The Rickety Old Shack

Stormtroopers Of Death — Bigger Than The Devil

album cover

By 1999, the interest in Stormtroopers Of Death was sufficient to bring the band back out of retirement. The project had been put to rest following a series of successful reunion shows in 1992, culminating in the Live At Budokan record, but the allure of a 15th anniversary celebration — to close out the millennium, no less — was incredibly strong.

What ensued was a record that both exemplified what Stormtroopers Of Death was all about, but also demonstrated the limitations — as well as innate flaws — of the concept. Bigger Than The Devil is a collection of material that does a good job of recreating the energy and tone of the first record, Speak English Or Die (review). That said, it lacks the circumstances and setting that made the original so compelling and provided licence — if one believes in such thing — to be as crass and vulgar as it was.

This isn't a case of failure to execute, it's an issue of time and place — context really matters with a project like this. In 1985, members of the band were in their early 20s, recording a one-off project that no one involved expected anyone else to care about. Somehow, despite all odds, a crossover thrash record predicated on the question "what would music inspired by a zombified edge-lord sound like?" ended up being a cult metal sensation. Conversely, Bigger Than The Devil sees these same men, now in their late 30s, trying to recapture that magic but with age and experience guiding them.

The results are a mixed bag, ranging from moments of genuine entertainment and comedy to mean-spirited cruelty and flirtations with racism that are difficult to defend — even in the context of a band given a pass for a record called Speak English Or Die. "Crackhead Song" and "Free Dirty Needles" are tracks that I will admit to finding hilarious when I purchased this album some time in 2001. Now, in 2020, using the homeless as a punchline just doesn't do it for me. I will give Billy Milano credit, though, as somehow the cadence and tone of his ascerbic, intense utterance of "dirty, stinky, smelly bum / rotten teeth and bleeding gums" has been stuck in my head for nearly 2 decades.

The title track lays it on pretty thick, with the gist of the song being that Sargent D — the Stormtroopers Of Death take on Iron Maiden's Eddie — is literally more evil than Satan. The song recounts him torturing The Devil, although the line "carve a swastika into your head" still doesn't come off all that great, regardless. It takes a few listens to be absolutely certain you're not condoning some kind of pro-Nazi bullshit. I don't have a problem with the lyrical content of the song, and the riffs are actually very solid. The likelihood of writing another iconic track like "March Of The SOD" or "Speak English Or Die" was low, but the title track to this record is the best example of modern material from the band; the riff bangs and the lyrics take a bit to digest,

The fun parts of Bigger Than The Devil are when they're being irreverent, like on "Skool Bus," or "Kill The Assholes" and "The Song That Don't Go Fast," or trading in in-jokes and metal references like "King At The King / Evil Is In" and "Celtic Frosted Flakes," or playing up the edge-lord concept without taking aim at specific groups. The line that likely got Bigger Than The Devil consigned to the memory hole is from "Make Room, Make Room" — a song about over-population, in case you weren't certain — where Billy Milano gets a little too clever for his own good:

We gotta make room, make room
Spread the fuck right out
Make room, make room
For the hand of doom
 
I built a wall around myself
From a world that's on the brink
There's a problem with my armor
'Cause there's just too many chinks

On one hand, I get what Billy's doing here: he's purposefully taking a baseball bat to a bee's nest, and technically he's using an old expression with no racial connotations. On the other hand, fuck you — we all know why the word 'chinks' was chosen on a song about over-population. I don't think Billy Milano is racist, although I definitely was given pause by his fixation on Hitlerism and repeated references to Scott Ian as "that Jew" or "the Jew" (to his credit, never implying ownership) over the years. Is it defensible? Maybe. Would I bother? No, it's cheap heat.

