Various Artists
The New Hope
Smog Veil

In their undying quest to shed reissue light on nearly every decent northeast Ohio underground band from the late ’70s and early ’80s who owned at least two Ramones records and plausible fake IDs, Smog Veil unearths a true treasure trove of rust-belt proletarian punk. The New Hope was a 1983 30-song comp—one LP, of course—of doomy hardcore, the kind only Cleveland could’ve come up with at that particularly depressive dank moment in the city’s already less-than-sunny post-War history. While at least the Dada- and Beatnik-inspired early ’70s ur-punk of Rocket from the Tombs, Electric Eels, Dead Boys, Mirrors, et al. allowed for exciting, if fleeting, moments of humor, mind-expansion, melody, and even just good old “big beat,” by the time the teens on The New Hope were stealing six packs from the Convenient Food Mart... well, let’s just say that The New Hope might be the most incongruous compilation title of all-time.

Judging from the liner notes, written by original earnest compiler, Tom Dark, and Offbeats leader Tom Miller, that title was not meant to be ironic, no matter that David Araca’s excellent front-cover scratch art depicts hands either heading triumphantly away from a barbed-wire fence or stuck behind a prison wall. Those liner notes remind us that what’s often forgotten about the earliest days of hardcore is that it was just about the most positive, fun, hormone-releasing thing a totally bored, future-less suburban kid could do to stay out of juvie. Think of it: most of the members of these bands were playing dives, and how cool is it when you can hang out at a bar underage! If not that, it was pooling together weekly allowances to embody good ol’ American ingenuity and rent out a UAW hall to go buck wild with 43 of your other friends—and maybe even some girls! Hardcore was still an extension of first-era punk’s basic middle-finger flip and not yet (but soon) bogged down in genre dogmatics and shaved heads. Witness the cool reproductions of the Kinkos cut ’n’ paste booklet that came with the original. You’ll see a bunch of kids in button-up shirts, tight shorts, medium-length hair, and nary a chain wallet or skanking cartoon in sight, though thankfully loads of awesome skulls, a hangman’s noose, and fists. These kids were having a ball, at least for a little while.

Tom Miller’s fuzzy recollections remind us of the pre-internet times where recording your band wasn’t a simple walk to the bedroom laptop. Recording your band at all (beyond “boombox demos”) was a mystical, foreign thing, attained only by bands who could actually score paying gigs. And in Cleveland in 1982, that still meant doing classic rock covers in order to save up enough dough to afford studio time. Well, prodded by Tom Dark’s endless enthusiasm (it took nearly two years to get the damn thing together and out), these hardcore petrol huffers did just that, working extra hours at their shitty fast-food jobs and eventually finding a couple amenable studios in the outlying suburbs to let them waste a few Thursday nights. And thank god!

What then probably seemed like a fruitless attempt to nail down a bunch of drunk-buddy shout-alongs to impress the mirror image bands coming in from Detroit now seems like a time capsule piece of unattainable rarity. Everything is recorded today. In 1983, hardly any batch of losers like this were captured so completely. Yes, most of the songs sound like shit; shit was the story for broke Cleveland kids then. But 75% of all recorded hardcore sucks, and 75% of this comp is pretty great—so you do the math.

True, the mood you’re left with after slogging through the lesser ends of this reissue is one of muddled and aimless angst. How to record themselves was never a strong suit of hardcore bands, but sticking with the gurgling, dumpster-fi of most of The New Hope, the good stuff kicks you in the cranium. The Guns’ Black-er Flag stabs deserve lead-off status. Positive Violence growl and gurgle through all manner of hate. The three-second (literally) guitar solo on No Parole’s “Executioner” is one of those amazing wee bits of punk-rock atom-smashing that perfectly encapsulates a time and place, forgotten as quickly as it happened. Like when Zero Defex drop “Drop the A-bomb on Me” in less time than it would take to actually die from that requested explosion. The Dark slow it down a tad, creeping out with some midnight-black, meandering, tin can slap-back vocal nightmares. Spike in Vein (featuring future Prisonshake leader and Scat Records honcho Robert Griffin) dish up a pre–Big Black screechy chime-core that presaged so many lost late-80s college radio art-mooks and qualifies as “forgotten” on some quantum level, though they’re slowly becoming one of the more inadvertently influential acts of that brief era. The Offbeats’ pre-pop punk hammering is the closest thing to “catchy” here, though you wouldn’t wanna catch whatever gnarly brain cell–sapping liver disease these guys were already fostering.

Each band on this comp has at least three songs or more to showcase. And to make it a double-album for the reissue, Smog Veil uncovered many more tracks that were cut at those original sessions, plus a few regional singles and cassette comp tracks to flesh out the industrial sinkholian context. Especially notable are the few tunes from Starvation Army, a band that flew the Clevo-core flag well through the ’80s.

As Tom Dark points out in the liner notes, even so-called hep cultural arbiters, like the hardcore history tome American Hardcore, dismissed Cleveland as “nothing you’d call a scene.” Well, there was a huge first-wave hardcore scene in Cleveland, and like most such fires, it flamed out fast. The majority of the bands on The New Hope were broken up by 1984, which makes perfect sense for all the Big Brother fear flung around with equal parts beer on this essential slab.
Eric Davidson