Epitaph Records has long been home to some of punk’s most venerable bands. Bad Religion, Pennywise, NOFX, Hot Water Music, Rancid and The Offspring are just a few to have called the label home over the years. Even if you’ve been less than enthusiastic about the label’s decidedly non-punk signings of recent years there are many of you old loyalists out there who think you know every release Epitaph has put out prior to 2001. Well, you’re wrong.
We’ve put together a list of some of the more interesting Epitaph back-catalog releases that for whatever reason never moved into the punk zeitgeist. Make some new discoveries below.
1. The Seeing Eye Gods – The Seeing Eye Gods EP (Released 1985)
The Seeing Eye Gods would be easy to miss, as their only EP was pressed to only 1,000 copies, and quickly buried. The band featured Epitaph head/Bad Religion member Brett Gurewitz singing, and John Bertini playing the instruments. The five-track EP was recorded a couple years after Bad Religion’s first major misstep, the similarly awkward Into the Unknown, during a time when Gurewitz was on the outs with the band. Luckily, the band took new direction in subsequent years, returning to form with the seminal Suffer in 1988.
2. Bad Religion – Into the Unknown (Released 11/30/1983)
Only well-intentioned, die-hard Bad Religion fans have likely heard the 33-minute monstrosity that is Bad Religion’s second album, 1983’s Into the Unknown. Taking a hard left from the band’s hardcore punk roots, Into the Unknown adds synth to the band’s music, and takes the band’s frantic pace to a nearly grinding halt. The record got decent reviews from critics, but according to frontman Greg Graffin, the band only performed the material live once, and as word of mouth spread about the band’s new direction, attendance to their shows dropped massively. Into the Unknown was referred to as a “terrible misstep” by guitarist Brett Gurewitz, and the band broke up later that year (only to reform in 1985). There was only a single, 10,000 copy pressing of the record in 1983, and the album didn’t show up again (bootlegs notwithstanding) until it was included in the 2010’s 30 Years of Bad Religion box set. You can hear the only track Bad Religion has ventured to play live since 1983, “Billy Gnosis,” below.
3. The Things – The Things (Released 1988)
During the mid-late 1980s Epitaph plunked down some scratch on some fantastic garage rock and neo-psych bands, The Things being one of them. The band, which in their early years featured Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald, sounded more mellow than their brief labelmates the Morlocks or the Primates, but The Things put together a great self-titled record in 1988, and scored a blip on the radio radar with their track “Who’ll Jump the Gun,” but disappeared shortly after that. Check that one out below.
4. Vision – Watching the World Burn (Released 03/21/2000)
New Jersey hardcore fans may recognize Vision, a long-running band who stopped by Epitaph on their tour of punk labels (also releasing material on Chunksaah, Grilled Cheese, and Knife or Death). Vision’s been around since 1987, and their blend of hardcore punk and skate-punk has earned them comparisons to Pennywise and Dag Nasty. The band appeared on Punk-O-Rama 5, but unfortunately the band never took off. It’s unclear whether or not the band is still together, though it’s doubtful, as their last record was released in 2003.
5. Wayne Kramer – The Hard Stuff (Released 01/10/1995)
Wayne Kramer spent time influencing tons of punk musicians, from The Damned to The Melvins, Rage Against the Machine to Bad Brains, as vocalist and guitarist for seminal punk band MC5. After the band broke up for a second time in 1993, Kramer went back into the studio with a myriad of special guests including Keith Morris, Josh Freese, and Kim Shattuck to record The Hard Stuff. The album features a dozen great dirty-punk tracks, but listeners would likely recognize the track “Edge of the Switchblade” from the end of the 2006 Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
6. Zeke – Dirty Sanchez (Released 02/01/2000)
Seattle hardcore-punks Zeke have been around the scene for years, releasing their first record in 1996. 2000’s Dirty Sanchez is insanely good, a 22 minute blast of fast-paced, hardcore garage punk. The band has been active since, last releasing a split with Supersuckers in 2005, but failed to take off outside of the small garage scene or outside of the Pacific Northwest, despite touring with Voodoo Glow Skulls, All, DOA, and Pearl Jam.
7. 1208 – Turn of the Screw (Released 02/09/2004)
Punk band 1208 had a good enough promotion rollout behind them (I managed to get a promo poster in my podunk town), but the band’s second album, Turn of the Screw, didn’t turn as many heads as many had hoped. The band, lead by Alex Flynn, nephew of Black Flag’s Greg Ginn and artist Raymond Pettibon, was featured on Punk-O-Rama 7 and in Burnout 3, but unfortunately never took off. A bummer indeed, because the band’s single, “Fall Apart,” channeled SoCal punk bands like Pennywise perfectly.
8. Undeclinable Ambuscade – Their Greatest Adventures (Released 11/14/1996)
One of the absolute most underappreciated Epitaph releases of the 1990s was Undeclinable Ambuscade’s Their Greatest Adventures, released in 1996. Undeclinable Ambuscade is one of only a handful artists to release an album proper on Epitaph, but not be featured on the massively popular Punk-O-Rama compilations (though they were on a European release of Punk-O-Rama 6). Fans of melodic hardcore will surely appreciate Their Greatest Adventures, which manages to break the mold set by bands like Strung Out that trapped so many mediocre punk bands in the 90s.
9. The LaDonnas – Rock You All Night Long (Released 1998)
Denver punks The LaDonnas released Rock You All Night Long in 1998 on Epitaph. The album, their third, came out to warm reviews, with critics calling the record good pop-punk, but adding that The LaDonnas were by no means innovators. The band wrote 90s-era pop-punk that featured vocals eerily similar to the Connie Dungs, if only a little more upbeat, both musically and lyrically. The band broke up later in 1998, with members surfacing again in The Hookers. Good 90s pop-punk, check out “Rock You All Night Long”
10. Ruth Ruth – The Little Death (Released 09/24/1996)
Ruth Ruth were a pop-punk/emo band from the time before Epitaph was really in the emo scene. The band took the early-90s alternative sound that was present on Weezer‘s Pinkerton and adds in some of the grittier pop-punk sound that would make them more at home on Epitaph. Though the band recorded The Little Death in 1996, lead singer Chris Kennedy left the band before the EP came out. The band limped along for another eight years, changing their name to Ultra-V, and then back to Ruth Ruth, before disbanding in 2004. The band was highly regarded by critics, but unfortunately never gained much traction, either because of their identity crisis, or their label bouncing (this was the only EP on Epitaph, and they never released more than one record on a label), or both.