Justify Your Shitty Taste: Suicidal Tendencies’s “The Art of Rebellion”

I was 13 when the summer of 1992 began and, unlike some of my brazenly full-of-shit contemporaries, I didn’t burst into puberty already fully immersed in death and black metal. That summer belonged to a weird cross collection of bands running from Nirvana to King’s X to Megadeth. I spent a lot of time taping episodes of Headbangers Ball and then re-watching them over and over. And besides “Symphony of Destruction,” I had become obsessed with another song they played every week for a few cycles: “Nobody Hears” off The Art of Rebellion by Suicidal Tendencies.

Keeping in mind that this was still on the back end of hair metal ruling everything so videos like “Nobody Hears” which were more grounded in actual reality were somewhat special at the time, rather than watching Warrant do another video about fucking a pie or whatever superficial nonsense that was being shilled at the time. Sure, “Smells like Teen Spirit” gets all the credit on changing the cultural perception of the imagery that guitar-based music held but there was something that Suicidal was able to capture in one video that sticks out to me nearly 30 years later as a touchstone of my own aesthetic development.

I was familiar with “Institutionalized,” much like everyone else who watched Headbangers Ball was, but this was a lot moodier, darker and—to use an awkward description—smoother than that. And after I saved up and bought the cassette, I discovered the rest of the record continued that same smoothly miserable path. The closest record of The Art of Rebellion contemporaries that I could compare it to, at least on an emotional level, was Faith No More’s Angel Dust. Both of these records captured an emotional darkness that, at that age, was just overwhelming to me. I had no idea why the fuck this wasn’t a massive record at the time.

Thirty years have provided some insight into why this isn’t the touchstone with their fanbase that records like Join the Army are, but it hasn’t changed me being baffled as to why this wasn’t a bigger fucking deal than a lot of records at the time. Sure, Suicidal had cut their teeth as a hardcore band and yeah, a lot of really violent and frankly fucking amazing stories about their early years definitely don’t fall in line with a record that’s loaded with a deeply depressing message of self-reflection placed in between faster and nastier tracks that harken to their earlier work. The Art of Rebellion one of those dreaded instances of a band showing “maturity” and “growth” that die-hard fans seem to piss and fucking moan about like it’s some personal insult.

Looking back, it’s not like it was very out of the ordinary for thrash bands to record more—for lack of a better term—“accessible” records. This was the era of the Black Album and, to a lesser extent, Countdown to Extinction and The Sound of White Noise. But songs like “Monopoly on Sorrow” and “I Wasn’t Meant to Feel This / Asleep at the Wheel” somehow felt less like a calculated business move and more like a leap of faith that their fans would follow them into something that wasn’t heavy on sarcasm.

I’m not sure if time has been kinder to the legacy of this record, mostly because I’ve never followed up on people’s opinions that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t value much anyway (and yes, I’m aware that’s hypocritical since I’m writing this expecting you to care about mine—the world is an unfair place). And it’s not a record I’ve returned to in decades for a full play-through so, I was hesitant to listen to a 13-year-old’s favorite at 41, but I’m relieved to say that it still digs deep into melancholy like it did in 1992, only I’m old enough to recognize what influenced them and appreciate the kind of balls it takes be vulnerable as a band loaded with people who could—even at their age now—fuck you up.

While “researching” this piece I discovered a comment on YouTube by a gentleman calling himself “SinKing 57: who doesn’t really mention much about the album other than that he used to “do big lines of crank and listen to this record.” It was nice to find a kindred spirit, who, decades later, could reflect on The Art of Rebellion as an important document of who they were at the time it was released.

The Art of Rebellion was followed by another brave move: a re-recording of classic songs closer to their current style titled Still Cyco After All These Years, proving Suicidal Tendencies really did not give a fuck about anything but their own creative satisfaction. By the time 1994’s Suicidal for Life album was released, it felt like they’d run out of steam and I’d moved on to more underground pursuits. They disbanded shortly thereafter but reformed with new personnel a year or two later. I haven’t followed them in decades but The Art of Rebellion has left a strong enough imprint on me that I still look back on it as fondly as when it was released.

To end this nostalgia trip on an even more nostalgic note: When Headbangers Ball was shown on Saturday, October 24, 1992, it ran into the end of Daylight Savings. MTV was somehow generous enough (before they were open about hating people who enjoyed music) to re-run the last hour of the program and because of that I got to see “Nobody Hears” twice that night, a memory so fucking trivial yet one that stands out as one of my most vivid of that period of my life and probably one of the biggest reasons I still feel The Art of Rebellion is sorely fucking underappreciated.