HC#4 : Review of Judiciary’s “Surface Noise”

In welchem Heavy vom neuen Album “Surface Noise” der Texaner Judiciary profan erleuchtet in Zugen redet. [Note: there will be some posts in English, some in German. Each English post will have a German abstract and vice versa.]

Lady Liberty, tears of blood falling on yellow roses, Texas in the cross hairs, a collage of faces and warlike images. Full marks on atmosphere and “feel”, but WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!

End of January, Texas Hardcore jurists Judiciary released an absolute indictment of an album called “Surface Noise” that gets EVERYTHING RIGHT and is instant legal tender in the state of HC today. It moshes and thrashes and headbangs, it has Metal and HC, isn’t really technical or super-complex, but comes at you with the power and conviction of Nineties bands like Integrity, Strife and, shall we say, Judge. There isn’t much to mumble about it other than that. You might mention the repeated use of what I wanna call the Davidian-squeal, there is the “different” screeching on, for example, “Pure Fury”, and the thing they have really going for them is that it takes them half a riff to go to 100% and then not let down, ever, at all. Other than that nothing sticks out apart from nothing sticking out. It is rather a complaint about being generic, rote, alike or jumping on the Power Trip-neo Thrash-bandwagon that might stick, sure, but that simply doesn’t do anything to diminish the impact of this 27-minute-monster. Such complaints could be likened to a misguided David having loaded his sling with paperballs to defeat this Goliath of righteous Crossover HC/Thrash-informed HC/whaddyacallit.

Check it here or, even better, get it here.

There is an inherent law-abiding stance in following the rules of a genre so zealously, which is why their name Judiciary takes on a new meaning: you can let them be the Judge of that (genre) so to speak (if you’ll excuse the barely-sequitur-pun). And there is inherent religiosity in worshipping a certain style so much, which might go a couple of miles to explaining the one point about which I’d say: this is something that struck me about them (apart from delivering a truckload of undeniable RIFFS dramatically falling down a cascading cliff), something that can be glimpsed in the lyrics, that is almost if not fully at odds with what they’re trying to say and that is the language of religion. (<– That’s the “hot”, well, nigh-tepid take right there!!!) Squint with me and you’ll see that this lot is practically speaking in tongues. Even and especially when denouncing religion they use any and all religious concept with the fervour of a pentecoasting prophet.

Brian should get Judiciary as backing band, so the audience would start a proper circle pit already.

“How’s this?”, you ask, or “Really? Nah.” To which I reply: I’m bringing it down – this hammer of facts:

The one band that turned the positive vibes of Youth Crew HC – that they themselves were the posterboys of – back to the negative approach of first wave, and ramped up the bleakness, exaggerated violent impulses, brought in the Metal and thereby created a watershed moment: Judge. The ensuing developments can be summarized by a glimpse at the Early nineties Victory roster: Earth Crisis (militant vegan straight edge), Integrity (the Venom/Bathory of Hardcore?) and Strife (super-earnest, super-bleak SXE-Hardcore)

Here are some very simple numbers and percentages: The album’s full lyrics including song titles as published on their bandcamp count 1054 words. Several word fields are recurrent throughout the record, them being those of (1) rebellion (2) law, (3) violence – and (4) religion, ordered in increasing percentages of the full word count. Again, repetitions and song titles are counted. Here is an annotated list:

  1. Rebellion (Example: “Resistance is Action”) 29 words equalling a meagre 3,056% of the total.
  2. Law (Judiciary’s area of expertise, one would assume. They are apparently specialised in the lex talionis that’s prominently featured in – among others – that old book of law, the Old Testament. “Vengeance” and “revenge” get repped, you could also count “Karma” which appears to be the same thing as revenge to them, tallies 40 words or 4,216%.
  3. Violence (That’s a big one for Judiciary, be it figurative (“I’ll fire conviction through your fucking head”) or not (“I’ll rip your heart out from your chest”). As a rule it’s murderous (“You’ll give us your fucking life”) or terminally auto-aggressive (“I’ll take my life”) and it is depicted, threatened, imagined or used as trope in as many as 100 words, or 10,54% of the whole thing. Seen together with the “Stronger Than Thou”-song title we see glimpses of another Texan, permanently juvenile/regressed this one (that’s really the most positive description I can muster here rn given all the shit dude says and does.) who purports to be or become stronger than all. Don’t go down that lane, guys!
  4. Religion (Let’s be clear, Judiciary probably didn’t vote for Rubio or any of his ilk, they are obviously opposed to Christianity, especially the figuration(s) they’ve become involuntarily familiar with. Strikingly, though, religious concepts, ideas, terms, connotations crop up at all places even and significantly there where they don’t use religious language only to dismiss it and so the word count goes up to 127 or 13,38%, a clear winner and certainly enough to take a closer look.

And here’s the list of words, collocations and phrases I framed as religious or semantically connected to religion or concepts with connotations of religion, some of course overlapped with law and some with violence, which only makes sense, since scripture has traditionally been the source of law and where there is religion there is also death and destruction (I don’t even mean this polemically, go read the OT or John’s account of his vision of the world’s end, both content staples for the Metal-Horror-Industrial-Complex):

Time is nigh / Time is nigh / creation / annihilation / False prophets / a world overthrown / annihilation / Time is nigh / Zero Hour / ideals / Redemption / sword / legion / Die by your weapon / Morals / cult / flesh is ruled by death / The scale is tilted at the reapers hand / goddamn / fury /
I will devour you whole / goddamn / Pure fury / devour your whole / soul / Pure fury devours you whole / soul / pride / fury / born anew / ideals / desires / divine / paradise / holy / virtue / Divine / Show me something better / ideals / desires / Truth / One force, stronger than thou / flesh with no purpose / Thou / temple / fate / soul / hell / Forsaken / shed this human shell / Temple / Karma’s / Destiny / mercy / plead / karma’s fate / Redemption / karma’s / Untouchable / godsend / morals / Karma’s / conviction / your ego soars / Hope / schism / Kneel down / evil / Doomed / a world forlorn / pride / Crusade

All words in reverse/chaotic order from “Surface Noise” lyrics. Reads like your local fire and brimstone preacher might just wanna take notes for his next sermon.

