I went to see Earth Crisis in 2013. This seems unbecoming of me, and I admittedly felt out of place at the show, wondering if anyone thought I was one of those undercover cops who spies on punk shows and the animal rights movement and also classifies straight edge as a gang. However, I am sincerely interested in the idea of Earth Crisis, a tough-guy hardcore band much more influenced by radical politics than their peers. A band that was divisive, initially by driving away more conventional punk types by being too macho in its celebration of direct action and propaganda of the deed (The band joins the ranks of Agnostic Front and The Cro-Mags among bands Tim Yohannon, founder of Maximumrocknroll, hated), and later by alienating part of its hardcore fanbase by making a transition into the metal world that came with a signing to Roadrunner Records and taking on major stylistic changes that veered almost on nu-metal.
The band ended its initial run in 2001 at a ridiculously crowded Hellfest appearance but reunited in 2007 and continues to put out records and play shows every now and then. The band's show last night was part of a tour marking the 20th anniversary of the release of the band's second EP, Firestorm.
Naturally, the band opened with the EP's title track, and with those first, immediately recognizable palm-muted open-E chugs, the pit was alive with people spin-kicking each other and piling on top of one another to scream lyrics inspired by the Black Panther Party's tactics of cleansing their neighborhoods of drug dealers by any means, "street by street, block by block," and so on.
The song still has a lot of the power it probably had in 1993. It is one of the few '90s hardcore songs that is actually catchy. A testament to this might be that it is the only '90s hardcore song that I can think of off the top of my head that has received a Weird Al style parody, Good Clean Fun's "In Defense of All Life."
Doing something similar with a '90s band like Unbroken or His Hero is Gone would probably, despite both bands being good, involve way too much explanation of what the parody is referencing for it to be successful. Most people involved in hardcore know "Firestorm," as evidenced not only by the widespread use of it as a mocking reference point to overzealous straight edge and vegan militancy, but also by the age range of people yelling along with it last night.The song is a classic to a lot of people.
It's hard to discuss the nuance of this performance. I expected loud, angry music with a lot of palm-muted guitar parts that make people want to stomp around, and that's exactly what I got.
Earth Crisis doesn't come off as sluggish in their dotage, and the selection of songs were generally from the golden age of the band (Firestorm, Destroy the Machines, Gomorrah's Season Ends) with a peppering of new stuff and a careful avoidance of the late-90s/early-2000s metal phase. I think what I expected was more stage banter, more use of the mic for polemic about animal liberation and radicalism. Since this was my first time seeing Earth Crisis, I didn't realize the band is pretty laconic in regard to this kind of rhetoric when compared to other '90s hardcore bands of similar political dispositions.
Notable, however, was a shout-out by frontman Karl Buechner to his favorite person from Arizona: Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache leader who led a rebellion against the United States government in southern Arizona during the 1860s.
Overall, I may have put too much thought into the idea of Earth Crisis as a band of overt extremists. Maybe the band was more direct 20 years ago when it released Firestorm, a strong assertion of identity with a polarizing response, but the Earth Crisis I saw last night seemed to be playing on the assumption that everyone there already knew what the band was about, which is probably true.
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But what's missing in that situation is the vitality of a band that has something to prove. And what's in its place when you are that hypothetical person who has no context of hardcore history and doesn't know what Earth Crisis is about, is just a pretty solid hardcore band.
I think this is something that comes with the territory of doing a retro, fan-service kind of tour like this. I would only hope that the band maintains the kind of confrontational energy it is known for when it plays new (as well as old) material to new audiences.