Symbol Six is a perfect paradigm of the universal truth that past successes are not necessarily indicative of future outcomes.
After rising from the rubble of hardcore legends the Necros, Der Stab and Gaudy Trash in 1980, Symbol Six made waves in the rapidly changing Los Angeles hardcore scene with the release of their self-titled EP on Posh Boy in 1982. The gritty blend of punk and hardcore featured such gems as “Taxation” and “Beverlywood” that raged like the Adolescents with the musical sensibilities of Social Distortion and eventually found airplay on Rodney on the ROQ. The songs were incisive and relevant, especially for a band whose members boasted an average age of 15.
Fast-forward nearly 30 years to the release of the band’s second proper offering, 2010’s Monsters 11, and something is noticeably lacking. The battering assault and driving rhythms have softened under the gloss of modern production practices. Where once was a group of kids playing overachieving hardcore punk is now a band of adults playing what more closely resembles contemporary hard rock or cheesy metal. Vocals that originally sounded akin to early Mike Ness or Tony Cadena now sound as if a phony Southern accent is being forced upon them. Songs that once clocked in at right around two minutes are now almost entirely over three. Yes, a lot has changed in 28 years.
But it’s not all aesthetic. The rowdy vindictiveness in the lyrics of old 1982 tracks like “Ego” and “Beverlywood” is gone and replaced with similar attempts that lack the punchy, pissed-off zeal. On “Long Road Home,” vocalist Eric Leach sings tritely, “Last night baby I was out in the cold / Staring down a lonely road / It is here decisions are made / At the crossroads baby, no souls saved / Five foot six, a backstabbing bitch / I’m done with you / The gears have been stripped away.”
The funny thing is, with the exception of Taz Rudd, who re-replaces Steve Cooper after being replaced by Cooper himself on the 1982 EP, the lineup is exactly the same. But nothing here sounds as good as those primitive punk recordings, and sluggish selections like “Death Seed” and “Slave” certainly don’t help. Lame vocal effects ruin one of the better tracks, “Shadows,” while the energetic “Sticks n’ Stones” is hampered only by humdrum horror lyrics.
The band occasionally gets it going on cuts like “No Shelter” and the opener “Napalm Love,” but the bright spots are isolated and few in number. Symbol Six will hold a permanent spot in the annals of American hardcore for their earlier contributions, but the largely forgettable Monsters 11 will certainly not garner the same interest as its predecessor.