Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Ten Greatest Straight Edge Albums of All-Time

Drunks, stoners and pill poppers, take note … we’re bringing sXe back in our countdown of the greatest anti-drug and anti-promiscuity punk records ever!

By: Jimbo X


I’m not generally a fan of applying labels to one’s self, but one of the few cultural-codified descriptors I would voluntarily assign to myself would be “straight edge.” Of course, over time the meaning of the term has changed quite a bit, but the gist of it has remained etched in stone (or concrete, since that’s more modern and shit) for the last 40 years — you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t smoke cigarettes and you don’t do illicit drugs of any kind, especially that goddamn marijuana. 

And as someone who grew up absolutely inundated with tar-lunged Marlboro consumers, perpetually-drunk functioning alcoholics and grass-smoking wastoids of all types and delinations, I can’t tell you HOW happy I was to discover this sub-subculture that vilifies the shit that has irked me literally my ENTIRE existence. And, as all sub-subcultures worth their salt are required, this scene also had its own soundtrack in the form of “straight edge” punk music.

Like everybody else with functioning cocheleas, I have a real love-hate relationship with punk. While I’m certainly a big fan of the early pioneers of the genre (The Stooges, The Ramones, X, so on and so forth), as the musical styling became more political and left-leaning I couldn’t help but tune out altogether. Thankfully, the vanguard of the sXe scene have largely kept their music devoid of much political rabble rousing, instead focusing on the far more important virtue of individualistic improvement

Now, for this countdown, I decided to stick solely with bands that self-identify as straight-edge punk, so that means that offshoots like Embrace and Rites of Spring and Fugazi and everybody else ain’t in the running. Furthermore, I’ve tried to steer clear of sub-sub-subgenre groups with a militant vegan agenda, because a.) fuck that noise and b.) the music is usually pretty shitty, anyway. 

I tried to keep the list as chronologically diverse as I could, and just for the sake of exposing you fine folks to as vast a portfolio of straight edge bands as possible I opted to only allow one album from each band on the countdown. So not only are you getting ten great albums to sort through, you’re also getting ten great musical groups to sift through on your own dime. 

So how about we quit all this lip-flapping and get down to brass tacks, why don’t we? 


Casey Jones — The Few, The Proud, The Crucial (2004)

The debut album of Casey Jones — a bit of a straight-edge supergroup, formed by members of Evergreen Terrace and Anchors Away, most notably — is pure, undiluted, old school against-the-grain hardcore attitude for 22 blistering minutes. Granted, with its ample Family Guy references and cringey hidden “rap” track at the end of the album, it does feel somewhat trapped in the mid-aughties, but I wouldn’t exactly say that’s a negative in and of itself. Indeed, from the opening track “Just Another Day in the FLA,” you just KNOW you’re about to get pounded with some super-satisfying, straight-and-to-the-point sXe sonic violence for the next half hour. Still, tracks like “Know This X,” “Strike Hard” and “Pigs is Pigs” do indeed show hints of a groovier, more melodic outfit, at times making the album sound like an even heavier iteration of Comeback Kid. If you’ve never given these kids from Jacksonville a listen before, definitely search high and low for The Few, The Proud and The Crucial — not only is it one of the best sXe albums of the 2000s, it’s one of the better post-hardcore albums of the decade period.


 Champion — Promises Kept (2004)

Yes, 2004 was a very good year for straight edge releases, as evidenced by Champion’s superb release Promises Kept. The Seattle outfit’s debut album adheres to subgenre norms by packing a dozen thundering, blazing fast tracks inside a 23-minute runtime, and as soon as the title track starts piping up — a glorious, hyper-metallic singalong that has some of the best use of a dramatic distortion fade-in intro these ears have ever heard — it’s apparent that Champion more than lives up to their self-lauding moniker. If you ever wondered what would happen if Minor Threat, The Descendants and Slapshot fused into a singularity, this stellar album is about as close as we’ll ever get. That, and you have to give the guys some mad props for their technical deft, regardless of their ideological leanings; check out the drum work on “Different Directions” and the fret-pounding fury of “Miles to Go” and tell me we aren’t working with one of the more underappreciated and underrated sXe bands of the George W. years. And of course, you don’t need me to tell you how great of a vocalist Jim Hesketh is — I’ll just let his performance on “The Truth” speak, growl and aurally buzzsaw for itself. 


