Far Out Scenery: The Prescience of Warrior Soul’s ‘Salutations from the Ghetto Nation’ 25 Years Later
By Dave Dierksen
The goddamn president can go to hell!
Imagine being 14 years old in 1991, living in a small, sheltered, conservative town, and hearing those words emerge from your radio. This was my first exposure to the mighty Warrior Soul, via the scorching punk rock track “The Wasteland,” a song that also features the lines: “That damn AIDS test got me so uptight”; “L.A.P.D.’s got an awful smell”; and perhaps most notably, “Donald Trump is just a money whore.”
Ho…ly…shit. Even with relatively progressive parents with little love for George Bush Sr., these were shocking sentiments to a white boy in a suburban bubble. Keep in mind that this pre-dated by a few months the widespread popularity of gangsta rap and the alternative rock movement that would usher in all types of “serious” points of view. In the summer of 1991, all I had was popular music transmitted through radio and MTV, so the most controversial band in my world was Guns ‘N’ Roses. Sure, u2 and R.E.M. were political, though often their messages were filtered through metaphor. More pertinently, those bands frankly didn’t ROCK, and all I wanted to do when I was 14 was bang my fucking head.
“The Wasteland” only managed a few spins on my local AM metal station and only appeared minimally on MTV, mostly on Headbanger’s Ball, but the song’s baseball-bat-to-the-ears sensibility was so impactful that my next two music purchases after hearing it were Warrior Soul’s debut record, ‘Last Decade Dead Century’, and the follow-up, ‘Drugs, God and the New Republic’.
SIDE NOTE: After a brief intro, ‘Drugs, God and the New Republic’ opens with an incendiary cover of Joy Division’s “Interzone.” How many hard rock bands do you think were covering Joy Division in 1991? My hunch is not many.
Listening to those two records, several things became clear:
First, while Warrior Soul’s lyrics were politically charged, they didn’t forget about your good old-fashioned sex, drugs and rock-and-roll tropes. Their second record may have introduced me to Joy Division, but their first record introduced me to MDMA (“Trippin’ on Ecstasy”).
Second, Warrior Soul was ridiculously hard to categorize. They could play straight up punk rock, hard rock anthems, psych rock, and Bowie-esque glam rock, and yet unlike so many bands who attempted this kind of diversity in that era, there was a cohesion to the material, thanks to the futuristic metallic sheen of the guitar solos, singer Kory Clarke’s impressive jumps between throaty screams and soulful wailing, and the unrelenting, take-no-shit attitude. Imagine ‘Appetite for Destruction‘ with twice the lyrical depth and 10 times the musical ambition.
In short, they were the greatest damn band I had ever heard.
Which brings me to what I consider their crowning achievement, 1992’s ‘Salutations from the Ghetto Nation’, recorded and released right in the middle of Bush Sr.’s re-election bid. Musically speaking, it doubled down on the previous record’s diversity but delivered a more focused product in terms of track sequencing and messaging. And as good as the songs were on the first two records, Warrior Soul managed to up their game even further, delivering the finest songs in their impressive catalog.
The first half of the record establishes the definitive hard rock Warrior Soul templates. Instant classic “Love Destruction” kicks the record off with the finest guitar riff in the Warrior Soul discography before bludgeoning the listener over and over with its march tempo precision. This leads into the deliberate, Sabbath-heavy stomp of “Blown.” It then tones down the heaviness (slightly) for back-to-back psych-rockers “Shine Like It” and “Dimension” before zigging again into the back-to-back snot punk of “Punk and Belligerent” and “Ass-Kickin.” The second half of the record manages to jump back and forth between these musical sandboxes without any sonic whiplash, even with the inclusion of twisted love ballad “The Golden Shore” and sinister anti-lullaby “The Fallen.”
Perhaps the cohesion can be attributed to the songs’ unifying message, which in 1992, was heavily anti-government in general, and anti-Republican specifically. While not a concept record per se, themes of disenfranchisement, alienation, political corruption, and corporate malfeasance abound across the entire run time.
Obviously, comparing the political climate of now to that of 25 years ago, the Bush Sr. years seem almost quaint. Even in 1992, being a privileged kid with a stable upbringing, I could relate to the anger of ‘Salutations’ because I was a stupid angry kid, but the explicit political message seemed a little over-the-top at the time. But fast-forward 25 years, and I say again… ho…ly…shit.
“Love Destruction” is Warrior Soul’s call to the marginalized to tear the establishment down, and when I hear this line – “Don’t pledge allegiance to flags / I burn ‘em” – I can’t help but think of kneeling athletes. These lines from “Blown” speak for themselves: “The ticket to the white house / Is not a blow job for the poor / The rich man gets a suck off / ‘Cause the president’s his whore.”
And if that message wasn’t crystalline enough for you, check out Warrior Soul’s damning ode to the Republican party in the aptly named “The Party,” a chugging train of a track with lyrics so of-the-now that I’m hard-pressed to choose which ones to sample here. Perhaps my favorite: We take it all, just like ya knew we would / Hell, we even got Nixon lookin’ pretty good.”
Closing track “Ghetto Nation” tells the story of folks so poor and forgotten that they’re forced to sell drugs, only to get busted by a corrupt police force. It’s heavy stuff, with a close-out war cry of “GHETTO NATION! GHETTO NATION!” that sounds borderline demonic in its delivery.
Even when Warrior Soul delves into lighter, more hedonistic territory, like on the record’s three punk songs, they still can’t go an entire song without throwing barbs at the then-current regime. “I Love You” in particular is equal points biting and hilarious as it describes two lost souls in dystopia with nothing better to do than fuck like there’s no tomorrow. If that sounds obnoxious, well, it kind of is, and I suspect many modern ears would tsk-tsk the politically incorrectness of it all.
Of course, there are inherent dangers in trying to process a political record in 1992 through the prism of 2017. While I can definitely relate to the anger of the political message, raising my fists to the sky as Warrior Soul rallies against the Republicans, I have to remember that there isn’t a one-to-one corollary between now and then. Not even close. ‘Salutations’ came out at the tail-end of a 12-year Republican white house. We’re only 10 months into the beginning of the first Republican white house in 8 years. We can’t forget that a lot of the feelings captured on this record, and the beliefs depicted, actually reflect the contemporary views of a substantial sub-set of Trump voters, who actually felt ignored by the Democratic party as well as the Republican establishment – and those voters saw destruction as a better option than the status quo.
While I can’t speak for Kory Clarke, the lone soul creative force behind Warrior Soul today, I would suggest that the band’s music is not taking a political side. It’s rather a war cry of the disenfranchised against any power that’s deemed oppressive. With that in mind, we must be wary of how we co-opt an artist’s music as a political rallying cry because down the line, that same art may be co-opted by others in ways that are detrimental to our self-interests. This is why I choose to see ‘Salutations from the Ghetto Nation’ as a cautionary tale, one that is summed up to eerie perfection in the record’s penultimate track, “The Fallen.”
“The Fallen” speaks of “obsolete factories on rust ground dying.” It speaks of desperate people crawling on the ground around a mountain where “doomed liars” reside on a “gilded throne.” It speaks of worshipping icons. And ultimately, it claims we’re all going to fall. To me, it’s a warning call about the people we choose to put in power in times of desperation, an omen that appears to be coming true.
I know. It sounds depressing. But trust me, it rocks really fucking hard. A little anger will do you good.
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