Saturday, December 27, 2014

No Warning

One of the most important and polarizing hardcore bands of the 2000s was Toronto’s No Warning. In just a few short years, the band took over hardcore with their NYHC influenced music and no fucks given attitude. I can’t stress the attitude part enough. No Warning made a rep for being as hostile off the stage as they were on it. From their demo to the Bridge 9 released self-titled EP, No Warning produced anthems like “My World” while taking aggression in hardcore to another level.

Part of the No Warning appeal was the fact that they carried themselves without pageantry. Too often in hardcore, we assume certain stereotypes about bands that sound like No Warning. No Warning didn’t look like they were tough, they just were. They didn’t need to intimidate you because they didn’t care and when things went south that wouldn’t stop them from trying to fuck shit up. That was the aura of No Warning: expect things to be violent because that’s just how we are, not how we look.

An important event in No Warning’s rise to subculture hegemony was their 2001 CBGBs performance where they opened for the recently reunited Harley / JJ Cro-Mags. Anyone who was there will tell you one simple fact: No Warning stole the show and blew the Cro-Mags off the stage. This show didn’t erase doubts about No Warning (there were never any to begin with). This show declared to everyone that the band was for real and, terrifyingly, they wanted to make hardcore No Warning’s world. If you see any videos of No Warning from 2002-2004, you can see it in the crowd: That mad dog look, that intense desire to hurt someone. During this period, No Warning ruled hardcore in a way that few bands, before or since, have.

No Warning during Posi Numbers 2003

In late 2002, No Warning released one of the most influential hardcore records of the decade: Ill Blood. On it, you could hear a certain grasp of NYHC ala Breakdown, Biohazard and Madball combined with the band’s personal touch. Above the assailing music were Ben Cook’s venomous lyrics. When you listened to them, you could hear his anger and apathy, and all of it felt real to you. That’s what made Ill Blood so special. The lyrics weren’t about a wasteland in a far off place (ala 80s/90s NYC) and it wasn’t about some hyperbolic tough guy trope.

The lyrics on Ill Blood are about waking up feeling like shit because your life sucks in a world that sucks being surrounded by awful people in a society that is corrupt. On its face, the lyrics on Ill Blood paint a world that would make someone want to kill themselves. For No Warning, they took that world as a reason to fight, because fuck it, better them than you. When you heard lines like, “You wanna see me lose? Get in fucking line” or “Please don’t waste my time, don’t ask me if its true, I’ll just tell you what you want to hear and hope trouble finds you”, that’s just raw misanthropy matched by a desire to confront the world. Ill Blood was GG Allin’s famous quote “Everybody's an enemy. Fuck. I hate everybody. I'm not part of any scene. I do my own thing. My mind is a machine gun, my body is the bullets, the audience is the target” personified.

No Warning never really politicked. They had their friends and they had their enemies. It was never a popularity contest for them in the hardcore scene. They were always out for themselves. This is what makes the next part of the story so controversial. In late 2004, No Warning released Suffer Survive on Machine Shop Recordings. Never heard of it? It was a subsidiary of Warner Bros Music that was owned by members of Linkin Park. The album was produced by Sum 41’s manager. The outcome of all this was an album that was not Ill Blood. There are songs that sound like some thing that would have ended up on Ill Blood (“Dirtier Than The Next”, that breakdown on “Scratch The Skin”) and some parts that sound like Sum 41 (the chorus to “Bad Timing”) For No Warning, they were good with that. They had grown up since Ill Blood. More importantly, they’d conquered hardcore. They had nothing to prove to anyone and no one they needed (or wanted) to impress.

Hardcore kids who swore by Ill Blood were unforgiving of Suffer Survive. They lambasted the band for “selling out” and changing it up. No Warning responded the only way they knew how to: by laughing at everyone for questioning the decisions No Warning had made. They were right to laugh. The notion that a group of kids who are simply fans of your music somehow have a right to judge you for your decisions is laughable. You can say what you want about the band’s sound and the people they toured with, but you could never accuse No Warning of changing who they personally were. That much was certain. Not long after the release of Suffer Survive, the band quietly broke up. No final tour, no last show. Like that, they were gone.

In 2014, after almost a decade after the demise of the band, the members of No Warning came back together to record a single to help long time friend Zach Martin AKA Zach Attack (of Shark Attack / Violent Minds fame) in his time of need. For as much that had been said about No Warning by the band’s detractors that they were only in it for themselves or sell outs, the band made one thing clear by coming back: they will always look after their own. The single, “Resurrection of the Wolf” (backed with a Violent Minds cover), was a rousing success. Not only by selling out copies almost immediately, but critically as well. People praised the single as a return to form for the band. No Warning was back.

After the single dropped, the question became, “when will the show happen?” Very rarely do bands get back together to record new music and not gig. It is usually the other way around. Well, the answer came in the summer when No Warning appeared at Belgium’s Ieperfest. Playing Europe is something, but it isn’t playing the States. So again, the wait was on for a No Warning show. On December 22nd 2014, kids got their answer: April 15th 2015 in Howell, NJ at Gamechanger World. So here we are: a band whose legend is met with reverence and ignominy at the mention of their name has finally returned.

I’d tell you that I know what’s going to happen next, but the fact is when they said they would never come back in 2005, I believed it. The truth is no one knows what’s going to happen next, the only ones who do know what’s coming is No Warning and if you look at their history, you’d see this is the way they want it to be. Their entire existence was unpredictable and 100% on their own terms. I guess some things never change.

