Review: “Felons And Revolutionaries” by Dope (20th Anniversary)

Selling 240,000 copies in the US since it was pushed like a envelope loaded with cash across the table to music fans back in 1999 by Epic Records, “Felons And Revolutionaries” by Dope is the full debut album that crossed Nu-Metal with the Industrial Metal sounds of Ministry. Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the album on a World Tour with Static-X who are also celebrating 20 Years of their debut album “Wisconsin Death Trip”, also cite Ministry as an influence and toured their debuts together all those years ago, it only seems fitting we should review the album as it stands today. The version that we’ve chosen for review is the June 2000 re-released edition that features an additional track and a reworked version of one, but more on that later!

While Edsel Dope is the frontman and multi instrumentalist behind Dope and credited with arrangements, bass, guitars, programming, lead vocals, artwork, design, digital editing, engineer, layout, mixing and producing, he’s often not given the credit he’s due. If you listen to the other Dope albums it’s clean that the core sound of their debut is within that sound, it’s his sound.

Opening tune “Pig Society” is a fine example of a Dope song. Edsel’s voice is distorted ever so slightly in the mix while a big bare drum sound dominates. Everything sounds raw, but unlike some other Industrial albums that go for a cold stark feel, this one is warm and more akin to Marilyn Manson. That’s due to the base Dope sound being more of a Sleaze Rock one. Lyrically socially aware, the opening cut speaks of societies ills, which are as true now as they were then. Featuring in the major motion pictures SWAT and The Fast and the Furious “Debonaire” has the classic Dope sing-a-long chorus as Edsel talks about his lack of care for the finer things in life, Worldly possessions or the plastic fake society he sees around himself. Sonically we’re given a track that while it has that Sleaze Rock approach is actually quite abrasive on the ear drums during the screamed elements. “Everything Sucks” on the re-released version is dubbed the “Radio Mix” but what that actually means is that Uber Producer Andy Wallace added some lead guitar parts. He’s a guitarist after all. Unlike the previous pair of tunes, this one has its Nu-Metal ties with some vinyl scratch work and some industrial sounds that are off kilter. For example the synths create a corrupted horn sound that is like a broken clown unicycle noise. It’s a grove laiden track that works really well.

First single “Sick” is a far more industrial track with that Ministry influence on its sleeve. A cold programmed drum loop with industrial noises bled into it dominates the sound sound while Edsel changes approach with lyrics about gang violence. It’s raw and abrasive but it’s also fun. The bass sound and guitars manage to tie the track to the remainder of the album but this one stands out as being very different from the pack. Returning things to the earlier sounds “Kimberly’s Ghost” sees Edsel singing rather than screaming though it’s partially masked by the industrial distortion over his voice. A song of a broken relationship, it’s the styling taken into a number of future Dope tracks. Again the programmed kit work defines the sound while the guitars have an 80s pop leaning influence. “Spine For You” continues the talk of the same broken relationship with some clever use of drum triggers in creating a piece of industrial rock that has a sense freedom. Lyrically, Edsel airs his frustration and about wanting beat some sense into the person he has beef with. The cat like mawing of the synths during the opening of “One Fix” is hilariously good fun in the retrospective gaze of this review. There is a high energy bounce to the music in a song about getting high and drinking to come down. Who hasn’t been there?

A skinny white band taking on a track like “F**k Tha Police” by NWA is a big risk. But Edsel changes the lyrics where there necessary and avoids some of that risk. The rapping is more of a faster paced spoken word with the chorus being shouted with the kind of sing-a-long approach that works well live. The entire tune is essentially re-worked in Dope’s style with little of the original bar the lyrics left. It even features a raw lead flourish. The sentiment of the track remains the same as the original and there is a bit of tongue in cheek humour as Dope have openly talked of dealing to get this album off the ground in the early days. Changing up the gears for what is almost a punk speed track “Intervention” keeps things simple after the wow of the previous cut. Originally demoed as “Little Fish” this one is solo rich and shows much more guitar prowess than the earlier work. Returning to the stark industrial sounds “America The Pitiful” has a much slower groove tempo. Lyrically coming across as Edsel talking to himself about thoughts of Prison and of not wanting to pledge allegiance to a flag that doesn’t mean anything to him as society is broken is an interesting concept. Using gaps in the guitar work to allow the industrial sounds to bleed though is a nice touch.

The vibe that ordinary life is just that “Sh*t Life” is lyrically deeper and more meaningful than it seems on the face of it. A song about those who chase the dream, doing whatever it takes and fall short while destroying what’s around them including their own bodies, it’s a powerful sentiment in what is a fairly primative song. “Wake Up” takes the vocal approach of “Sick” in the chorus while talking of drug addition and not having a reason to wake up. DJ Lethal of  Limp Bizkit fame is credited with the “screaming hummingbird” sound that takes the form of what sounds like corrupted police sirens in the distance. It’s dark, sleazy and surprisingly addictive. Bored of life? Wanting something that gives it more spark? How far would you go for it? “I Am Nothing” asks that question over repeated loops of industrial groove with furious vocals and a number of buried speech samples. It’s only later on that the lead guitars pick up and take things out. Recorded after the fact in a hotel room while on tour for the sound track to the Christian Bale version of the American Psycho film, “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” originally by Dead or Alive is the obvious single. It’s no surprise that the album got re-released with this re-imagined version of the tune on it. What the band do is keep the core of the track but give it the Dope treatment with stuccato riffs and programmed beats while also removing some of the distortion that covers Edsel’s voice on the album itself [7/10]

Track listing

  1. Pig Society
  2. Debonaire
  3. Everything Sucks (Andy Wallace Mix)
  4. Sick
  5. Kimberly’s Ghost
  6. Spine For You
  7. One Fix
  8. F**k Tha Police (NWA Cover)
  9. Intervention
  10. America The Pitiful
  11. Sh*t Life
  12. Wake Up
  13. I Am Nothing
  14. You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (Dead or Alive Cover)

“Felons And Revolutionaries” by Dope has been out for 20 years! Go find it on a streaming platform near you!

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