Attention 90’s Hardcore kids… Ready for a windmill to the face? Earth Crisis’ groundbreaking EP, Firestorm, is 20 years old. Nuts, right?! In a move that changed the shape of hardcore music as we may (or may not have) known it, the Syracuse, NY based five-piece, along with several of their contemporaries, offered a much more metallic approach to their songwriting and delivery, especially when compared to the street-style of hardcore that permeated many scenes of the time.
But more importantly, “Firestorm,” “Forged In The Flames,” “Unseen Holocaust,” and “Eden’s Demise” provided a monumental gateway into a scene and subculture that has continuously struggled for a more equitable, just, and sober society. The group’s sophomore release captured mouthpiece Karl Buechner at a time when his vocal range and ability to deliver had vastly matured from their previous effort, All Out War, but was still growing at an exponential rate. Idealistic, passionate, and incredibly pissed off, Firestorm served as a call to arms for many youths who felt the unjust drudgery of mainstream society needed a massive reinvention. It may still be the case.
Listening as I write this, Firestorm has retained every ounce of the initial magic and power that continues to draw thousands of youth into hardcore music each year. Whether you agree or disagree with the politics and imagery portrayed in the lyrics, hardcore enthusiasts can’t argue the impact, influence, and importance of Victory Records #012. I sat down with Karl to talk about Firestorm’s lasting boot print in the US hardcore scene, his take on the release two decades later, and the upcoming anniversary shows the group will be doing to celebrate the anniversary of one of the most important releases in hardcore music.
G- What’s going on, Karl, and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today!
K- Thanks for doing the interview.
G- Very glad to do so. It’s gonna be a pretty wild weekend coming up for you guys, I think… Firestorm is 20 years old. Can you reflect on that a little bit for us? How does it feel?
K- You know, I’ve been listening to some of the old songs to kind of get prepared for these shows, and the 3 West Coast shows we’re going to do. We’re playing California and Mexico in August, and I think what’s gonna make these specific dates unique is that we’re playing some songs in the set that have only been done live, some of them, a few times. Like, they’re not necessarily in our regular live show list, so that’ll be kinda cool.
There’re some younger EC fans who might have seen the band off and on over the last 7 years, since we’ve come back, who will be hearing some of these songs for the first time.
G- Yeah, man. I don’t know if it was leaked, or somebody in the band took a picture of the tentative set list that you’ve been practicing, but a lot of those songs were super old! I don’t even think I’ve ever seen “The Oath…” played before… That’s going to be nuts! Is that one of the ones you’ll be doing?
K- Yeah. That’ll be cool, and I think, since 2007, we’ve put out Neutralize The Threat, To The Death, and Forced To Kill, and preproduction is done for our next full length, so we’ve mainly been playing songs from our modern albums when we’ve been out on tour. So, I’m looking forward to revisiting those older tracks.
G- Alright! And since you are in the process of pre-pro, before we delve into the nostalgic, your new record is going to be coming out on Candlelight Records, and you said everything is done in terms of pre-production and such… Can you tell us about the process, where you recorded, and how long it took you to get things down? When can we expect a tentative release?
K- Scott (Crouse) recorded everything at his home studio, and then came to Syracuse and I did my vocals at Freya’s practice room, and we’re going to be recording with Zeuss out in Massachusetts again this Fall, and it’s an animal rights themed album.
G- Cool. And when can we expect a possible release?
K- It’s a little too early to project when it will be released, but I can probably say not until next year.
G- Dig it.
Ok, well let’s get to the history of Firestorm, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn about. Let’s go through it track by track.
“Firestorm” is the anthem, and there are very few anthems that dropped at the time that had that type of impact. What was the inspiration behind the particular track, especially looking back on it now?
K – Basically, that song is about the drug war and there’s a debate that has been going on for a long time within straight edge as to what would solve the drug problem that society is suffering from; the related crime, addicts overdosing, and things like that. On one side of the fence, there’s people that say there would be less criminal activity if it’s all legalized. And then, there are people that are coming from our viewpoint that think that the war on drugs can be won if it’s fought harder. “Firestorm” is pretty much coming from that angle. It’s about a people’s uprising against drug dealers, cartels, and narco-gangs.
It’s pretty amazing because there are guys that were into Earth Crisis when they were younger who are literally in law enforcement (laughs,) and that’s a wild thing to see. But what that song is specifically about is kind of tracing it from the cartels to the corner dealers to the corrupt politicians to the police… I definitely think that there are people that benefit off of drugs being criminalized, but I also wonder if, you could kind of compare it to how no cure for cancer ever comes about, if it’s almost its own industry. And it’s almost its own industry with people getting a drug charge, and getting a lawyer, and going into rehab, and everything else… I wonder if it has become a money-making thing on that side of things, too.
