By Kyle Harcott
Having been an ardent drinker of the Steve Austin Kool-Aid since Temple of the Morning Star first blew my mind in 1997, my anticipation always runs high whenever there’s a new TITD record on the horizon. I’ve yet to be disappointed, and I’m happy to report their ninth album, Pain Is A Warning, is no exception to this rule.
Impeccably backed by Curran Reynolds and Ryan Jones from Wetnurse in this latest incarnation, Mr. Austin’s Today is the Day offers up another compelling record which, while retaining its signature sound, is a far more rock effort than any other TITD record previous. There are some big, bad, bruising riffs on Pain Is A Warning that instantly evoke a fist-in-the-air kind of vibe – all the while maintaining that incredulous amount of rage we love TITD for. At the same time, there are moments on the album that reveal an honesty and vulnerability heretofore unseen from Steve Austin, which uncannily makes the album even more endearing.
There is still the anger first and foremost though, which is why you came to this party in the first place. Opener “Expectations Exceed Reality” creepy-crawls its way to an H-bomb of molasses-thick haterage with riffs ripping open the earth left and right; and when the man retches the chorus, you feel every ounce of what he’s trying to choke out of his voice. As apocalyptic as the opener is though, it’s the follow-up, “Death Curse” which wields the most violent force on the record. A song borne of feral desperation, “Death Curse” is frightening in its execution and most closely reminiscent of ‘classic’ Today is the Day circa In The Eyes Of God. Certainly the most abrasive song on the record, “Death Curse” is a relentless assault, a completely furious blast through the tortured psyche of Steve Austin. These two songs are right at home, instant classic in the TITD canon.
But it’s with the title track, which follows, that Today is the Day start to display some of those big rock riffs. A hard-driving swagger pushes “Pain Is A Warning” to the shitkicker-boogie boiling point in the vein of AC/DC. When the song finally hits meltdown, redline-overdriven riff over screaming-eagle vocal, it’s like a boot in the ribs during a boozecan bar brawl. That ugly mood sticks around for “Wheelin’” and “The Devil’s Blood”, more massive riffs that lodge in your brain. With its gang vocals (another first for Today Is The Day), the chorus of ‘The Devil’s Blood” is downright catchy, while retaining its signature venom. Meanwhile “Slave To Serenity” and “Samurai” equally weigh out the most monstrous bastard-Iommi riffs on the record, Austin casting them down from on high like aural sheets of lightning.
But where the album really steps outside itself, though, is on two surprising tracks: “Remember To Forget” and “This Is You”, the former a [mostly] clean-guitared, clean-vocaled ballad, swirling with downward-spiralling moodiness; the latter acoustically twanging like a oldtime heartbreak country ballad. These tracks, especially ‘This Is You” reveal a side of Steve Austin we’ve not seen exposed thus far, a sullen vulnerability that enhances the mood on Pain Is A Warning as much as the violent tracks do, providing a welcome balance.
With its giant thundering riffs, and left-field ballads, Pain Is A Warning is at times eye-opening, but without a doubt it’s another welcome addition to the Today Is The Day catalog.
(Black Market Activities)