Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Warrior Soul, "Chill Pill"
Warrior Soul, Chill Pill
DGC Records, 1993
10 Tracks, run time: 47:49
One fine day in 1993, I headed to my local record store (kids, ask your parents what "record stores" were) on New Release Tuesday to pick up a first-day copy of Warrior Soul's latest album, Chill Pill. The New York based, politically charged aggro-metal band led by professional rabble rouser Kory Clarke had quickly become one of my favorite early '90s bands thanks to badass tunes like "The Wasteland" (from 1991's drugs, god and the new republic) and "Love Destruction" (from 1992's Salutations From The Ghetto Nation). Warrior Soul had yet to make a mainstream breakthrough, but each of their albums thus far had been better than the one before it, so I was sure that Chill Pill would finally make them into household names.
However, when I got the CD home and dropped it into my player, I didn't know quite what to make of it at first. Warrior Soul's previous three albums had been packed with big, burly, loud, and proud rock anthems attacking the U.S. government, corporate America, and everything else that '90s kids were supposed to rebel against. Chill Pill was a very different animal - laid back, stripped down, and unexpectedly mellow, with very little of the fire heard on its predecessors. The angry political messages were gone, replaced by rambling, stream-of-consciousness lyrics straight out of a coffee house poetry slam. The players were the same, but this sounded like an entirely different band. Since the world was in full on Nirvana mode at the time, I assumed that Warrior Soul had become another disappointing example of a great metal band desperately trying to "go grunge" in order to sell records.
A few weeks after the album's release, I saw Warrior Soul in concert for the first time at a rock club in Staten Island, New York. I'd hoped that hearing the new songs live would help the album "click" with me, but the performance was unremarkable. I did notice that guitarist John Ricco was gone, replaced by two guitar players (I have no idea who they were) and though the "old" songs sounded OK, the new material still left me cold. I put Chill Pill on the shelf, and went back to listening to Salutations From The Ghetto Nation on a near-daily basis.
It wasn't till years later that I learned of the circumstances that led to Chill Pill's atypical vibe. I didn't know it when I first heard the album or saw that short lived five-piece lineup live, but Chill Pill was the sound of a band coming apart at the seams.
"Cargos Of Doom"
By the end of 1992, Warrior Soul had recorded three albums for the David Geffen Company (DGC) label - but in spite of consistent critical acclaim and tours opening for the high-powered likes of Metallica and Queensryche, they still hadn't sold many records. Lead vocalist/songwriter Kory Clarke blamed the clueless suits at Geffen for failing to properly promote his band, and also took potshots at the two biggest stars in the Geffen stable: Guns N' Roses and Nirvana. Clarke believed that Axl Rose himself had ordered Geffen not to promote Warrior Soul, because he felt that they represented a "threat" to Guns' hard rock dominance. Whether you believe that or not, you couldn't really blame Clarke for being pissed as he watched Geffen pour money for tour support and big budget music videos into those two cash cow bands (neither of whom really needed the help) while Warrior Soul were left to fend for themselves.
...so when they went in to record Chill Pill - the fourth and final album of their Geffen contract - under a cloud of drugs and hostility, the band decided that if the label was going to drop them anyway, they might as well go out with their middle fingers in the air. Therefore, rather than give Geffen yet another album of "A" material that would go down the drain due to label ineptitude, they let their freak flags fly and produced a weird, totally un-commercial, artsy punk record that they could hand in with a sneer and say, "Let's see you try and sell THIS one, a**holes!"
In other words, Chill Pill was a band knowingly and gleefully capturing their own career suicide on tape. Whether you like the album or not, you've got to admit, it was VERY punk of them to cut their own throats like that, on the label's dime!
"Shock Um Down"
When I revisited Chill Pill more than a quarter century after its release, I actually liked it better than when it was current. There are several gems hidden in the rubble of this album, like the echoey, moody opener "Mars," and the thumping "Cargos Of Doom," both of which feature impressively nimble bass work by the great Pete McClanahan (who's the unsung hero of this album). Fans of the "old" Warrior Soul sound will cling to the snotty punk throw backs like "Shock Um Down," "I Want Some" and "Ha Ha Ha," which are Sex Pistols worship at its finest. ("Ha Ha Ha" would be better without the two minutes of random crashing cymbal noises, guitar squalls and saxophone bleats at the end, though).
Kory gets mellow on tracks like the groovy "Song In Your Mind" and the plaintive "Let Me Go," (an obvious plea to Geffen to cut him loose), but the highlight of the slower songs is the tough-as-nails epic "Concrete Frontier" (again, featuring great bass work by McClanahan), which is more than seven minutes long but never feels forced or bloated. The middling "Soft" sounds like it could've been a B-side from the Last Decade Dead Century debut (it actually resembles that album's "In Conclusion" quite a bit) and the album actually ends on a somewhat upbeat note with the bluesy "High Road," which features some cool harmonica riffing by guest Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks fame.
Chill Pill was an accurate title for this collection. The big '80s heavy metal party was over; times had changed. Like all of us, Warrior Soul needed a Chill Pill to clear their heads, wait for the hangover to go away, and figure out where to go next.
As they expected, Chill Pill was the end of Warrior Soul's relationship with the Geffen company, and the end of the "classic" Soul lineup. Clarke and McClanahan regrouped a year later with new guitarist "X Factor" and released an excellent "cyberpunk" album called The Space Age Playboys. I saw that re-energized lineup live three times and they more than made up for that underwhelming Chill Pill gig!
Warrior Soul went on hiatus during the latter half of the '90s but Kory brought them back in the 2000s with an all new lineup, and he's still grinding out gloriously obnoxious topical punk/metal to this day. Their most recent studio album, Rock N Roll Disease, was released in 2019.
I doubt Kory Clarke looks back very fondly on the Chill Pill experience today, but at least I can say that I finally "get" this album, all these years later.
Get the CD!
© 2019 Keith Abt