Who is influencing future musicians? Who is changing the world as we know it? Who will be the Nirvana, or John Lennon, or The Clash for this era?
While I’ll admit I have a preference for hard rock and radical politics, these bands and albums are not just run of the mill corporate crap. They are artists who are seeking to challenge your understanding of the world around you, and to make music that that is more than just a commodity. In some ways this list is incomplete as there are scores of great bands out there that I haven’t heard yet, or that are so underground that it would be premature to call them something that would be remembered. This list is in no particular order. We would love to hear from others on whom they think deserve to be on this list and why.
Artist: Dead Prez
Album: Lets Get Free
Sticman and M-1 tear it up in some of the best and most militant politically charged rap since Public Enemy’s height in the early 90’s. Any of their albums are great but this one stands out as it was their major label debut. While they are excellent producers and produce some great beats with real soul, it’s their lyrics, and attitude they say them, that are so powerful they shake you to your core and make you want to raise your fist! So I’ll just let their lyrics speak for them.
African: “’I’m a runaway slave watching the north star; Shackles on my forearm , runnin with the gun in my palm; I’m an African , never was I African-American; Blacker than black I take it back to my origin; Same skin hated by the Klansmen; Big nose and lips, big hips and butts, dancin, what!”
We Want Freedom: “Yeah, yeah; Imagine havin no runnin water to drink; Chemicals contaminate the pipes leadin to your sink; Just think, if the grocery stores close they doors; And they saturate the streets with tanks and start martial law; Would you be ready for civil war? Could you take the life of somebody you know, or have feelings for if necessary? I got cousins in the military But far as I'm concerned they died, when they registered”
Be Healthy: “I don't eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets; only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat; I'm from the old school, my household smell like soul food, bro; curried falafel, barbecued tofu; no fish though, no candy bars, no cigarettes; only ganja and fresh-squeezed juice from oranges; exercising daily to stay healthy; and I rarely drink water out the tap, cause it's filthy; Lentil soup is mental fruit.”
Artist: The (International) Noise Conspiracy
Album: Survival Sickness
Survival Sickness was The (International) Noise Conspiracy’s fist major label debut. These Swedish punks were doing Anarchist-Marxist garage rock before the corporate press declared garage rock the new hot thing. This album makes you want to dance and rock out. The single “Smash It Up” is subtly subversive with its mellow call to destroy the capitalist system. Singer Dennis Lyxzen used to sing for the avant-garde hardcore group Refused before they broke up. Refused’s album “The Shape of Punk to Come” is still one of the best albums of the 90’s. Some other great songs by The (International) Noise Conspiracy on other albums include: Black Mask, Abolish Work, A New Morning: Changing Weather and Communist Moon.
Artist: System of a Down
System of a Down. Slayer meets Frank Zappa, with the politics of Rage Against the Machine. Toxicity took their brand of hyper crazy metal to the masses with an album that features singer Serj Tankian’s soaring voice and Guitarist Daron Malakian’s melodic sludge riffs. The album deals with issues like the war on drugs, opposing corporate globalization, and the environment. SOAD are activists off the stage, Serj founded the activist group “Axis of Justice” with Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. The band has also been active in opposing the war and pushing to have the US recognize Turkey’s genocide of Armenians in WWI. Malakian’s grandmother is a resident in Fallujah a major battle zone in Iraq, so the bands songs against the war have a personal touch in them that few bands can touch.
Album: Smash the Octopus
Filipino communist heavy metal. I discovered Flattbush in the free bin at the DePaul radio station. It was one of the best things I ever found there. They sing/scream in English, Tagalog, and Kapampangan against US imperialism and the puppet governments in the Philippines that oppress the people there. The album is produced by former Faith No More member Billy Gould. Highlights on the album include “Smash the Octopus”, “Question Authority” (check out the video on their website!), and “GMA is a US-SOB” (referring to President of the Philippines Gloria Maria Arroyo as a US- Son Of a Bitch. GMA recently declared martial law on the islands as evidence that she cheated in the recent elections became public. This has led to massive protests calling for her resignation. Bands like Flattbush, System of a Down and Sepultura have shown how the internationalization of heavy metal fuses with other cultures and creates some of the most original music.
Artist: Lamb of God
Album: As the Palaces Burn
This album hits you like a ton of bricks. From the opening riff of “Ruin” through the anti-war “11th hour” till the multi-pronged “Vigil”, this is heavy metal at its finest. Singer Randy Blythe’s scream sounds as though he is breathing fire and speaking the truth no one wants to hear. The dual guitar attacks of Mark Morton and Willie Adler keep getting more technical and energetic, making you want to thrash around and trash the house of one of Bush’s cabinet members. Drummer Chris Adler is the real standout from this band though, as his drumming does more than just keep a beat, it rips the ground open to let the demons of Hades celebrate their victory over fundamentalist Christians like Jerry Falwell. Lamb of God used to be known as Burn the Priest, a blasphemous name that got them into a bit of trouble. All of their albums are great though, especially their most recent album, Ashes of the Wake. This album is all about opposing the war in Iraq. From songs like “Now you’ve got something to Die For” (directed towards US troops who blindly believe in their government), to the title track, which includes spoken word from an Iraq Veteran Against the War.
Artist: The Dillinger Escape Plan
Few others band has changed the face of American hardcore music the way DEP has. Fusing hardcore, jazz and techno they produce music that is at once violent and beautiful. Using insane time signatures, screams, lullabies, and riffs so complicated they would make Yngwie Malmsteen sound like a beginner, this band has forever made its mark on music. From their Calculating Infinity album, to the Irony is a Dead Scene EP with Mike Patton from Mr. Bungle, to their recent Miss. Machine, if there is one word summarize this band it is: Original.
Artists: Riot Folk
“Making Folk a Threat Again” is the motto of this collective of anarchist folk musicians and singers. They take the anti-profit motive of anarchism to a degree few others have, offering all their recordings online for free. Some of my favorites include Ryan Harvey with the songs: The Ballad of the Baltimore Rebellion; Peace, Justice and Anarchy; and Kent State Massacre (13 seconds in May). Another great musician is Anna Roland. We’ve had both perform at DePaul and both are great.
Artist: Kanye West
Album: The College Dropout
George Bush Don’t Care About Black People: www.boingboing.net/2005/09/08/katrina_kanye_remixe.html
The Chicago hip-hop star who has taken the world by storm. His first staring album (he was a producer before) was a stellar album. Who can ever forget the haunting melody of “Jesus Walks”? More than that, this is the album that skyrocketed West to fame, allowed him to make comments that would shake the musical and political establishments. On one of his interviews on MTV, West told other rappers to stop dissing homosexuals, as there was nothing wrong with being gay. But even bigger were his live comments on a telethon following Hurricane Katrina. While FEMA failed to help people and the police reacted with brutality, arresting people just trying to survive, West went on national television and declared that “President Bush don’t care about Black people.” The best part about West is that he manages to make critiques of the establishment within very catchy songs that are more about people than politics.