Black Flag - 1982 Demos (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Black Flag

1982 Demos (1982)

Not on label

Without question, one of the greatest “What Ifs…” in punk rock concerns the period immediately after Black Flag released the seminal Damaged album. That story is well trod at this point: Unicorn records, the original label for Damaged refused to release the album because, as was famously quoted, “As a parent, I found it to be an anti-parent record…” (Meanwhile, SST mainstay Joe Carducci claimed the lack of release was due to the label’s financial mismanagement.) Regardless, guitarist Greg Ginn’s own SST records released the record, resulting in a lawsuit being filed by Unicorn. While the suit was pending, Black Flag was prevented from recording by injunction.

So, by the time that Black Flag was able to legally record, three years had past, only two members of the Damaged era remained (Rollins and Ginn), and the band had a radically different, avant-metal sound. The question for years was, “what if Black Flag had recorded a direct follow up to the hardcore classic?”

Surprisingly, the answer is much closer to the band’s later era than we might expect. In 1982, the band was still a five piece, but they had pulled drumming powerhouse Chuck Biscuits behind the kit. In order to get Biscuits tour ready, the band snuck into Total Access studios and recorded and mixed a demo, all in one night.

Featuring brand new compositions, the 1982 Demos, while never officially released, demonstrated just how over classic hardcore the band was, with Ginn particularly eager to try something new. In retrospect, the release reads like a greatest hits compilation of the second half of the band, including “hits” like “My War,” “Modern Man,” “Black Coffee,” and pretty much all the post Damaged standout tracks aside from “Annihilate this Week.”

Perhaps tired from playing the same 16 songs for the six previous years, the band expanded into longer, more complex riff-influenced numbers. As the opening rumble of “Modern Man” makes clear, the band was ready to indulge in the sheer might of the riff ala Black Sabbath. Likewise, while the early Black Flag numbers were surprisingly catchy, the opening of “My War” showed that the band was equally interested in playing with discord.

Yet, what is most surprising is how fiery and tight the band sounds. The criticism of the later-day Black Flag recordings is that the songs sound under rehearsed and under produced. What a paradox it is, then, that the demos recorded two to four years before those albums sound fresher, sharper, more energetic, and frankly, wilder?

The answer may very well lie in the band’s lineup. Chuck Dukowski has long been touted as Black Flag’s hidden power and this recording certainly made that case. Dukowski who penned the mammoth “My War,” played the bass with his usual explosive mania, tearing out the strings as much as plucking them. Noticeably, like Ginn, here, Dukowski seemed to also be interested in making challenging music, as opposed to catchy tunes. “Modern Man,” with its off-kilter tempo and refrain made this clear. Of couse, quite ironically, this proved to be Dukowski’s last recording with the band.

Likewise, Dez Cadena made his mark as a guitarist more viable than ever. In addition to penning two songs that Black Flag never officially recorded (“What can You Believe” and “Yes I Know” were later recorded by the DC3), Cadena stirred up a meaty contrast to Ginn’s barbwire baroque riffs. While Ginn scrambled and scraped around the fretboard, conjuring his iconic lashing notes, Cadena, who was a fan of the 70s rockers, provided more classic, chopping riffs. While Ginn would later become so cerebral in his playing that his music would become more academic than artistic, Cadena provided a counter-anchor that kept these songs’ inherent personality intact. This too would be Cadena’s last recording with the band.

Of course, this recording was also the only Black Flag studio recording featuring Chuck Biscuits. His presence is notable. Whereas Robo had a mechanical charging style, and Bill Stevenson had a classical drummers touch, Biscuits was a basher and he was in pure basher mode for these tracks. It fit well. Black Flag was focusing on the sheer power and might that could be pulled from slower, more muscular riffs and Biscuits was able to counter that with his own chopping attack. Biscvuits may not have been the most versatile drummer, but he was the perfect foil for the action in front of him for this record.

Even Rollins, sounded fresher and more rehearsed on these tracks, even though they were brand new. It was interesting to see Rollins further establishing his own identity, and moving away from the trail set before him on Damaged. Yet, the 1982 Demos did feature Rollins still in his berserk-kid mode and to a degree, it seemed like he was still having fun here, really shrieking and ranting- whereas later recordings of these same songs would slip into dreadful self-seriousness.

Greg Ginn has recently made an argument that he was the only Black Flag member that mattered. Well, these recordings, which feature many of the members that people often say were equally important to the band, have stayed under wraps since they were recorded. Comparing these hotter, more collaborative recordings to the dryer later day versions makes it clear why these tracks were buried and have stayed that way.

It is Punknews' general policy not to review unofficial recordings. However, in this case, in the name of study and discussion, we felt this record was worthy of an exception