The Guns
The Guns
Smog Veil

When one thinks about the hotspots for hardcore in the ’80s, Cleveland isn’t necessarily the first place that springs to mind. Though bands like Rocket from the Tombs, the Dead Boys, and the Pagans sprang up in the city before, during and after punk’s heydays, Cleveland didn’t seem to make much of an impact in the hardcore arena.

Perhaps things would have been different if The Guns had released a record during their lifetime. The short-lived band was formed in 1982 by Scott Eakin (guitar and vocals) and Dave Araka (drums). The two youngsters (Eakin was 14 and Araka was 15) had been playing with Scott’s older brother, Tom, and Robert Griffin (of Prisonshake and Scat Records fame) in The Dark before deciding to form their own band to explore the breakneck speeds they had begun hearing. Within a year, they had recruited Sean Saley to play bass and began playing at local clubs like The Pop Shop and the Cleveland Underground, a former strip club in Cleveland’s industrial lowlands, the Flats.

With Saley moving to Florida in 1985, the band went through a couple line-up changes before finally calling it a day the next year. However, before Saley’s relocation south, the band had recorded 14 tracks at Sound Factory Studios in Mayfield. The recording was originally intended for the local Trans Dada label but also ended up in the hands of Enigma Records through a friend in 45 Grave. (The Guns were the opening band of choice when 45 Grave, Black Flack or Husker Du came through town.) However, nothing ever became of the album.

It is those 14 cuts that are at the heart of the self-titled double-album that Smog Veil recently released. The album begins with an early version of “I’m Not Right,” recorded when The Guns were still a two-piece at Pyramid Recording in Lyndhurst. Perhaps the band’s signature song, the cut is a blistering minute and a half of pure fury. Like much of the band’s work, the song has everything that made hardcore great (namely speed and attitude) with none of the genre’s cliches.

The same could be said of the band’s great lost album. They redo “I’m Not Right,” but it’s just one of many superb songs here. “Kill Preps” takes on the nemesis that all teenage punks shared in the ’80s, while “Outta Glue” turns the old Ramones lament on its ear when the protagonist runs out of his favorite diversion. These 14 tracks are on par with anything by the band’s contemporaries (Black Flag, Minor Threat, et al.), and it’s a shame that it went unreleased during the bands time.

As for the rest of the retrospective, it’s largely derived from various cassette recordings of practices and performances. While the low quality recordings leave a lot to the imagination, they still capture The Guns’ bristling energy. But with few revelatory moments, this portion of the release is best taken as historical document. The real revelation are the studio tracks which prove something was going on in Cleveland, even if no one knew it.
Stephen Slaybaugh