The rise and commercialization of nu metal in the late nineties was not an overnight success story. Before Durst and Date got together for their 1999 nookie, Brooklyn based band Biohazard (consisting of guitarist/vocalist Billy Graziadei, bassist/vocalist Evan Seinfeld, guitarist Bobby Hambel, and drummer Danny Schuler) poured their souls into the gooey, nutella like rap metal foundation before it became anything remotely sanitized, watered down or cliche. While the individual elements of hardcore punk, groove metal, thrash and hip hop are nothing original, Biohazard interbreeding of these styles created a relentless mountain of sound that other later day groups within the genre could not climb. At the top of this mountain was the groups creative peak – 1994’s State Of The World Address. While it followed the blueprint set by the previous release, 1992’s Urban Discipline, Biohazard also incorporated into its sound the aesthetic and socially important dimensions of classic literary works such as Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. With improved production and tighter musicianship, World Address captured the audio of urban decay, social disintegration and government oppression in a way that has yet to be replicated, even by the band itself.
Growing up in the musical climate of New York city circa mid 1980s early 1990s, Biohazard had a voluptuous and supple nipple filled with creative juices to suckle on. Bands like Sick of it All, Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags were pushing the boundaries of hardcore and heavy metal while the golden age of hip hop was well underway with BDP and Rakim dropping gems like dumb thieves. The final piece of the puzzle was set with trash metal band Anthrax’s fusion of rap and heavy metal in the form of “I’m the Man” in 1987 (along with the horrible but innovative Public Enemy track ‘Bring the noise’) – Biohazard became the potent product of this urban musical environment.
After a slew of independent releases, in 1990 Biohazard signed to Maze records to record their debut self titled release. Looking back, Graziadei stresses “we didn’t start the band with any goals of making it big or getting rich. Making honest music about how we felt and how we were effected by our surroundings is how we dealt with the problems that plagued our lives”. With poor promotion and even worse production (the drums sound like they were recorded by Varg Vikernes) the band still managed to sell 40,000 – resulting in the band quiting their day jobs, sharing stages with the movers and shakers within the New York hardcore scene and finding a new home on fledgling independent metal label Roadrunner Records for their sophomore classic Urban Discipline. While it can be argued that Discipline is the defiant Biohazard release selling over 1 million copies worldwide (the track ‘Punishment’ was also the most played video in the history of MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball), when played back to back against World Address it is apparent Discipline was the prototype sound that the band (and for that fact, many bands within the genre) were able to improved upon, perfecting the steeze for the more polished World Address 2 years later.
The release of acclaimed albums from Biohazard and Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power saw a dramatic change in the metal landscape in the early 1990s. Many credible trash bands noticeably slowed down their audibles to match the groove style. Sepultura’s 1993 Chaos A.D was a compelling departure from the sound they had on previous releases such as Arise and Beneath the Remains. Sepultura also enlisted Seinfeld to help co write the single ‘Slave New World’. On the West coast, Oakland quartet Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes was a release that propelled groove metal to new levels of popularity and urban aggression by splicing it with small elements of hip hop. Considering vocalist Robb Flynn came from trash band Vio-lence who are well known for writing insanely fast songs, again there were defiant influences at hand in the changing of Flynn’s musical style. With both Chaos A.D and Burn My Eyes often viewed as classics within the metal genre, Biohazard must of felt the pressure to up the ante on the next release, both musically and production wise.
There is a vast chasm in terms of the sonic quality between State of the World Address and its predecessor, mainly due to the major label financial support of Warner Bros and producer Ed Stasium. Stasium has always had a long affiliation with punk and alternative music throughout his production career beginning with the Ramones’ Road to Ruin. Not limited to any one style or a signature sound, Stasium has worked with a treasure trove of legendary performers from Motorhead to Mick Jagger and Gladys Knight before taking on Biohazard at A&M Studios, Hollywood, California. Unlike Discipline, the production is clear and sterile, especially in regards to the vocals and drums, nothing is muddy and each instrument has room to move within the mix. But don’t get it twisted, this record is as grimey as a Brooklyn subway.
The gritty underbelly of downtuned guitars and Seinfeld’s bass (word to Jerry) creates a harsh low end (most evident in ‘How it Is’, ‘Tales From the Hardside’ and the final track ‘Love Denied’) that when played on your fake Dre Beats is devilishly deep and expansive. Stasium refined what was already present in the band’s dynamic, techniques like recording both Seinfelds and Graziadei’s vocals together in the same room was essential to its overall sound because it was able to capture the energy of a band’s performance, sounding more like a high-grade live recording. The quality of the production was not lost on the fans or the band themselves, who after the poor reception of the band’s 1997 follow up Mata Leao which was viewed as thin and flakey, the band was quick to enlist Stasium for 1999’s New World Disorder in hopes to recapture the magic.
Much like the release itself, the band members were also at their creative peaks. Graziadei’s vocals are a vast improvement on past releases. Suitably more aggressive than in Discipline, he comes across as confident and susincent with his delivery – overshadowing Seinfeld on nearly every track. His voice is also entrenched in lashings of high strung anixiety, evident in tracks such as ‘What makes us tick’ in which he sounds like he reached for the no doze tablets instead of the Valium and allowing himself to show off to the listener that he can portray multiple emotions in his voice. Additionally, it is impossible not to make note of the abundance (some could argue overuse) of “gang” vocals throughout nearly every track or chorus – Biohazard fucking love the “gang” vocal technique (made popular by the hardcore genre) and by the end of the release,under Mike Tyson’s “I’ll fuck you till you love me” ideology – you will have no choice but to love them too.
