DB HOF NO. 105
The making of Bad Religion’s “Suffer”
If Bad Religion had never made another record after 1983’s sophomore prog experiment Into the Unknown, it’s doubtful those familiar with the band at the time would have been surprised. They might not have even cared. After all, anyone taken by tracks like “Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell” and “We’re Only Gonna Die” from the Los Angelenos’ 1982 debut full-length How Could Hell Be Any Worse? was probably unprepared for the keyboard-heavy and comparatively slow-footed effort that followed. Regardless of whether Into the Unknown was just ahead of its time, a perilous misstep or somewhere in between (check it out if you haven’t), the group found itself in a purgatory of sorts for the next four years. Members came and went. Periods of dormancy ensued. Punk rock in Southern California withered away.
In 1987, however, once Bad Religion’s lineup—consisting of vocalist Greg Graffin, bassist Jay Bentley, drummer Pete Finestone, and guitarists Brett Gurewitz and Greg Hetson—solidified again, that state of limbo subsided. New material for the band to practice at Uncle, a rehearsal space in the San Fernando Valley, poured in from Graffin and Gurewitz, and the newly minted quintet quickly found themselves at the latter’s Westbeach Recorders to lay down what became Suffer. The resulting 15 tracks—comprising a succinct, filler-free 26-minute barrage of blistering punk anthems—exhibited thought-provoking lyrics and a knack for writing songs that seamlessly blended ferocity and melody wrapped in Gurewitz’s top-notch production.
Suffer may not have been an immediate success in terms of sales, but the record has been a pillar of punk long before our Hall of Fame’s doors opened to welcome it. In that sense, the obvious story is how one of the best albums of its genre—and one of Decibel’s all-time favorites—came to be. But Suffer is also the tale of how a group of friends got back together to make music again and, as Hetson likes to say, just have some “after-school fun.” Sure, the band has gone on to release another 13 records, but arguably none of those—as well as music by countless others—would have been possible without Suffer.
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