In the late 1980s, a new genre of hard rock music emerged. The term “crossover” was assigned to bands like D.R.I. and Suicidal Tendencies who made their name with raw, aggressive songs and incorporated musicality, dynamics, and length. That change in sound is what defined them, which makes it difficult to call L.A.’s 400 Blows a “crossover” band. Still, 400 Blows’ music would have fit in well with that crowd, skirting—even shredding—the line between punk and metal. Their new release, Sickness and Health, strips away a little of the rawness heard on 2005’s Angel’s Trumpets and Devil’s Trombones, but the aggression prevails.
In a band with no bassist, guitarist Scott Martin (also of Big Business) provides plenty of bottom alongside drummer Kevin Fitzgerald and his dual-floor-tom kit, supporting Skot Alexander’s talking-yelling-preaching vocals. Lead track “Stop the End,” starts abruptly, giving you the feeling that you’ve missed the beginning of the song. This is deliberate; there is no easing in to 400 Blows. Fans might miss the live feel evident in previous recordings, but it still showcases Martin and Fitzgerald’s skills.
If Black Flag had embraced to the “crossover” genre, they would have sounded like 400 Blows’ Sickness and Health; Greg Ginn’s influence is evident on tracks like “Bad Man’s Blues” and “Inherit the Wind.” Far from homage, though, Skot Alexander provides a fresh, indefinable spin on a classic sound. If you like the first 30 seconds of the album, then you’re going to love the next 30 minutes. After the closing number, “The Rescue Party,” you feel like you’ve had a workout even if you haven’t left your seat.