Few movements did as much for hardcore as straight edge did, and few bands embraced straight edge hardcore harder than Syracuse’s Earth Crisis. Both of those points are explored in Straight Edge: A Clear Headed Hardcore Punk History, a new book by Tony Rettman, also the author of NYHC: New York Hardcore, 1980–1990. Enjoy an exclusive excerpt from the book right now, a chapter on none other than Earth Crisis featuring interviews with the band as well as members of Strife, Shelter and more.
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EARTH CRISIS: A FIRESTORM TO PURIFY
Karl Buechner: I felt that the generation of straight edge before us had taken the vehicle of straight edge and broken the windows out, run razors over the seats, and pushed it into a ravine. They wanted nothing to do with it—so it was our duty to pull it up out of there and rebuild it.
Greg Bennick: In 1989, I was at Syracuse University. I was sitting in my dorm room. My new friend DJ Rose walked in with his friend Karl and said, “We’re going to start a band, and we’re going to call it Earth Crisis.” Karl was being quiet and seemed sort of odd. I just said, “Cool name.” We all looked at each other and they left. It was a weird Napoleon Dynamite kind of moment.
DJ Rose: I moved to Syracuse right after I got out of college in the summer of ’89. Karl and I used to skate; he played bass and he thought we should start a band. We met Dave Stein and Steve Reddy over in Albany, they were two very serious individuals. They were vegans, and they educated us on animal rights. That made us want to push hard in that direction. Karl got together a ragtag group of people, and I named the band Earth Crisis. We practiced two or three times.
Karl Buechner: Our name traces back to the Steel Pulse album of the same name. I thought that album cover artwork really encapsulated a lot of things that our band would stand against. Whether conventional or biological or nuclear, there was a lot going on in that cover.
DJ Rose: We got a chance to play a show in Utica, New York. We played two or three songs, and then we covered SSD’s “Glue.” You know you’re reaching your target audience if people go off for that song. That was the beginning and the end of my role as the vocalist for Earth Crisis. I wasn’t really interested in being in a band. I wanted to book shows in Syracuse, and bring the bands to town that I wanted to see.
When I told Karl I didn’t want to be in the band, he got super bummed. I think he holds a grudge against me to this day. I don’t think he realized Earth Crisis would have died on the vine if I continued to be the singer. I don’t have that anger Karl has, and I don’t have the tenacity to stay on point with the message like he has. It was Karl’s band and vision from the beginning. After I left, he pretty much stole the entire lineup of this Syracuse band called Framework. He became the singer and made Earth Crisis as it’s known today.
Greg Bennick: Fast-forward a few years to about 1993, and I was at a Kinko’s with my friend Bill Baker. He was doing a label at the time, Incision Records, and was making plans to release a record by this band Earth Crisis. He put on the demo tape at 3 a.m. in Kinko’s while we were manifesting zines at “low cost,” if you know what I mean. It was a very ’90s hardcore moment! I don’t remember ever being that blown away by a demo. It was so heavy, the sound was so different, and the band was so intense.
I loved them so much right from the start, because I felt they were saying, “Fuck you! We do not care what you think! Our initiative is veganism and animal rights. If you stand in our way, we’re going to mow you down!” Who had ever done that before? I truly believed Earth Crisis was going to be the bastion of changing the entire world over to veganism.
Karl Buechner: We came from listening to New York hardcore bands like Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, and Warzone. The first Cro-Mags record, The Age of Quarrel, leaves you thinking, “These guys are down with Hare Krishna one hundred percent.” When you listen to Agnostic Front, you think, “Wow, these guys are patriotic and believe in law and order and self-defense.” Warzone is saying the world is crumbling around us, and we have to become our own tribe. We took those philosophies, approaches, and commitments, and built off them to create our own ideas about how we wanted to present our band.
Lins Cuscani: We all dug that first Earth Crisis EP, All Out War. We saw it as something different, adding the values of the animal rights slant to the straight edge scene. Many straight edge kids in this country were vegetarian anyway; it was a natural progression to get into something musically and lyrically harder and also to support an ideology also so far removed from the norm. Personally, it was important to not only to be positive for myself, but to be positive to all living creatures. Earth Crisis gave everyone a different perspective on the whole straight edge thing, and made us more aware of our diets, lifestyle, and duties to other living species. This scene gained a lot of support, with a plethora of bands like Blood Green, Vengeance of Gaia, Slavearc, and Canvas becoming the focal point. A number of fanzines and record distributors sprang up also.
Karl Buechner: I think people were very ready for Earth Crisis and vegan straight edge. That’s why so many other bands like Green Rage, Canon, or Gatekeeper came up at the same time. There were vegan straight edge bands all over the country, and then, eventually, all over different continents.
Toby Morse: Earth Crisis and the metal-edged, vegan straight edge really seemed to break up straight edge into different sectors.