Bane — The Note (2005)

Not only is Bane one of the most prolific sXe bands of the post-’90s, they’re also one of the most stylistically unique. While there’s some debate about what their best album is, around these parts we have nary a problem labeling 2005’s The Note as the Massachusetts-based band’s undisputed magnum opus. A concept album (of sorts), Bane shows tremendous versatility throughout, weaving in and out of your expected sing-along anthems like “Pot Committed” and “My Therapy” while also hitting us with some artsier, more esoteric and introspective tracks like “End on an Ellipsis” and “Wasted on the Young.” While it doesn’t quite have the high-gloss production values of the more experimental Don’t Wait Up from 2014, The Note strikes a solid balance between the ambitious structure of that album and the dirtier, grimmier, straight-and-to-the-point audio assault of 2001’s Give Blood. Take it from a veteran like Jimbo here — albums like this one are the reason why the mid-aughties are often considered a second golden age for the straight-edge subgenre (or, at the very least, a shinier bronze age.)


7 Seconds — The Crew (1984)

The pride and joy of Reno, Nevada’s straight edge scene had a downright amazing career, with the band ultimately spanning from 1980 to 2018 before officially hanging up the amplifiers for good. Despite the band’s impressive discography, the herd consensus is that the group’s first full-fledged, feature length album from ’84 remains their absolute best, and the release most emblematic of their energetic, hyper-speed punk virtuoso. With the album’s longest song barely getting past the two-minute mark, 7 Seconds has no ambitions of stringing you along for any longer than they have to, with classics like “Definite Choice,” “What If There’s a War in America” and “Die Hard” representing some of the absolute best sub-one-minute straight-edge ditties of all-time. While it’s hard to pick just one or two songs off the album to hail as the essentials, I’d probably have to go with “This is the Angry Pt. 2” and the album closer “Trust” as the most essential — if nothing else, to hear the impressive versatility of lead singer Kevin Seconds, who truly is one of the more under appreciated frontmen of the ‘80s sXe scene.


Ten Yard Fight — Hardcore Pride (1996)

Despite being named after one of the worst football video games of all time, Ten Yard Fight, the band, was certainly a VAST improvement over Ten Yard Fight, the shitty NES title. While a lot of websites out there like to laud the Boston-based group as the vanguard of the late ‘90s “youth crew” revival, I’ve preferred to simply embrace the band as the epitome of mid-90s straight edge/sports fandom crossover excellence, serving as the gridiron foil to the drug-free jock-core sub-sub-subgenre inadvertently created by Slapshot a few years earlier. It’s pretty much a consensus that the band’s 1996 release Hardcore Pride is their undisputed magnum opus, with frontman Anthony “Wrench” Moreschi peeling the paint off the sideline hash marks on such thundering, metaphor-laden classics as “Where I Stand,” “First and Ten” and “Offsides.” And don’t let tracks with such questionable titles as “Proud To Be Straight,” “Drug Free Nation” and “Pit of Equality” steer you in the wrong direction — instead of assailing you with ultra-preachy semi-leftist diatribes, the one-two gut punch of guitarists Tim Cossar and John LaCroix are only concerned about blitzing your cochleas into a CTE-addled jambalaya. 