Because think about this: You and I can’t drive across this city without the proper stickers on our cars, and insurance, and all that other stuff. And at some point, if we get pulled over and we don’t have insurance and we don’t have our paperwork straightened out, we’re gonna get arrested and have our car towed. So it’s like, things are very strictly regulated, and I don’t believe that the border couldn’t be closed. I don’t believe it.
Everyone is essentially under surveillance, and I don’t believe that there aren’t devices that could find where meth is being made, or this narcotic is being smuggled through. I don’t believe it, because we’re essentially law abiding people, but we’ll get pulled over from time to time.
An even darker possibility is that there are powerful people out there who may want caustic chemical drugs (ie: Heroin, Meth, Crack, etc.) out there in society because it is a way for them to actually control and/or destroy people.
So, I don’t want to delve too much into conspiracy theories about it, but it definitely seems that the war on drugs is not being fought to the extremes that it should be, if there was a will to win it. The drug war can’t just be law enforcement. It’s impressive when law enforcement raids labs and arrests people who are a part of the drug plague, and those people are risking their lives everyday to stop this. People know that.
“Firestorm” is essentially about groups like Direct Action Against Drugs from Ireland, The Original Black Panthers, The Shadow from Central America, Los Pepes from Columbia, etc.
G- And you brought up an interesting point when you brought up cancer, because the drug companies make a fortune off of it. There’s no money in the cure. There IS money in the drug.
K- Right. There’s money in the drug, and there’s money in the treatment, and in the legal system. It’s a big, complicated puzzle.
G- Very true.
So, “Forged In The Flames.” That seems like a strength approach, a very personal track…
K- Right. I’m 42 years old, so I grew up here in Syracuse when there was no hardcore scene. It was a punk scene, and there were people that had serious drug and alcohol problems. They had mental issues, or they came from broken homes, and I saw a lot of nihilistic and self-destructive behavior, and what drew me to punk and hardcore was A) It was South Park before it was South Park, and B) It was filled with energy and ideas and possible solutions to problems. I was impressed by Youth of Today and No For An Answer and the strength that they projected, as far as taking SXE seriously.
Obviously, back then, the original definition of SXE was “A law of moderation, anti-obsession.” And to me, SXE is not a chapter of life, it IS the story. It’s the entire story. It’s the goal, and it’s the vehicle that allows me, as an athlete or as a musician or as a businessman, to succeed. It’s a very important component of that.
So, it’s a lifetime commitment, and that is what that song is about.
G- Alright. And “Unseen Holocaust,” my personal favorite off of the EP…
K- You know, I was listening to that earlier, as I mentioned, just refreshing myself with the lyrics and everything, and I think, musically, that song holds up really well.
G- Very well.
K- It has something interesting things going on guitar-wise in terms of progressions, and I’m really happy with that song. I mean, the recording is dated, but I think those songs definitely hold up. I would love to re-record Firestorm and Destroy the Machines and Gomorrah’s Season Ends, because I think the songs are great, but I think the recordings are a tad thin by modern standards. Hopefully at some point, we’ll be able to do that… It’s something I’ve started to think about more and more.
But “Unseen Holocaust,” lyrically, was kind of drawing a parallel between Manifest Destiny in America’s past and what is going on with corporations in different parts of the world; How they’ll go into territories in Africa or Central America or Indonesia and they are there for resources, and tribal peoples’ lands are seen as areas on a map to be exploited. There’s dam projects, there’s roads, mining, and it’s killing their way of life, and I think that’s horrifying considering that some of these people have been living off of the land in harmony for thousands of years.
G- And here comes a road that takes them out.
K- Yeah. So, we’re trying to draw a little bit of attention to that. And to be quite honest, we don’t ever pretend to have all the solutions but, at the same time, our band, in some kind of way, was like a fire alarm. It drew attention to the problem so wiser men than us could try to figure out how to solve it.
G- From a personal standpoint, it was you guys and Chokehold. I couldn’t understand the lyrics for shit when I heard the tunes for the first time, of course, but when I got into the lyric sheets and started reading up…
K- Like studying graffiti. If you’re interested in it, you’re going to read up and get it.
G- It’s very intelligent, much more intelligent than a lot of the “hardcore” I hear coming out today which seems just as angry, but also seems that they aren’t singing about too much. Not that there aren’t bands that are socially and politically motivated on many different fronts, but a lot of the stuff that has taken off on a commercial route and brought the medium to the level that it is at today commercially, it’s vacant by comparison to much of the stuff that was coming out back then.
