Posted by: Necci – Aug 29, 2012
There's been something of a cottage industry built up in recent years around the unearthing of long-lost pieces of hardcore's distant history. It's easy to see the appeal – the genre's early years are one of the last solid vestiges of regionalism and autonomous aesthetic development in the years leading up to the sort of aesthetic standardization that came part and parcel with the increased speed by which technology disseminated art (hip hop being the other). Furthermore, in the wake of the popularity of bands essentially performing a dress-up routine that's as comparable to the original as Civil War re-enactors are to the war itself, a thorough fine-toothed re-examination of the style's earliest years might yield results that are more potent than the two dozen Adolescents clones that will have formed by the time I finish writing this sentence. There have definitely been some bands that would've been better left obscured by the fog of the ensuing years, but this retrospection has yielded some spectacular results. One could look to the recent albums of unearthed Void and Poison Idea demos or, in terms of more obscure takes on the style, last year's re-issue of The New Hope compilation, an album's worth of Ohio-based hardcore bands. Initially released in 1983, the album (as most compilations do) consisted of both decidedly forgettable and genuinely memorable artists. Some present were just okay, not necessarily terrible, though not really distinct from any of their contemporaries, but a handful of others were doing something genuinely special--the type of thing that taps into a vein so primal and visceral that their work proves impossible to ignore. The prime example on that particular record was The Guns.
The Guns were initially a duo, started in 1982 by Scott Eakin and David Araca, who were all of thirteen years old at the time. It might be tempting to view the band in terms of their youth, and thus relegate their music to the realm of pure novelty, were the songs any less devastating than they managed to be. Their contributions to the New Hope album (two on the original, a third added for the reissue), were tightly played, yet frantic bursts of adolescent hardcore angst, concise and punishing as only the best hardcore can be - the type of thing that showed the band was genuinely great, not just great for their age. But anyone who loved those songs was more or less shit out of luck when it came to hearing more of the band. They had another song on the Pelted With Rocks And Garbage compilation, and unauthorized bootleg material would occasionally pop up (most notably their 1984 recording session, inexplicably included as bonus tracks on Cleveland death metal joke band Bowel's 1994 album Rotten Fecal Duct) but hoping for any further recordings seemed futile. Apparently the success of the New Hope reissue lit a fire under the collective ass of The Guns' surviving members, however, initiating an archival effort that has brought to light everything the band recorded (with the exception of a long-lost Black Sabbath cover) from their earliest days of primitive punk pounding to the later boombox recordings of their crossover thrash incarnation.
The music that The Guns made wasn't particularly challenging or unique, rarely varying much at all from the sound of hardcore as a whole, at the point where it was settling into its own set of aesthetic parameters rather than acting as the rough counterpoint to punk's artier tendencies and new wave aspirations. But to say that it's simple and straightforward is by no means an attempt to belittle the songs (though I wouldn't put The Guns on the same level necessarily, Negative Approach was also a no-frills hardcore band, and they made some of the best music ever committed to tape). They sound like thousands of other bands attempting the same style except that their material was solid, consistent, and relentless enough, with just enough slight sonic detours – the reverse echo effects on “Preps Suck” or the slap bass during “The Chair” to cite two examples – that the songs are imbued with a vivaciousness and a viciousness that can't be recrafted by less inspired hands.
The album's sequencing is a bit confusing. It starts off somewhat chronological, with the New Hope tracks followed by their 1984 recording, followed by an outtake and some later live recordings. But then the last quarter of the album draws from all periods of their existence, which seems at odds with the context of linear evolution in which the track list presented the band's development. This doesn't detract from the songs at all, but it is a bit odd. Similarly, while it may take an especially devoted listener to want to hear four versions of “Locked Inside” or three versions of “I'm Not Right” and “Kill Preps” (the latter, when combined with “Preps Suck,” definitely puts a different spin on the class struggle that's been present in punk since its inception), it's worth bearing in mind that this was music belonging to a particular moment in time, and it seems unlikely the band ever would have assumed all the songs would be compiled back to back for re-issue three decades after the fact.
But while there's not much to surprise anybody who's ever listened to any hardcore bands ever, the material is great enough that it doesn't matter. There's a certain charm to the lyrics and, while they don't vary wildly from the genre's standard tropes, there's an innocent exuberance to the ideas presented. It would be a mistake to approach these songs expecting subtlety or magnanimity (anybody expecting as much from a thirteen-year-old is setting themselves up for serious disappointment), but they do an excellent job of conveying the honest frustrations and disillusionment that accompany the point in adolescence where the harshness of the world at large begins to dismantle the walls of innocence piece by piece. But as violent and as confrontational as these songs can be, they also possess an undeniable energy and a willingness to confront the world's denigrations rather than indulging in the sort of navel-gazing cynicism that becomes harder to keep at bay with each successive year. It's also interesting to think of the degree to which this album is a remnant of another time - if this band were starting today and wrote a song like “Kill Preps” they'd probably be expelled from school and sent for extensive psychological evaluation. But it was unfettered expression, a single moment amplified and distended, existing only to revel in catharsis in all the manifold forms that hardcore can present.
It's a shame The Guns didn't get their due during their lifetime. They started strong and never turned shitty (even after they switched to a crossover/metal style, something few bands could pull off smoothly). Members of the band went on to work in a vareity of projects – David Araca was an early member of Integrity (interesting bit of trivia – his father Frank did the spoken vocals on the Psywarfare track that concluded Integrity's Humanity Is The Devil), Scott Silverman performed with Brant Bjork of Kyuss and Fu Manchu, and Sean Saley played drums for Government Issue and is currently a member of Pentagram. The tragedy is doubly profound considering that neither founding member survived to see this project come to fruition – David Araca passed away from a brain aneurysm in 1994 and Scott Eakin died of a heart attack in 2007.
Easy as it may be to take for granted the treasure trove of music from this music's primordial era, albums like this, ones that are less retrospectives than they are resurrections, incarnating the music for a generation of listeners for whom it would otherwise be dead and gone, need to be cherished as something of a non-renewable resource. Each successive disintirment exhausts the supply slightly more, and eventually there will be no more veins of musical ore to mine, no more hidden treasures to harvest. These sorts of albums are an ephemeral joy, a tile in a mosaic, and each could easily be the last great one. I doubt The Guns' reissue would be, but it's hard to say. The number dwindles, the stocks deplete. And in the middle of it all stand the ghosts of some kids from Ohio, radiating hostile energy that burns bright in defiance of time's obscurantism and resonates three decades after the fact, sustaining itself on the momentum of the moment.
By Graham Scala