Man, if you're an Integrity "die hard" and completist like myself, things have gotten a little crazy over the past decade in regards to releases and reissues of the older Integrity catalog. In addition to all of the assorted reissues and remix editions of 90s-era Integrity that came out over the past ten years on Organized Crime and Magic Bullet, now we have this intensive "reissue" campaign for the complete catalog being spearheaded by Integrity's current label Relapse. A couple of these "reissues" came out around 2022, and like the others (and the titles that just came out in 2023), this release is a "rework" of the original album, with a new mix and mastering and, sometimes, added instrumental performances, this version of Systems is a distinctly different beast than the original Victory release and the versions that came out on Magic Bullet. It can get a bit confusing, but I have my suspicions as to why the band (well, Dwid) is taking this strategy of "reworking" classic Integrity albums. And look, I'm not bitchin' about it; I worship the salted earth this band stands on, so I have zero compunction about owning each and every single version of this goddamn album in my collection. But just so it's clear, this is "Systems Overload 2022", the same songs, same track order, the same core music, but transformed into something slightly different, essentially another new vision of the album, much like the recent Relapse reissues of Those Who Fear Tomorrow and Humanity Is The Devil - you can really hear it on songs like "Salvations Malevolence [2022 Mix]" with the underlying Tom Warrior-esque vocals and psychedelic electronics whirring beneath the surface, for instance, or the amped-up noise-damaged hallucination of closer "Unveiled Tomorrows [2022 Mix]". The differences between this release and the previous editions of the Systems Overload album studio session are probably mostly only perceptible to someone (like me) that has listened to the original album more than a hundred times (which is no exaggeration), but the often subtle (and sometimes not) changes to the texture and topography of this album are definitely there, for what that's worth. Also, frankly, the new artwork that Dwid is producing for all of these reissues is fuckin‚Äô fantastic, and often surpasses the original sleeve art.
OK, so here is my original write-up on the "original", "standard" release of Systems Overload, for the sake of clarity and posterity. Permit me to gush, if you will:
Back in the 90's, I was obsessed with the loose-knit circle of bands that were attached to the term "Holy Terror". Combining esoteric/occult concepts with a sound that took the most violent aspects of American hardcore punk and the searing Satanic thrash of Slayer and early death metal, the rather vague "Holy Terror" aesthetic started with Cleveland band Integrity, who reigned in the early 90s as masters of evil metallic hardcore. Signed to Victory Records in 1995, the band would release their second album Systems Overload to underground acclaim, even as the band's sound became even more confrontational and abrasive. The songs drew from a ferocious mixture of influenced, from noisy Japanese hardcore and Septic Death worship, to sinister post-punk and even extreme electronic elements, as well as the thrash metal, arcane religious visions, eschatological prophecy, and ongoing infatuation with Charles Manson and apocalypse cults that had fueled Integrity's music virtually from the start. Systems Overload is still one of the defining albums within the "Holy Terror' aesthetic, and its violently raw sound was totally unlike anything else the label had put out. It also became known almost universally as one of the best metallic hardcore albums of the 1990s.
Now as part of a recent spate of Integrity reissues, multiple versions of Systems Overload have surfaced, including both an alternate, band-approved mix of the album, and this, the original Victory release, now available on vinyl for the first time in years. As killer as the alternate "Orr+" mix of Systems Overload is, I still have a soft spot for the original album, and it certainly sounds vicious as hell here. Underneath the strange, evil vibe that coursed through Integrity's music, beneath the blown-out production and noisy edge, we're reminded of just how good this band was at writing memorable heavy songs. Later Integrity albums would veer into artier, more impenetrable directions, but at the time, Integrity wrote some of the catchiest, most powerful metallic hardcore songs, which sound just as relevant and powerful now, more than twenty years later. The original twelve songs on Systems were tied together with Aaron Melnick's weird bluesy guitar solos and Dwid's inimitable, gravel-throated howl, the album opening with the massive doom-laden crush and apocalyptic sample-collage of "Incarnate 365", one of the band's most recognizable riffs/intros, filled with squealing divebomb solos and monstrous metallic crush. From there the album tears through short blasts of blown-out thrash and crushing mid-paced metallic riffage, stomping hardcore fused to super-heavy guitars, songs like "No One" and "Armenian Persecution" a perfect fusion of sorrowful doom-laden heaviness and speed-fueled malevolent hardcore. It's one blast of memorable, malevolent aggression after another, laced with acoustic guitars and electronic noise, coming together as an essential album of dark, metallic hardcore.
So there you go. I positively adore the album Systems Overload. Ultra-violent, apocalyptic, esoteric, catchy as a motherfucker: this album permanently rewired my neural network. I'm cool with the tweaks. Whatever it takes to keep this music in print, and snatch it out of the control of greedy pop-punk mega-labels. If you don't own this album and you're into Integrity, this is an excellent edition to pick up.