K- Well, I think what drew me to hardcore was the obnoxiousness of it and the energy of the music, and as I got more and more into it and heard Cro-Mags Age of Quarrel or Agnostic Front Victim in Pain or Bad Brains I Against I, all of those bands had a mission. They were offering, to the best of their ability, what seemed like a solution to things, whether it was a political viewpoint, or moral, or a spiritual path to walk on. That’s what held me to it.
Right now, I think all those bands exist and all those bands are putting out quality stuff and playing at a peak level, but I think some of the bands that are really big in hardcore right now don’t… It’s more ego-driven anger than an outrage against injustice.
G- True. That’s a very good way of putting it and I think you summed up what I was saying better than anything else.
And lastly, “Eden’s Demise.”
K- When I got into hardcore, I was 13. Onondaga Lake had been polluted with heavy metals, there was the Toxic Tower in Binghamton that was closed down because it had cancerous contaminants in the walls after a fire, there was toxic waste under a housing development in a part of Buffalo called Love Canal, there was a nuclear radiation leak at a plant in Pennsylvania, and there was acid rain destroying all the marine life in the lakes in the Adirondacks. So it seemed to me that the Earth was being destroyed, just by looking around and paying attention to what was happening within our own city and state.
G- Yeah that all within a couple hundred mile radius on the East Coast, let alone what’s going on across the country and across the world.
K- Yeah. And then Chernobyl followed that, so I don’t think we were wrong to be alarmed, and I think we tried to do the right thing by, again, activating the fire alarm so hopefully wiser people than us can try and fix things (laughs.)
G- Right on. So, to get to some of the basics, I know it was a long time ago, but take us back to the recording studio at that point? Bill Korecky recorded it and was on the boards… How long did it take to record and what was the vibe like in the studio at the time?
K- It was awesome. Bill is a true professional. He already had a Grade A studio at the time, and we got along very well. Everyone felt very comfortable, a lot more so than when we did the All Out War EP, because I think our chemistry at that point was where it needed to be as far as being a cohesive band. We were writing legitimate songs and we could play tight enough, and that’s why I think that record holds up, because we were really prepared for it by the time we got to the studio, whereas with All Out War, the band was only like 5 months old when we went into the studio to record that 7 inch.
K- Yeah. So, things were a lot more together by the time we made it out to Cleveland and did the Firestorm sessions, which was at the beginning of the tour we did for All Out War.
G- You recorded Firestorm at the beginning of the tour for All Out War?
K- Yeah the Summer tour, so it was busy.
G- Well, you seem like you’ve slowed down a whole lot. 3 bands right now, Freya’s going to be dropping a new record soon? Hmph… slacker.
Now, unbeknownst to many, even myself until just recently, there was a 9-song demo CD that came between All Out War and Firestorm. How did you select the songs to be included, and what ever became of the other tracks on that demo?
K- It was never really anything other than pre-production for Destroy The Machines. That’s really what it was, and some of those songs were on a benefit compilation for an ALF prisoner. I think it was called “Stones To Mark a Fire.”
K- And 2 of the other songs ended up on a 7th Dagger 7 inch that we did, the Forced To Kill record I mentioned earlier. So, some of them have been released, and there’s a few more to go.
G- So, for the tour, how did you select the 7 dates you’re going to be running? You’ve got Syracuse, NYC, Philly, and then 4 on the West Coast… That’s a mighty sandwich right there.
K- To tell the truth, I don’t handle that aspect of the band… That’s all Scott’s doing, and I know that everyone in the band very much appreciates him for that. Having one person coordinate that aspect of things as far as booking goes with our agent, it makes things much more simple.
G- I hope those West Coast dates are fly-ins for you guys, because that’s one hell of a road trip. (laughing)
K- They are.
G- Now, something I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time: Obviously SXE and vegan have gone together quite a bit, specifically because of the hardcore scene. In your opinion, what do you think is a more important personal attribute for a person: to be SXE or to be Vegan? Why?
K- Well, I don’t think SXE is for everybody, but clearly it is a lifetime commitment for me, and everyone in this band, along with a lot of our friends. I think the benefits of living drug, alcohol, and smoke-free are definitely going to make everyone’s life easier. Nobody wants to be an addict, and nobody wants to die after having a lung removed, or a tracheotomy, or any of these other horrific surgeries that people have after they become sick, or their liver rots out or whatever else happens. I don’t need to go through the whole list.
