This Is Hardcore: Choking Victim – No Gods No Managers
Gallows guitarist Lags picks his essential hardcore and punk releases – every Thursday on TeamRock
New York City’s Lower East Side was a haven for musicians, drunks, artists, hookers and drug dealers in the ’90s. It was a vibrant collection of creatives and lowlifes rubbing shoulders with each other on a daily basis. The local punks were heavily into drugs and learned to survive by living in the abandoned warehouses of Alphabet City. It was here, among the broken crack pipes and dirty needles that Choking Victim got high, shared political ideas and most importantly wrote music.
One fleeting look at the artwork of No Gods/No Managers and you could be fooled into thinking Choking Victim were a devil worshipping grindcore band. In truth, this New York mob played a variety of ska punk that combined streetwise hardcore with reggae overtones. Despite the 'ska punk' tag, Choking Victim are a far cry from the ilk of ska bands who exploded onto the punk scene in the mid to late ’90s. Bands like Reel Big Fish were celebrating major label stardom through mainstream hits like Sell Out (the song title says it all), whilst Choking Victim were so anti-music industry it’s a wonder No God/No Managers ever saw its release in 1999, especially since the band also broke up on the first day of this album’s recording – there was enough material from that first day to make a full-length release.
Despite the dark imagery, No Gods/No Managers contains an abundance of singalongs. Frontman Stza may sound like he’s swallowed 50 razor blades but his ability to deliver a catchy chorus was enough to pull the band out of the squats and into a deal with Hellcat Records – a joint venture between Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.
500 Channels opens the album with some high-octane punk that comes close to being labelled 'pop punk' thanks to Stza’s snotty melodies. Musically Crack Rock Steady is an upbeat slice of punk-tinged reggae. Lyrically, it’s a disdainful attack on the institutions which threaten Choking Victim’s way of life: “We’re gonna have to execute some rich important people/ Gonna burn down all the churches and topple all the steeples/ Let’s kill the police”.
Their controversial lyrics don’t stop there, and Choking Victim take their evil brand of nihilism to darker depths in the song Suicide (A Better Way): “I didn’t want to be born, the pleasure all has died/ So now I’m gonna snuff it with a suicide”.
While the artwork and lyrics lean towards anti-Christian themes it’s apparent that Choking Victim’s pact with the devil is tongue-in-cheek. Midway through In My Grave, we’re treated to a few seconds of Slayer’s iconic Angel Of Death riff. Even more clichéd is the intro for Hate Yer State which contains a message that when played backwards suggests that the unsuspecting listener to kill themselves.
Choking Victim were definitely serious with their politics, however. Whether they were advocating shoplifting (Five-Finger Discount) or opposing religion (Fucked Reality), warfare (War Story), capitalism (Money) and America as a whole (Fuck America), the band provided anarchy in a genre at a time when bands were making bids for the chart. As a band, Choking Victim kept it real to the end and produced this masterpiece.