The Lazarus Pit: SOB’s What’s the Truth?

Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love; stuff that’s essential listening that you’ve probably never heard of; stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for.  This week, we go overseas for some seminal grindcore – but not across the ocean you might think. Instead, we’re jetting across the Pacific to Japan to check out SOB’s sophomore release, What’s the Truth? (Rise Above).
I mean, if you weren’t expecting someone in the land of tentacle porn and extreme splatter flicks to be on the forefront of the most extreme musical genre, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. At the very least, you haven’t read Choosing Death, where our esteemed editor in chief namechecks Japan’s Sabotage Organized Barbarian as a major influence/peer of the almighty Napalm Death. For a band that was right on the cutting edge, though, they rarely receive any credit – maybe it’s because John Peel never played them? At any rate, they were just as good as Napalm or Extreme Noise Terror, but they didn’t have posh accents so you never really hear about them anymore.

Formed in 1983 as a more straight up hardcore unit, their sound had evolved into a punkier variation on grind by the time their 1987 debut, Don’t Be Swindle, was unleashed. As you may notice, that’s the same year that Scum came out (although obviously that record had some delays in its recording process), putting them right alongside the Birmingham collective – and don’t think that the Brummies didn’t take note. The two bands became friends, and even put out a split release in 1989. So even if Swindle still had a little too much hardcore in it for the purists, by the time 1990’s What’s the Truth? rolled around, SOB were well-versed in the gospel of grind.

If Don’t Be Swindle was such an early landmark, why am I covering the follow-up here, I like to think you are rhetorically asking yourself? Simple: the first Black Sabbath record may have been the one that blew open the gates for heavy metal, but relatively few people would argue that it’s their best. They honed their style over the first few albums, and it’s the same with SOB. Whereas the full-length debut consisted of 18 punk-influenced blurs, this one consists of 10 thrash-influenced blurs with some rad groove parts and Engrish gurgling. Terrible production, of course, but we expect no less (more?). It’s a pretty headbanging 20 minutes, one where they hit the sweet spot between grind ferocity and thrash metal musicianship while destroying everything in their path. Are the songs different enough that they’re worth running down individually? Not really, but their collective power is what’s important.

After this record, they put out the more death metal Gate of Doom and Vicious World, and then their singer threw himself in front of a train. Needless to say, that put kind of a cramp in their career. They went through a couple replacement vocalists, including Decibel columnist Kevin Sharp, but despite recording a couple more albums, never really regained their mojo. Still, their first few releases stand as exceptional examples of how to grind intelligently (and barbarically).