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This Is Hardcore: Sick Of It All – Scratch The Surface

Gallows guitarist Lags picks his essential hardcore and punk releases – every Thursday on TeamRock

For any fan of heavy music in the ’90s, Sick Of It All’s 'Scratch The Surface' was the album punks and metal heads alike could get behind without compromising their musical roots. It brought enough streetwise attitude to stay true to hardcore tradition, yet packed a strong enough punch to prick up the ears of the ever-expanding metal community.

EastWest Records released Scratch The Surface in 1994. It was Sick of it All’s third album release but their first on a major label. At that time there would be no better home than EastWest for a band playing any style of extreme music. That year, the label also released Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven, a landmark album for heavy metal that debuted at Number One on the American Billboard 200. With all the benefits of a major label – plus the raw honesty upon which Sick Of It All have always thrived – all that was left to make this album a true success was the music. 

From start to finish, Scratch The Surface is an overwhelming display of heart and fury. The rhythmical hi-hat pattern introducing album opener No Cure swiftly gives way to a barrage of drums and guitars churning out thick grooves with brutal force. After just 10 seconds, lead singer Lou Koller launches into the chorus in his rapacious style. Pete Koller’s guitar harmonics in the breakdown unintentionally draws similarities to another of 1994’s successes – Machine Head. Metal parallels aside, there is always an element of rabid punk greatness throughout Scratch The Surface

Even though New York Hardcore in the ’90s lacked the prolific bands that established the movement as a cultural phenomenon, Sick Of It All’s NYHC stylings shine through on tracks like Insurrection and Goatless. After all, back in the late ’80s Sick of it All were cutting their teeth playing with pioneering acts like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth Of Today. A deal with a major label didn’t mean sacrificing a set of beliefs that had been at the heart of their music for nearly a decade.

Scratch The Surface’s stand out single Step Down delivers hardcore’s underlying mentality in the form of a punk rock anthem. In case their new fans didn’t know the basics Lou Koller was more than prepared to give them a lesson: 'In the underground, integrity lies within. 'In the underground, image doesn’t mean a thing.’

As if the lyrics weren’t enough, the accompanying video, though quite tongue in cheek in places, also served as a beginners guide to hardcore etiquette. Overnight, the MTV generation were being schooled in NYHC dance moves and were even introduced to the term ‘emo’. 

Teenagers in the ’90s had to depend on radio, TV and mainstream press for their regular fix of metal news but the release of Scratch The Surface provided a perfect gateway album for kids to discover hardcore. Sick of it All continue to be one of the most respected punk bands around today and after nearly three decades on, the scene still feels like they’re only getting started. 

For more information on Sick Of It All, visit their official site.

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