There have been times over the years where I am absolutely convinced that JUDGE is the greatest band to have ever walked the earth. They are the perfect combination of everything I love in hard music and specifically, hardcore. And on every level, I "get it." Because of this personal infatuation, I don't really think of JUDGE in the same way I think of many other great hardcore bands. In some respects, JUDGE really is almost like a unit I use to compare other music to. This isn't really an original notion of mine, in fact, Brett Beach's signature on the Livewire message board used to say something to the effect of "compared to JUDGE it's shit." I don't know the premise of that statement, I'm sure it somehow involves football and a lot of fried food and some other type of injoking discussion amongst his crew of friends, but the bottom line is that there is a lot of good music, that honestly, compared to JUDGE, is really just shit. If a record doesn't make me at least stop paying attention to the opening bass line of "Where It Went," then it's never gonna do much for me.
An argument could be made by naysayers that a lot of the late 80s SE Revelation scene type of bands were watered down, little kid, copy cat versions of YOT, who in their own right were self-admittedly really doing their best act of homage to the early greats - DYS, Negative Approach, and Antidote. I also think that for "hardcore," a lot of the SE variety of bands (most of whom I do in fact absolutely love) popping up by 1988 could fall into the critic's stereotype of soft, safe, suburban boys going through the adolescent motions of the times. And therein lies the absolute power of JUDGE. JUDGE cannot be categorized as such. Let's break it down (cue BL'AST! riff):
Mike Judge, if it isn't already apparent to you, is probably one of the "harder" dudes to have ever been involved in the straight edge scene. Sure there is a lot of legend and folklore, but whether it is truth or fiction, he will forever be the ultimate in "hard" to every straight edge kid. Let's be honest, the SE scene has never been known for physically intimidating city types. In that sense, Mike Judge represents the anger any SE nerd can feel, but he makes it a legitimate and intimidating thing in his lyrics, his vocals, physical presence and his folklore-fueled mystique. When all of us have been picked on for being straight edge and a little different, we can always go listen to "Fed Up" and say to ourselves, "yeah, they wouldn't fuck with me if Mike was there, yeah, that's right." Hardcore loves "characters," and within the SE scene, Mike Judge is in many ways like our protector. He was a dude that was involved with the early 80s NYC scene (though I'm sure someone will even debate that one), and wasn't just a fly by night dork that got loud on a microphone. He was...legitimate.
Lars and Matt with Judge at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno
The early period of JUDGE (1988/EP era) seems so cool - the Skiz 2 semi-secret project record, full on SE fury, hooded reverse weave Champions, chains around waists, messenger bags, and big X's on hands. Then the band transitioned by 1989 to a full blown Rev outfit and morphed into what is seen and heard on Bringin' It Down: a much bigger, fuller metallic sound with more dynamic song structure, and Mike even moving past the blunt anger of the EP and sheding his skin to expose more than just rage (as well as trading in JUDGE shirts and a shaved head for facial hair and abundant flannel). Regardless, I can't ever pick which era I like more - both are untouchable.
But then there is that final EP, a post-humous goodbye that goes out on a dark, brooding, heavy note - literally the record ends and "the storm" is over. But it's never really referred to as a high note or a favorite release. Now I'm not sure I can say it's my favorite JUDGE release, but to me, it's right there with everything else. I love it. It's only two songs (one completely new) but it just seems fitting and leaves me wanting more. It doesn't move in any strange direction, it just continues in a natural progression of power. While I hate to dabble again with another '89-'91 era Revelation release for this column, I simply can't resist with this EP.
"Forget This Time" is a long (like awesomely long) mid-tempo powerdriver of a song that simply sounds like it was recorded to serve as the music in the opening credits of a movie that starts out with a dude who was recently released from prison opening the small garage door of his Hell's Kitchen apartment around 11:30 at night, kick starting his rigid '74 shovelhead, and blasting the fuck down a small alley and into the NYC night, usually riding with only his right hand on the bars (using his left to jockey shift), exploding out of the city through tunnels and bridges into northern NJ via route 80. The music plays as we watch him ride, he sees signs and landmarks that remind him of growing up in and around NYC and northern NJ, and interspersed with him riding are flashback clips of his youth, lost love, and some really violent brawls. I'm not sure where he is riding too, I haven't gotten that far with the script, but the first 3 minutes of it are fantastic. I think eventually he just meets up with an old friend in Lodi and they go to a Moose Lodge and play darts as Neil Young's Harvest LP plays on the jukebox.
I would have loved to have heard a full LPs worth of songs in this style. I'm not really sure what they were going for with this tune, it's kinda like Master Of Puppets on 33rpm mixed with a sanitized version of Motorhead...or something. I don't know. But the recording KILLS. Shit is so heavy - Sammy is absolutely flawless, his drums boom like canons, his double bass usage is selective and appropriate, it might be the best drum sound I've heard from Fury, and it really is just Sammy at his peak in JUDGE. Lars and Porcelly trade crunches and the guitar work never gets controversial in the way you may expect from a big-but-potentially-turning-metallic SE band in 1990. Porcell pulls out a great bender/melter towards the end that fits perfect.
Judge at the Anthrax with Ryan Hoffman on 2nd guitar, Photo: The Storm EP
Mike's lyrics obviously tie in with the movie script above. I won't go into the story I have been told by inside sources regarding the inspiration for the lyrics, but I've always loved what he wrote and the open-endedness of creating my own interpretation anyways. The mix of imagery involving midnight, mental confusion, dawn, solitude, and alienation creates an overall vibe of straight up darkness that is heavier than anything JUDGE presented up until then. Basically, it sounds like a dude that is in a really bad place. On the upside, it made for a fucking hell of a song. It's worth noting that I was just talking to Sammy about this record for this piece and he reiterated his love for "Forget This Time," something I've also heard Porcell say. That may not sound like anything special, but considering how many dudes will clown on their own stuff from years prior, I think this is cool.
