Sound — 10
Those who have heard OF Bad Brains but not actually heard them would do well to begin here. With I Against I, Bad Brains finally realized their sonic ambitions, putting the lo-fi, standard punk sound behind them once and for all. I Against I is an 80s metal record, although one rooted in a much more experimental vein than its peers. The chord progressions are jazz-based, not blues based, and it makes for a radical listen even today. Dr. Knows leads are seemingly from another planet, and he gives the shredders of the day a lesson in showmanship with his tremolo mastery and seat-of-the-pants soloing. In a word- exhilarating. Daryl Jenifers bass stylings are so in the pocket that it takes a close listen to realize the speed and precision with which he's giving the guitar total freedom to move. Earl Hudsons drumming displays a sense of immediacy and abandon while, at the same time, nailing the endless series of stops and starts in the album. Indeed, there is a LOT of precision in this record, and the heightened production shows it beautifully. This was also the first Bad Brains record to include no reggae, although vocalist HR still manages to get his message across with his trademark spray of condescension and positivity intact. This was not a band for the party hearty mindset of the day, and that's a prime reason that it sounds as good today as is it did 20 years ago. A stone cold classic that mixes genres in a mind-blowing way.
Lyrics — 9
Before Paul (HR) Hudson became a cryptic Rasta with a list of career- destroying tantrums under his belt, he was punks Moses, laying down the law and promising a better future through unity. Not exactly novel ideas from an African American with a platform, but the ferocity of the band makes the message sound all that much more important. He twists words into meaningful new shapes ("overstand" instead of "understand"), strings together fragments that make the vocals more percussive than fluid ("Return to Heaven"), sometimes croons ("She's Calling You"), and sometimes simply hums and moans. All in all, his vocals are a perfect fit for the music, each feeding on the other with explosive results.
Overall Impression — 9
Compared to the self-titled debut and even the Ric Ocasek-produced "Rock for Light", "I Against I" marked the moment where Bad Brains ceased to be an underground hardcore phenomenon, and joined the ranks of world-class bands. Released on SST Records, it sounds far more slick than anything on that label at the time, and showed a full realization of their potential. The title track is an aural beatdown, ripped from their hardcore past, yet illustrating to their locked-in progression. "She's Calling You" pairs a gorgeous vocal melody with a slow and powerful chug that releases with a huge guitar flurry to leave you breathless. "House of Suffering" is a short, sharp distillation of the bands entire message of the world-as-abattoir, and the joys of self-reliance and positivity. There's not a weak track on the record, although when they catch their breath on "Secret 77" and "Hired Gun", you may find yourself skipping them just to keep the momentum going. If it were lost or stolen? Here's a tip: It WILL get stolen. Or "borrowed"... Once you buy I Against I, you'll be buying it for the rest of your life, and you won't mind a bit.