Crashdog’s 1997 release Outer Crust is the last great punk album of the 1990s.
As someone who identifies himself as a punk rocker, I don’t say that lightly. Indeed, depending on how eclectic your taste is, you could say that the 1990s were chock full of amazing punk albums for specific subgenres in a way that future decades would fail to replicate, from RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magic and the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication being the greatest funk-punk-rap hybrid albums of that decade, to Streetlight Manifesto’s Keasbey Nights and The Suicide Machines’ Destruction by Definition being the decade’s best ska punk albums, all of which regardless are fantastic albums that I love. So it is not my intent to start a flame war-you can take all my opinions with as many grains of salt as you want. And yet, as far as I’m concerned, Outer Crust is equal to Fugazi’s Repeater + 3 Songs as the greatest straightforward, no sass, punk rock album of the 1990s.
This last June marked the album’s 20th anniversary-and this article really should have been put up back then, on the 1st, which was the day of it’s original release. But it wasn’t put up on that day because I was not paying attention to myself and my dedication to writing at the time as much as I am now. And so on this, the final day of 2017, as belated as I am, I find it prudent to celebrate this album, it’s message, and it’s unsurpassed, heavy anarchic sound, as it is a true unspoken masterpiece of an album that deserves far more attention than it currently does.
A little background; Crashdog was one of the first Christian punk rock bands, arriving onto the scene in the late 1980s. Coming out of Chicago, they were based out of Jesus People USA. They were openly political and perhaps because of their location in one of America’s most famous and urban cities, their music had a liberal bent. Maybe that isn’t so out of left field today, but it still feels uncommon to see openly liberal or social-oriented Christian discourse. And yet when I listen to Crashdog’s music, I hear a lot of thought, intelligence and heart. I don’t feel deceived in any way when I read their lyrics, I feel encouraged because I can feel the urgency of when they were written. As someone who was born in the early 90s, my favorite decade, I become fascinated with what this band and the people behind it thought about this era that I was alive for and remember so little about. They spoke out against the GOP, they spoke out against the Yugoslavian civil war, they spoke out for women’s rights, against racism and racial inequality, and they spoke out for marriage as well as many more relevant topics. In summary, all of their music is deeply tied with 90s culture and at the same time immediately hits me with everything I personally am interested in.
The original vocalist, Spike Nard, sang on Crashdog’s first three albums, Humane Society, The Pursuit of Happiness, and Mud Angels, released from 1990-1994. I like these albums but to me they sound a bit more like grunge albums, not the straight punk sound I constantly crave. And while I like Spike himself, I ultimately prefer the voice of the next singer, a certain Andrew Mandell, who had originally played guitar on those earlier albums. 1995’s Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus is another good album with some standout hits that unfortunately goes on a little too long. All the while, they played at Cornerstone a few times and kept trucking on with their political and spiritual focus guiding their musical talents. In any case, everyone should also go check out these older albums if they are interested.
And then, 1997 came.
And with it, the release of Outer Crust.
Right off the bat, the cover art of a stylized, polluted cityscape surrounded by impoverished shanties grabs you with it’s stark, haunting atmosphere. A low lying haze of smog lazily floats along and there isn’t a single living person to be seen. I bring this point up because I had an interesting exchange with my uncle when I showed him this cover art. To me, as the viewer, it feels like I’m observing this glistening city that was built on the backs of my fellow, discarded human refuse, and now we’re all pushed out to the barrens, the titular ‘outer crust.’ In my uncle’s opinion however, he felt as if we, the observers, had built a heaven for ourselves as represented by this shining city despite being surrounded by an ugly hell, as symbolized by the shanties. This is a minor point but it’s definitely one of the more interesting debates I’ve had over an artistic piece in awhile.
But after you’re done taking in the art, well, that’s when you hit the play button. A short dialogue sets the scene. The next thing you know, you are immediately thrown into punk rock bliss. As much as I am tempted to go through each individual track and provide a breakdown in the classic review style, I don’t want to, as my hope is for everyone who reads this article to go out, buy this album on the band’s Bandcamp or to go get a physical copy and listen to it for themselves. Suffice to say, this album is a breathtaking, heartbreaking work of 37 minutes of punk rock mastery from beginning to end.
