'80s era S.O.D.: Charlie Benante, Billy Milano, Scott Ian and Dan Lilker
I missed most of the punk movement; 1970s era punk, with the Ramones, Clash and Sex Pistols, happened while I was busy watching “Seasame Street” and Saturday morning cartoons … and the ’80’s punks (Dead Kennedy’s, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Milkmen, Descendents, Circle Jerks, etc.) were entertaining at points, but were decidedly hit-and-miss, musically. Most of the punk-metal crossover bands (like D.R.I.) never made a real impression on me.
There’s was only one “punk” band that meant anything to me back in the 1980s – S.O.D., the Stormtroopers of Death.
A “crossover” project featuring Scott Ian and Charlie Benante of Anthrax, Dan Lilker of Nuclear Assault and punk vocalist/lyricist Billy Milano, S.O.D.’s sole 80s era album, “Speak English Or Die,” was the funniest and evilest album I’d ever heard. Even today, “Speak English Or Die” spits menace and bile with such force it’s hard to believe Megaforce Records had the courage to release it. This is an face-stomping album, full of uncouth opinions and dirty music.
For the uninititated, “crossover” blended the distortion and riffage of metal with the blazing speed, frenetic energy and g0-to-hell attitude of punk. Thrash was influenced by punk … but crossover was punk, just with a meatier sound. Imagine if every song Metallica ever made were 2-minutes long and sounded like “Fight Fire With Fire,” minus the acoustic intro and guitar solos and you have a good general idea of the crossover sound.
It’s not surprising, in retrospect, that Ian and Benante wanted to bridge the gap between punk and metal. Just a couple years after “Speak English Or Die” hit the streets, Anthrax teamed up with hip-hop originals Public Enemy for a rap-metal crossover cover of P.E.’s “Bring The Noise” (the two bands also toured together on a “best of both worlds” tour that likely created convert fans on both sides).
I could spout the origins of “Speak English Or Die” to you, but do you care? Decibel Magazine did a big spread on the album when they inducted “Speak English Or Die” into the rag’s hall of fame. You want history, go there.
“Speak English Or Die” is raw, dirty and politically incorrect from beginning to end. The riffs are crude and savage while retaining the catchiness that make Anthrax albums so interesting (guitarist Ian wrote or co-wrote the majority of the songs). Meanwhile, Billy Milano is about as rude and nasty as you’d ever expect from a punk howler and Benante and Lilker bash out the rhythms at break-neck speeds.
“Speak English Or Die” preceeded Slayer’s “Reign In Blood,” so I can’t help but wonder if “Speak” had an influence on “Reign In Blood.” The albums are very similar; both albums are full of songs that compress multiple riffs into short, concise packages. Slayer’s performance is better than S.O.D.’s, to be sure, but the two albums are certainly cut from the same punk-metal cloth.
“March of the S.O.D./Sgt. D. and the S.O.D.” is a fun little stomper, with a lumbering riff for the “March,” followed by the faster, ragged “Sgt. D.” Lyrically, Milano sets the tone for rest of album with the violent, ragged, blistering tale of Sgt. D. It’s a take-no-prisoners opener.
“Kill Yourself” is the first serious dive into hardcore punk. The riff is faster than a runaway train, Benante’s drumming is frenetic and Milano spits out the lyrics with machine gun rapidity. Lyrically, the song is rude, crude, obnoxious and overwhelmingly funny.
I won’t go through a track by track analysis, but highlights include “Milano Mosh,” which opens with a slow beat before flying of the track with a Lilker/Benante chaotic blast; “Speak English Or Die” is a Milano rant against immigrant NYC street venders. As sentiments go, “speak English or die” isn’t very nice … but punk was never a “nice” genre; rather, punk’s purpose was to either speak ugly truths, or to just be ugly. “Speak English Or Die” is about as ugly as a song gets … but good god, did I ever laugh myself sick the first time I heard it. Sue me.
“United Forces” is cry for punk-metal brotherhood (the genres did not mix easily in the 1980s – read the Decibel piece on “Speak English” for more on that). Other awesome tracks include “Freddy Krueger,” “Milk,” “Pre-Menstrual Princess Blues,” “Pussy Whipped” and “F*ck The Middle East.” None of this music is “nice,” and the album couldn’t or wouldn’t be released today, which is too bad. The album is like a time capsule from the 1980s, before political correctness and sensitivity took away the ability to say anything controversial or antagonizing.
It’s all tasteless as it sounds … but relax, it’s just tongue-in-cheek toilet humor. Here’s a selection of S.O.D. “ballads,” for your listening “pleasure.”
S.O.D. did at least a bit of touring, but the band didn’t record anything new until 1999. That album, “Bigger Than The Devil,” certainly has some fun moments and big metal riffs … but it doesn’t quite match up to the power of “Speak English Or Die.”
It seems unlikely there will be a third S.O.D. album. I’m not sure Milano and Lilker are on speaking terms with Ian or Benante anymore … you can read an interview where Lilker trash Ian and Benante on Milano’s Web site, if you ‘re really excited about sh*t-talking. But even if there’s never a new S.O.D. album, we’ll always have the foul-tasting punk-metal head-smash that is “Speak English Or Die.” Highly recommended.