Something Better Change and Hardcore 81
Sudden Death

Just as much as the punk movement proved that adrenalized rock & roll could be played by anyone that had the wherewithal to give it a go, so did it prove that there were legions the world over that would do exactly that. Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, DOA formed in the late ’70s in the wake of the first punk wave. The band took their cues from acts across the pond like the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers, matching razing guitars with equally sharp political sloganeering. Of course, DOA has managed to outlive its peers and continues to release records and tour out of their homebase in Canada.

After a few singles for their own Sudden Death label and Canadian imprint Friends and expanding from a trio to a four-piece, DOA recorded their first full-length, Something Better Change, also for Friends, in 1980. Consisting of ringleader, guitarist and singer Joey Shithead, guitarist Dave Gregg, bassist Randy Rampage, and drummer Chuck Biscuits, the band’s blitzkrieg of riffs and breakneck beats was tempered by the songwriting skills possessed by both Shithead and Biscuits. Tracks like “2+2” and “Last Night” proved that there was much more to the band than just being loud and snotty, though they could be that too. Elsewhere, cuts like “The Prisoner” predicted the shape of punk to come, with increased speed and chanted vocals, while still retaining the band’s creative flair. Still, it’s hard not to hear the promise that was yet to be fulfilled.

It was with Hardcore 81 that DOA came into its own, while also putting a name to the North American strain of faster and harder punk in a formal manner. The self-named anthem that begins the record is the first indication, Biscuits leading the charge with double-time snare whacks. But this is more than just head-down rocking. On “Unknown,” the band mixes in piano, showing that punk—or at least their punk—wasn’t as divorced from rock & roll traditions as one might think. Indeed, the band even covers Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown,” which, though not completely serious, must have been blasphemous at the time. Shithead and Gregg show off their chops throughout the record criss-crossing over another in speedy fits. Hardcore 81 capture DOA at its most virulent, with tracks like “Fucked Up Baby” and “Smash the State” made from pure spitfire.

Both of these records had been out of print for many years, having been squished together for the Bloodied But Unbowed comp that left off much of the best material. That was remedied in 2001 when Sudden Death reissued the records separately for the first time. Now they’ve done themselves one better by remastering each album and issuing them again on both CD and vinyl. Combined, the two records capture this punk lynchpin at its prime. The band’s rhythm section turned over the year after Hardcore 81, with Rampage quitting and Biscuits leaving to play with Black Flag (and then the Circle Jerks and eventually Danzig). DOA made other good records in the years to come, but never ones quite like these.
Stephen Slaybaugh