Sick of it All – “Scratch the Surface”

dB HoF NO. 092

Scratch the Surface

Label: Eastwest

Release date: 1994


So Bruce Lee muses to a Shaolin master when queried on his philosophy of fighting during the opening frames of Enter the Dragon, but the legendary Jeet Kune Do founder might as well have been describing the process by which four fellow dragon aficionados ensconced in the upper reaches of a Chinatown rehearsal loft they sublet with Henry Rollins (and a particularly stouthearted mouse) summoned into being the 1994 hardcore magnum opus Scratch the Surface—a slab of extraordinarily lithe, stylized aggression that fits Lee’s motto “Be like water” better than virtually any hardcore record before or since. And like Lee, when Sick of It All channeled their energies into a dizzying array of concentrated sonic furies, the results instantly rendered a good deal of the band’s contemporaries as obsolete as a goon-portraying extra in a ’70s kung-fu flick.

Truth is, if Sick of It All had called it quits in 1992, the band would likely still be remembered fondly: Blood, Sweat and No Tears and Just Look Around are post-Youth Crew paragons brimming with supersonic, churning riffs, burly breakdowns and fiery lyrical sermonizing. Fortunately for us, Koller Bros and Co. have kept clobberin’, and on Scratch the Surface—to paraphrase fellow Hall of Famers Dismember—they overrode the overture, thanks in no small part to the vim, vigor and boundless inventiveness ex-Youth of Today/Agnostic Front/Straight Ahead bassist Craig Setari brought to the aural mix, the time and resources afforded the band by a controversial major label deal and, most importantly, a willingness to boldly evolve within a then-stagnating scene that did not expect or demand evolution.

From the coiled thump of “Consume” and dissonant thrash ‘n’ pummel of “Insurrection” to the fist-raising title track anthem and what is almost certainly the catchiest song about castrating rapists, like, ever (“Desperate Fool”), Scratch the Surface is not merely a great record; it is a transcendent one by the standards of any and all subsets of extreme music, an assertion borne out by the fact that the 2006 Sick of It All tribute album Our Impact Will Be Felt features enthusiastic Scratch covers from such stalwart heavies as Sepultura and Napalm Death.

It is a singular honor to herein usher it into our hallowed Hall of Fame.

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