Dead Heat, World at War (Triple B Records, 2021)

Dead Heat is a taught and terrifyingly good hardcore band out of Oxnard, CA, who do the light-hearted, heavy lifting of keeping tense and twisted thrash crossover sounding sharp and dangerous well into the 21st Century.

Although, it is an honorable burden that they have not shouldered alone. Before, Dead Heat even formed, Municipal Waste reminded people that thrash could be party music as early as the mid-'00s.

Later, bands like High Command, Enforced, and Power Trip delivered on the more grim and propulsive promise of this punk-metal hybrid throughout the ‘10s. But Dead Heat is doing something that we haven’t seen since Suicidal Tendencies' heyday.

A vicious streak of residual teen angst, flowing into the adult world like a burst sewer pipe, vomiting its contents in a garden apartment. Socially conscious, but with enough youthful zeal, that they never feel dragged down by their conscious awareness of things—Dead Heat is a band that takes the shit you have to put up with every day seriously, while having a fucking blast pinning your hair back like you had just stepped out of a commercial airliner at 35,000 feet above sea level.

World at War is Dead Heat’s second LP and follow up to 2019’s Certain Death, an album that was not afraid to embrace the maddening potential of crossover thrash to resemble a series of hyper-violent vignettes, like a surreal and vicious cartoon that resembles the horror of our reality more closely than is comfortable to admit. Like Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer, recut to sync with Join the Army, Dead Heat's sound is a hybrid of both the dauntingly heinous and provocatively perverse preoccupations that is two magnetic and incongruous to ignore. 

The album carries the torch lit by the band's earlier efforts like a ghoulish jack ‘o lantern, lighting their way down another wanton path of destruction. For every “Prisoner of Mind” there is a ‘Deathwish,” and for every “The End Incomplete” there is a “Look At It Closely.” With the most noticeable difference between the two releases being the better production on World at War, as well as a deeper embrace of the cinematic quality of their sound.

While every song on Certain Death felt like a periscoped scene from a different violent art house film, World at War allows each track the space it needs to expand into a full episode of a prestige drama set in a dystopian future-present.

It’s not surprising, given the chosen style of hardcore and the fact that they appear to have taken their name from a 1988 Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo vehicle about two cops who solve the mystery of an eldritch LA conspiracy from beyond the grave. While Dead Heat certainly matches the bombastic, hilarious, and playfully gory nature of their presumed namesake, I think there is another film that helps illustrate the contents of their songs even better: The Purge.         

The Purge is anthology series set in a fictional alternative reality version of the United States as envisioned by writer and director James DeMonaco. It’s had a successful run in both film and TV since the first installment premiered in 2013, due in no small part to its simple to the point of bluntness, B-Movie premise… I don’t even have to say what it is, do I? It’s simple enough that Rick and Morty were able to drop into a direct parody of it with next to no setup, as a filler episode in Season 2. But, because I like to be thorough, here it is anyway: One night a year, all crime is legal. There it is, simple but effective.

With a premise like that, it’s almost surprising that there have only been 5 installments and a two season television series based on it up to this point. If your characters can do anything for twelve hours period without consequence, the possibilities are basically endless. It’s a screenwriter’s playground with infinite acreage. You could attach any director or writer you wanted to the project and the resulting film would at the very least be entertaining. And so far that’s been the case. 

At least half the movie critics who touch each installment of The Purge routinely torch them for a rainbow of pet grievances that I find mostly amusing. Partly because it exposes some of these people, who think very highly of their own opinions, as not being able to engage with a film on its own terms, but also because it validates my tendency to disregard “critical consensus” when deciding what to commit my eyeballs to for an hour and change.

The one salient criticism that I’ve ever heard of any one installment, is actually applicable to all of them. Why, on a night when you can do anything, does everyone only ever want to murder each other? The answer is almost as simple as the series premise: The Purge takes place in the United States. And the United States is a place where The Purge takes place every single day. 

You might think that’s hyperbole, but it’s not. You might think that I am simply referring to the rampant gun violence in this country, and that is part of it, but it’s not even the most important part of what this series is trying to tell you about the world you occupy.

This world is at war with you. And not just you, but everyone you know. Between anemic social services, union-busting efforts, racial antipathy, inflated property values due to limitless speculation, vamperic debt traps, cozy and sycophantic dealings between your government and corporations, invasive information technology and domestic spying programs, police forces that increasingly resemble occupying armies in urban areas, and a rule of thumb that puts profit above the value of your life and well being—with all that coming at you on the regular, I'm sorry, but you don’t stand a chance.

