Bad Religion’s 1988 album ‘Suffer’ is technically their second comeback record, despite being released so early in their career. Up until that point the band had released two albums: the angst-ridden ‘How Could Hell Be Any Worse?’ in 1982 and their synth heavy take on progressive rock ‘Into The Unknown’ in 1983. The latter album baffled the punk scene and left Bad Religion struggling to pick up the pieces. To make matters worse guitar player Brett Gurewitz was battling with a heroin addiction, and as a result, they disbanded in 1984.
When the decision was made to regroup, Greg Hetson of seminal punk band Circle Jerks was invited to fulfil the role of lead guitarist in Gurewitz’s absence. In an attempt to salvage the band’s reputation they recorded the astutely titled Back to the Known EP in 1985. Despite their return to punk, once again Bad Religion were no more.
Gurewitz cleaned himself up after a stint in rehab and in 1987 Bad Religion were reunited after now their second break up. Suffer was recorded over 10 days and showcases the band’s signature sound, extremely straightforward punk rock with buckets of melody, a direction that Bad Religion still thrive on almost three decades later.
Greg Graffin’s vocals may bear some similarity to Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness, but when backed up with the heavy driving guitars of Gurewitz and Hetson, Jay Bentley’s catchy bass lines and Pete Finestone’s no nonsense drumming, Graffin’s voice takes on a more authoritative role, spewing powerful rhetoric. Lyrically, Graffin confidently employs phrases that exhibit a verbal intellect which, up until then, contradicted punk’s erroneous reputation of being music for the empty-headed youth. Suffer’s second track, 1000 More Fools, shows Graffin spout lines like, “Phantasmal myriads of sane bucolic birth”. His use of language ushered in a new age of punk where bands wouldn’t need to dumb down their music for the purpose of being “punk”.
The band in 1987 and right, the cover art for 1988’s ‘Suffer’
Consequently, Suffer introduced a wave of daring punk acts who mixed articulate lyrical ideas with a smart sense of melody. Most notable of these bands were NOFX whose frontman Fat Mike has since paid tribute to Suffer citing it as “the record that changed everything”. The SoCal punk scene had evolved and Bad Religion were leading the way.
Bad Religion’s influence is based on more than just their music – they built a home for modern punk rock bands. In 1981, guitarist Brett Gurewitz founded Epitaph Records primarily as a means to release Bad Religion’s music and soon the roster grew to include acts like NOFX, the Vandals and the Offspring.
In terms of Bad Religion’s overall career, Suffer may be somewhat overshadowed by 1994 major label outing Stranger Than Fiction, the album that spawned the radio hit 21st Century Digital Boy. But Suffer’s impact on the punk scene can still be measured today through bands like NOFX, Pennywise and even Bad Religion themselves. Their careers have lasted thanks to a loyal fan base that has grown steadily over time. Punk rock musicians worldwide look up to Bad Religion and the band are regarded as royalty by their peers. Long may they reign.
Like Bad Religion? Then check out their best 10 tracks, as chosen by Funeral For A Friend frontman Matt Davies-Kreye…