The New Classics

What’s this column about?

Last week, this column dealt with a living (and still going strong) legend – Slayer.

To some degree, I hold this week’s honoree in equal esteem, but I know the legend label was never, and probably never could be bestowed upon it.

Biohazard is an oft-overlooked metal act that is sadly underrated in the genre. The group toiled away in the underground hardcore scene, polishing up a gritty mix of hardcore riffs, down-tuned, sludgy metal and the slightest hint of rap (a label given to the act more for the cadence of the vocals than because the band was actually incorporating rap into the mix).

The group’s self-titled debut on the now-defunct Maze Records caught the eye of Roadrunner execs back when the label was still THE premier metal label (housing the likes of Deicide, Obituary and a slew of other metal and death metal acts).

The group exploded nationally with “Urban Discipline” and the rest should have been history. But sometimes reality isn’t that simple.

Perhaps it was mismanagement; maybe the band just thought it was doing what was right. After all, Roadrunner has a notorious reputation of mishandling bands. Either the label gives its all to an act or leaves it to flounder, making sure to get as much money as possible at the expense of the band. Either way, Biohazard made the move to a major label (Warner Bros. Records) right around the time of the grunge explosion. You can’t blame it, despite what many “artists” may say, being in a band is a full-time job and you need to make money to survive. Major-label deals were where the money was back in those days (whereas these days bands are willing to do it all themselves in an effort to reap all the rewards), and Biohazard front man Evan Seinfield has been very vocal over the years that he and the other band members never made truckloads of money in Biohazard.

The group followed up it biggest album (and true metal classic) with “State of the World Address,” and essentially flopped. Warner felt it necessary to polish up the band’s trademark gritty, underground feel to the point that it alienated a lot of fans, did nothing to impress new ones and left a heart-hearted, shell of an album. Biohazard knew this and convinced the label to leave them be for the next release, “Mata Leao,” an album that was a step in the right direction but still lacked the punch of “Discipline.”

Bands rely a lot on momentum. That’s why, when a band scores a big hit nowadays, the label has them back in the studio to capitalize on said success. The irony being that labels, instead of letting the momentum build any further, create a situation where fans get fed up with bands being pushed down their throats, and/or bands get burned out having to turn a new album out every year or so.

With Biohazard’s momentum all but killed, the group soon found itself without a label and with a dwindling fanbase. The group did a one-shot with Roadrunner to release the live album “No Holds Barred.” That one brought some fans back to the fold. The band released “New World Disorder” on Mercury, put out a collection of b-sides and rare tracks on Renegade Recordings, found a home with what is, in some ways, becoming the new home of metal (classic and contemporary), Sanctuary Records (putting out “Uncivilization” and “Kill or Be Killed”) and apparently ended the career on SPV with “Means to an End.”

The story of Biohazard, much like any good book or movie, sees three distinct acts: the promising debut and subsequent hit(s); the middle-years of turmoil and unfocused releases; the final act of redemption. The band closed out the 90’s with “New World Disorder,” trying to make a true Biohazard album while bands it had inadvertently given birth to (Rage Against the Machine, Korn, Limp Bizkit, etc.) where at their height or falling. The new millennium saw the band regroup and refocus it’s energy, first with the collection of songs from its past and then with “Uncivilization.”

I’d like to think by the time “Uncivilization” came around, the band had somewhat of a game plan in mind for the group’s endgame, so to speak. With “Uncivilization” the band fully embraced its hardcore metal roots, and the album sported a veritable who’s who from the metal scene with guest appearances from members of Slipknot, Sepultura, Phil Anselmo and Hatebreed front man Jamie Jasta to name a few. “Kill or Be Killed” saw the band move back toward its roots, revisiting its raw, gritty sound. “Means to an End” was essentially Biohazard recording a Biohazard tribute album, nothing special but a perfect way to give back to long-time fans before calling it a day.

