by C.J. Klasa
When the System Overload-era lineup of Integrity headlined a capacity crowd at the A389 X Anniversary Bash in Baltimore, in January, it was the first time that version of the legendary metallic hardcore band played together in almost 20 years and the first time that founding member Aaron Melnick, along with his brother Lenny, played with Integrity vocalist and sole original member in the current version of the band, Dwid, in more than 15 years.
Needless to say, rabid fans of the classic lineup of Integrity responsible for blueprints of the metallic hardcore genre such as For Those Who Fear Tomorrow, Systems Overload and Humanity is the Devil from all over the globe who traveled to Baltimore for the one-off gig were amazed and delighted at how few steps the band had lost over the years. It was an intense performance that rivaled any in Integrity’s prime.
“We worked really hard on that show,” Aaron Melnick says. “We practiced for like six months for that show. Me, Chris [Smith], Mark [Konopka] and Lenny got together every single Friday night — we missed maybe one week in over six months. We really busted our asses to make that show as good as possible.”
With so many former members and a longtime distance between Melnick and Dwid, the principal architects of a style of hardcore that has grown in influence over the years, the reunion show was an opportunity to bury the hatchet and feel the well-earned respect that comes with releasing such classic records.
For as notable as Integrity’s reunion was, Melnick and his brother’s other ’90s metallic hardcore band, In Cold Blood, with Mephiskapheles’ Bourbon Zeigler, Jr. on vocals, Blaze Tishko on guitar and new drummer, Homewrecker’s Matt Izzi, was also reactivated for the Baltimore fest and are playing again on Saturday at Now That’s Class. In Cold Blood was born out of necessity during a downtime for Integrity.
“At the time, Dwid didn’t really want to play and he didn’t seem that into the idea of touring Europe anymore, so he put an end to it. We thought, ‘Maybe we’ll start another band that actually does something,’” Melnick recalls. “Me and Blaze sat down and hashed out some riffs. We tried to make it what we would have gotten into when we were younger. Some of it’s in more of the Integrity style and some of it sounds more like an older hardcore band like the Inmates with a faster vibe.”
In Cold Blood was not the only band that Melnick played in during Integrity’s heyday. With little fanfare, Melnick simultaneously played in the Inmates, CIDER and Brainwashed Youth while Integrity was at its peak. Even though these bands were active at the same time, he never billed any of these bands as “Aaron from Integrity.”
“I never wanted to be defined that way,” he says. “I always tried to be a member of a band and make that band as strong as possible. I wanted to play with other people who were good and into it. That’s what my definition of a band is. When we are doing the Inmates or something, we are not really the type of people who put on the fliers: members of this band or that band. It may have been smart from a business sense but we wanted the other bands to stand on their own feet and be their own thing. We did not want to rest on our laurels. These bands were a different thing from Integrity and I didn’t really want to associate it with that.”
In Cold Blood released a self-titled 7-inch EP (recently reissued as part of the remastered Suicide King 12-inch) and Hell On Earth before Melnick moved out of Cleveland and didn’t play in any bands for a couple of years after the early version of Integrity folded.
“I just needed a break from hardcore,” Melnick says.
But fortunately that break did not last long and Melnick has been active in Cleveland punk and rock bands since returning to Cleveland more than a decade ago, leading to the Integrity and In Cold Blood reunion shows.“We enjoyed ourselves a lot with that In Cold Blood show and we want to keep doing something that we enjoy,” Melnick says. “We started writing new In Cold Blood songs that are kind of heavy and we enjoy playing. That’s the main thing. We try and write music that we would like and we would enjoy playing. So that’s what we’re doing.”
In addition to new music from In Cold Blood and a new Inmates LP on Painkiller Records due later this year, Melnick also released a 12-inch by Shin to Shin, described as Celtic Frost meets Exodus.
“It started off as a kind of fake band. Me and my friends were kind of messing around talking about the old days, ‘Were gonna go shin to shin,’ and I started writing some songs for this fake band and, hey, some of them are actually pretty good. So I recorded them.”
Melnick played everything on the Shin to Shin record except for drums, which were handled by CIDER’s Bob Zeiger (ex-Ringworm, ex-Integrity, ex-Midnight).
“I was going for more of a thrash vibe. I’ve always been a huge fan of metal and as I get older, even though I still like hardcore, I probably listen to more metal as I’ve gotten older because hardcore songs kind of lend themselves to being younger. I still love hardcore but metal is, you know, maybe more intricate — not to say that Shin to Shin is intricate or anything.”
Intricate or not, Shin to Shin is unmistakably Aaron Melnick, right down to the lead vocals that he also handles on the record.
“The lyrics are not totally serious. I’m not trying to make fun of tough guy bands and I still love martial arts and stuff like that, but maybe the lyrics are a little tongue in cheek.”
The husband and father of a 2-year-old girl and budding art star laughs, “It’s not like I am going out and fighting people every night.”