“We appreciate you supporting music with guitars. I don’t even care if you know who No Warning are. You guys are supporting guitar music. You could be at a rave right now. It’s a shit show in 2014 for bands. So thank you for your support.” – Ben Cook, Ieperfest before closing with “Ill Blood”

Included here is Ill Blood & their S/T EP.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Reflections On Dimebag Darrell's Death

Sorry for the absence, a lot of stuff has been going on between the holidays and some professional stuff. Rest assured, I have not forgotten about Justified Arrogance. This essay featured for the Dallas Observer this morning, so technically this is kind of cheating. I am really proud of this article. Dimebag Darrell and Pantera were important figures in my musical development. This is the original cut before editing. For the finished cut, please visit 

Music is all about the immortals. We talk about them all the time: the Ozzy Osbournes, the James Hetfields, and so on. We let these people into our lives. They become a part of us; helping us along as we grow up. Some of them are there for the biggest moments of our lives, the highs and the lows. In Dallas, Texas’ world of metal, there is only one band that has held a monopoly over this emotional connection to its fans and to the city: Pantera. I’m not going to bore you with the Behind The Music story. You already know the story. Formed in the 80s by the Abbott brothers (Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul) as a glam metal band, they really became successful when Phil Anselmo joined and the band really cut their teeth around the world as PANTERA to become one of the biggest metal bands of all time (for reference: Far Beyond Driven made it to #1 on Billboard almost entirely without help from mainstream media support; an unheard of achievement even to this day). But I digress, you already know this story. The story I’m about to tell you about, you already know too because it is metal’s greatest tragedy. It is when mythology clashes with mortality. As much as people want to believe these guys are gods, at the end of the day they’re still only human. Even Phil Anselmo, who brags he has legally died four times from overdose, will eventually pass on one day. That’s life. Even for those who live larger than life.

On December 8th, 2004, the metal world lost Dimebag Darrell in a tragedy that defies words. It wasn’t like when Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash or when Jeff Hanneman died of failing health or when Cliff Burton died in a bus crash. As tragic as those events were, those kinds of things happen. There wasn’t a whole lot anyone could really do about it. Dimebag lost his life at a club in Columbus, Ohio on a cold night when a demented Pantera fan named Nathan Gale, who blamed Dimebag for the breakup of Pantera, attended Dimebag’s new band Damageplan’s show. During the band’s set, Gale jumped on the stage and drew a handgun, opening fire on Dimebag and road crew members. Dimebag, along with three others, lost their lives (with seven others wounded). I remember when I heard the news. You couldn’t escape it. My first thought was “this isn’t real”. Even in a genre of music like metal, where things are often without reason and occasionally nihilistic, none of what happened in Columbus made sense. Musicians die. It happens. But they’re not supposed to get shot on stage.

Dimebag’s death changed everything for everyone. Case in point: December 17th, 2004, only nine days after the shooting, I attended a show at Trees: Hatebreed / Sick of It All / Terror / Full Blown Chaos / No Warning. When I walked up to the door, the reality of what happened in Columbus hit me in the face. The security at Trees was on full alert. People were getting patted down and handheld metal detectors were running over everyone. On the walls everywhere were “RIP DIMEBAG DARRELL” flyers. It was like a subculture dystopia. A world without Dimebag Darrell. More to the point, the bands were nervous. Everybody was. Nobody knew what to expect. What happened to Dimebag had never happened before. Was it a harbinger of things to come? The show started and it went off without a hitch. Terror, a hardcore band from Los Angeles, is famous for calling their fans to the stage to partake in stage dives during their set. Like every Terror set I’ve ever seen, the fans were out in full force stage diving. I even hit a few of my own. Every time someone hit that stage though, I saw it in the corner of my eye: Trees security and road crew members jumping an inch every time a fan hit the stage. Even though that Terror set was business as usual, the world they were living in no longer was.

Here we are now. Ten years later and what has changed? Luckily, there has not been a repeat of what happened in Columbus and no one else has had to go through that kind of tragedy. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t weigh on the minds of some. When Phil Anselmo’s sludge band Down played the famed Maryland Death Fest in 2013, he made a big demand before the band would play the fest. He asked that the fest security collect attending fans’ bullet belts. Maryland Death Fest has a large crust punk attendance and a major fashion staple of crust punks are bullet belts. Despite the fact that the bullets are not live and they are merely for show, Anselmo had convinced himself that someone would sneak in live ammunition and attempt to assassinate him.

Elsewhere in Dallas, the memory of Dimebag is celebrated and honored by touring bands. For years, the Clubhouse, or the “Pantera strip club” as out-of-towners refer to it, was a destination for visiting musical acts. They wanted to drink whiskey at the Pantera hangout while taking in the sights. They wanted their picture taken next to all of the Pantera memorabilia in the lobby. In the last few years, fans have taken their Pantera pilgrimage a step further: they visit Dimebag’s grave in Arlington. At Dimebag’s grave, people smoke blunts and pour whiskey out for the man whose ability to party was only surpassed by his ability to play guitar.

It is easy to say Dimebag is gone. That he died in 2004 and that was that. It wasn’t though. Randy Rhoads died and Ozzy kept putting out records. Cliff Burton died and Metallica kept touring. When Dimebag died, things ended with him. People understood it then as they do now. You can’t replace Dime. You just can’t. The beard, the Dixie guitar, and the drinking while he played his solos. That was all him. We watch 3 Vulgar Videos From Hell and we smile at all of it. That was him as he lived. When he died, the world didn’t end. The world just admitted that they couldn’t replace the irreplaceable.