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In the case of “Speak English or Die ” I would be so emotionally attached to this album musically and the relevance from a historical point of view that I’m obliged to say “If you don’t get it, you shan’t be allowed to review it”. Yes, I’ve always been a dictator really. Maybe that’s what I love so much about Sargent ‘D’.
Winston Churchill once said “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter”. And I’d say: The best argument against newbies reviewing classic metal albums is having a look on Metal Archives dot com.
During the nineties metal seems to have lost its sense of humour. When did metal get this seriousness-dogma? The nineties, the worst years in metal in the eyes of most. Also in mine by the way. Man was I pissed off when I saw this album had an average of ‘only’ 79 points sofar. I really wanted to kill some people. I don’t review albums by Britney Spears simply because I don’t get that music. So if you don’t get S.O.D., just shut the fuck up. You weren’t there. You don’t know shit, you grew up in a different scene, different time. But then again. What the hell. I’ll just write a review and try to do something about the average.
What makes this album genius is the fact that what started out as a little in-between joke turned out to be an immensely influential eighties milestone. Therefore this album crushes everything that was intended to be serious but failed to have an impact looking back these years. We can look back now and say Scott Ian and Charlie Benante are far from the gods they once were but in those days they were two of the tightest thrashers around and Scott Ian in that period did not only write most on the Anthrax classic “Spreading The Disease” but also managed to write most of this classic album together with Dan Lilker. Really a creative period that was for him.
S.O.D. played real crossover even before D.R.I. did. They were still in their “Dealing With It” punk phase. Suicidal Tendencies? That band was still three years away from their first real crossover record “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow”. S.O.D. were pratically avant la lettre. And it was the metal background that made this album sound so bloody heavy and tight. If “Speak English Or Die” would have featured a punk guitarist and punk drummer performing the same songs, I am convinced it would not have made such an impact.
Opener “March Of The S.O.D.” is based around a cathcy as hell riff and nicely proceeds into the trademark song “Sargent 'D' & The S.O.D”. Also songs such as “Kill Yourself”, “Speak English Or Die”, “Freddy Krueger”, “Pussy Whipped” and “Fist Banging Mania” were somewhat longer crossover tunes with regular changes in pace, enough variety in riffing and catchy chorusses.
Of course there were some short tunes (“Anti-Procrastination Song”, “What’s That Noise”, “Hey Gordy”, “Ballad Of Jimi Hendrix” and “Diamonds and Rust”) that can almost not be called songs at all but short eruptions of noisy humor. This kind of material was logical after their Crab Society North demo which featured mostly grinding noise. I always enjoyed these kind of songs. The differences can be found in the tiniest details.
It was the material that balanced between the earlier mentioned longer songs and these short funny eruptions which made the album sound logical as a whole. “Milano Mosh”, “Pi Alpha Nu”, “Milk”, "Chromatic Death" and “Fuck The Middle East” are funny as well as having some great musical ideas.
As said, the performace is outstanding. Charlie rages like an animal. Dan abuses his bassguitar but manages to incorporate some nice breaks to stand out. Scott is tight even when he rages through his riffs and Billy..... Billy's just an angry boy with a sense of humor, some great lyrics and a quite characteristic voice. The production is comparible to Anthrax’ “Spreading The Disease” (especially the guitar sound) since this album was recorded in the same studio in the same period yet recorded and mixed a lot quicker.
Ah, the lyrics. A large amount written from the perspective of the immaginary figure Sargent ‘D’. Right wing, racist and tyrannical. Sheer fun! The lyrics to the fast and groovy fraternity song “Pi Alpha Nu” and one of the fastest songs on the album, “Milk”, stand out a bit and retrospectively feel like the songs Billy would later write for his own band M.O.D.
This album is way up there with the crossover masterpieces “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow” (Suicidal Tendencies), “Crossover” (D.R.I.), “Retaliation (Carnivore), “Biermacht” (Wehrmacht) and “You Got It” (Gang Green) and maybe, just maybe, it’s even actually better than any of them. The simplicity and catchiness of most riff that can be found here really is an eye opener. This makes these songs still stand firm after all these years. A trendsetting album. A milestone in metal and crossover history. And to think it was only a joke…