While checking out the listings of my local indy/rock/metal venue (Northern Lights – Clifton Park, NY) did I notice the band Underdog was playing at a Tattoo/Hardcore expo and music festival called Rat-a-Tat 5 on November 27th.
Underdog (originally known as NYC Underdog) is headed by lead singer and founder Richie Birkenhead. Birkenhead was a intregal part of the NYC hardcore seen in the late 80’s and early 90’s; Underdog was defining sound during that period along with bands like Youth of Today (also founded by Birkenhead), Token Entry, and Gorilla Biscuits, and Murphy’s Law. Birkenhead broke off from the band due to personality conflicts and formed the rock band Into Another in 1991. I saw Into Another in 1992 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ with Iceburn; it was an awesome show and an experience I will always remember.
In high school I was not particularly a huge hardcore music fan although many of friends in the skateboard scene were. With hardcore I found the music too fast, lyrics too mumbled, and the atmosphere rather intimidating rather than empowering. Hardcore shows were often held at local VFW’s and random halls that the promoters could find. The acoustics were usually horrid, the floor oppresively hot and cramped, and the warm-up acts moderate at best. With all this believe it or not attendance consistently exceeded the maximum capacity at these venues and shows were often a success.
The crowds often consisted of flocks of skinheads, self-righteous straight-edge hard core kids, skaters, and jocks who thought the pit was a place to punch people at random. These are the primary reason’s why I was turned off to the whole hardcore scene; it was not the music really, but more the negativity that seemed to define and pervade most shows. I felt that this often contridicted the actual positive vibe these shows were attempting to create for young kids; however for many fans these shows were a refuge.
As the hardcore genre began to wane in the early 1990’s and the introduction of “alternative” music overtook national interest, the eventual demise of Underdog and other bands became inevitable; hardcore bands could either continue or decided to reinvented themselves. Members from Youth of Today formed Shelter, Quicksand, and 411 and Birkendhead formed Into Another.. The band was made up of Birkenhead (vocals), Tony Bono (Bass), Drew Thomas (Drums) and Peter Moses (guitar); the foursome had all come from previous NYC bands that met with some success, but not really getting the exposure each deserved. Into Another attempted to take advantage of the blossoming “alternative” music scene but with many bands at that time the market was simply too saturated.
In past interviews Birkendhead has indicated that it was more the fault of the record company and poor distribution and marketing that lead to their demise being noticed. I have to agree with this statement, since I had never heard of Into Another until a friend approached me with news that Birkenhead had started a new band. Once hearing the the self-titled first album Into Another (1991), I was hooked and couldn’t believe that I was listening to Birkenhead; the contrast between Underdog and Into Another was a complete 180; I really liked what direction Birkenhead was taking his creativity.
The band went on to release a second album, Ignoraus (1994) and it was a fairly successful album, although any real notiriety was restricted to word of mouth. The song Drowning probably was the best song on the album. The band released a third album Seemless (1995) and this album in my humble opinion is one of the most overlooked and underated rock albums ever made. The reason is that Seemless is among one of the best produced and consistently solid albums for its time; the album cranks one hit after another.
Sadly, this album only had one semi-big hit T.A.I.L that reached #39 on the U.S Billboard charts for Mainstream Rock in 1996. Although impressive, it was a short lived celebration for band; Seemless would not get the the mainstream music rotation that it deserved. The album and Into Another for the most part, faded off into the abyss of other great bands that tried to get discovered as the next big thing and were looked over.
Seemless is a powerful album from start to finish; the opening song Mutate Me is gritty, hard, and powerful with a non-stop tempo that introduces the album in such an amazing way. Locksmiths & Lawyers clearly another high tempo song does a great job of keeping the listener enthralled with the pace that Into Another creates and maintains; Birkenheads vocals and harmonies keep everything together tight. T.A.I.L was the song that got the most airplay for the band and in many ways I can see why, the song is catchy and clever, two of the primary ingredients for capturing a mainstream audiences attention, however, I feel that either Mutate Me or the title track Seemless would have been a more appropriate for introducing this album and the band to college radio. Songs like Getting Nowhere and For a Wounded Wren are mellow songs that calm the album down in the beginning of each song, but clearly carry themselves as heavyweights as the songs progress. Simply put, there are no “power ballads” on this album. Into Another went in to writing and arranging the tracks on this album with a lot of forethought and created a masterpiece.
Songs like After Birth and Regardling Earthlings exemplify Birkenheads inate ability to write; the lyrics are well placed and clearly are sincere when he chose them for this song. In past interviews with Birkenhead, he said that he poured his soul into this band and it shows. The song May I is probably the weakest song on the album if there was one, but it too is well done since it provides a spot in the album for a much needed shift in mood and tempo, and gears quickly change with the album ending The Way Down. This song is such an appropriate way to end an album; especially when one has taken the time to listen to the album in its entirety.
Into Another was slated to release a follow up album entitled Soul Control the following year (1996) but the band had too many internal problems and broke up that year as well. You can find a few songs from Soul Control via the Web, although most of them are not nearly the same caliber as the songs off of Seemless. Granted, what is out there is very limited since the album is still shelved unfinished, so it’s hard to determine really how good or bad the album really is or is not.
Birkenhead has regrouped with his band Underdog and is currently performing gigs at random venue’s across the country; many 30 somethings are willing to pay for some nostalgic acts and look forward to remembering their highschool days. Hardcore bands from the 80’s are no different than hair metal bands attempting to capitilize on older crowds still loyal. Although I it would be cool for Birkenhead to perform a few Into Another songs off of Seemless with Underdog, I doubt he will.
In 2002 the bass player for Into Another (Tony Bono) passed away, this tragedy put any chance of Into Another reforming now or in the future. I’m sure that Birkenhead respects that the band would simply not be the same without Bono, and I think that is completely understandable. If you listen to the bass lines in Seemless, Bono was the cornerstone of the band and I’m sure is irreplacable in so many ways.
If you can find a copy of Seemless out there in your used music store grab it; although I have been told that it is out of print and quite the find by hardcore fans since it features Birkenhead. If you can find it, you won’t be dissappointed and play it really, really, really loud!
Into Another’s Seemless gets 5 out of 5 stars.