“Hell has been relocated right here on Earth.”
One of my favorite Integrity stories came from some guys in Saint Louis, Missouri. According to legend, Integrity played a show there and one of the locals was required, in order to join his local crew, to punch Dwid Hellion in the face. Dwid is the notorious frontman of Integrity, the one staple over the course of nearly 30 years of Integrity crossing lines, burning bridges and churning out awesome metallic-tinged hardcore music.
Supposedly, the punch did actually happen and Dwid went out cold. When he came to, Dwid purportedly got up and simply remarked, “I’ve been hit harder than that.” (If any of these details are ever proven false, you can track down the members of Step On It – where I received the information.)
This is far from the only Integirty/Dwid story, but it is the one that I know best and that I remember nearly a decade after it was passed along to me. I’ve never interacted with anyone in Integrity and have never seen them live. Part of that is due to my location, part of that is due to my own lack of effort. A large part of it for me is that Integrity is a band I love, but not for anything they’ve recorded in the last 10 years. For me, Integrity will always be first and foremost the band that recorded Humanity is the Devil.
It has been a full 20 years since Humanity was released by Victory Records. That was the same year that I first started to identity with hardcore: going to shows, affiliating myself with the term “straight edge,” and buying CDs that “looked” cool because I didn’t know if the music was going to be good or not.
While my timeline with hardcore and Humanity is the Devil have the same primary starting point, our paths did not cross until 1999 in a video game store that also sold used CDs. It was the same store where I bought my first AFI, Agnostic Front and Turning Point CDs. And Victory was already on my radar because of the Hatebreed/Skarhead free sampler cassette I stole from the local high school weight room a couple years earlier.
I wasn’t drawn to the album entirely because of the album artwork, though it was – and still is – some of the most creative and excellent artwork I’ve ever seen on a hardcore band’s album. No, it was the picture on the back, a live photo, that captured my attention and told me that I needed to buy this CD.
I’m almost embarrassed to say that the album took a while to grow on me. At one point I almost traded it away to Evan from the band Nehemiah via MSN Messenger. Ah, the early days of the internet and chat. Thankfully, I kept that CD.
In hardcore, things work different than in the outside world. Critics and those who identify with this sub- or counter-culture don’t punish bands for being derivative the way that an alternative or mainstream artist would be excoriated. In hardcore, we celebrate the past and re-make it. In 2004 a band from Virginia played a show in Minnesota to a lukewarm response. Until they played a Gorilla Biscuits cover. The song was originally written and recorded during the youth crew, straight edge hardcore boom of the late 1980s and yet it was still viable in 2004, no matter who was playing the song. I guarantee that song would get the same reception today no matter who played it. A band I was in for a short time was most well-known to the friends we made in Minneapolis for a cover of Floorpunch. It happens everywhere.
But it isn’t just covers, bands copy the same formulaic approach to hardcore as every band before them. I think that is why so many people don’t “drop out” so much as “fade away” in hardcore. A lot of us still believe in the things that attracted us to hardcore – not just the music – but there is no need to keep up with the new bands because they are just playing a new form of what has already been done before.
Gorilla Biscuits is a band that transcends all youth crew, straight edge hardcore that has followed over the past 25 years. Agnostic Front and Madball created something that New Yorkers have been trying to hammer out over and over again ever since those guys started it way back in the 1980s. To be clear, this isn’t about being cynical. There have been bands, and still are to this day, who add a new wrinkle to the sounds that we all know and love. The change from bands like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits to Floorpunch and Ten Yard Fight was real and important to the evolution of the sound. Similar? Yes. Updated and important? Yes. Think of what bands like The First Step and Champion did in the mid-2000s. Subtle change that was immeasurably valuable.
Integrity did that for metallic hardcore. They did it for hardcore that looked at “spirituality” and “religion” in a new way. This wasn’t a Krishna band, it wasn’t a Satanic band, it wasn’t a Christian band. But the iconic imagery and lyrics combined with the whole Church of the Process rhetoric was enthralling and fresh, even if unsustainable. Integrity engineered a phenomenon in the middle of the 1990s, when hardcore was turning to heavier and heavier incarnations of sound and darker and darker imagery and lyrical content. Bands like Damnation and Disembodied joined Integrity in pushing forward with a pioneering new sound that created waves that are still rippling outward from the aftershock today.
While Damnation explored darkness in a way that was heavy atmospherically, and I would argue had a very sludgy, droning tone throughout, long before those trends became common, Integrity was much more up tempo and ferocious. You can fit most of the Humanity is the Devil album within a single Damnation song. Damnation drowned you in an avalanches of heaviness that rested on you like the packed snow of an avalanche. Integrity pushed you down a flight of stairs.
Disembodied always kept it ridiculously heavy, pummeling you with simplistic riffs that were basically perfect. Integrity wanted to use guitar effects and feature solos. When you wanted to listen to something heavy that made you really pissed and tapped into your negative emotions, you put on Diablerie. When you wanted to have your drunken roommate, Matt K, break a crucifix over your head while he screamed a sermon at you as he paced back and forth on a coffee table in a living room lit only by a single strobe light, donning a blanket as a makeshift robe, you played the last track from Humanity is the Devil. Those were the best times.
These bands each blazed a path for hundreds of bands to branch off from over the decades that followed in their own unique way. It was Integrity, among others, who kept combat boots, headbanging and circle pits alive while ushering in a new area of metal-injected hardcore punk. They combined songs the length and feel of Agnostic Front with the structure and imagery of Slayer.
It’s easy to romanticize the past. Integrity has had their ups and downs, I don’t think most people want to acknowledge that Integrity 2000 was a real thing, but Humanity is the Devil has always stood the test of time. Eventually, I was fortunate to pick up a copy of this album on the 10-inch record format at Extreme Noise in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It remains one of the favorites in my small collection to this day.
If you missed out on Humanity is the Devil the first time it was released, like I did, you can still experience it like it was new. Clint at Organized Crime is re-releasing it to celebrate the 20th anniversary and you can order it at their website by following this link. Or, you can just go to YouTube and watch videos that people set to “Vocal Test” over and over. I suggest you do both.
by Daniel Coughlin (@xvanwilderx)