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30 Years Ago: Suicidal Tendencies Move Toward Metal With ‘Join the Army’

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Following their brilliant 1983 hardcore punk self-titled debut, Suicidal Tendencies went on an unintentional hiatus from recording. It wouldn’t be until four years later when their next album came out. Released June 9, 1987, Join the Army presented a bit of a different sound, one that was evolving more toward metal.

Part of the sonic shift had to do with the addition of guitarist Rocky George, who brought a decidedly more riff-oriented style of playing to the group. “The Prisoner” has a chugging, Motörhead-esque thickness to it while “Cyco” bridges the gap between metal and punk. It was fans of punk who weren’t exactly over the moon with what they perceived was leaning toward an abandonment of the genre, beginning a recurring theme for the band.

“Every record we did we took a whole bunch of flack because it wasn’t what our previous record was,” frontman Mike Muir told Decibel Magazine. “Right to our very first one, where the punk magazines said it sucked, it was metal and the metal ones said it sucked it was punk. No one really accepted it. We didn’t really care. We went out and did our own thing. The second one we did, Join the Army, all the punk magazines that said the first one sucked [turned around and] said the first one was a classic and we’d turned our back on it…I think a lot of times people listen to things thinking of what they expect it to be or want it to be and there’s so many bands that basically keep doing the same thing over and over that it’s like putting icing on everything, you know what I mean? It has icing and sprinkles, that’s what kids are going to pick at a party or picnic.”

Suicidal Tendencies weren’t completely dismissing the sound of their past on the new record; tracks like “Human Guinea Pig” and “War Inside My Head” are hardcore punk classics. Then there’s the title track and “Possessed to Skate,” which are stone cold skate-punk classics. The video for the latter is a touchstone for the late-’80s skate culture, initially slated to be a full-length film by producers.

“These people call us up and say, ‘Yo Mike, we’re doing a movie and we’re doing a soundtrack and we’ll let you guys be in it like they’re doing us a big favor,” Muir said in an intro to the clip. “We did [“Possessed to Skate”] before the record was even out. We didn’t need them, and the movie they did was terrible and it bombed and no one’s ever heard of it. The video we did really helped us out a lot. ”

Join the Army ended up being a springboard for the band, with its follow-up, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today, considered a thrash metal masterpiece.

“[Major labels] were interested when we did Join the Army,” George told Guitar World. “Labels actually offered us a deal but they wanted us to change our name, so we put out Join the Army through Caroline. Then Epic came along but they didn’t want us to change our name. They came to our shows, they saw that we had good audiences and that we sold a lot of merchandise. Epic let us do our thing. They didn’t try to twist things one way or the other.”

Putting it into context today, Join the Army is clearly the beginning of the end of Suicidal Tendencies as a hardcore punk band. Not many people saw them turning so far toward thrash metal at the time, but the indicators are all over the place on the record.

“We did thrash, but there wasn’t that term before we did Join the Army – that came out afterwards,” Muir told Australia’s The Music. “We’re one of the few bands that can do all these different things and we throw ourselves into a lot of situations, which is important so that music doesn’t become not important.”

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