March 8 was a big day in history. Not just because, in 1957, according to vaunted online historical digest thepeoplehistory.com, “the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, [was] reopened to international traffic by Egypt after Israel [withdrew] from occupied Egyptian territory” (this will totally be the underlying concept of a Nile album in 2020), but because 25 years ago today, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral and Soundgarden’s Superunknown exploded upon the world. Alongside those rarest-of-rare multi-platinum artistic/commercial triumphs, Los Angeles-based then-duo Failure quietly debuted their sophomore effort, Magnified, via Slash Records. Not to toot our own goat-horns, but you’re not going to see a lot of—or perhaps any—Magnified retrospectives alongside the glut of (well-deserved) admiration for the two aforementioned classics today. Which is straight-up bullshit, because Failure’s by-far most aggressive and heavy album is just as deserving of the plaudits we heaped upon 1996’s psych-grunge opus Fantastic Planet in May 2014 (#115).
From the urgent, repetitive grimace of “Let It Drip” through the unnerving slow-burn of “Small Crimes” (it would be cool if screenwriter Macon Blair, who ruled hard in Blue Ruin and Green Room, was influenced by the latter in his 2017 crime thriller of the same name, but we can neither confirm nor deny), Magnified reigns as one of the most criminally unheralded alt-metal records ever. Co-founders Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards traded distorted bass leads, extremely ’90s musings (“It’s not about the boy found slain / It ain’t about his lips blood drained / You should have seen his dream dissolve / Into the dumpster behind the mall”) and hypnotizing, lush arpeggios to… well, you could say to create a template for the unapologetically ambitious Fantastic Planet, but that would be selling Magnified way short. Don’t be like the rest of the universe, who was turned off by a tragically dogshit album cover that completely belied the genius therein: Indulge in the inscrutable, yet infectious thunder (minus midway Floyd-worship chill pill “Bernie”) that earned the band an opening slot for the then-very-cool Tool, yet frustratingly never took them to the next level. And if you don’t believe my fanboy bullshit, take a page from Cave In mainstay Stephen Brodsky, whose band covered Magnified’s propulsive title track on Creative Eclipses, the EP that segued the Boston metalcore maniacs from dB HOFer Until Your Heart Stops to our second-favorite album of the 2000s, space-rock sensation Jupiter.
“If 1991 is the year punk broke, then 1994 is the year punk’s water broke, birthing the golden nugget Magnified by Failure. Druggy chord changes slither unpredictably, oftentimes led by a four-string bassquake alongside primal drumming, both delivered with forceful conviction. It’s a music bed for largely major-key vocals that sound deceptively dark, thanks in part to some beautifully convoluted lyrical poetry like, ‘Coughed a castle of crystal / across the bright yellow kitchen floor.’ But the flanging guitarpeggios in ‘Undone,’ shimmering brightly and sickly at once, is truly the album’s pinnacle moment: shoegaze-y alt-rock oversaturated by California sunshine longing to befriend the massive lack of vitamin D in Pacific Northwestern grunge.”