Trigger Warning: A Political Take on 'Only Death Is Real'

Sept. 4, 2017


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Given the nature of this album and my reactions to it, it makes sense for me to divide up this review a little bit differently than usual.  For those of you, often myself included, who prefer to keep the politics out of their music; go ahead and skip down to the music section.  However, there’s really no escaping the politics of this album when considering the lyrics.  Understand that my main purpose here is not to push an opposing agenda or even assume that I am correct.  I am staunchly against the KKK and other legitimate white supremacist ideologies.  I simply want to grey up some of the thoughts presented on this album and encourage further discussion and thought rather than hate and division.  So without further ado…

The Politics:

Let me start by recapping my thoughts after watching the music video for “Goodnight Alt-Right,” as I feel they are relevant for most of this album and its themes.

1) I like Stray From The Path and have been a fan for a few years. I thought Anonymous was a killer album and they've had some earlier good ones too.

2) I like the hat tips to Dead Kennedys and Inglorious Bastards in this song, even if they are a little clumsy.

3) When we find out that the "villain" is a legit Nazi sympathizer that seems to be plotting something sinister, I was a little more willing to swallow the conclusion (even though I still don't agree with vigilante violence as a productive solution)

4) I DON'T like that him wearing the red hat at the beginning seems to be equating all Trump supporters with racists and Nazis. Sorry, they just aren't. Many Nazis may be Trump supporters, but not many Trump supporters are Nazis. In fact, most of the conservatives I have met and spoken with are reasonable, caring people who simply have different perspectives and solutions to the same complex problems we are all struggling through.  I’m by no means a big fan of Trump, I just hate irresponsible generalizations from either side.

5) Given #4, I get concerned about impressionable kids watching this and not putting it into a fuller context. Antifa is far from an organization that rights wrongs despite what their name implies. They have hurt a lot of innocent people who simply disagree with them and shouldn't be the subject of physical violence as a result. It would be one thing if there was a clear defining line for what makes someone “Alt-Right” or a “Nazi,” but these days those terms get stretched paper thin to include pretty much anyone who says something remotely uncomfortable or even just disagreeable. organization that silences people of dissenting opinion with violence...I feel like we have a name for that...

6) Freedom of speech. In this country, the band is free to express themselves as they wish. However, that does not mean freedom from criticism. It goes both ways. If you want to put something out there, be ready for a response you may not always like.  It doesn't mean those criticising are bad or intolerant.  They just don't like something about what you're doing.

7) If we move the line and say it’s okay to punch X group of people, where does the line stop moving? And do we really want every person to individually act as judge, jury, and executioner?  Do you have that much faith in humanity?  People make bad decisions alone, and we have law in place for a reason (even if it needs reform and cleaning up).

8) Violence doesn't stop people with strong ideas.  Let's flip the situation with a more positive example: during the civil rights movement strong-willed, courageous black Americans were attacked with dogs, firehoses, clubs, and any other means necessary to silence and repress them.  Did it work?  Quite the opposite.  This opposition only fortified their resolve and increased their numbers until they finally prevailed.  While the ideals of the KKK and white nationalists are appauling in comparison to those of Dr. King, the same principal holds true.  Which leads to my final point...

9) Real Nazi’s suck.  In a way they are like tulpas: they take form and grow in strength based on how much attention and energy we put into them.  The more you fight them, the more their power grows.  But if you leave them to march down an empty street with no audience and no press, and let the law take care of the ones who start breaking it, they all go back to their pickup trucks and stepmother’s basements and fade away into obscurity.

Stray from the Path have always been a group with an anti-establishment foundation, but it’s rarely been quite so overtly spelled out.  What I loved about Anonymous (besides the ripping music itself) was that the lyrics were left at least somewhat open to interpretation.  Similar again to RATM, the whole “f#ck authority” message was still front and center, but the exact targets of this ire were often left to the listener.  Contrast this with “Goodnight Alt-Right,” and “The House Always Wins.”  Getting so specific is a bad move all around: it limits the audience, constricts the listening experience to a single narrative, dates the album, and generally leads to bad writing.  It’s like a movie that does all of its plot exposition through clumsy dialogue, or worse, narration.  Show, don’t tell.  Give us a mood, a theme, and some concepts to work with.  Let the listener do the walking from there.