The B side is "The Storm II". Some call this a cop out and a basic re-do of "The Storm" from Bringin' It Down, but I think this is an improved version and such an appropriate song here as the closer. I always thought the little perhaps-Black-Flag-inspired "II" nod was cool as well. It starts out with exactly what you think it should start with: the sound Harleys. I always wondered if this was a clip they got from somewhere else (by "they" I mean Mike), but a couple years ago I heard it was in fact Mike and Todd outside Fury's ripping up and down the street on their own bikes, and this was confirmed by Lars in our recent interview with him. The Storm was JUDGE's anti-racism anthem, initially on Bringin' It Down with samples from the '88 flick "Colors," and it kicks off with a classic intro drum beat basically stolen from Impact Unit's "Night Stalker" that has now been used countless times by young coreman drummers around the world during soundchecks and cover song fake-outs. It's heavy as hell and would be a great soundtrack to curbing someone if you ever had to do it.
"The Storm" was originally conceived as just an intro (see various JUDGE live sets and the WNYU set circa early late '88), so to see it come fully alive as "The Storm II" is pretty cool. The updated version really shows the band being even tighter and more explosive, the pace of the song is like a tank just rolling over an entire opposing army. There also is a calm chilled out part with a creepy Pincus finger played bass line towards the end with Mike now grumbling "the streets are all the same, but the faces are new...the names have all changed, but the problem it still grew". Heavy stuff. This again is more proof that whether or not Mike was at the end of his rope, this record sure makes it sound like he was a guy that had lost pretty much all hope in the world. The song fades out, and you are unsure if you will ever leave your bedroom again.
Mike gives the City Gardens crowd some mic action, Photo: Ken Salerno
That's the EP. Of course, the cassette and cd included the bonus track of "When The Levee Breaks." I don't even feel the need to point out who made this song famous in rock, although it's worth noting that even Led Zeppelin (oops, I told you) was doing a cover of an old blues song when they played it. I've heard people diss this song selection and JUDGE's attempt at it. I will say this: I love Led Zeppelin, John Bonham is my favorite drummer of all time, and Led Zeppelin IV is one of the best rock albums with the best recordings ever. For the JUDGE guys to even attempt to dabble with it was a very ballsy move. All things considered, it isn't bad. Taking it for what it is, it's kinda cool. Sammy actually pulls off Bonham convincingly, it's more the guitars that give a weird pre-Nu Metal vibe to things. And Mike's vocals...well, hey, at least he was into it.
I always got the impression these dudes probably started jamming this for fun and realized Todd (roadie) could play the harmonica parts so they thought they'd record it. Although it never dawned on me right away early on, the song lyrically fits in with the entire record and JUDGE imagery. It's about a levee breaking from a storm (Bonham's unbelievably classic beat on the Zeppelin version was supposed to represent the pounding storm) - get it? Not sure that's why they wanted to cover it, but it's an interesting connection. If this is the worst thing JUDGE has ever done, it really isn't that bad at all. Hell, I still listen to it and dig it.
Finally, the entire package of the EP is minimalistic JUDGE - nice and neat. The big bold JUDGE logo, lightening cover, "after the storm" calm back cover, and the live pic on the pull out lyric sheet - a photo of JUDGE strangely enough from one of their few shows with Ryan Hoffman on guitar - is all good. I always thought that even though Mike looks fucking bad as hell in this shot, it was a strange one to choose. For starters, it's not a great Anthrax crowd shot - the crowd almost looks a tad thin and some dude is doing an MTV inspired flop dive off the stage. Considering how many insane photos there are in existence of the band, I wonder why they chose this one. It is interesting though, because Mike looks like an absolute punisher in this picture. He literally looks like an offseason bodybuilder bouncing in Long Island, as compared to just a basic large man as evidenced in, well, every other JUDGE photo in existence. Flip it over to the lyric side, and the heat lightening photo with Mike tells the tale of a band who spent a lot of time on the road in that last stretch, and ultimately got worn down by the elements. It also makes perhaps the most compelling argument for why dog tags, a fanny pack, tapered jeans, and Chukka Boots is a flawless and deadly combination of sexually-charged men's attire. But overall, for some reason, this photo is just so cool and "deep" in an understated way, and it gives just the perfect touch of finality.
It's tough to predict how things would have worked for JUDGE had they stayed together somehow for another year. It's such a "what could have been" type of question. If this record is any indicator, I think everyone would have been in for one hell of a second LP had it come to fruition.
Before I wrap this up, I feel that I must tell a story that has always been a personal favorite. Ed McKirdy went to college in Boston in 1991 and was pals with Chris Patterson, who would later play in Ten Yard Fight. The tale goes that at some point, this record came up in conversation, and Chris said through a thick Boston accent, "yah dood I like Judge dood but thaat record sahcks dude." Without hesitation, Ed asked him what he just said, and Chris repeated the same. Enraged, Ed threw him up against a wall and got in his face, shocked that someone could say such a thing. They smoothed things over, but that right there is probably one of 732168 reasons Ed is more like a brother than a friend and why I would easily take a bullet for him.
Taking this final dose for all it's worth, I think this is a band that truly went out on their own terms, at the very top of their game. RESPECT. -Gordo DCXX
There will be quiet... after the storm