Graded on a Curve:
Faith/Void,
Faith/Void Split

There are those who say this very influential 1982 Dischord split release changed the world, but I’m not one of them–the Faith side’s a hardcore snooze. No, what makes the LP worth owning is Void on the B side. Void blew skinhead minds when they hit the national scene, and I suspect a fair number of kids played the hell out of the Void side while using the Faith side as an oversized beer mat. I also suspect a lot of kids wracked their brains trying to figure out how to keep the Void and send the Faith side back for a refund.

The LP’s odd at the sub-atomic level, in so far as Faith and Void might as well be different species. The straightedgers in Faith came straight out of Georgetown and were harDCore clique faves; they were fronted by Ian MacKaye’s younger brother Alec, for Christ’s sake. Void, on the other hand, were outsiders in every sense of the word; they hailed from the uncool environs of Columbia, MD, eschewed straightedge orthodoxy in favor of gobbling LSD, and broke with hardcore orthodoxy by playing a high-octane hardcore/metal hybrid that would go on to influence a whole generation of thrash-happy metalheads.

What you get with Faith is your average set of Doc Martens–sui generis B-quality harDCore mated to angry high school kid notebook lyrics. Alec MacKaye’s world view is limited to the insular G-Town punk scene, and from the sounds of it everybody’s letting him down. I can handle his perpetually peeved punk shtick for a song or two, but the tantrums grow tiresome fast; I’m assuming the guy possesses a sense of humor, but you would never know it from these songs, which reinforce my conviction that walking around sober and serious is a horrible way to go through life.

Heck, the only song I’d even consider listening to again is the straightedge rant “You’re X’ed,” and that’s because it’s so stupid it’s funny. Seems MacKaye’s X’ing a friend out of his life because, get this–said friend’s been drinking and fucking behind MacKaye’s back! I mean, jeez! Here I thought you were a pal, and you’ve having fun! Drinking Bud and getting laid even! Well I’m kicking you out of Straightedge Club!! On “Another Victim” MacKaye sings, “Live fast, die young, you’re full of shit/Face the fact you’re still a kid,” and I can only hope he’s directing his ire at some Dupont Circle gutter punk sticking a heroin needle in his eyeball. But something tells me he’s also addressing that long-haired kid smoking a joint outside of shop class. Straightedge is a strictly zero tolerance movement.

No, the only reason to buy this baby is for the B side, because Void were the shit. Guitarist and self-proclaimed “outcast redneck” (he was actually half-black, half-Filipino) Bubba DuPree and company play a unique and ferocious fusion of hardcore and metal; they took their name from Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void” for a reason. Vocalist John Weiffenbach sounds unhinged; DuPree plays the freakiest guitar this side of Greg Ginn; and the rhythm section crashes and burns on every outing. Small wonder these guys blew both hardcore and metal kids’ minds.

This shit comes stormtrooping out of stereo speakers, stops and starts, hits you upside the head with power chords and drowns you in guitar distortion–and all the while Weiffenbach’s in your face, like the demented offspring of H.R. and Darby Crash (see “My Rules”). DuPree’s solos are insane, twisted things–aside from Ginn, I’ve never heard anything like them. I can think of only two or three hardcore bands that played with such crazed intensity, and Void weren’t just mining the same old hardcore vein–they were creating something brand new at the same time..

Songs like “Who Are You?” will blow you away; when DuPree isn’t dazzling you with a solo he’s emitting squalls of feedback that could destroy trailer parks. And Chris Stover’s bass would make Black Sabbath proud. “My Rules” (“I’m gonna live by my rules/Why should I listen to toadstools?”) is without a doubt the best Black Flag song not by Black Flag I’ve ever heard. “Explode” looks forward to the noise rock of Cows and moos just like ‘em.”Organized Sports” has a great “TV Party” sing-along chorus and I’ll betcha I’d find it real funny if I could understand the words. And so it goes with the rest of the songs on this B side of this very lopsided phonograph recording.

Because lopsided it is. Faith plays monochromatic, by-the-numbers hardcore; you get the intensity and urgency, but no surprises. Void, on the other hand, pushes the envelope–pushes it right down your throat. I have no doubt Faith put on a great show; Thurston Moore singled ‘em out as one of the greatest live bands he’d ever seen. But on record? They’re more or less indistinguishable from a host of other hardcore bands, conformists to the end. Void sound like nobody but Void.

If Faith and Void are an odd pairing, the thing that unites them is rage. But all rage is not created equal. Alec MacKaye’s a kind of inarticulate Holden Caulfield, forever complaining about how he’s surrounded by phonies (most of ‘em his friends!) who fail to live up to his high-starched roundhead moral standards. Weiffenbach’s a psycho–like Ozzy on uppers or sumpin’. His grudge is against life, the world, people–he even sounds pissed off to discover he’s obligated to breathe. And that’s the kind of rage I can get behind.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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