Jeff Terranova: I personally wasn’t digging the ’90s militant vegan straight edge because it didn’t sound like hardcore to me. It was just that jud-jud riff over and over again. I would have been more into it if it was just actually Slayer up there. Imagine Tom Araya of Slayer singing about veganism the same way he sings about Satan? I came into hardcore from metal. In metal, everything was fantasy. When I crossed over into hardcore, everything was based in reality and that’s what appealed to me. Then hardcore turned into metal, both in its sound and the lyrical content. These bands wrote songs about blowing up mink farms and killing drug dealers. Are they really going to go out and kill drug dealers? Probably not. Where do you draw the line between reality and fantasy?
Karl Buechner: I am not a documentary filmmaker. I am not an author or an investigative journalist. I’m a musician into animal rights. I think the thing that makes Earth Crisis different from a lot of bands in the worlds of hardcore and metal is that the songs that we write contain some science fiction–esque speculation.
Andrew Kline: I’m an Earth Crisis fan. I love Earth Crisis, and I love the guys in the band. We toured with them a lot. But their take on straight edge is much different than Strife’s. We were never about separation or violence. We were always about acceptance.
Lins Cuscani: Vegan straight edge made some of us less tolerant to others, not only from the outside but also within our own scene. It created positivity on one hand, but division on the other.
DJ Rose: Lines got blurred. People associated Earth Crisis with the hardline straight edge thing from a couple years earlier, but Earth Crisis was vegan straight edge—not hardline. Some kids where we lived in Syracuse claimed hardline, but we were antagonistic toward them. None of them are vegetarian anymore. What a surprise! But those guys weren’t down for any special cause. They were just crazy people.
Greg Bennick: When Earth Crisis put out their second seven-inch, Firestorm, in 1993, Maximum Rocknroll and other people on the scene got upset.
Karl Buechner: The song “Firestorm” is about a people’s uprising against the drug gangs and cartels. If you go and read books like Seize the Time by Bobby Seale, or Will You Die with Me? by Flores Alexander Forbes, or other books written by Black Panthers, “Firestorm” falls in line with what they were trying to do just to exist.
Greg Bennick: The song had lyrics like, “Let the roundups begin.” Was Earth Crisis saying they were going to round up drug dealers, block by block? You would imagine them walking down the streets in jackboots. But in no way is that what they were suggesting. To me, they were on the path of righteousness and compassion, and that appealed to me.
Jason Knott (Clear): When Earth Crisis’ Firestorm came out, that brought me a whole new sense of pride, attitude, and purpose. That record was inspirational for us to form our band Clear in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Vique Martin: In 1993, I went to More Than Music Fest in Dayton, Ohio, with two British straight edge men, future Turbonegro singer Tony Sylvester and Strength Alone guitarist Barry Thirlway. We loved the Firestorm seven-inch but hated the pro-life politics of Earth Crisis. I think we went up front for the songs we liked, and then walked outside while the screaming started about politics. That kind of thing did not happen in the U.K.—it was all a bit overwhelming!
Karl Buechner: Someone might get freaked out over a song like “Firestorm,” but one song over on the lyric sheet is a song about ghosts at Wounded Knee. On our next record, Gomorrah’s Season Ends, there was a song about survivors after a nuclear war. Whether the subject is nuclear war or extinction, the songs still address the reality of what’s going on now. We could tell the stories of the Animal Liberation Front or Earth First! or the Sea Shepherds in a more direct way, but I don’t think it would capture people’s imaginations. It didn’t matter. People would pick one line out of a song. They didn’t want to understand the words within the context of the rest of the lyrics. They wouldn’t come up and talk to us at a show, or try to understand what we were trying to say.
DJ Rose: In the beginning, it didn’t matter. We were going to say what we were going to say. What’s the worst that was going to happen? Someone would get punched?
Steve Reddy: Whenever Shelter went to Syracuse to play, there was always a philosophical battle between Vedic culture and their vegan Reich-isms. There was always some big debate where it got to a point where I’d say, “Okay, who wants to get physical? Let’s go!” But I knew all those guys. DJ Rose would come see Youth of Today in Albany, and I also had a good relationship with Karl. Nothing would have happened.
DJ Rose: We loved the hardcore scene. We weren’t there to threaten anyone. But even our good friends wouldn’t book us in their town or play shows with us. People had this preconceived idea of Earth Crisis, that we were going to show up at a show and be mean to people and tell them they were wrong. We were all likable, normal people. All we wanted to do was present our views.
Karl Buechner: In the song “The Discipline,” I sing, “I separate from the poison.” Having said that, I never tried to separate myself from other people. When someone has a different political view or philosophy than me, that’s what makes life interesting. I don’t hate them. Instead of bringing people together on commonality, people wanted to demonize the opposition. To me, hardcore was always a marketplace and a community of ideas and philosophies. I always thought it was weird when someone would disagree with one or two aspects of what we were about and shut us out. You don’t want to support our band because of that? You actually want to create enemies within our community?