Slapshot — Sudden Death Overtime (1990)

Boston’s Slapshot is one of the most durable straight edge bands of all time, having officially formed in 1985 and STILL releasing new (and surprisingly solid) material today. They’re also the physical embodiment of two sXe-adjacent subs-subgenres that I like to call jock-core and right-punk. Considering damn near all of their songs contains allusions to either the glorious sport of hockey and/or conservative-leaning/anti-leftist rabble-rousing, there’s NO denying that they’re the greatest Republican punk band with a hard-on for the NHL in history, and for my money, their  absolute best release has to be 1990’s Sudden Death Overtime. From the opening salvo of the introductory track “What’s at Stake,” you get a crystal clear glimpse into the musical methodology and ideological leanings of Slapshot, and the album only gets more abrasive, aggressive and AWESOME from there. Not only do tracks like “War On Drugs,” “Nation of Hate” and “Punk’s Dead, You’re Next” gleefully rail against the post-post-modernism of liberal degeneracy, they give frontman Jake “Choke” Kelly ample opportunities to sandpaper-throat his was through some of the most bombastic counter-countercultural anthems in the sXe strata. And holy shit, is the one-two punch of guitarists Jaime Sciarappa and Jordan Wood an aural haymaker, especially in riff-tastic tracks like “Dealing with Pennies” and “Something to Prove.” 


Judge — Bringin’ It Down (1989)

New York’s Judge remains an oddly (and criminally) unsung and underrated straight edge band, a fact made all the more confounding by the obvious influence on the sub-genre as a whole wrought by their 1989 magnum opus Bringin’ It Down. Arising from the remnants of Youth of Today, in a lot of ways the side-piece assembled by drummer/vocalist Mike Ferraro and lead guitarist John Porcelly is a drastically more important band, and from a sheer compositional standpoint, a much more intriguing (and impressive) outfit. At barely 23 minutes in duration, these guys don’t waste a single second of recording time, dropping such all-time militant sXe masterpieces as “Take Me Away,” “Give It Up” and “The Storm” one after another. As one of the more metal-influenced straight edge bands of the epoch, at times, Bringin’ It Down almost seems to take on a crossover-thrash vibrato, which is certainly apparent on ass-stompers like “Where It Went” and “Hear Me.” But don’t be surprised to hear the band get a little more low-key and groovy, either — indeed, the track “Like You” is practically a perfect structural merger of The Ramones and Pantera, with a palpable Suicidal Tendencies kick tossed in there for good measure.


SSD The Kids Will Have Their Say (1982)

By the way, that acronym stands for “Society System Decontrol,” in case you figured I was putting straight-up Nazi shit on the countdown. While bands like Minor Threat and the Teen Idles are routinely regarded as the pioneers of straight-edge music, a lot of people tend to forget about groups like SSD, who were also laying out the blueprint for sXe punk long before the term came into vogue. Although short-lived (the band was only active from 1981 to 1985), that still didn’t stop them from putting out no less than six records, including their subgenre-defining ‘82 release The Kids Will Have Their Say. A 21-minute sonic lashing crammed with 18 songs, the longest track on the album barely creeps along for three minutes (the sardonic, low-fi minimalist anti-punk masterpiece “How Much Art”) with the average song on the record lasting roughly 60 seconds. Thankfully, with SSD’s magnum opus it’s not just super-speed for the sake of super-speed, but some genuinely insightful social commentary buttressed around Springa’s cement-block vocals and Chris Foley’s pounding drum work. That, and such gleefully unpretentious tracks like “V.A,” “Jock Itch” and “Screw” certainly give guitarist Al Barile plenty of opportunities to grind the strings into submission. I mean, really — how could anybody not love an album with song titles like “Teach Me Violence” regardless of their stance on substance use?


