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Aging angst 

After 20 years, Sick of It All is still hardcore

click to enlarge Sick of It All pose with their trusty giant, eagle sidekick.
  • Sick of It All pose with their trusty giant, eagle sidekick.

Most people associate hardcore music, and the mosh-pitting, stage-diving antics at the shows, with the angst of maladjusted youth. Likewise, the bands tend either to flame out quickly or to soften their sound with age. Not so for Sick of It All.

This year's release of Death to Tyrants marks 20 years that Lou and Pete Koller, brothers from Queens, N.Y., have been translating anger into music. The album is as hard and heavy as anything they've done, but the rage has matured.

"[The anger] is more focused now," says Lou Koller, the band's lead singer. "When you're young, you're just mad at the world. Now, it's like, we actually sit down and discuss things in practice, like, "You know what I saw on the news ...' And then we'll talk about everything that's going on today."

Koller says that when Sick of It All tours, they bring with them a young hardcore band that's sure to appeal to the youth entering the scene today. While there are a few original fans of the band that helped shape the New York City hardcore scene, Koller says it's difficult to keep the older crowd at shows.

"We go talk to the people, and they're like, "Oh, man, I love you guys. I haven't seen you since '94,' because they grew out of the scene, because hardcore's very physical. As they got older and fatter, they just want to hang out at the bar. I'm like, "You can do that at our shows, too,'" he says.

Outsiders looking in on the hardcore scene see violence, but Sick of It All has never condoned violence. In 1992, after a Massachusetts student killed two classmates while wearing a Sick of It All shirt, the band was accused of somehow contributing to this terrible act. They wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times defending the music. Fans of Sick of It All know the music is often funny, and is more about revelry than violence.

"I think it's the vibe we put out," Koller says. "We talk about a lot of serious stuff on the records, but live, it's all about fun. I don't want people hurtin' each other on purpose. When we see people being very malicious and attacking people and singling people out, we stop, and that's it. We don't want that."

Death to Tyrants, with lyrics mostly written by drummer Armand Majidi, is a politically charged album that takes the mainstream media and the power structure to task. On "Take the Night Off," however, the band talks about the screwed-up world we live in, then encourages listeners to take the night off from caring. It's a reminder to have fun, despite the struggle.

"[Majidi] didn't want the whole album to be bleak," says Koller. "The world's fucked, anyway; let's just have a good time tonight."

Sick of It All, who've just returned from touring Europe, seem to still be having a good time. But will they continue another 20 years?

"If I start losing my hair and I get a potbelly worse than the one I have, I don't think I can see myself up there, trying to be all cool or whatever," Koller says. "We're a very energetic live act, and when I need to get a hip replacement or something, maybe they'll get a new singer. My brother, the guitar player, never seems to age."

Josh Johnson

capsule

Sick of It All with Stretch Arm Strong, First Blood and The Everyday Fight

The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.

Friday, May 12, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $15, all ages; call 800/965-4827 or visit ticketweb.com.

  • After 20 years, Sick of It All is still hardcore

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