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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Tribute to Blindside's A Thought Crushed My Mind

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**NOTE**As 2011 approaches, so does the ten-year anniversary of some of my favorite albums. The Nicsperiment will highlight the most underrepresented of these sadly unnoticed mini-masterpieces throughout the next year. While A Thought Crushed My Mind was released in 2000, I figure a tribute is still due.

The summer before my senior year of high school has proven to be, even 12 years later, the most formative time of my life. It was the first that I worked for someone other than my father and the first that I had a car. During my hour long lunch breaks at the Winn-Dixie Supermarket of New Roads, Louisiana, I sat in my car and only listened to the local college station (and my future place of DJ employment), KLSU. During those incredible days, KLSU did something they have not really done since. During regular programming, they played heavy music. Coming from a classical music/classic rock background, I became taken with much more unorthodox music earlier that year, but I had never EVER listened to heavy music before. Then KLSU played THIS SONG:

It has everything a 17 year-old kid still high off of watching The Matrix could want, and the album it is found on has a cool humans vs robots apocalyptic short story that follows each song in the CD Booklet to boot. It may sound cheesy now, but I am so biased by my memories that it still sounds awesome to me. I had never heard keyboards and electronics, down-tuned chugging guitars, and that kind of singing and screaming together before. It opened my mind to the fact that there might be a huge musical sea I could swim a lifetime in that I was now only dipping my toes into...and then a few weeks later, I heard this song:

After I first heard 'My Own Summer" by Deftones, I wanted every single song to sound like it. I probably still do. All the agression and energy, the atmospherics set off dopamine-releasing centers in my brain that had just been waiting for those particular sounds. From that point on, I began to actively seek out heavy music, and that is how I stumbled onto Blindside's A Thought Crushed My Mind.
In the Spring of 2001, after winning some free CD's from the very radio show I would soon host, I headed to the Bible and Book Center to pick them up.
Bible and Book Center? Wasn't I just talking about Deftones and Fear Factory?
Well, yes, I was, and I still love those bands. However, in the Spring of 2001 I was a little stunned to realize that artists who shared my lifelong faith also released music in the heavy genre (and had been doing so for quite some time). I had already gotten into P.O.D (whose recent release at the time, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, is a classic) and Project 86 (whose entire back catalog is pretty much classic) but was struggling to find any other bands that could keep up musically with their secular counterparts that I loved so much.
I don't even remember what CD I won at the time, but I do remember that in addition to this, the woman behind the counter threw in a free "Heavy Music" sampler. This sampler only had four songs on it, one each by the aforementioned P.O.D. and Project 86, one by a great band called Stavesacre, and one by some band called Blindside.
The Blindside song is called "My Mother's Only Son." Here it is:

The dark notes the song starts with reminded me immediately of Deftones, but the intro to the song didn't really sound like anything else I had (or have) heard. The vocals sounded like they were coming from some sort of Nordic superman, singing prettier than a lot of things I'd heard, but erupting into a blood-curdling scream in the same breath. The strings sounded incredible, moody, yet not overly polished, the guitar menacing, the rhythm section relentless, grabbing the back of my head and forcing it into motion. The harshly self-examining lyrics, the fake stops and starts all pointed to a band more intelligent than most of their peers.
On top of that, I found out that English is not even this band's first language. They are Swedish! I essentially turned my car back around (...maybe a few days later) and bought Blindside's CD, A Thought Crushed My Mind, the album this song came from. Even with the not-on-sale $18.99 sticker price and the amusing sticker placed over the apparently "not-Christian" cover art, I did not hesitate to purchase it. What followed was a musical love affair which resulted in the only time I ever listened to a CD so much, it actually BROKE IN HALF. This is not an exaggeration. You can ask my cousin, Adrian "The Rabbit" Morgan, who re-bought the album for me and gave it to me as a birthday present at the end of that year. Top-ranked professional eaters do not lie.
The reason I spun this disc so much is pretty simple:
Blindside presented heavy, original music, at times incredibly abrasive, at times incredibly melodic, with thought-provoking, intelligent lyrics that revolved around topics that interested me. On top of that, they utilized the perfect amount of atmosphere and scattered just enough string-quartet moments to make each one special and not redundant. Vocalist Christian Lindskog's lyrics centered on eliminating every selfish part of himself until only God remained. Despite the fact that English is his second language, his lyrics are in the upper pantheon.
I don't want to go into a track by track look at this album because in ways it flows as one beautiful, raw, exhilarating song. It starts off slamming you with heaviness then takes a detour into a standing-bass led string break that gets some extra thump from the drums before diving into the heaviness again. The album does this for awhile until it reaches an incredible salvo of heaviness that finally relents in an incredible, sweat drenched whisper that dives right back into the heaviness. By the time the final track, "Nothing But Skin" arrives, one can't help but feel exhausted--and I mean that in the most positive light. I don't mean exhausted as in "just done something hard all day and now tired," but the fulfilling exhaustion one gets after doing something worthwhile. "Nothing But Skin" is the perfect period, a summation of the album's ideas in a blisteringly beautiful nine minutes. My stupid words can't describe this song, so here it is:

