April 14th, 1992, L7 released their third studio album, Bricks Are Heavy, through Slash Records. While L7 embodied the live hard/play hard approach of many bands that thrived during the grunge/punk/alt-rock scene of the late 80s and early 90s, they survived intact. Though there was a thirteen-year break between their breakup in 2001 and their reformation in 2014, Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch, and Demetra Plakas have—aside from a few line-up changes—gone the distance.

Bricks Are Heavy felt like a natural progression on its release. L7’s self-titled debut and the follow-up Smell The Magic were thrilling slash-and-burn punk workouts, whereas Bricks Are Heavy feels relatively polished without sacrificing the balls-out attack of old. It’s notable, too, how formidable the band’s songwriting had become, plus the choice of Butch Vig as producer proved inspiring.

L7 was never a one-trick pony. Beneath the raw, pummelling riffs and buckets of attitude lay razor-sharp melodies and searing, venomous passion. Vig balanced the two sides of the band’s formidable approach and presented it in an inviting but hard-hitting package. He recognised Donita Sparks possessed a wickedly expressive voice that could flit from angelic cries, deep melodic drawls, raging snarls, and savage punk bellows, encouraging her to explore the full dynamic range of her singing, which in turn added more depth and excitement to each song.

The rhythm section of Dee Plakas and Jennifer Finch is precise, dynamic and swings hard. The ’90s threw up a plethora of incredible drummers, and Dee Plaskas is no exception. Like an alt-rock Ringo Starr, her playing is essential to L7’s sound, providing hook-laden fills that are catchier than the common cold.

Jennifer Finch is the talismanic firebrand whose vibrant, devil-may-care attitude and powerful bass playing propels the band on and off stage. Finch also occasionally takes lead vocals, adding her mighty punk-rock snarl to devastating effect. Suzi Gardner’s guitar playing is heavy, sludgy, and aggressive but always quirky, memorable, and filled with an infectious sense of urgency. She, too, takes lead vocals, adding yet another dimension to the rich tapestry of L7’s sound.

The album opens with the full-throttle stomp of “Wargasm.” It’s blistering riff hacking like a scythe through a gaggle of hapless ’80s slasher flick teens. Donita Sparks snarls, “Wargasm, wargasm, one, two, three. Tie a yellow ribbon around the amputee. Masturbate, watch it on TV. Crocodile tears for the refugee.” Written about the first Gulf War in 1991, Sparks told Melody Maker in 1992, “The Gulf War covered up the Savings And Loans crisis,” she told Melody Maker. “The Savings And Loans went bankrupt because the Republicans were scamming. People were taking money from it, and it went bankrupt. To cover all that up, Pow! Suddenly, the Gulf War was on TV every moment of the day. So, stuff like that covers up the real shit that’s going down.”

The guttural chug of “Scrap” seeps through the speakers like a glorious swamp beast intent on smothering the listener in thick waves of untamed guitar menace. Up next is “Pretend We’re Dead.” Released as the first single, it hit the mainstream charts, giving the album’s release considerable leverage and opening the door to a wave of new fans who were still unacquainted with the brilliance of L7.

Even if the band weren’t comfortable with their newfound mainstream celebrity, it was welcome. Donita Sparks remarked, “Of course, we wanted a hit, but when you get a hit single if you’re from the underground, you’re almost embarrassed about it. It’s so fucked up. All of a sudden, it starts to separate you from the scene that you came from.”

“Pretend We’re Dead” is undeniably genius. Even though Donita Sparks admits to writing the song “in a matter of minutes” following a painful relationship breakup, it had real depth and more hooks than Captain Birdseye’s fishing fleet. “I was heartbroken in my bedroom and found myself singing, ‘I just pretend that you’re dead’ – not in a mean or ugly way, more because I wanted the dude to vanish from my mind,” Sparks explained. “But because Suzi would never have let me write a song like that, I made it sound more universal. It’s a straightforward tune. It’s the vocal melody that makes it a little trippy.”

The sardonic “Diet Pill” tackles female compulsions with clever irony. Set to a slugging, glacial guitar riff, Donita Sparks sings, “My diet pill is wearing off.” The incandescent “Everglade” follows, written by Jennifer Finch and musician, record producer and songwriter from New York City, Daniel Rey. Rey had previously co-written songs with the Ramones, starting with the Too Tough To Die album in 1984. He went on to produce the band’s albums Halfway to Sanity, Brain Drain and ¡Adios Amigos! and co-wrote their 1989 classic single “Pet Sematery” with Dee Dee Ramone.

“Everglade” is an instant classic. Jennifer Finch’s vocal is laced with a punk attitude, and the gang vocals from Donita and Suzi add an almost Bestie Boys-like hip-hop emphasis to each line. Suzi Gardener’s lead fills are vital and memorable, slashing over the blazing riffs. The song became L7’s second biggest-selling single and further helped propel Bricks Are Heavy into the limelight.

“Slide” is musical blunt force trauma. Slick and sexy as hell, it low rides at a gripping pace. Suzi Gardener takes the lead vocal. Dee Plakas crushes, holding down an incessant beat. “One More Thing” is a blues song for the ’90s alt-rock crowd. With a hypnotic groove of fuzzed-out guitars and spacious drumming, Jennifer Finch’s lead vocal starkly contrasts her venomous turn on “Everglade” just a couple of songs earlier. Here, she sounds world-weary but commanding as she sings, “I’ve just about had enough. I’m drowning from too much stuff. I get scared when the telephone rings. Someone complaining about one more thing.”

The psychobilly surf swing of “Mr Intensity” is infectious. Jennifer Finch’s deep-slung bass rumble opens “Monster.” Suzi Gardener’s lead vocal sounds hushed, threatening and maniacal. Her vocal interplay with Donita Sparks during the song’s chorus is prime L7.

“Shitlist” is another L7 classic. Everything about this track works, from the slinky guitar riffs and fills to the quirky, irreverent lyrics. It’s a bonafide ripper. Every sound eeked out of Suzi Gardener and Donita Sparks’ guitars serves to make the song an insidious earworm. The lyrics are hilarious, memorable and blunt, “When I get mad, and I get pissed. I grab my pen, and I write out a list. Of all the people that won’t be missed. You’ve made my shitlist.”

The album closes with “This Ain’t Pleasure,” sung by Suzi Gardener. Opening with Black Sabbath-esque hammer blows before picking up a rapid pace, the song pounds a vicious storm of slashing guitars and bad intentions. It briefly returns to the Sabbath-esque blows before hitting full-throttle and blasting to the song’s conclusion.

Bricks Are Heavy is an album worthy of the hype it received in the wake of the Alternative Rock explosion of the early 1990s. It still sounds vital and exciting today and, in terms of energy and conviction, eviscerates most bands’ output from the period. The songwriting is impeccable throughout; the production is taut and lean but warm and inviting. The performances are incendiary.

The beauty of Bricks Are Heavy is how it combines the social commentary of the time with an angry, emotional tone. It’s also one of the most fun albums of the period. It’s heavy, cynical, and full of dense riffage while spewing a sardonic wit and a dangerously sexy groove.