I’ve contemplated this column for a number of weeks, trying to figure out which album really fits the new classic mold. Each time I’m pulled to “Kill or Be Killed.” When you take the band’s catalogue as a whole, “Kill…” is the perfect follow-up to “Urban Discipline.” Imagine what would have or could have been if that was the case …

A New Classic

Kill or Be Killed

The album clocks in a little over half an hour, but what a trip. What “Kill or Be Killed” lacks in length, it makes up for with pure Biohazard punch. The band crafted an album that pulled the foundation from the early New York hardcore scene (the heavy, slow, down-tuned riffs) and mixed it with a punk attitude, not in sound, but in attitude. The songs are hard-hitting and to the point.

The group’s sound is instantly recognizable – the ominous riffs, the foreboding sound, the juxtaposed vocals (Seinfield’s guttural groans against Billy Graziadei’s higher-pitched yells), the bass-heavy grind of each song with everything pulled together by the double-bass drum kicks.

The album opens with “Never Forgive, Never Forget,” a pit-anthem if ever there was one (on par with the band’s most venomous anthem, “Authority”). The kill or be killed theme runs through the album, mentioned in this track and continued on the title-track (obviously). Throughout the album the band has this knack of steamrolling ahead from track to track, putting the perfect hook into each song to make you long for more. Not only that, but the band manages to change things up enough to prevent the album from becoming redundant or boring. Both of these elements were lacking on earlier (read: mid-career) material.

The one-two crunch of “Never Forgive …” and “Kill…” is prime Biohazard material, the band switches it up with “Heads Kicked In” (a slower, more deliberate assault) and “Beaten Senseless” (probably the closest the band has ever gotten to hardcore). From there the band never lets up; “World on Fire,” the crush of “Make My Stand,” the drowning riffs of album closer “Hallowed Ground.” In the end, it all ends too fast but leaves an indelible mark on the listener.

The Test of Time

This isn’t a typical New Classic column. “Kill or Be Killed” definitely falls into the category, but this reads almost as a celebration of the band as well. The group could have called it a day years ago and there wouldn’t have been a plethora of fans up in arms over the fact. But instead, Biohazard kept trudging along and made some impressive music. Sure, I’ve said the group’s late-90s material was hit-or-miss, but the fact is there are still some solid songs to be heard off those albums. “Authority,” “Tales From the Hard Side,” “Switchback,” “Five Blocks to the Subway,” and so on … I think fans were more put off by nothing living up to the promise “Urban Discipline” offered.

Much like Machine Head, the band tried to incorporate different elements and inspiration to its sound and lost direction in the short run. When the band was able to focus solely on the material it was creating instead of what record companies wanted them to modify on each album (along with sales numbers and the rest of the “business” end of things) the results were fantastic, but by the time that happened only the die-hard fans were left.

“Kill or Be Killed” was a heart-stopper over a decade after “Urban…” The reason I think the band was playing through an end-game of its own design was because the group changed the album cover art shortly before release (a child in a graveyard) and went with the “dog eclipse” motif. The graveyard art was used on “Means to an End,” instead (with the band’s logo on one of the tombstones. I’d like to think the band had a plan in mind and mapped out exactly how it wanted to end things.

By now each member has moved on to other things. But they put the band to bed on its own terms and left behind a respectable back-catalogue.

Until Next Time

If someone came up to me and asked about the band, I’d point them towards “Urban Discipline,” that’s the classic. Then I’d say grab a copy of “Kill of Be Killed.” Listening to the two albums (especially back to back) you see exactly what the band was and is all about. Grab those two albums, wear them out, then work your way backwards and grab “Means to an End” whenever you get a chance (sooner rather than later).

Biohazard. A band that got lost along the way … lost in the shuffle of the ever-shifting music scene of the 1990s … but somehow still managed to solidify a spot in the hallowed hall of metal legends, at least for the die-hard fans. If you aren’t one of those, or only familiar with some of the band’s offerings, you owe it to yourself to track down “Kill or Be Killed.” These albums weren’t widely circulated. Its not impossible to track them down, you don’t have to special order them, but they weren’t staring you in the face either. Any other questions, look for me. I’ll be the guy wearing his Biohazard throat tattoo proudly.

And that’s that. Until next time, take it easy. Stay tuned and enjoy the ride …

The Vault.