One recent Sunday night, I was listening to a metal show on my local indie-rock station when an early Today Is the Day song blasted over the airwaves. It struck me how out of place the track’s misshapen guitar peals and anti-matter grooves sounded, surrounded by the metallic orthodoxy of recent releases by Testament, the Sword, and In Flames. It must have sounded even weirder when Today Is the Day first emerged from Nashville in the early ’90s, but even if the intervening decade and a half has rendered the band less distinct, its early material remains as alien and fucked-up as ever.
Supernova was Today Is the Day’s debut, the record that announced mastermind Steve Austin as an extreme-music revolutionary. Originally released in 1993 on noise-rock clearinghouse Amphetamine Reptile, Supernova was heavier than most of the output by Today Is the Day’s labelmates and far odder than the death metal that dominated underground metal at the time. Songs like “6 Dementia Satyr” and “The Kick Inside” sputter and clank through discordant riffs like busted machinery, heading from dark alleys into even darker alleys. With his trademark multitracked moans and screams, Austin sounds like the pervert waiting at the end.
Few “metal” records harness weirdness quite as well as Supernova. Instrumental soundscapes “Blind Man at Mystic Lake” and “The Begging” bind together Frippian guitar solos with bizarre bits of dialogue, forming decaying bridges between the off-kilter “songs” that surround them. Samples of farm animals and Chrysler commercials sound at home, as does the improvised first half of “Self-Portrait,” a King Crimson-inspired blast of free metal. Austin’s lyrics read like paranoid printouts from the id of an angry twentysomething — sex and violence and god all confused and smooshed into one.
Later Today Is the Day records would more fully explore Austin’s experimental muse (Sadness Will Prevail, 2002) or move wholesale toward grindcore (Kiss the Pig, 2004). Supernova presaged the band’s subsequent directions, and if it’s a less targeted album than its essential follow-up Willpower, it’s paced so well that the diversity works.
The remastered sound of the reissue punches up the volume while preserving Today Is the Day’s gristly guitars and distorted vocal sound, not to mention that it perfectly captures the chunkiness of drummer Brad Elrod and bassist Mike Herrell, Today Is the Day’s first and finest rhythm section. Two bonus cuts, from 1993’s I Bent Scared seven-inch, are every bit as gonzo and ripping as the Supernova tracks. Whether approached as a piece of heavy-metal history or the beginning of a Today Is the Day collection, Supernova is required listening.