It was June, 1991. My high school graduation party (keg and all!) had just been cancelled. Why? Yours truly was laid up after having an emergency appendectomy. So I was laying there in my hospital bed, miserable, when my girlfriend’s mom showed up with a gift…Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind on cassette (that’s right, cassette!!). I was going crazy in that room with nothing to listen to, and if this isn’t the album to get an 18-year old kid fired up, I don’t know what is! As soon as I pressed PLAY on the Walkman I knew I was in for greatness. Feel like takin’ a ride? Come on…
The opening strains of “Monkey Business”…where do I even begin? The mood, the grit, the grime, the IN-YOUR-FACE ASSKICKING THAT STARTS AT :34 SECONDS makes this an instant classic. Skid Row obviously had something to prove with this one. Labeled as soft by some detractors because their first album was melodic (the horror!) and catchy while maintaining a hungry, from the street attitude, the band opted for smashing everything in sight on pretty much every track, and Sebastian Bach wailing “Monkey on my BAAAAAAACK!!” was only the tip of the iceberg that would sink the Titanic full of naysayers. “Slave to the Grind” picks up the torch used to set the buildings aflame and bulldozes its way into your head at a breakneck pace, drummer Rob Affuso putting his jazz training aside in favor of kicking some teeth in. And when you finally force your one good eye open, “The Threat” is there to blacken the other one, bassist Rachel Bolan driving the point home. Three songs, three beatings. Still with me? Good!
“Quicksand Jesus” is a perfect vehicle for Sebastian’s voice. He keeps it simple on the verses, over a slow and easy melody written by guitarist Dave “The Snake” Sabo, and then hitting his ON switch for the final minutes. Pure punk attitude permeates “Psycho Love”, a song about heroin addiction, and if you were lucky enough to get the first pressings of the album (like me), you got “Get the Fuck Out” as your side one closer. One of the most fun songs to listen to, for sure.
Side two. A commentary on where we were as a society and where we were headed in 1991 is what makes “Livin’ On a Chain Gang” one of the absolute high points of this record. That, and the continuing sonic beatdown. It pummels, it crushes, and the guitar solo back and forth between Snake and Scotti Hill is nearly worthy of Tipton and Downing’s stuff. “Creepshow” is one of those tunes where the vocal melody is the main thrust, especially on the verses, and damn if you won’t be humming it hours later. Shall we continue?
I told you I was laid up in a hospital bed. I couldn’t move. It hurt. They weren’t gonna let me leave till I could walk without pain. Well, “In a Darkened Room” is the song. The song that motivated me to get up from that fucking hospital bed, to get out in that hallway, and WALK!! And walk. And walk. Till I felt no pain. The pain and anguish in Sebastian’s singing took all of mine away, and “Please let there be LIGHT IN A DARKENED ROOM!!!” and one of the most emotional solos I’ve ever heard in my life became my anthem that summer. Coming out of that we have “Riot Act”, another 1-2-3-4 punk/metal hybrid that is made for doing shots and throwing punches, and “Mudkicker” with a bit of a slower tempo, but thick like toxic sludge. It’s another uppercut/hook combo to your head.
When the dust settles, we’re left with closer “Wasted Time” that has an intro every bit as good as the one that started us off. It’s heartfelt; it’s melancholy, and a perfect way for the band to finish what they started. Slave To the Grind is an important album because it is the last piece of greatness from a scene that in four months was about to be crushed by grunge, or as I like to call it, COMPLETE CRAP, before rising like the Phoenix from the ashes some years later. I know most, if not all of you have this one, so go put it on, rock out, then admire your shiner in the mirror, ‘cause I bet you’ll have one. ~dc