If there was a darkness about “Steady Diet of Nothing,” “In on the Killtaker” was Fugazi exorcising it.
“Killtaker” alternately features the most aggressive and, up until that point, the most beautiful songs Fugazi had recorded.
If you were unsure what you were going to get after “Steady Diet of Nothing,” you knew from the first song, “Facet Squared.” Open with some playful guitar noises, lay down a nice bass/drums groove, then explode into a driving, closed fist punch of a song, complete with McKaye’s forceful, grunting vocals. This is a Fugazi that will not be ignored, something that was easy to do on the last album. They’re not holding back this time around.
Still unsure? Welcome to “Public Witness Program.” They’re in full on attack mode now, yet the vocals are only getting more and more catchy. The guitar interplay at around the 1:15 mark lets you know that this energy isn’t for show; you’re going to get Fugazi’s all on this record, and nothing less.
Then we get the first wild card: “Returning the Screw.” It’s quiet and sparse, but McKaye’s vocals tell you that there’s something boiling underneath the surface. And when it explodes — and does it ever — you realize that the energy from the first two songs is still here, just less frantic and more powerful.
I could go on and on about “Smallpox Champion,” but it would just be sad because I love the hell out of that song. When they move into the second half of the song, I get goosebumps.
And that’s just the first four songs! I haven’t even gotten to “Rend It,” “Sweet and Low,” “Walken’s Syndrome,” or, perhaps the best song on the album and the best “slow” song Fugazi has ever recorded, “Last Chance for a Slow Dance.” This was clearly a band on a mission.
From what I remember, “In on the Killtaker” was a point of contention with Fugazi fans. There was a very clear divide between those who loved it and those who hated it. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cogent argument from those who hated it beyond “It’s not Fugazi,” which makes no sense.
Is this record a change of pace for the band? I guess. But it’s clearly a part of their evolution. You don’t get to “In on the Killtaker” without the three albums that came before it.
I think this was the Rubicon for Fugazi. This was the record where they discovered their sound. That’s not to say they didn’t move forward on future records because they most certainly did, but this is the album that got them to that very Fugazi place, a combination of dynamics, intricate song writing, that incredible rhythm section, a phenomenal duel guitar attack, and some next level vocals from both singers.
Stylistically, this could be called the “outro” album, as this is when Fugazi really found their “outro” game. This would become a calling card for the band: a brand new part to a song that only comes at the end. The aforementioned “Smallpox Champion” is a great example of this, but a lot of the songs on this record have them.
This is perhaps the first Fugazi record that fully embraced the “loud quiet loud” style, although it’s admittedly modified to better suit the band. Still, the dynamics on this record are certainly amplified. If you really wanted to reduce this album, you could call it “emo,” although it’s really not.
“Last Chance for a Slow Dance” was probably the song that created the divide among Fugazi fans, although I don’t know that for certain. Every Fugazi album has a “slow” song, so to speak, from “Promises” to “Shut the Door” to “Long Division.” All three of those are fairly unconventional as far as “slow” songs are concerned. “Last Chance” is much more produced and, yes, Guy Picciotto’s vocals do, indeed, make it sound more “emo.” Those Fugazi fans who didn’t like it were not going to find much joy going forward, either.
It’s interesting to note the titles of the four albums I’ve talked about so far. “13 Songs” is almost tongue in cheek, like a refusal to actually name the collection of songs from two EPs. In Fugazi’s mind, it wasn’t even an album at all, but a compilation.
Apparently, “Repeater” wasn’t just named after the song, but was a play on the Beatles “Revolver,” since a revolver is both a type of gun and a recorded — the same as a repeater. What better sign is there of a band embracing their creative energies than by dropping an allusion like that?
But the playfulness of the first two albums disappears and we get “Steady Diet of Nothing.” Not exactly a shiny, happy album name. And then what comes after that? “In on the Killtaker.” It’s like depression and aggression, back to back.
This was all a part of the evolution of Fugazi, and evolution that would grow by leaps in bounds on the next two records.