By the mid 1980s, many of hardcore’s old guard were outgrowing their three chord attack.  A lot of bands found a new identity in the commercially viable crossover of thrash and speed metal.  Others infused the confrontational intensity of hardcore with heavy as fuck riffs that were more Tony Iommi than Tony Roberts.  Black Flag got into it with their My War album and challenged punks to grow out their hair and play slower and heavier.  A band from Orange County called Virulence were one of many who fired up the bong and answered the call.

The earliest Virulence demos are standard issue Southern California hardcore of the day — speedy, quick-fingered blasts about cops and such — but their later material was rife with meaty riffs, tempo shifts and songs that grew into dark and complex arrangements.

Virulence – “Empty Head” (live)

Virulence – “Blank Stare”

If This Isn’t a Dream…1985 – 1989 compiles everything Virulence recorded in their short lifespan — two demo tapes, a couple live tracks, and the band’s all but unavailable LP If This Isn’t a Dream. By 1990, Virulence were incorporating more that sweet, stony ’70s groove into their sound,  vocalist Ken Pucci left the band and the rest carried on as rock juggernaut Fu Manchu.

The people at Southern Lord have done a beautiful job of putting together this archival release.  This one disc holds a whole lot of music and history.  The liner notes are great with loads of cool little stories that reflect the time — skateboarding, getting high, throwing rehearsal parties when mom and dad are out, and getting your demo reviewed favorably in Maximum Rock and Roll.

Once upon a time there were hundreds of bands like Virulence — bands who recorded a couple demos on a Tascam four-track, some vinyl, maybe managed to pull off a tour before the drummer or bassist left for college or the guitarist moved away or it just stopped being fun.  The difference is Virulence were good — fucking great, even.  In the late 1980s, they could have been my favorite band.

This could have been my board, but I rode Powell Peralta back then

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Ben Wiser

Test of the Boomerang is an in-depth exploration of some of the best material found on the Live Music Archive.

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