Now, I’ve shown Outer Crust to many people, of all philosophies and walks of life (basically anyone willing to lend an ear). And whenever I, respectfully, try to get one of my atheist or otherwise agnostic friends in particular to listen to this album, I sell it as “the only Christian punk rock album you should ever listen to.” And in order to do that, I bring up two points; the first being that it’s one of those albums where everyone involved, from the musicians themselves to the sound engineers, is firing on all cylinders. I couldn’t really find anything about the specific production of Outer Crust, but just by following the time of release, I can see that this thing took two years to make. But in those two years, Crashdog’s sound completely flipped. Gone were the earlier oi or grunge influences, Outer Crust is an astonishingly heavy, amazing sounding, 100% anarcho, crust punk rock album. And while some of this sound can be traced to a few older songs here or there, Outer Crust is the only Crashdog album that has this sound.
Outer Crust sounds like Crass turned up to 11; the album is blindingly fast, yet every song has a defined, heavy beat. It’s worth noting that the producer of this album (as well as some of the group’s other endeavors) was Steve Albini, which in itself isn’t too surprising given his extensive record and Chicago base. But some of the heaviness here feels in part similar to what you can see on something like his earlier work with Helmet, only better.
This new style of sound definitely comes in part from the fact that somewhere in those two years, Crashdog found a second guitarist to add to their original four piece formula, and the extra complexity immediately and constantly abounds, as Jason Burt and Mike Perlmutter proceed to see who between the two of them can riff and rock into oblivion faster. They are both amazingly on point.
At the same time, as raw as it is, Outer Crust has a very smooth quality to it. Despite being wonderfully down-tuned, it never has the feel of a garage or grunge rock sound. It doesn’t feel grimy in the least, and absolutely no fat is wasted here on the album’s fourteen songs; it is practically one solid stream of consciousness.
There are numerous fantastic punk choruses and while I am not necessarily trying to single him out, I think the aforementioned Andrew Mandell should go down as one of punk’s greatest vocalists. His voice drips with angst, the most important component for any punk singer, yet his vocals are also fantastically layered, clean, and raspy in a way that is amazingly melodic, especially when paired up with the fantastic bass and drum work, courtesy of Brian Grover and Greg Jacques, respectively. His lyrics are direct, immediate, but above all beautifully raw.
Long story short, Outer Crust is a fast, heavy, lean, dance worthy, clean, raw, politically charged, spiritually and emotionally driven powerhouse of an anarcho punk rock album. Do I even have to mention that by 97, nu metal and pop punk (the latter being one of the banes of my existence) had pushed out any chance of something like this ever reaching the mainstream?
Which brings me to my second point, about why this album is so top-notch fantastic.
This album, to me, showcases a band that knowingly or otherwise is on it’s final gasps. The reason why everyone is giving it their all in such an impressive way is because after this, it’s over, not unlike pulling out your last reserves of energy before you cross the finish line in a bike race. I’m not entirely sure what the reason or drama was, but it was nonetheless decisive. A few of the members went on to form the folk punk group Ballydowse, which I unfortunately have some mixed feelings about but is still a great band in it’s own right. There was some sort of statement on their hiatus in 2006, and in 2012, the group briefly reformed to play at the final Cornerstone music festival. There have been a few posts on Facebook, but I believe but that’s been it.
And so, what of the legacy of Outer Crust? What of the legacy of Crashdog? A criminally underrated band putting out a criminally underrated album is far too common to be of some major music industry concern. At the same time, as much as I try to get people to give this album a chance, I will always understand if they’re not comfortable listening to the Christian message, or are just not attracted to heavy music like this. Those last two reasons are totally understandable.
And yet, this is my favorite album of all time.
In fact, one of my goals for 2018 is to memorize all the lyrics to all the songs, it’s that much a part of me. Because of it’s intelligence and sincerity, it has carried me through hard times; because of it’s speed and efficiency, it has become my favorite album to jump rope to; and because of it’s historical association with the era of my birth and insight, in it’s own little way, it has brought me closer to God and becoming a Christian in my own right.
So if there’s one prayer I have, it’s that by highlighting this album in the way that I have, I can do my part to bring it to the attention of someone like me. Someone who needs it at a similar critical moment in their life, which for me was the struggle of trying to graduate from college and get out of the house. Or maybe I can help someone who also considers themselves to be a fellow 90s kid that’s looking back at history and seeks Outer Crust’s social and spiritual perspective. I would tell that person that this album is not a substitute for the Bible itself, of course, but it may serve as a point of interest to help you on your path to greater wisdom, wisdom that comes from on high.
And so, happy 20th anniversary, Outer Crust. I do hope that this article achieves positive attention and traction, so that when we celebrate the 25th anniversary, the name of this album becomes ten times more celebrated. I’d like to give another sincere, thank you very much to all the people involved in it’s production. And of course, thank you God, for showing me punk rock to begin with.
Happy New Years, everyone.