Photo: Dan Rawe

All these things are happening around you, to you, and through you every day. Justified in a myriad of ways as being for your benefit, but are actually designed to keep you on a rail. Head down, quiet, compliant, until old age, disease, or general misfortune sweep you away. The Purge is just this process, one that takes usually plays out over years and decades, condensed into a single night of horrific bloodletting. And as depicted in the film, it’s never the lone gunman or woman on a rooftop who’s the greatest threat, but the powers at be, who orchestrate the massacre, and who directly, or indirectly, do most of the killing. 

Sure, there are people who literally act like The Purge is happening here, and now, as depicted as the films. A combination of alienation, desperation, dislocation, and sour political ideologies make for a dangerous cocktail that can turn deadly at a moments notice when firearms enter the picture. But most gun deaths in the US are the result of suicide and those who actually turn their guns on others are few and far between when you break down the numbers (just look up the UC Davis Health statistics from 2019 for reference).

Even if it does happen here more than anywhere else. That doesn’t mean that the proliferation of firearms aren’t a problem on their own, but it does mean that they’re just one part of a technicolored dream coat of violence that slowly gets tighter around your neck until it winds together like a noose.

It’s a sick society that allows the elderly to face homelessness after a life time of work, permist cops to profile and murder people of color in order to defend the value of property, or that allows a megacorporation to run ads on streaming services that interrupt your enjoyment of World at War, ads that tell you about how good they treat their employees while systematically denying them the right to collectively bargain for better working conditions.

These conditions are intolerable. Those ads, they’re are mocking you, and the people who work for that megacorporation. Shoving it your face that things are going according to plan, and that there is nothing you can do to stop them from doing what they want. What ever they think is best, is just what you’ll have to accept, and there decisions will define your life until the end. Which might be sooner than you think. 

Photo: Yoshimar Garcia

This is as good a place as any to jump back into a real discussion of the album. “Sick Society” leads off with a prowling bass groove, that paces in brooding contemplation before it spills the contents of its wounded and poisoned heart. The first line of the song pierces through the surface tension that has been built up, declaring, “I can see the future / and by the way things look we’re done,” adding “It don’t seem that we have a choice / We can’t change what’s going on / If we don’t have a voice,” and driving it home with the conclusion, “Uncle Sam makes us suffer again / making us all enemies, no friends / Giving us pennies of what we’ve earned / No matter how hard we work there’s no return.”

That’s just one example of polemic that unfurls on World at War, and it’s pretty representative of the rest of the album.

From the iron furnace of animosity that is “2 Cents” a track that churns and belches fire like a devil with the stomach flu, to the forceful gale and arch-lightening riffs that raise the aggrieved Frankenstein’s Monster of the title track off its operating table to thrash and head bang itself back into a lumpen pile of cadaver cold cuts—this is a fun album, but it’s also an album that is not willing, or capable, of hiding its insights into the misery of the modern era, or its grievances with the world as we presently find it.

So what is there to do? Dead Heat are pretty upfront about how they see things on World At War, and how they talk about the issues that confront us has a tendency to straighten out the fun house mirror that is often presented as a substitue for our understanding of reality. But so what? So you put the sunglasses on from They Live and sudenly you the ideological architecture of your surroundings becomes clear.

Then what? I don’t know that Dead Heat has the answer, or even intends to offer one. However, I do think they're trying to be part of a conversation. And further, I think they incredibly amusing way they go about creating space for that conversation makes hard discussions easier to broach than they otherwise might be. But as far as next steps and their advice on how to end The Purge, Dead Heat isn’t explicate, or particularly hopeful. 

Photo: Michael Thorn

World at War album closes out with “Pay the Toll” which begins with a sounds clip taken from a news broadcast aired in 2017, where a young black man from Milwaukee, Wisconsin describes through tears of rage why a protest for black lives lead to several fires being set on the North Side of the city. It’s compelling and reflective of the depths of despondence that people feel in this country. The song itself examines how the over classes has stacked the deck against the rest of us. Again, it’s good to point this out, but it doesn’t say much about where to go from there.

For that you have to rewind to “Age of DH” or “Ager of Dead Heat,” where a telling line cuts through the thunder of the tracks stormy ambience: “Transcend through my own head / Dissipate into the real depths / Only there can I find truth.” And there it is. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, you’re not going through it alone, and the first step in changing things is to step outside your own head.

You have to step outside the false reality created by your own subjective feelings of anger and the corralling influence of social media (and heck, the pacifying influence of mass media in general). You can’t solve all your problems by yourself, and neither can anyone else. But together? Well, maybe now you're getting somewhere. “Can you see? Can you feel it?” Dead Heat hopes so. It's the only way to survive a world at war. 

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