The Joke’s On You
Southern Lord Recordings
Release Date: November 18, 2016
Southern Lord Recordings has spent the last several years reintroducing the world to some of the best bands they missed the first time around. Certainly, the label has its share of original acts as well, but the past few years have seen reissues of seminal punk and thrash bands like Poison Idea, Battalion of Saints, and now Excel. For those who didn’t catch Excel the first time around, this Venice, CA-based outfit channeled the punk rock of Black Flag with the metal of Black Sabbath and Corrosion of Conformity. The results are some of the best speed metal this side of Megadeth. 1989’s The Joke’s On You was the band’s final album with their classic lineup, and nothing short of a monster.
Musically, The Joke’s On You is bombastic. Racing riffs and powerful walls of distortion marry the band’s punk and metal influences perfectly. Lyrically these songs embrace the protest themes often associated with punk rock. This is apparent from the opening track “Drive” which immediately proclaims “you need to survive” before breaking into a Black Flag/DRI style beat. During the guitar solo, the song changes gears to highlight the band’s metal influences, before ending on the hardcore beat established during the first verse. “Shadow Winds” follows with a definite nod toward Black Sabbath style metal. The acoustic intro to “Tapping Into the Emotional Void” is a bit of classically inspired guitar work, giving way to a riff that brings to mind Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” despite the fact that Excel beat them to the punch by a few years.
Excel could easily fall into the same one trick pony category as other bands in their genre like the aforementioned DRI, however, the band manages to do the unexpected. In addition to the acoustic guitar work mentioned in the previous paragraph, The Joke’s On You boasts a heavy and energetic cover of the Police hit “Message In a Bottle” that works surprisingly well. The single note riffing in “Blaze Some Hate”, a track that was not included on the original release, moves beyond distorted chording to create a catchy guitar melody. Many of these songs change personalities in a Jekyll and Hyde manner that makes them an energetic, exciting listen. These constant changes ensure this set of songs never grows dull.
I remember hearing this album on the school bus when I was in middle school. As a young metal fan, Excel’s aggressive music immediately drew me in. Years after the demise of my cassette collection, having this album in its re-mastered form is a joy. Not only does it bring me back to the excitement of those years when I was discovering heavy music, but the sound quality has been updated to sound crisp by today’s standards. Southern Lord has done the metal loving world a great service by resurrecting this lost gem.
Reviewed by Jim1340