Gorilla Biscuits — Start Today (1989)

In some ways, this album is even more influential than Minor Threat’s pioneering debut record — indeed, most modern straight edge bands certainly sound more like Anthony Civarelli than they do Ian MacKaye, not just vocally, but in terms of song structure and lyrical composition. From the glorious, blustering trumpet intro of title track “New Direction,” it’s apparent that this is one melodic hardcore/punk fusion release that was destined to cement a legacy as one of the most important — and best all-around — straight edge albums ever. While CIV does deserve a LOT of credit for making the album stand out so much (just IMAGINE anybody else doing the vocals on ass-kickers like “Two Sides” and “Cats and Dogs”), really, this is guitarist Walter Shreifels’ baby from beginning to end. Not only does he shred like a maniac on towering tracks like “Competition” and “Good Intentions,” he’s also responsible for the entire lyrical composition of the album, including the anti-procrastination anthem “Start Today.” Factor in the irreverent yet still reverential Buzzcocks cover “Sitting Around At Home” as a record-closer and you have one of the best start-to-finish punk albums of the 1980s — not only is this a sXe essential, it’s a must-own for ANY self-respecting golden age hardcore enthusiast.


Minor Threat — Complete Discography (1989)

Well, this one is about as surprising as finding out who won a Harlem Globetrotters game, but trust me — this album has maintained its lofty reputation as THE definitive straight-edge album for 30 years and counting for good reason.

Not only is Complete Discography the single most important straight-edge album ever made — to the point that it could rightly be considered the entire subculture’s bible — it’s also one of the best track-by-track punk albums of all-time, irrespective of the subgenre or whatever identity-politicking label you want to slap on it. A collection of the the band’s five previously recorded EPs, this album is just 47 minutes of pure against-the-grain, counter-countercultural DIY rebellion, and not only does it STILL hold up amazingly well nearly four decades down the road, considering the state of contemporary American society both its innate aural power AND overarching message is even more compelling and effective. 

Of course, the album is littered with a litany of all-time classic anti-drug anthems — “Bottled Violence,” “Out of Step” and, most obviously “Straight Edge” — but the lyrical content of the discography is a lot more diverse than you might anticipate. The opening salvo “Filler” is both an ode to atheism and a call to arms against simp-dom, “Small Man, Big Mouth” is a clever diatribe against the hypocritical machismo of punk rock music as a whole and the eerily prescient “Guilty of Being White” is an almost 40-year-early warning about the looming specter of social justice warrior-dom grinding us all into a state of perpetual ethnomasochistic self-loathing. But that’s not to say Ian Mackaye and the boys don’t know how to lighten things up every now and then, as evident by their thumping’ covers of “Steppin’ Stone” by Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Standells’ “Good Guys (Don’t Wear White).” For all the credit Minor Threat receives for kickstarting the straight edge revolution, even now it doesn’t seem like the group gets enough credit for simply being fantastic musicians, ideological leanings not even taken into consideration.

There are very, very few albums out there that I’d consider truly evergreen, but for my money, this HAS to be one of them. About ten years ago, I vividly recall walking around the college campus with this album blasting on a loop on my shitty-ass Big Lots MP3 player, and looking at all the debauchery and self-destruction and aimlessness around me, tracks like “Look Book and Laugh,” “In My Eyes” and “No Reasondidn’t just resonate with me on a musical level, but on a psychosocial one. It’s going to sound weird as hell, I know, but during some very dark and depressing times in my life, the positive messaging go Minor Threat’s music helped me surmount a lot of personal hurdles I didn’t think I ever was capable of climbing over. 

I have no problem labeling Complete Discography as one of my 10 favorite albums of all-time, and on a pure mentality-shaping level, it may very well be the single-most important record I’ve ever purchased. You hear people talk about empowering music all the time, but Minor Threat’s music was truly that; in a genre that basically wallowed in self-pity and social rot, Mackaye and company came along with a sound and attitude that put an emphasis on self-improvement and self-aspiration, and I’d like to say that not only is the musical world better for it, in some small way, so is all of American society.

Overblown praise, you might say? Well, give Complete Discography a listen all the way through while churning your way through skid row and tell me that it doesn’t have a message — and meaning — well above anything The Clash, The Dead Kennedys or The Ramones ever produced. After all, those bands just made music, while Minor Threat (and, to some degree, all the other groups listed on this countdown), actually strived to make a difference

Throw them X’s up proudly, kids — at least we can say we tried to stand for something beyond our own self-gratification. And if nothing else? Our music sounded WAY better, too. 


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