One of the great injustices of modern music history is that New York’s Warrior Soul got lumped in with hair metal bands and never recovered from it. The reality is that back in 1991, when the band released their outrageously good second album, Drugs, God and the New Republic, Warrior Soul was a dangerous band to have in the mainstream. By the time Rage Against the Machine came along a year later, it made Warrior Soul’s radical approach to politics and social issues seem tame, and due to the era and lead singer Kory Clarke’s (impressive) mane of hair, Warrior Soul received the aforementioned “hair band” designation and the phrase “I love Warrior Soul” became more of an admittance than a boast by ’94 (believe me).
But it shouldn’t have ended up that way.
Let’s take a look back and reconsider Warrior Soul. We’re going to mainly use their aforementioned ’91 album here for examples, but their ’90 debut Last Decade Dead Century and ’92’s Salutations from the Ghetto Nation are all worth getting to know (the band has several other albums—including a handful where they seemed to get more into drugs, which the debut’s “Trippin’ on Ecstasy” foreshadowed, and one originally called Chinese Democracy—and remains active to this day).
So, for starters, perhaps the moment you remember the band most for is one of their singles from Drugs, God and the New Republic, “The Wasteland” (curiously, placed as song 11 of 12 on the album; the rocker sounds like it should be the album’s opener, but more on that weird situation later):
The song is interesting as it shows all sides of Warrior Soul: the trashy gutter-rock band that easily could have given Axl and crew a run for their money and the edgy socio-political thinkers that could have fit on a bill with any number of political punk bands and held their own. The song was my introduction to them, and I was hooked. The thing is, all these years later, it sounds better than ever. It’s aged wonderfully, the band—led by Clarke’s ragged but determined vocals—totally ready to attack with this song.
But I love the album, and the band, because of its diversity. Case in point, “Hero.” Never has a power ballad been as not-shitty as this one, “Hero” kinda sounding like that one White Lion ballad that we all secretly like except, amazingly, not being a love song. Now, when ballads aren’t love songs they’re pretty rad, and this one is very rad, Clarke giving a very impassioned vocal performance here on what is truly a classic song of our era. (As a side note, let’s never forget that Kory Clarke once joined Trouble as their lead vocalist, which is no small feat; upon leaving the band, he compared Trouble’s lack of a rock and roll lifestyle to the Family Channel, which is also worth remembering, because it’s hilarious.)
Stepping back to the debut for a minute, we’ll see that Warrior Soul’s penchant for writing ballads that aren’t really ballads started there, with the excellent “The Losers,” an anthem for the downtrodden if I’ve ever heard one, this song alone—only the third into their debut—showing that this was a band thinking at levels not often seen in hard rock at the time; this is more Living Colour than L.A. Guns, Clarke crying out the words “To the starving masses/and the lower classes/… I think we’re beautiful.” Listen to it today and explain why it isn’t considered a stone-cold classic:
Another classic moment of the debut finds the band flexing their sleaze-rock muscles with the excellent “Downtown,” which is to “The Wasteland” what “The Losers” is to “Hero” (work with me), the band going positively trash-rock, like the best of Faster Pussycat but with way more muscle, Clarke’s cry of “I hate the world” and “I hate the system,” not to mention the more insider-baseball cries of “Livin’ on free drinks/Hey man, your band stinks,” coming across as nothing short of startlingly sincere:
One of my favorite moves of Drugs, God and the New Republic (aside from the killer sudden spoken-word ending of the excellent “The Answer”; see also the debut’s “Four More Years”) is that after the opener, “Intro” (which is actually pretty cool as far as tracks called “Intro” go), the band immediately launch, all guns blazing, into… a Joy Division cover. Why not start the most important album of your career with a cover? Thing is, the band totally kill it, and totally own it (makes sense: post-punk guitar melodies and vibes often slipped into Warrior Soul songs). They then go into the album’s killer title track, creating a bizarre, unique, and very powerful opening trio of tunes:
The closing moments of “Intro” exemplify Warrior Soul well: after belting out “We are the government” over and over and over, creating a sound that would make even the most hardened crust punk happy, Clarke follows it up with, “And we rock and roll!”
It’s insane, but it all adds up to the sum of Warrior Soul circa ’91’s parts, which was this clashing of dystopic urban grit, subtle but forward-thinking social and political awareness, and a love of total sleaze rock. There’s no way that should have worked, and in the eyes of most of the world, it didn’t work. But we at Decibel never forget, and even if half my Decibel colleagues are rolling their eyes and my editor is trying to figure out a polite way to never answer my emails again, let it be known that I stand firmly by these words: Warrior Soul were a very, very good band who got the very short end of the music-industry stick because they were more than most of us could handle back then, and for the reasons mentioned above and many more, they deserve reconsideration.