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Bad Religion | How Could Hell be Any Worse | review | punk | Lollipop
How Could Hell be Any Worse? (Epitaph)
by Tim Den
This is where the story begins for one of American hardcore's pillars. How Could Hell be Any Worse? ('82) started it all for Bad Religion (well, technically the '81 self-titled EP did, but it's included in this reissue, so why bother splitting hairs?), birthing a smarter and more melodic SoCal sound for its time. Amidst Black Flag, TSOL, 7 Seconds, and the like, Bad Religion weren't the most popular or the fastest, but something in their above-average intellect and abnormally (for hardcore, anyway) catchy hooks told of brighter things to come. Not that How Could Hell Be Any Worse? held less-than-captivating anthems: "We're Only Gonna Die," "Pity," "Fuck Armageddon... This Is Hell" are all classics, as ferocious as any of their peers plus a vocal delivery entirely their own (thanks to Greg Graffin). Simply put: It's a fucking great hardcore album.
For years, the album existed on a compilation of sorts called 1980-85 that also included the first EP, the Back to the Known EP, and three re-recordings the band did for a compilation. All are again onboard for this '04 reissue under the long-player's name, but suspiciously absent again is the entire Into the Unknown ('83) album that's been the band's "lost album" since its release. Recorded during the rise of New Wave, Into the Unknown had Graffin writing most of the songs on a SYNTH, fleshing out the tunes with acoustic guitars and mellow beats. I ain't shittin' you. Obviously, the backlash to such a departure was brutal, causing the band to break up for two years while Graffin pursued higher education. The band, although still reluctant to recognize its existance, have nevertheless defended the album over the years by saying "what could be more punk – at the time – than to put out space folk?" I was hoping that the time had finally come for Into the Unknown to see re-release... alas, hopes dashed yet again. At least I still have my $30 CDR copy off of eBay.
Four years after the "reunion" EP Back to the Known, the How Could Hell Be Any Worse? line-up would come full-circle (with fifth member Greg Hetson added) to release the monumental Suffer. American hardcore, punk rock, and melodic sensibilities would never be the same again. In retrospect, this first full-length from the then-teenagers seems both microscopic compared to what the band would later achieve and larger-than-life in terms of being a springboard. Either way, it gave the world Bad Religion, and the moment/era it captured will remain vibrant for all time.
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