I did not grow up in the most musically progressive town. Victoria, Texas is big enough to have multiple radio stations, but in the late ‘90s, it wasn’t big enough to have any stations that played any sort of hard rock that could be considered modern. No, if you wanted the current and the cutting edge, you had to have a vehicle tall enough and some space open enough to catch the barest traces of Austin and Houston stations as they drifted through the sky.
And there I was, in the parking lot outside of a Victoria auto supply store, in my dad’s delivery van, the first time I heard Static-X’s “Bled For Days.” It’s a member that’s almost completely crystallized in my mind; I had known the band’s name, even been told to keep an ear out for them because they might be up my alley, but the rush of hearing that song for me was so much that it’s something I’ve never forgotten.
Had you asked me at the time, I would not have had the vocabulary to explain why I was so head over heels for that particular song or the rest of the track’s that make up the band’s debut album Wisconsin Death Trip. It’s mix of big riffs, big beats, and electronic flourishes were unique to me, the small town kid who still struggled to explain what “emo” meant when asked, let alone been clever enough to use the phrase “evil disco.”
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Here in 2019, Wisconsin Death Trip is turning 20, and the band, minus lead singer Wayne Static, who passed away in 2014, are back together to celebrate their debut work. The prospect of hearing Wisconsin Death Trip in full live is something I’ve long wanted, even if this isn’t the optimal version of that wish. And yet, for the last few years, as I’ve been on a personal quest to try and figure out what my top 10 records of all time were - a list that at an earlier point in my life would have featured Wisconsin Death Trip, no question - it’s the one record that I’ve been most reluctant to revisit. With older, more experienced ears, I dreaded what my reaction might be to something held in such high esteem nostalgically.
But having forced myself to stop running from it, I can say now that Wisconsin Death Trip is actually more impressive to me now than it was when I was younger.
Conceptually speaking, the genre label “nu-metal” was always kind of awful and useless, an umbrella term that could mean anything from rap-rock to proto-butt rock to evil disco and anything in between. It’s a genre label that paints Static-X, Limp Bizkit, Orgy, Incubus and Systematic with the same brush, and we all just sort of went with it because the late ‘90s were weird and if you didn’t like pop or rap you were pretty desperate for a sound of your own.
While nu-metal had a lot of things in abundance - silly lyrics, baggy jeans, facial hair - it was light on atmospherics and sonic depth. It’s really only in the branches that embraced the electronic side of things - your Fear Factorys and Deftones and the like - that understood that good music is not just riff after riff.
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And that’s really what stands out for me revisiting Wisconsin Death Trip now, all the little flourishes that each song contains that make them feel like their own little worlds. Even the songs that are a little on the nose - think “Sweat of the Bud” - have their share of background noises and effects that elevate them up from just being “deep album cut that’s only here to fill time.” Sure, the riffs on the record are grand at times, including the ones in “Bled For Days” that originally won me over, but this is a record about beats, ones that make you want to move whether that’s moshing or grooving.
Add to that Static’s vocals and you’ve got some really powerful moments. Wayne Static was a top-notch growler, but there are moments on WDT where he shows his vulnerability and I think those are the when the record shines the brightest. I would have loved for a whole album of “December”-styled downbeat tracks because that song is one of the most interesting in the entire nu-metal catalog.
Wisconsin Death Trip is a complex record hiding behind one big, aggressive single (“Push It”) that is constructed to near perfection. Static-X has plenty of great songs post-so, but the records don’t quite have the laser precision that makes their first effort shine so bright. It’s a tier one album in the genre, up there with White Pony, Hybrid Theory, and The Sickness, and I hope this tour makes more folks stop and give it another listen. Mainstream rock would have been a lot more interesting if people had paid attention the first time around.
Static-X will perform Saturday, June 22, at Warehouse Live, 813 St Emanuel St, doors at 6 p.m. $24-$60.