Let’s look at a couple of specimen more closely and/or within their context:

  1. Five song titles have strong religious connotations: Social Crusade, Karma’s Knife, Temple, Stronger than Thou (King James Bible English anyone?), Zero Hour (Apocalypse), and that’s not even counting “War (Time is nigh)” (Again with the apocalypse!) and “Burden of Truth” (I am the way, the truth and, in Judiciary’s case, probably the knife.)
  2. There is the aforementioned critique of religion as dishonest and irrational (hence the avowal “I’ll keep integrity [Ed: of course you keep Integrity! It’s audible in practically every song!] and my mind” in chief anti-religious track “Burden of Truth”.
  3. In that very same song that denounces belief there is a clear acknowledgement of at least Platonic (so metaphyiscal) “ideals”, their infinity (and, strangely, also of “desires”) and superiority over death in the courageous assertion: “You can’t kill me.” which of course means “you can’t REALLY kill me” – which neatly works for my take on their religious anti-religious stance. And that’s martyr talk right there.
  4. Then there’s the move to profane religious concepts in the song “Social Crusade” that, apart from the title, also references a “social schism”. While this obviously is taking religiosity down a couple of notches, it also embues the action and change Judiciary want to see in the world with a strong sense of spirituality, whether they are particularly keen on that or not.
  5. In the following three songs there is a striking coexistence and simultaneity of denouncement of distrusted authority, especially religious (“Untouchable sadistic Godsend”) on the one hand and appropriation of religious concepts (“Karma”, Old Testament retribution and redemption, the idea of consecrated spaces (“My mind is a temple for vengeance”), and the idea of a soul separated from the body (“shed this human shell”)) on the other. This might very well be on purpose as an appropriation and profanation, sure, also one likes to borrow powerful rhetoric where one can, but words have their way, too – and so Judiciary’s quest for social justice is also a spiritual journey, the testament of a profanely illuminated (to borrow and misuse an idea of Benjamin’s (Linked text in German, sorry)) crusader.
  6. There is a pervading idea of violence, destruction and doom, which is also the note the album ends on that is so second coming. It’s nothing if it ain’t the good ole Manichean struggle between the forces of good (that are asserted to be “stronger than thou”) and bad (“immoral”, “sadistic”) that smacks of a quasi-religious outlook.

What do we get when we summarise this? The speaker in these lyrics is violently opposed to religion, politicians (I think!?) and other powers that be and their perceived false authority, sees themself in a retributive struggle against them and sees fit to employ the weapons of their very opponent, spirituality and religiosity in this fight. Do they become their enemy in the course of this appropriation or is Judiciary still the Agnostic, nay, Atheist Front? How did they – not the first and not the last in HC and Metal – get into this mess(iah) and what is it to us? Discuss!

Another case of slight cognitive dissonance: a crucified Agnostic? Anything goes in NY(H)C!

Some disclaimers before the conclusion:

  1. I applaud bands for putting their lyrics on inserted sheets or, even more, on their Bandcamp site: your effort is truly appreciated.
  2. I generally like reading lyrics and thinking about them. Even if it comes across as fastidious or patronizing, my intent is to understand a band better, I do indeed crit because I love.
  3. This case of lyrics stays a conundrum even after (sketchy) analysis, but it is indeed nothing new. In fact, Metal needs religion, especially Christianity, as its foil. Who needs Slayer if hell does not, in fact, await? While this is not a case of “sacralisation of politics” whereby a powerful institutions seeks to become more authoritative and unquestionable (hint: a fascist dictatorship) by purporting to possess some kind of truth, destiny and higher calling, Judiciary certainly express their distance to religion in terms more akin to religion than anything else. No surprise there. Since the Bad Brains, Rastafarians to be, came on (or rather founded) the scene, ever since the preacher tone of the archetypical HC frontman inaugurated by Ian Mackaye raised his fiery voice, since John Joseph proclaimed the Cro-Mags “Seekers of the Truth”, since Ray Cappo donned the Hare Krishna garb, there has been an ingrained (search for) spirituality, illumination and redemption in Hardcore. In that sense, too, Judiciary are as traditional as it gets. It’ll be interesting to see what they turn to when they come to the inevitable point in a band’s life to decide how to progress.
  4. Did I mention that this album kicks ass?

On the Heavy Chettle classification table of Heaviness the album scores a massive Deadlift. This certainly heavies with the heaviest in 2019. Regarding the religious current under the anti-religious pose, this gets a light Heavier than (South of) Heaven.

Before we go, check out the full speech from which they have their sample at the end of Burden of Truth, it’s probly an indication of where Judiciary’s heart is at, and be a little amazed with me that it’s Charlie Chaplin (my guess before googling was Gandhi):


BANDCAMP: https://judiciarytx.bandcamp.com/album/surface-noise

PHYSICAL: Vinyl can be ordered at their bandcamp

FACEBOOK: https://judiciarytx.bandcamp.com/album/surface-noise