The strings and a heavy bass groove lead the song at moments, but it shifts into so many quiet/loud transitions, it is almost impossible to let your guard down while listening. Then it builds into the lyrical and musical climax of the album:

People say I should eat more, boy they should see me now
I'm almost vanishing, skin so thin I can see right through
Makes you more visible inside me, you rise as I bow
Fight for every breath and breathe only you


So if this album is so awesome, why didn't it catch on? I have a few ideas:
Of course, the fact that Blindside are Swedish with no connection to America certainly kept them off many people's radar. They weren't exactly promoted highly either. I think the main answer to this question is pretty straightforward:
"A Thought Crushed My Mind" was ahead of its time. People just weren't ready for it, and at this point, it has been overshadowed by releases that came after it, including releases by Blindside themselves. Listening audiences just weren't ready for a band with distinct Christian lyrics to be this devastatingly heavy and yet still have moments of beauty. P.O.D. had the good fortune to rap at a time when rap-rock was popular. Blindside had no gimmick. I don't mean to say that P.O.D. was or is a gimmick band by any means, just that what they were doing (and had been doing for a while) just happened to become popular when they were at the peak of doing it. Screaming and singing overtly Christian lyrics didn't become popular in the mainstream until Underoath's They're Only Chasing Safety was released in the summer of 2004--more than four years after ATCMM. Underoath's album started a fad that lasted a few years, but came too late to bring attention to Blindside's 2000 release. Of course, by then, Blindside had been on their own journey.
After the aptly named "Kings of the Game" tour, which featured P.O.D., Project 86, Blindside, and at one point as an opener--and I am not kidding--Linkin Park, P.O.D. pushed hard to get their Swedish buddies signed by a major record label. Their efforts were successful. In the fall of 2002, Atlantic Records released Blinside's major label debut, Silence, a minor hit which went into a more radio-rock (but still quite enjoyable) direction. Blindside went on to release About a Burning Fire on Atlantic as well, which brought them even more attention. Billy Corgan even played guitar on a track. The major label thing didn't last long, though, and Blindside had their next album,The Great Depression, produced in Sweden. It was released here to slightly less fanfare than the previous two albums (though I think it is arguably their best release and will maybe do a tribute to it, too...maybe in four years.), and then the band went on a five-year hiatus. During this time, many people referred to Silence as "Blindside's first album," neglecting not only ATCMM, but Blindside's enjoyable self-titled debut, as well.
Blindside are back now, though, and you can pre-order their long-awaited upcoming album, With Shivering Hearts We Wait, here. I don't know if it will have any kind of impact on me like A Thought Crushed My Mind did, but I bet at least one kid out there will listen to it so much, the disc will break in half.
In the meantime, you can purchase A Thought Crushed My Mind for 75 CENTS! at half.com. If you are a fan of heavy music, secular or Christian, and you have never heard this, you owe it to yourself.

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