Furthermore, it's clear to me that Drew has done very little research or, god forbid, communicating with the other side.  Using his own words, "How can you hate someone that you've never met before?" Instead of backing his claims, he sticks to popular buzzwords and platitudes. Consider “Plead the Fifth” and once again ”The House…”: unless I'm reading too much into some of his words (quite possible), Drew seems to be making the point that Trump and his supporters are simply intolerant racists who hate minorities on principal.  But the thing is, even closed borders conservatives don’t hate the “melting pot” of immigrants…they hate paying for the economic strain that comes with people who come here illegally.  Yes, there are real racists out there, but don't paint with broad strokes and don't cry wolf unless you are damn sure it's a wolf. 

It's not right at all to say that all illegal immigrants are murderers and rapists, but it's also irresponsible to say that we should ignore the procedures to obtain legal immigration status because feelings.  I'm married to a mixed Latina who is the daughter of first generation legal immigrants, and as a hard working family who busted their rears to make a better life for their kids within the parameters of the law, they too are insulted by those who do not take the (admittedly difficult) extra steps of becoming a citizen and shake hands with key elements of the culture.  Are they racists too, SFTP?  Are they also worthy of being hit in the back of the head with bike locks?

And aside from the clear misunderstandings strewn across this record, there are also some hilarious ironies that pop up.  For instance, “Loudest in the Room” questions whether America is as great as we claim it is.  Fair enough, but it’s amusing that they are making the point that “The loudest in the room leads us to our doom” only pertains to Trump or the alt right. I feel like the same sentiment can be applied to some of the "closed minded," violent nutcases in Antifa as well as those outspoken Youtube and media commentators who often have no idea what they’re talking about and push harmful policies and agendas simply because they have a thin veneer of sounding more “progressive.”  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Similarly the idea of not "choosing a side" is exactly how I feel about being pressured to join the Leftist cattle; people who are every bit as short-sighted as forever-Trumpers who aren't willing to criticize anything he says.

To be fair, I've never met Drew and don't know him personally enough to say for sure I have his thoughts pegged right here.   There may be more common ground than I realize, and the offer for an interview or just a chill talk over coffee stands.  But I digress.  Onto some positives...

The Music:

From a purely musical standpoint, and as someone who has enjoyed this band over the years but didn’t like Subliminal Criminals, Only Death is Real is a pretty damn catchy and enjoyable album.  I actually spun this thing several times in a row the first day I had it; partly to disseminate the lyrics, but mostly to bang my head and mime MC hand motions that should be illegal for someone as white as me.  And despite my misgivings above, the choruses are as infectious as radio pop.  By the third or fourth go, I literally could not help myself from singing along...yes even with (especially with) "Goodnight Alt-Right."  I've always appreciated the intensity and viciousness of Drew's delivery, and this combined with the simplicity of the lyrics had me wrapped up in the moment.

The “but” attached to that statement is that if you don’t like rap rock a la Rage Against the Machine or hip hop-inspired vocals in general, you’re probably going to hate this.  Similarly, if you never liked SFTP’s past discography, this isn’t going to be the album that changes your mind.  "Nü-metalcore" as I hear the kids calling it these days.  Only Death is Real is full of funk-meets-hardcore and metalcore guitar riffs, political prose, energetic drumming, and crashing cymbals.  If that sounds up your alley, then I say give it a shot.  There are certainly some standout tracks that still get my motor running like “They Always Take the Guru,” as well as some notable guest appearances from Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die), Bryan Garris (Knocked Loose), and even Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks (awesome rap crew back in the day, though his verse here is pretty whack).

So my final word on this is: if you can ignore the lyrics or at least avoid taking them too seriously, Only Death is Real is a decent album and definitely a step up from their previous effort.  The music will likely get you moving whether you want to or not, and a few of these cuts call back to the band’s early days in a very good way.  My rating above reflects this and not the lyrical content.  As always, and regardless of your left/right leanings, I encourage you to check it out for yourself and decide whether it’s worth your hard earned money. 

And Stray from the Path, if you’re reading this, we may not see eye to eye, but I will fight for your right to express yourself as you see fit.  Say what you will about any other American policy, but your freedom to aggressively chastise your government is something hard to come by in other parts of the world.  Just don't expect me to swallow everything you say, just like we shouldn't immediately nod along with words from our government or media either.  On this, I hope we can agree.  In any case, both to the band and the Metal Trenches audience, I encourage you to get out there, broaden your horizons, and make a friend on the other side of the spectrum.  You might be surprised at the positive results. Lasting changes are made with a united front, and red, blue, or somehwere in between... only death is real.

Flight's Fav's: They Always Take the Guru, All Day & A Night, Strange Fiction

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