Regarding animal rights, the rage in those records during All Out War and Firestorm was because I was literally looking into the eyes of animals who’d been doused with gasoline and burned, hit with pipes, or intentionally run over while working at Syracuse Wildlife Rehab Center. So when animal rights was treated like a joke, that’s why our lyrics were what they were, and why we reacted the way we did.
When someone is vegan or vegetarian, animals aren’t being exploited or tortured or killed. It’s less disruptive and harmful to the natural world to raise food that is vegan to be fed to humans.
G- Ok. Now, just one last question for you today. Undoubtedly, some individuals who swore an oath to SXE and veganism and were very loud about it in their formative years have since dropped the lifestyle(s) in part or whole. I can remember tremendous backlash, loss of friends, and many a bitter person left in the wake of the old school politicizing of hardcore music, especially in Syracuse. We all know what went down in Utah and if you don’t, look it up.
What are your thoughts on people who have opted to revert back or begin a lifestyle not consistent with SXE or veganism now, after once being there?
K- Well, I think if someone is a young guy, they don’t know and will never understand how deeply it cut into us when a lot of the old original 80’s and 90’s SXE bands sold out. They went from being onstage and writing these songs and having these lyrics that were militantly against drugs and alcohol, and then 5-6 years later, they’re in print mocking the concept and saying they never took it seriously. To us, that was utterly disgusting. It enraged us. It really did.
And it’s not like we viewed these people as heroes or anything, but to us, it was nothing other than a lifetime commitment, and that’s when we started to say that SXE, to us, is more than anti-obsession, it’s more than a law of moderation. To us, it WAS a lifetime commitment to never touch a drop of alcohol, to never smoke, to never take drugs, and to never be involved in promiscuous, one night type of things with girls. We’re trying to stay focused on being the best athletes and best artists and best musicians we can be, to be healthy and productive and not have to deal with any of the problems that come with those things, the substances and behaviors. So, that’s why we were as forceful as we were at the time.
I will credit SXE as being a huge part of what saved my life, and I knew that when I started my band, I wanted kids to say “I love Earth Crisis. They gave me something special, and they’re still the same dudes doing the same things.” That to me was really important. And just through fate and everything else, I found guys that shared that same passion for everything. Ian, Erick, Dennis, Scott… Everyone is 200% committed to these concepts and to living this way.
And I think things have come a long way. The guys in Unconquered, Carl from First Blood, Battleground and xTYRANTx… They’re not going to sell out. They’re anchored, and that’s cool. SXE made it past that point where we felt as let down as we did by certain members of some of those original bands selling out.
And like I said, SXE is not for everyone, but I think the benefits of living substance free are. It’ll only make everyone’s life easier.
And when it comes to veganism, I took it very, very slowly. I stopped eating red meat when I was 16 and ate fish for 2 years. I became vegetarian at age 18 and vegan soon after that, so I did everything in increments and didn’t get overwhelmed. And at the same time, I read about nutrition and I never had any problems.
You’ll hear some people say “I tried to be vegan but I lost too much weight” or their hair was falling out, and it’s like ‘Dude, did you take vitamins or drink water?’ Just simple things.
G- Yeah. “All I eat are Smarties and potato chips, man!”
K- (laughs) Yeah. If you’re gonna do it, you obviously have to read and maintain some discipline.
But my thought is, I would like to be as peaceful as I possibly can, as fair as I possibly can, and the more I learned about how needless the suffering was that animals were going through in a slaughterhouse or in a factory farm or in a research lab, I wanted nothing to do with it. I never wanted a single penny of my money to support and go to those things I found utterly appalling.
G- Isn’t it ironic how far ahead of the game you guys were, especially now that there is social media and camera phones and people who’ve been able to infiltrate on a much broader level to bring these things to light?
K- And that’s the thing. Back then, as far as hardcore bands playing metal, Conviction was there and Merauder was there. And there were definitely bands that were pushing for animal rights, especially Conflict. But, I think we’re definitely one of the first bands to write songs about the Sea Shepherds or the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) or Earth First, to the extent that we did, where kids actually knew what these people and these groups were about, and what they were doing.
And you didn’t really see hardly anything about it on the news at the time. Maybe 5 years later, you started seeing the news pay attention to it, and I felt like there was a media blackout on direct action. Every time an animal was rescued, or a road would be prevented from being put into a wilderness area, or monkeys were rescued from a vivisection lab or animals from a furrier, it would be on page 7 of the local newspaper. To me, it was like ‘How could that NOT be in USA Today?’ That was huge. Today, you have shows like Whale Wars on TV, for God’s sake.
So, I think there’re a lot more vegans and a lot more people demanding for things to be cruelty-free. Things are definitely changing for the better.