How Suicidal Tendencies changed hardcore forever

Punk and hardcore bands are destined to spontaneously combust at any moment, especially if their scene is knee-deep in chaos and violence.

Suicidal Tendencies began life in the early 1980s in the then-insalubrious streets of Venice Beach. Shortly after the formation, their reputation began to spread quicker than their music. With tales of gang affiliation and the wildest live show on the West Coast, the name Suicidal Tendencies soon became synonymous with low-life hooliganism and public disturbances.

Behind the mayhem, singer Mike Muir and his streetwise band were rewriting the formula; their unique style of metal-infused gritty hardcore would eventually give birth to a whole new genre.

Despite being over three decades old, their 1983 debut still dishes out more attitude than many of today’s hardcore equivalents. All 12 tracks stand out as landmarks in punk history, laced with humour, packed with aggression and, most importantly, a fearless approach to songwriting, straight from the street. 

I Shot the Devil opens with the line “I shot Reagan”, a provocative declaration of disdain towards the American government. Elsewhere, the lyrics to Two Sided Politics read like an anthem for outcasts across the United States: “I’m not anti-society, society’s anti-me/ And I’m not anti-religion, religion is anti-me/And I’m not anti-tradition, tradition is anti-me/And I’m not anti-anything, I just wanna be free”.

Probably one of the most unexpected events in early 1980s American hardcore was when MTV began to regularly screen the music video for Institutionalized. This was the surprise ‘hit’ from their debut album and undoubtedly still their most widely recognised song. Perhaps this was because of the video itself, which light-heartedly focuses on Muir’s teenage years and his grievances growing up. 

But more than likely it’s due to the fact Suicidal Tendencies know how to write a memorable song in various different styles. The band dip in and out of rapid-fire punk in Memories of Tomorrow, experiment with boot-stomping hardcore on Subliminal, test out a bit of shred-metal in the solo in Two Sided Politics, and even try some pop rock in I Saw Your Mommy.

Glen E. Friedman – who documented the 1980s punk, hip hop and skateboard scenes – managed the band for a short while. He not only shot their debut album photo, but produced the album too.

Although the band’s line-up has experienced several line-up changes throughout the years – Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo was in the band between 1989–1995 – Suicidal Tendencies still tour and record. Their one constant throughout the years is Muir, who picked up an Icon award at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony in 2016.

Their debut remains one of the most influential records in heavy music, and through their art, image and albums, Suicidal Tendencies continue to inspire.