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Void - Sessions 81-83

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Artist: Void

Album: Sessions 81-83

Label: Dischord

Review date: Oct. 18, 2011

For a lot of people, Void is about as far as they need to go in their discovery of hardcore punk. These people are mostly the ones who got way into Bad Brains, Black Flag, Minor Threat and the top-tier bands of the early 1980s, decided to do a little exploration of their own, and ended up with The Faith/Void split LP, released on Dischord in 1983. Many have recognized that these two bands are not well-suited to appear across from one another on the same record, and will go out of their way to tell you about it. I liken this to the kind of people who pose on Pink Floyd by hyping the Syd Barrett era, then shut down if you ask them their thoughts on More or Obscured by Clouds. It’s just silly. The Faith was a great hardcore band, one of DC’s best and certainly one of the toughest of the era. That Void totally obliterates their contribution is a moot point.

Very few bands could match the aggression, intensity, and amateur/weirdo vibes on display within Void’s dozen tracks from the split. It is quintessential American hardcore, the sound of young people deciding that they never again would listen to authority, borne of ‘70s suburban angst and released into the wallowing recession and Cold War paranoia of the early ‘80s. School friends Bubba Dupree (guitar), John Weiffenbach (vocals), Chris Stover (bass) and the late Sean Finnegan (drums) came up together in Columbia, Maryland, the first planned community of the 20th century. They saw the shit sandwich that life was about to feed them right around the time that they graduated from high school, just as punk was making inroads into the youth of nearby Washington, D.C. They instead smeared it all over the walls in an unstable mix of high energy punk, stray metallic riffage and pissed-off exclamations, torn from a young man’s throat (“Everywhere I go I see rules / They’re on the streets and in the schools … I’m not the hand of their tools / I’m gonna live by my rules / Why should I listen to those fools? / I’m gonna live by MY RULES”). Violence and generalized hatred soaked their worldview, a rancid frustration spewed back at the system. Sessions 81-83, a new collection of the D.C. area band’s demos, outtakes and a few live tracks, omits the best-known Void tracks (just get the split already, if you’re not already holding), but tells the story of what led up to it. Even if all this collection did was give you more Void tracks, it would be enough. Fortunately everything here is above the board in terms of quality, and it’s a great opportunity to watch the seeds of frustration as they start to grow.

Many of the songs from the split are featured here in earlier versions, assembled from a 20-song demo recorded in November 1981, and a 10-song session from a month later (of which three tracks would end up on Dischord’s legendary compilation, Flex Your Head). Each of these versions, particularly “War Hero,” stands up on its own, and deserves to be heard in rougher contexts. Weiffenbach allows youth to trump decorum over and over again; screaming “Fuck all discipline, I just wanna kill / I want to die in a war!” When you’re around 18 or 19 years old, and several years removed from any military draft, you’re basically trying to piss people off, no way around it. Later on, they twist the knife with a similar rant called “Draft Me Please,” the products of a war-primed society with nothing to fight for. These guys lived in a broken system, but knew better than to celebrate the dysfunction around them — you make more of a statement when you frame it against your own problems, which is what Void seemed to be about from the get go. “I’m so fucking filled with hate / I just need to decapitate,” Weiffenbach yells at the beginning of “Time to Die,” and you half-believe him. You have to, at least in part of that statement, accept the frustration at hand. It’s the other part, the declaration of violent intent, which the performer really needs to sell without crossing the line into actual psychopathy. Void came closer than most in making this sound as malevolent as it reads, certainly more than the comic book/“Chiller Theater“ taunts of bands like Misfits.

Everything Void ever did sounded closer, less thought out, and more dangerous than most hardcore bands of the day. They just went for it, with no forethought for care or consequence. Dupree’s guitar playing is pure punk economy, running structured riffs with little flourishes here and there when there was time to take a quick break from the noise assault he laid down. Stover and Finnegan kept up the speed in the rhythm section (along with the military sentiments, as Finnegan’s snare work recalled then-recent releases by Crass), over which Dupree’s guitar interlocked and pushed the rest of the band even harder. The purity level at play here is unreal, young insolents tearing up the frame with a ferocity few others could muster. A recording from one of the last Void shows bears out how this attitude spread to the band’s audience, and almost back on one another — someone in the crowd grabs the mic and announces “If this goddamn band doesn’t play ‘My Rules,’ I’ll kill ‘em all!” Void launches in after some deliberation. It is telling that their music peaks out the genre, the cul-de-sac of hardcore expression, much like the ones found in the suburbs that bred their rage.

Eventually the tension snapped the band into pieces. A full-length, entitled Potion for Bad Dreams, was slated for release in 1984 by Touch & Go Records, but it never happened. It’s made the rounds in tape trading circles, and displays little of the Void sound as it was known. “Spacey, error-ridden metal sludge” might be a good explanation for what it sounds like, and guitarist Dupree has allegedly blocked its release time and again in the intervening years. It makes sense, in a way — no reason to tarnish a spotless legacy.

In no way does Sessions 81-83 do anything but fortify Void’s place in the pantheon of hardcore history as we know it. Anyone who tells you his band sounds like Void is probably full of shit.

By Doug Mosurock

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