Just as I said that I consider Speak English Or Die to be the equivalent of a pro-wrestling heel in metal band form, I have the same approach to this record. The problem is that these are older — ostensibly more mature — men, making this record with the specific intent of matching a level of free-floating hostility that is all but impossible to execute successfully. The debut record was spontaneous and arguably very tame in its delivery — especially for a record called, again, Speak English Or Die — whereas Bigger Than The Devil has a sociopathic premeditation that makes things more awkward as I revisit the album.

Musically speaking, Stormtroopers Of Death do not disappoint. Charlie Benante, Dan Lilker and Scott Ian turn in the solid performances you would expect from metal legends. Even Billy Milano sounds great, still firing off rapid-fire verses with conviction but with a much harsher tone. The competence of the material actually makes the depravity of the record's lows even more palpable, because genuine effort went into the instrumental backing to these sneering, gawking songs that seem far too serious for what was originally a spontaneous, for-fun project.

When it was released, I will profess to having no issues with anything I heard on Bigger Than The Devil. I listened to it fairly often, and don't regret purchasing it even to this day. Listening to it now, in 2020, allows me to reflect on the era it was created in. I find a lot of the discourse around white male privilege to be genuinely nauseating, but then I look back at things like this record and I am given pause. I, personally, can rationalise everything on the album as just part of an act — a pro-wrestling gimmick — but I'm a white dude who grew up during peak white dude.

As a result, Bigger Than The Devil ends up being a forgetable attempt at resurrecting a short-lived gimmick. Stormtroopers Of Death were a happy accident, a cult classic no one intended to make. Anything that followed from that was almost certainly destined to failure. In its time, Bigger Than The Devil was fairly well received; I remember it was among the first online music reviews I ever read. Where the first Stormtroopers Of Death record is an inflection point in the history of heavy metal, the project's second offering is a bit of a misfire without any of the historical cachet but all of the offensiveness. The new additions to the "Ballad" series of songs feel uninspired, like someone quickly scrambled to check who died recently for some easy material and a callback.

If nothing else, Bigger Than The Devil makes good on its namesake while also exposing the limitations of the Stormtroopers Of Death gimmick. The debut record is vastly superior, and a more honest representation of what the project really was. Strangely enough, an album from 1985 aged far better than one from 1999. While Bigger Than The Devil could have been worse, I struggle to think how it could have been any better.

Summary

The sophomore effort from cult thrash legends Stormtroopers Of Death fails to capture the same magic and innovation of its predecessor. The band still have solid chops, and the record features some solid riffs and headbanging material, Bigger Than The Devil encapsulates the venom of the original recordings without feeling anywhere near as light-hearted and spontaneous. There's a reason this record is absent from streaming platforms yet you can get re-issues of the debut record that includes the Crab Society North demo without any effort. A solid collection piece, a decent record musically, but honestly not something the world needed and it has reacted accordingly.

Album Information

Release date: May 18th, 1999
Record label: Nuclear Blast Records

Billy Milano — vocals
Scott Ian — guitar, backing vocals
Dan Lilker — bass, backing vocals
Charlie Benante — drums, guitar solo (track 25)

Track Listing

  1. Bigger Than The Devil
  2. The Crackhead Song
  3. Kill The Assholes
  4. Monkeys Rule
  5. Skool Bus
  6. King At The King / Evil Is In
  7. Black War
  8. Celtic Frosted Flakes
  9. Charlie Don't Cheat
  10. The Song That Don't Go Fast
  11. Shenanigans
  12. Dog On The Tracks
  13. Xerox
  14. Make Room, Make Room
  15. Free Dirty Needles
  16. Fugu
  17. Noise That's What
  18. We All Bleed Red
  19. Frankenstein And His Horse
  20. Every Tiny Molecule
  21. Aren't You Hungry
  22. L.A.T.K.C.H.
  23. The Ballad Of Michael H
  24. The Ballad Of Phil H
  25. Moment Of Truth
  26. Seasoning The Obese
  27. Raise Your Sword
  28. Ballad Of The Scorpions

—by Derek

Published: May 20th, 2020.