Justify Your Shitty Taste: Destruction’s “Cracked Brain”

Sometime in the 1990s, I had a year-long period where I was absolutely obsessed with thrash and old-school metal, culminating in traveling to Milwaukee Metalfest for my first festival experience. This was the year that Sodom and Destruction were playing and my 19-year-old self was fucking spastically excited. Sodom were excellent, one of the best performances I’ve still ever seen (and still a fun conversation and/or friendship ender since they’ll probably never play the U.S. again). Destruction, on the other hand, made your local band seem like fucking gods. It was about as thrilling as a stopped up toilet that people kept shitting in. And I noticed that a lot of my friends weren’t surprised at all. They would tell me that “of course it was shit, just listen to “Cracked Brain”.

Destruction in the 1980s were fucking unstoppable. Every single record of theirs was akin to sonic bullets. From proto-black metal to the beast of a thousand razor sharp riffs it’s obvious to even an idiot as to why these records are still worshipped today. But that stopped with Cracked Brain. Why? A few reasons, some with merit, some completely fucking asinine.

This was the first Destruction record without Schmier on vocal duties as he was fired when the recording had begun. When they decided on a replacement vocalist, they wanted someone a bit different in style (the Venom story all over again) so they got André Grieder from Poltergeist to fill in. History (and fanbases) are rarely kind to replacements in the front of house position (AC/DC and like 60% of Black Sabbath’s history are exceptions). This already puts Cracked Brain at a disadvantage, even if the fucking record was written with Schmier in the band. It’s a weird psychological barrier, one I’ll admit I occasionally struggle with as well. But this is still the classic Destruction formula of merciless riffs, delivered with the precision of a missile strike.

Then there’s the fact that it was released in 1990, at a time when death metal was on the rise and people were tiring of thrash—they wanted something different, something more extreme. A lot of the main players started to see a dip in their brands because of this. Times change, tastes evolve. This was when you started seeing a lot of these bands disappear—only to reappear a decade or two later thanks to the unnatural force that is nostalgia—and only the strongest survived intact.

Cracked Brain marked the beginning of the end for Destruction and the rest of the ’90s would be loaded with acts of self-sabotage that nearly erased any good will the band had created the decade before. I’ve written about 1998’s The Least Successful Human Cannonball before, mostly to gripe that it’s a festering shitheap of a record, but in going back and researching for this piece I’d forgotten about the two EPs the band released in the mid ’90s—Destruction and Them Not Me—and, Jesus, those are experiences I’d rather not have had. Apparently these three recordings are no longer considered part of the official Destruction discography, which is a losing proposition thanks to the internet and preservationists that are ready to remind the world that these awful fucking things exist. When you record something it’s not like the Marvel Universe where you can retcon it out of existence. They exist, and they suck.

But just because the start of the ’90s marked a changing of the guard doesn’t mean that thrash was dead (that didn’t happen until much later once you assholes started singing about pizza like a bunch of four-year-olds) and there were still some vitally underrated gems that were being made. The fact that so much of it was ignored for so long just shows how stunted we can be in our emotional scope that’s connected to things we enjoy.

The final reason that this record is considered by some as a boil on the pockmarked ass of thrash is the lyrics and their indefensible decision to unironically include a cover of the Knack’s “My Sharona.” Thrash predated death metal’s eventual turn to message-driven crap by at least five years. The song the album is named for is a ham handed anti-drug song, somewhat ironic (and I’ll get to why in a bit) while the rest of the album has all of the nuance of a plane crash. From attacking greedy record labels/musicians to communism, the lyrics are just bad. But who listens to thrash for the lyrics? It’s not like this is fucking scholarly music to begin with and the start of the ’90s was rife with laughable lyrics from all the thrash titans.

The truth is that this record would be considered a classic in the Destruction cannon if Schmier had actually performed on it. It has everything else musically that makes their 1980s output so great, and while it’s not their peak, it’s still a banger of a record and is definitely worth a revisit. Just skip the fifth track.

Oh, I almost fucking forgot: The irony in Destruction penning an anti-drug song? That same Milwaukee Metalfest a few of the members were banging on random doors in the hotel we were staying at trying to find someone that had drugs to party with. As far as I remember, they were rejected left and right. Thus is the hidden legacy behind almost all message-driven bullshit.