Integrity - Humanity is the Devil (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Humanity is the Devil (1995)


Generally speaking, Integrity’s second LP, 1995’s Systems Overload is considered the point where they fully severed themselves from the hardcore scene of the time. Released four years (an epoch in punk-time) after their debut, 1991’s For Those Who Fear Tomorrow, the Systems Overload LP found the band embracing full on metal songs, warping weird, creepy samples directly in the middle of songs, and abandoning the direct, and often simplistic, subject material of “traditional” hardcore in lieu of abstract, metaphysical lyrics about the nature of reality, religion, and existence itself.

Perhaps with any tethers of “Expecations” cut off, the band followed up extremely quickly with their next release, issuing the Humanity is the Devil 10-inch in late 1995. (The CD would follow shortly thereafter in the new year). But, whereas Systems was daring in its willingness to stray off the beaten path of 90’s harcore, Humanity is the Devil was truly where band flipped the table, threw all the rules out the window, and went full on experimental. (Hell, just look at the title!) That being said, there still was a curious embrace of classic punk wedged within the freakier cuts.

Opening track, “Vocal Test,” sent up the flag that the band was interested in exploring the very nature of music itself. A sort of hardcore-Motorhead-ish song, the tune charged along for two minutes while vocalist Dwid Hellion howled at the top of his lungs- there were no lyrics here, just bloody roars and screams. Now, one could have taken the title literally, in that the song really was just the band experimenting and testing what they actually sounded like, without the concern of how lyrics might color their instrumentation. But, by the way Hellion howled, ever changing his delivery, it seemed that this was the band experimenting with the concept of conveying ideas themselves. Dwid didn’t seem to be using wordless vocals to avoid saying something, he seemed to be using this technique to see if he could convey certain ideas to the listener via other avenues. Call it pseudo-ESP or call it abstract art, hardcore and punk had rarely if ever, seen such a daring ploy, and frankly, it worked well, becoming the band’s classic number. Sometimes hardcore was just about rage, but that rage had many, many shades.

The middle section of the album found the band using both their metal and classic punk pedigrees. “Abraxas Annihilation” found brothers Aaron Melnick (guitar) and Leon Melnick (bass) mastering classic blues metal. The brothers paired their instruments to create soulful, delicate, and powerful lines that conjured a sort horrifying grace. It’s often mentioned that the brothers were influenced by Metallica, which may be true, and many fans often say that this type of strategy is where Metallica themselves should have gone in the mid-90’s instead of their weaker hard rock material. But, as the guitar lines sliced and flexed against the rumbling background, one wondered if the brothers, particularly Aaron, were paying tribute to the metal founders who had started out as blues fans, such as Glen Tipton or Tony Iommi. In fact, there was such an appreciation for melodicism (without sacrificing an edge) one even wondered if the brothers were fans of the English blues guitarist masters, such as Mick Taylor or Mick Ronson. If you were to cut the solos out from this record and drop them on top of Let It Bleed or Ziggy Stardust, it would probably work.

But, on the other end of the spectrum, the band also got down and dirty, using the pure speed and adrenaline of early punk. “Hollow,” which had Dwid dueling his vocals against Ringworm’s Human Furnace, was a charged blast, based on a rolling riff, that got in, percolated to a hotter temperature, and then blasted apart at the end, just like those the classic punk 45’s from the late 70’s. One thought of how the Dead Boys, Black Flag, or even New York Dolls would shatter at the end of practically every song. The ploy was smart. Had the album been all weird stuff, it might be too much for the listener to take in. But, with the occasional guide post to act as a point of reference, the band were free to really get out there on other tracks, and also, to demonstrate just how out-there the stranger tracks were, when contrasted against tunes like “Hollow.”

Dwid Hellion himself seemed to have come to a sort of full realization in his lyrics by this album, and more than ever before, he focused on metaphysical concepts. To be fair, since their very first release, Integrity pondered the concept of being, but here, Hellion seemed to not only put it out on the table, but in such a direct way, that one was forced to ponder his concepts. “Trapped Under Silence” (a Metallica homage in title?) found Hellion directly questioning just how much we see and hear is actually real, or just a projection from some outside force. Heavy stuff.
“Psywarfare,” which would also be used as he name for his avant-garde noise project, suggested the possibility of destroying people through the force of thought alone. As with so many Integrity extrapolations, it as hard to tell if Hellion thought these concepts were just cool ideas or things that could actually be done. To this day it’s a mystery and is one of the reasons why the band is utterly unique. Most directly, “Jagged Visions of my True Destiny” was Hellion at his most direct, where he basically relayed his thesis: “Each doorway exists/opening new worlds…There is no reality/ this is a mere dream.” Compare that the stagnant “I’m staying true to my roots” or “you stabbed me in the back” hardcore of the time.

And then, that’s when the band got really, really weird… and really, really daring…. And really, really, really interesting. Often credited to Psywarfare, the track “Drowning in Envy” was a soundscape of warped synths and manipulated toilet flushing sounds covered by a jacked and altered recording of ex-drummer Chubby Fresh. A sort of darkened MAD magazine, the track forces Chubby Fresh to demean himself while you can almost hear the band laughing behind the warped sound effects.

Yet, they saved the boldest gambit for the end. The thirteen minute title track pushed hardcore to its limit and then, a mile beyond. Another soundscape, the track had howlings, a strange bubbling, perhaps volcanoes, and winds blowing under distorted filters. On top of that was a heavily distorted voice that sounded sort of like an evil Gandalf who relayed a massive track about… well, you can figure it out for yourself… but across the extended lecture, the otherworldly spectre seems to be suggesting that everything you know is a lie and the futility of struggling against the types of forces that we humans struggle against. Tellingly, in the liner notes, the band stated that they were influenced by Robert De Grimson’s “Church of Final Judgment,” which of course, also influenced Charles Manson (and Funkadelic!) So, the labyrinthine, apocalyptic sermon seemed to be not so much an demand of obedience as an invitation to think beyond that which was obvious- the parallel to growing beyond standard hardcore is evident. That is to say, if George Clinton was into hardcore, he might sound like this.

Comparing Humanity is the Devil to the contemporary hardcore of the time, and even most modern hardcore, shows a world of difference. Perhaps rightfully so, hardcore is often chided for being too dedicated to its own rules. As Integrity proved, rules can be nice launching pads, but by soaring above (or below) those rules and going beyond the daring, is where truly great art is made. The fact is, people are still wrapping their head around this release and it will probably never be fully understood. This is an absolute masterpiece and remains as one of the most unique, bizarre recordings in punk rock ever.