...Madball's back so just beware!
It must have been the spring of 1995 when I purchased what has remained one of the best records ever released in my eyes: Madball's Set It Off. Back then the internet was still unheard of (by me at least), so we didn't have as easy access to music (or to just about everything) as one has these days. Hardcore music was still hard to find at that time and I wasn't involved deeply enough yet to know about mailorders or tradelists. So when the 13-year-old me had saved up enough allowance to buy a CD, it was always a tough choice. You couldn't download every single release to sample it and I could only purchase a couple of CD's a month, if even that... So it was always hard to decide which record it would be and the options were based mainly on hearsay, band shirts other people wore whom I assumed to have good taste, and whatever mention Hardcore got in this Dutch metal/rock magazine called Aardschok (meaning "earthquake"). Another factor that played a main role in the process of choice was availability: I had to order my records through a local record store, and Hardcore records were kinda hard to find at that time, because obviously New Age Records or Indecision didn't have a distribution that would make to a record store in a 11.000 people counting town in Belgium...
So yeah, I had saved up enough money to purchase a new CD, I had heard and read a lot about this band from New York City called Madball, their latest full-length was on Roadrunner Records and thus readily available, so I rode my bike to the local record store and ordered Madball's Set It Off. Nowadays kids get upset when they don't receive their order in a timely fashion, but back then a two week wait was nothing: I distinctly remember it took six weeks for my White Devil Reincarnation CD to arrive. But that's another story for another time...
Obviously saving up the right amount of money, the well-tought out decision of which record, and the long wait all added up to the excitement and made the record more valueable. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I still love Madball's Set It Off as much as I do, why I still listen to it on a regular basis, and why I know every single word by heart. Or maybe that's just because Set It Off is simply one of the greatest extreme music albums ever written and recorded.
I dinstinctly remember putting this record on for the first time, and thinking it was such amazing music that the world needed to hear this and I wanted to share its greatness with everybody! I put the volume of my crappy CD-player at full blast, opened up the windows of my bedroom and figured my neighbours and the world would be instantly touched by this exciting music. Needless to say it was rather my parent's doorbell that got touched by the finger of many an angry neighbour.
But to this day, almost 15 years later, I still get shivers down my spine when hearing that short street noise intro build up to "we don't fake it, we just take it" after which the title song kicks in and sucks you into a different world for the next 25 or so minutes. A world of violence, discontent, loss, frustration, rage and pain. But at the same time a world of loyalty, pride, honesty, friendship and uprising. Two opposing worlds that could only be combined in a metropolis such as New York City...
"I see it everyday, everywhere I look they say
another life has been taken away.
It makes my stomach turn,
but livin' here you gotta learn.
Get used to it, it's reality.
Say your prayers, hope it won't happen to you.
Mind your business, do what you gotta do.
Don't look for trouble, sometimes trouble finds you
and what can you do, what can I do?"
It has always been striking to me how an at that time barely 18-year old Freddy Cricien was able to capture this atmosphere so accurately in his song lyrics. Don't get me wrong: I'll never fully grasp the feeling of how it is to grow up in such an environment as Madball grew up in, but saviour Set It Off's lyrics and feel what goes on behind this music, and Madball will slap you with a different kind of reality across your face. Acroooss your... face!
I can't count the hours I've spent listening to Set It Off, reading the lyrics and browsing the thankslist which basically reads like a 'best of Hardcore - class of 94', and which has introduced me to dozens of other great bands. I always thought the lay-out was awesome too: simple but effective, and perfectly carrying the vibe brought on by the music and the lyrics. The Madball logo on this is looking so ill, and there's was a time I'd pick up anything that featured this logo. Needless to say I stopped buying Madball T-shirts when they changed the logo in 1998 on the cover of Look My Way...
I also love that they used only one picture in the lay-out, apart from the cover: a great bandpicture taken by B.J. Papas featuring Vinnie Stigma, Freddy Cricien, Hoya Roc, Will Shepler and Matt Henderson captured in their natural urban biotope.
Other than that you'll find a collage of newspaper headlines displaying the New York City reality, accompanied by a little note saying that "at the time Set It Off was recorded (March/April '94) 264 people were killed by guns in NYC. That number has more than doubled since its release (approximately 2,5 months). STOP THE VIOLENCE!!!"
There isn't much else I can say about record without repeating myself more than I already did. Just allow me to say that not only is Set It Off a seminal record, it is a document. A document of working oneself up from an urban, crime-ridden environment. A document about not getting caught into the traps and temptations that growing up in New York City exposes you to. A document about turning the bad things in your life into a good thing. This is something I've always tried to do and I thank Madball for that.