While his vocals are good without being great, Evan Seinfeld’s bass is the central figure throughout the whole album and works exceptionally to bring out the ideas of the songs allowing them to feel driving without monotonous. The second half of the low end, underrated percussionist Danny “D Lux” Schuler comes across the hardcore version of Brad Wilk – beating his meat with perfect rhythms and precise timing, constantly changing complicated patterns and bpms to complement the groove within any one song. Lastly, anyone who has seen a Biohazard concert or promo knows that guitarist Bobby Hambell has an IV of swag juice constantly pumping into his veins. Fortunately for the band, he also has the ability to write impressive, somewhat bluesy lead solos that contrast with the riffs, giving the listener the sense that he plays every note with a passion few guitarists are capable of pouring into their playing.
Starting off with the audible sample “all hope abandoned, ye who enter here” , it is clear from the jump that Worlds Address and Dante’s Inferno contain textual and thematic comparisons. Written in the early fourteenth century, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno follows Dante’s journey through hell in a desolate landscape, where he encounters every level of sin in order to transend. But while the Inferno creates a world that exhibits the worst fears of the medieval Catholic subconscious of Dante’s time, State of the World Address paints a dark picture of the modern American subconscious.While definitely not the strongest on the release, the title track does sum up the bands pessimistic social mindset “At the current rate we’re sealing our fate, It’s much too late for a world based on hate, We’ve entered the time of quarrel Human beings can’t coexist, No more respect for morals, Our values have been dismissed”. After the Urban Disciple tour cycle that saw the band visit countless nations Graziadei felt the band had the worldview to paint this picture stating “ by knowing other people and countries we realized that things were global and that they were just as fucked in New York as in all the other cities in the world. There is this saying, that “life imitates art as art imitates life” and for us it was always about art imitating our life. It’s a mirror”. Both mediums reflect a critical dystopia and offers a critique of society through a seamless tour of sin and suffering in a godforsaken setting.
To try and mirror the epic nature of Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, Biohazard take the time to ensure there is a defiant segue within the music – the seamless transition from one song to another. Just when it seems the vinegar stroke of a track has climaxed, a second dose of urban spunk suddenly sweeps in as one song magically begins to spill over into another creating a formidable unbroken chain of music. The transition of grooves from the infamous ‘Tales From the Hardside’ into ‘How it is’ obliterates any current bass “drop” turding itself out of the dubstep genre. In addition, to help these transitions, the band were not afraid to get their Ennio Morricone on – crafting meticulously, imaginative and cathartic piano induced introductions to tracks ‘What Makes Us Tick’ and ‘Love Denied’. ‘Failed Territory’ takes it one step further with a ‘Battery’-eske 2 minutes of spanish guitars before getting their urban grime on.
Lyrically, the band echo Alighieri’s mindset – to wake people up, shock them into consciousness and rattle the cage of apathy. “Still smokin’ dippers, our friends are all dusted, Slave to a bottle of juice fuckin’ disgusted, Can’t you see the neighborhood’s a black hole, and the odds are that we’ll never grow old” like Slick Rick and Nas- Seinfeld and Graziadei are epic storytellers. Their depiction of dark social practices in ‘Failed Territory’ and American’s treatment of Vietnam vets in the track ‘Remember’ expose the seedy underside of human nature and to dispel the American myth that the world has sympathy for humanity in the same vein that Dante uses a religious narrative to expose the corruption of the human spirit and of the church.
Whilst a more than competent release as a whole, it is safe to say that the first half of Worlds Address is far stronger than the second half. Suffering the same fate as other classic releases such as Cypress Hill’s Temples of Boom the album slowly starts to unravel with a couple of the weaker tracks such as ‘Pride’ and ‘Human Animal’ tracklisting back to back. ‘Lack Their of’ and ‘Cornered’ also fails to live up to the standards set in the first half, but this is more due to the sheer perfection of the earlier tracks.
The result of being promoted by a major label, When State of the World Address dropped it sold over 1 million copies and earned them a fleeting level of mainstream notoriety that they were unable to achieve on subsequent releases. Reflecting back, Schuler points out “there was a lot of press, there were a lot of great experiences, they were doin it right, and that was an incredible time for us when everything was working and they had done a lot of great shit.”. But while some would be quick to praise the label for the success, Graziadei was quick to bite the hand – “Warner Bros. Sucked! All they did was work off of what Road Runner did. Warner Brothers took it, capitalized it, and made money off of it.” When asked about the fame gained from the release, Graziadei notes “MTV happened and liked the videos we were doing. Beavis and Butthead happened to like us…I’m a punk rock hardcore kid. I never felt like I was a rockstar”. At their peak both creatively and commercially, unfortunately there was only one direction for the band to go – down.
Internal drama led to Bobby Hambell leaving the group during the early stages of recording the adequate but misguided follow up, 1997s Mata Leao. Label support also began to dwindle. “After [State of the Worlds Address] the record label lost their focus and it all just began to fall apart“ reflects a sombre Schuler. But while forgotten by the media and rap metal bandwagon by the year two tripple 0 – it is evident their influence had spread across the face of the nu metal scene like a Spyder Jonez facial.
On reflection Graziadei states with a sense of pride “when bands like Limp Bizkit came along and commercialized it (the rap metal sound) and became huge I thought, “God Bless ‘em. Do your thing”. In between dark hardcore releases, hardcore porn and an ill fated reunion album in 2012 – the group never really recovered from the lofty standards set by the 1994 release.
State of the World Address is simply the best album Biohazard has ever recorded. It was a superb breath of fresh air into the flourishing groove metal scene of the time and holds its place in time as an important stepping stone in the formation of the nu metal genre. It is the sound of a band standing on the summit of their creative peak – it is crushing, restless and savage.