Music can be courageous. That might mean artistically daring, or politically risky. The music on this record is courageous in both senses. It doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard, and its message could’ve gotten the band killed. But that doesn’t tell you everything about the courage in this music. The rest is worth knowing, especially now.
The songs on this record are relentless and sometimes harsh. From beginning to end, the band never lets the tension resolve. The lead singer pushes his voice to the top of its range and keeps it there, threatening to go off-key. After hanging back for half the song, the bassist steps up and pummels you with the hardest possible groove. When you expect a cleansing power chord, the guitars go slack. In the middle of a jam where every instrument seems to be headed in a different direction, they’ll snap back together and turn on a dime.
No matter how bold the maneuver, the band plays with total confidence, denying themselves any margin for error. If one misses a beat or hits a false note, the whole song will come apart. All the confidence will feel unearned, and anybody who bought in will feel like a sucker. The music’s message will fall under grave suspicion, and the message is what matters most.
Only one of the songs on this record is bluntly political, but it only took one to attract the secret police. It seems strange. If what you care about is the message, and the cops are already on the way, why don’t you say more? If screwing up the music will wreck the message, then why push so hard?
The answer isn’t clear until you’ve played the album from front to back a few times, at high volume. That’s how contemporary listeners heard these songs, because vinyl copies were scarce, and kids came to shows not just because they liked to dance, but to feel solidarity. They didn’t want a political education, or need it. What they needed was courage, and that’s what this band gave them.
The music is invasive. The kids in the scene called it “heavy,” because they could feel the impact. The band batters its way inside you, and shoves aside any fear or uncertainty. All you feel is their confidence and conviction. What you feel is courage.
These songs gave progressives the strength to resist. They still can.