One could say it was either Today Is The Day or Neurosis that started what we’ve come to call avant-garde metal today, but I will say Today Is The Day and Today Is The Day only. Neurosis were fed up with metal and rock both at the time “Souls At Zero” was finished, and it’s safe to remark even then they were seeking something besides the riff and only weren’t able to realize it any other way. All of the records released subsequent to that, plus the Tribes of Neurot albums and the various side-projects, from Blood & Time to Harvestman, support and loudly affirm this.
Steve Austin’s Today Is The Day, however, has been the essence of the avant-garde and it remains, as of this day, its quintessence; the womb that once enfolded it, and the phallus that continues to demand both dominion and reconstruction of its initial, seminal image. Even the title of the newly released “Animal Mother” hints to us the latter – at a glance. It is line with a certain cinematic work that has close ties to the beginning of the avant-garde within the orbit of metal. Of course, that has to be the Ken Russell flick, Altered States. The premise of the movie, and not Russell’s realization is what remains key, as in, how the relation between collective unconscious and one’s body is materialized in such a way that the Timothy Leary-like persona, Edward Jessup, happens to shatter the boundaries of flesh and mind. It is a recurring point of return for most forward-thinking metal, from UK’s own Godflesh to Neurosis and in a more subtle manner, Today Is The Day. The subtlety of Austin’s token lies in simply questioning what really is a vulgar and hasty allegory, grounded in finding the initial form of being, and although not clearly referred throughout the movie: the Missing Link.
Strange as it may seem, initial manifestations of almost all cultural artifacts always outlast the later works of the same inventors, as a general rule-of-thumb and not as a result of a profound insight. Take Black Sabbath, Venom or even Today Is The Day – there are always these golden eras of the first-x-records that we all recognize, and either choose to announce or reject their validity. And so the Missing Link – in sharp contrast to the rationalized explanation that Paddy Chayefsky provides in the ending of Altered States – might be in touch with some truth after all. But in spite of the assumption, we must not forget that such truth wouldn’t be the ultimate truth, no matter what the case. A second corresponding trait would be ‘the violence factor’ in Today Is The Day’s music, which has existed since its inception and remains as such throughout the 38-minute trip that is “Animal Mother.” But why is it that we can’t simply call their music ‘violent’? There is a hidden agenda, an evil present in Austin’s sonic world that reminds me very much of Gogol’s supernaturals, in that it is fundamentally atheistic yet it has a disturbing, intimate relationship with the very religious terror, as though once man is taken for God, he must also possess the core of the diabolic.
The phenomenon is glaring, musically and especially vocally. For years, Austin’s multi-layered, haunted growls have escaped any safe presuppositions; like the cookie-monster presupposition that almost every death metal fanatic is well acquainted with, but not always aware of. As such, the final work is as close to one’s mind and mode-of-existence as possible, and engages the audience in the very struggle, rather than letting them relax behind the imaginary veil or leaving them hoping for catharsis, which is more or less how Hitchcock did it in cinema and Artaud in theater. The terror element in Austin’s vocal work can also be rooted in its constant desexualization, for it is by no means like a typical growl – masculine – or, like the Rob Halfordian scream – feminine. It is human in its purest and most extreme sense, thoroughly free of any cultural barricades, and therefore encountering life in an authentic way; or, to quote “Willpower,” “For the pain of living.”
Neurosis never managed to channel anguish through the already-existing metal medium. So they eventually recast it; first, with the additional instruments (trumpet, cello, flute, violin/viola) in “Souls At Zero”, and then, reaching the decision to have a permanent role for keyboards/samplers (Simon McIlroy in “Enemy Of The Sun”, and Noah Landis; “Through Silver In Blood” onwards). On the other hand, Today Is The Day made an epoch in the history of metal by making it practical not to be essentially sentimental like most melodic death/black metal bands of the time, nor to commute – similar to Neurosis – and still manage to make passionate, emotionally intense music.
Unlike what is usually believed to be true, Today Is The Day’s music has always revolved around the drummer more than Austin himself. We can observe that by setting each part of their discography side by side. On the first three records, with Brad Elrod on drums and Austin’s riffage, the phrasing is almost one-hundred percent prog-rock, with the only exception being he doesn’t share the same utopian and progressive mentality as Alex Lifeson, instead tending to be more ominous, dismal, and less technically encyclopedic and distant – a very likely repercussion of Elrod’s forthright but adroit, rock drumming. Later, Mike Hyde follows the solid footpaths of Elrod, and it isn’t until Brann Dailor joins the band for “In The Eyes Of God” that Today Is The Day begins taking stabs at some of grindcore’s initials, such as the high speed tempo; all of which, in time, give Today Is The Day the noisecore insignia.
Jeff Lohrber of Enabler, whose work can be heard on “Animal Mother,” has first of all pulled off not doing the same thing he occasionally does in Enabler (the first two tracks off 2013’s “Flies”), and so there is hardly any trace of a hardcore punk drummer in there, and his overall work sounds to be intervening the works of Marshall Kilpatric on “Sadness Will Prevail” and Mike Rosswog on “Kiss The Pig”, where it is plainly making a good use of the double bass, though it is not as hacked as Rosswog’s, or as painstaking as Kilpatric’s. Lohrber’s closest counterpart in the TITD spectrum may be Derek Roddy (Malevolent Creation, Hate Eternal). The two give congruent performance and the music as a whole, turns out very much alike in both “Axis Of Eden” and “Animal Mother.”
Austin’s got the UXO album in the offing, and “Animal Mother” was perfectly timed for the bloodthirsty fans who’ve been waiting three years for a new Today Is The Day record, and the record is indeed a prevailing one. As a longtime fan, I’d easily put ‘Law Of The Universe’, ‘Mystic’, ‘Imperfection’, ‘The Last Strand’, ‘Heathen’, and ‘Divine Reward’, among the finest TITD tunes of all time. As for the record itself – it can be considered as very much topping “Kiss The Pig”, “Pain Is A Warning”, the self-titled record, and “Axis Of Eden”.
And now, since the next Grammy Awards is only a few moons away, and as a part of an educational finale for the article, I’d like to leave you with Steve Austin’s “Ingredients for the Grammy Awards”:
#1 Gather the fakest politically correct people in the world together.
#2 Be willing to dance and sing along to shit that you hate.
#3 Keep a straight face when you lose the award (even though you hate that fucker that won).
#4 Ask Steven Tyler to be present.
#5 Ask Grandma Madonna to also show up.
“The Grammy Awards are the epitome of what I fucking hate. Mainstream fake posers that have zero talent, zero skills and couldn’t feel a real emotion even if you hit them with a hammer. The way they act is the way Joan River’s face behaves. Frozen, can’t move and stuck in a perpetual smile.” – Steve Austin
Catch ’em on the road:
11/14 Lakewood OH @ The Foundry w/ Eyehategod
11/15 Chicago IL @ Cobra Lounge w/ Eyehategod
11/16 Mishawaka IN @ Smiths w/ Eyehategod
11/17 Lincoln NE @ Bourbon Theater w/ Eyehategod
11/18 Springfield MO @ Outland Ballroom w/ Eyehategod
11/19 Austin TX @ North Door w/ Eyehategod
11/20 Dallas TX @ Double Wide w/ Eyehategod
11/21 Houston TX @ Fitzgerald’s w/ Eyehategod, Pig Destroyer