DJ Rose: If you don’t like our views, that’s fine. But don’t fuck with us when we’re not fucking with you. When Earth Crisis played the first More Than Music Festival in Ohio in 1993, the people booking it had this attitude that no one gave a shit about the band. They acted like they were doing Earth Crisis a favor by letting them play as maybe second or third band of a night with probably ten bands. We brought carloads of people with us from Syracuse. Before they started, I remember Rob Fish from Resurrection was trying to unplug their equipment and shit like that. Then the band started, and people went fucking ape-shit. Afterward we watched a video of the set, and we counted four hundred flashbulbs going off during the first song, “Firestorm.” That’s a lot attention for an opening band. That’s when we knew people were ready.
That festival lit the fire of interest in the band. I had given an Earth Crisis demo to Tony Brummel from Victory Records, and he threw it out the car window without even listening to it. Now he wanted to put out their record.
Greg Bennick: The only thing I can’t back about Earth Crisis was their antiabortion stance. Over the years, Earth Crisis has gotten a pass on their early days with their antiabortion stance in the same way the Bad Brains get a pass for being homophobic. We’re very selective in our thinking about history sometimes.
Karl Buechner: For most of the band, we were and still are in two hundred percent agreement that most abortions are the outright murder of a defenseless human being. Ultimately, it’s no different than what happens to an animal in a slaughterhouse. Both beings are victims for either someone’s convenience or profit. Obviously, these are not things that people want to hear, because they are in direct contrast to what the powers that be deluge our minds with such as, “A fetus doesn’t feel pain; animals exist for us to slaughter and devour.” These lies lead to death, misery, and regret.
Demian Johnston: In the winter of 1993, Undertow drove our van down to California, picked up Strife, and drove across the country to Syracuse to join Earth Crisis on tour. We traveled with Earth Crisis for two weeks, and we got to know them pretty well. They were nice guys. Our drummer Ryan “Murph” Murphy and I were vegan at the time, so we were stoked to hang out with those dudes. They knew where all the good vegan places were to eat. But they had that line in one of their songs that was like, “For the fetus we will attack.” We were like, “What the fuck, man? That shit’s fucked up!” We had a pro-life versus pro-choice argument that never ended, and we would not see their side whatsoever. I remember Daisy Rooks from Not Even zine and Karl had it out a few times.
Rob Moran: If Earth Crisis got people to stop and think about what they were eating, then I was all for it. I think things always soften up with age, as they eventually did. Earth Crisis was cool what they were doing with their music and messages. I might not have agreed with a lot of it, but I still enjoyed it.
DJ Rose: Earth Crisis and the vegan straight edge scene in Syracuse started to gain some media attention. A hardcore kid in Atlanta called Jon Rej worked at CNN. He connected us with this show Network Earth. From there, people invited us to spread our ideas. We did shows like MTV’s Smashed and 48 Hours. When I was on those shows, I always talked like I was speaking to someone’s grandma or mother, because that’s who watches those shows! I’m forty-six years old now, and I still get people coming up to me saying, “My mom started letting me go to hardcore shows because she saw you talking on TV.”
Karl Buechner: When we were younger, we went to see all kinds of live music. We would go see Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then we’d go see the Exploited or G.B.H., and then the next week, Agnostic Front and Breakdown. We were just into music. When it came time for us to tour, we had the same attitude. “A tour with Gwar, why not? Let’s tour with Sepultura! Let’s go to Europe with Warzone.” We wanted to spread this message outside of our comfort zone.
Toby Morse: Earth Crisis still tour to this day, spreading messages of veganism and animal rights. Those guys still live like that to this day. It’s fucking awesome and I love them for it.
Karl Buechner: We still tour because nothing has really changed! The multinational corporations have seized control of the media. They want their profit system maintained, and they want it to flow forward. That’s why there’s an incredible amount of resistance against things like alternative energy and veganism. That’s why they use their power to portray animal rights activists or environmentalists as people with irrational or unrealistic ideas.
Greg Bennick: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest Earth Crisis did more for veganism and straight edge than Youth of Today.
Andrew Kline: When Earth Crisis hit the scene, and people took them as this militant straight edge band, a lot of people said, “Fuck this, if this what straight edge is now. I don’t want to be associated with anything like this.” It pushed a lot of people away from proclaiming to be straight edge and they all went to different music scenes.
John McLoughlin: When things got crazy with kids pushing straight edge and animal rights really hard, I just wasn’t feeling like this was something we wanted to be a part of. I was never militant about my edge. I tried to keep our lyrics as non-preachy as possible. I’m not into cramming my beliefs down anyone’s throat, nor did I want yours crammed down mine. I always welcomed new kids into the scene, so the newcomer grommets didn’t bother me, but the distortion of the message did. I didn’t form Wide Awake to recruit my friends into a cult or a collective or a religion. But in my mind, the movement became misguided. The message was being distorted beyond something I even recognized—and never mind identifying with it at that point.
Ian MacKaye: When the militant thing came about, obviously these people’s issues were not just about being sober. They were about power and violence and anger, and how to get that shit out of their system. There was a period of time where I thought, “If someone kills me, it’s probably going to be some militant straight edge guy.”