Retro-Review: ‘Life on the Ropes’ by Sick of it All

Sick of it All is one of those bands I’ve always known about but never really listened to.

You can blame that on a number of factors, but probably the main one is just the lack of availability in my area. You never saw their albums on the music store shelves, heard them on the radio or saw their videos on MTV. Aside from magazines, Sick of it All existed in a different universe for me.

That was life in rural Arkansas back in the early-to-mid 1990s though.

Years later, thanks to YouTube, I got to sit down and listen to one of their albums for a review. That album I’m looking at today is Life on the Ropes, released in 2003.

Sick of it All’s lineup for Life on the Ropes are brothers Lou Koller on vocals and Pete Koller on guitar. The Koller brothers have been part of Sick of it All from its beginning in 1986. Armand Majidi, who joined the band after its first demo, plays drums on the album. Rounding out things is bass guitar player Craig Setari, who joined the band in 1992. This lineup is still intact today.

The album

Life on the Ropes is pretty much what you can expect when it comes to New York City Hardcore: Shouted vocals, heavy guitars and punkish hooks.

Relentless” kicks off the album and the title sums up the song well. This song is relentless with Sick of it All running over the listener with crunching guitars while Koller’s shouts just stomp a mudhole in them.

This metal side of the band sticks with it with the bludgeoning “The Land Increases,” the slowish and steady “Rewind.” These are pretty solid tracks and pack more power than most of the big names in what’s called “metal” nowadays.

The metal elements that made NYC hardcore famous is there and throughout the album. But, Sick of it All doesn’t stray too far from the genre’s punk roots, with “All My Blessings” being an example with its straightforward punk chords and gang shouts. In this same vein are the fast moving tracks like “Silence,” “View from the Surface” and “Shit Sandwich.”

Paper Tiger (Fakin the Punk)” is one of the big standouts on the album. It’s reliance on tone and its old school, almost rockabilly, guitar solos makes it rather awesome. A song like this makes it easy imagining Sick of it All playing alongside the Cramps or Supersuckers. This song is also noticeable for featuring John Joseph of the Cro-Mags as a guest vocalist.

“Paper Tiger (Fakin the Punk)” is followed by another standout track, the very mosh pit friendly “The Innocent.” It’s a very metal song with a heavy bass and a very sharp melody. Setari really stands out here, taking full advantage of his chance to shine.

There’s something about “For Now” that makes you want to grab a beer and sing the chorus with your buddies. It’s a very bouncy track that’ll have your head bobbing around. It’s got some great use of tone and the groove is just awesome. In some ways, it reminds me of a song off Paw’s album Dragline because of that main hook.

Things wind down with the two closing tracks, the very catchy punk song “On the Brink” and the powerful “Trenches.”

“Trenches” is a throwback to the heyday of New York hardcore with its shouted lyirics and bludgeoning instrumentation. When the guitar melody of the bridge kicks in, you realize you’ve been listening to a great song.

The verdict

Life on the Ropes is a damn good album. In 2003 it showed that the New York hardcore scene still had a lot to offer, despite one of its godfathers starting to enter middle age.

There’s some great tracks on here, particularly “Paper Tiger (Fakin the Punk),” “The Innocent” and “For Now,” but you won’t be let down by any of the songs I mentioned.

I’d recommend giving Life on the Ropes at least a listen on Youtube for anyone that enjoys that style of music or have just had a passing interest. There’s a lot of good stuff here and it does the job of keeping that NYC hardcore spirit that won fans from all across the country and world alive.


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