Anybody who’s followed Integrity over the course of their quarter-century run should be less surprised by the variations the band has undertaken than by the extent to which they’ve been able to adhere to a single core sound despite a revolving door lineup. There are variations between albums, most of them subtle (if Integ2000 isn’t factored into the equation, which is probably better for everybody – though I may be in the minority by suggesting that even what’s largely considered their worst album is still better than most entries into their genre).
Integrity – Suicide Black Snake (a389/Magic Bullet Records)
Anybody who’s followed Integrity over the course of their quarter-century run should be less surprised by the variations the band has undertaken than by the extent to which they’ve been able to adhere to a single core sound despite a revolving door lineup. There are variations between albums, most of them subtle (if Integ2000 isn’t factored into the equation, which is probably better for everybody – though I may be in the minority by suggesting that even what’s largely considered their worst album is still better than most entries into their genre). However, their inclination to nudge their sound in a variety of directions, gradually augmenting their tough metallic hardcore with elements of old Japanese crust, hushed neo-folk, and power electronics elements, not only separated them from their metalcore followers, but was as much an integral part of their sound as the heavy pummeling for which they’re best known.
Suicide Black Snake provides no exception to either the band’s consistency or knack for deftly combining influences. Integrity’s first full-length release since stripping down their recording lineup to consist solely of vocalist Dwid Hellion and multi-instrumentalist Robert Orr, this album trades in much the same currency as many of Integrity’s better releases, the sort of midnight dark and granite hard blasts of energy that have come to be associated with the name. Though Dwid’s bellow – the only true constant in Integrity’s back catalog – is front and center, Orr’s arrangements lend a clear definition to the band’s current permutation. It’s not difficult to tell he’s studied early Integrity albums and knows them inside out, but his ability to deconstruct the older work, to isolate and reconfigure preferred component elements of the previous records, demonstrates the extent to which he understands the syncretism that’s always been at the heart of Integrity.
What’s immediately noticeable is that the band’s much-vaunted G.I.S.M influence is more clearly apparent than on any release by their previous lineups; not only sonically, with soaring guitar melodies and frequent solos floating over galloping drums, but also in some pretty literal references, with the first guitar riff of “Into The Night” sounding remarkably similar to G.I.S.M’s “Frozen Dirt,” and the song title “+Orrchida” combining the surnames of each band’s guitarist. This harmonic side had always been a part of Integrity’s music, but until Orr came on board, it was never placed as front and center as it has been in recent years. Similarly, while many of the band’s previous albums featured some sort of quiet song, an interlude or an outro to break up the otherwise cacophanous output, Orr and Hellion are able to tweak the concept with “Ain’t No Living In This Life.” This track, the album’s centerpiece, combines chiming, clean electric guitars and the sort of hushed, half-spoken vocals that Hellion used to ominous effect in Roses Never Fade, but goes on to incorporate bluesy harmonica playing that seems to sneak up out of left-field and continues through the entirety of the song, even when the music relocates to heavier neighborhoods.
But it’s difficult to say that any of these moments are uncharacteristic, as Integrity has both regularly indulged in the unexpected and, within the confines of their genre, proven an indelible influence on the orthodoxy that they’ve in turn done their best to steer clear of. If Suicide Black Snake is to be seen as something of a reinvention, it’s one that exists in a continuum of such re-imaginings, and is one that should come as no surprise to any serious fan of the band. Anybody expecting a sequel to Those Who Fear Tomorrow will be disappointed, but anybody looking for a more mature (maturity used here as a descriptor for their display of a conceptual soundness, rather in the sense that the term is often used, to describe hardcore bands who have sought poppier pastures in which to chew their artistic cud), better-developed form of the band, in effect another facet on their largely unblemished jewel of a career, will certainly find it here.