Street by street, block by block
In high school, I didn’t know anyone who claimed straight-edge status, which is probably why I held Earth Crisis in such removed awe. When you’re a high-school punk, there’s always going to be a certain fascination with any band that’s adamantly, violently opposed to any of the rebellious signifiers you’ve just adapted. Earth Crisis espoused all sorts of ideas that I thought were pretty goofy: asceticism, veganism, militant environmentalism. But they did it with such all-consuming passion and fury that it simply wasn’t possible to dismiss them as puritan losers. When most of the punk bands I liked were speeding their tempos up beyond any reasonable level and slurring sugar-rush hooks about girls and beer, Earth Crisis were bashing out juddering metallic lockstep riffs and screaming like it was all they could do to keep the world from sliding into depravity. Karl Buechner’s voice was a popped-vein bellow way more Sepultura than Rancid, and the band’s hyper-compressed guitar lurches seemed to be calculated for maximum gutpunch impact. I never saw Earth Crisis live; my friends and I would’ve laughed at any suggestion that we should. But we absolutely devoured any of the probably-fake stories we’d hear about the band: their fans would punch beers out of hands and cigarettes out of mouths, pranksters with death-wishes would instigate massive brawls by throwing yogurt at the band. These shows sounded like they inevitably turned into massive ideological battlegrounds, and there’s an implicit appeal in that sort of thing. And even though those stories were probably totally fake, I still have to admire anyone so committed to a set of ideals that they’ll make album after album of punishing metalcore about it.
When I went to college in Syracuse in 1998, i figured I’d eventually cross paths with Earth Crisis, since it’s a small city and all. But no: the band spent most of their time on tour or recording shitty late-career records, like the covers album that eventually became their Spaghetti Incident. (Isn’t it weird how many rock bands break up immediately after releasing cover albums?) The band played its last show at Hellfest, Syracuse’s annual hardcore festival, in 2001, when I was home in Maryland for the summer. And even though I tried to go to the first show of Nemesis, Buechner’s post-Earth Crisis band, the venue changed at the last minute, and my friend Jim and I only made it in time for headliners Converge. And so those Earth Crisis shows remain nothing more than a fascinating ghost of a possibility for me, no less fascinating now that I’m old enough to know they probably weren’t as anarchic and violent as I’d long imagined.
Pretty soon, though, I’ll finally get to find out firsthand. Out of nowhere, late last year Earth Crisis announced a one-off reunion show at a Baltimore festival. And now they’re actually touring. As I’m writing this, Earth Crisis is an active unit, with a MySpace page and everything, though it remains to be seen whether they’ll soldier on after this tour. It’ll be interesting to see how a revived Earth Crisis might fit into 2007’s musical landscape. In the years since they broke up, hardcore has definitely swung toward metal, adapting the group’s heavy riffage and throat-shedding screams while largely ignoring its all-consuming personal and political convictions. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any newer bands that sound like they have as much at stake as Earth Crisis always did. They’ve been broken up barely half a decade, but they could still look like total anachronisms onstage. They won’t sound like anachronisms, though; their old records still connect as fiercely as they ever did. They’ll be coming to New York’s Blender Theatre on March 1. Leave the yogurt at home.