White Rider

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It's difficult to objectively assess the artistic worth of a band that dedicates its music and message to white supremacy. For listeners with similar philosophies, their stance is a brave one to be celebrated regardless of sonic quality, and those appalled by racism won't ever be able to get beyond the politics. Skrewdriver is the quintessential example, if only because of their status as the most influential and well-known racist skinhead band. Much has been written about this group and leader Ian Stewart, but with their political beliefs so tightly entwined with the music, any review of their recorded work is bound to be blindly pro or reflexively con. The fact is that before plunging headfirst into Nazism, Skrewdriver were a bracing, energetic, punk rock band that pumped out a handful of bonehead classics like "Antisocial" and "Back Street Kids." These songs were aggressive working class Oi! shouters that spoke to a decidedly violent, conservative segment of the punk audience, but carried no apparent racist overtones. Unfortunately, frontman Stewart allowed his emerging political sensibilities to overtake the focus of the band at the dawn of the 1980s, giving them a ready-made audience of racist skinheads who were ready to hail their work even as it degenerated into limp cliché, so long as it espoused the narrow message of white pride. White Rider is such an album, often hailed as Skrewdriver's defining document by fans, but sadly lacking the rock & roll heat necessary to make it interesting to the unconverted. Lyrical content aside, White Rider consists of dull, mid-tempo Clash imitations as musically exciting as boiled celery. The band plods along without conviction, guitars that should roar can only meow, and Stewart's vocals are thin and nasal, nowhere near the harsh rasp of Skrewdriver's more muscular early work. A few songs ("Strike Force," "White Warrior") have anthem potential, constructed with chant-along choruses and big, simple, immediately recognizable riffs, but weak production and haphazard mixing renders them impotent. Skrewdriver attempts and fails to expand their sound with "The Snow Fell," an execrable ballad about the defeat of the German army on the Eastern Front during World War II. Stewart doesn't go for the jugular with his subject matter, avoiding direct remarks about race and sticking to vague slogans about white pride, standing up to the enemy, and strength in numbers. The irony of white separatists drawing from a musical tradition so heavily indebted to black and Jewish artists can't be ignored; while some modern death metal bands perform music nearly free of blues and Tin Pan Alley influences, the verse-chorus-solo structures favored by Skrewdriver are the result of the very cultural cross-breeding they rail against. Of course, most music listeners won't share the extreme racial and patriotic beliefs that Skrewdriver existed for, and will have no use at all for White Rider. Even rock-starved Nazis should probably look elsewhere, though if it's music free of African influence they seek, they're going to have a hard time finding it in the Western Hemisphere.

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