Ruin, the Philadelphia hard-core punk quintet - whose tonic tones and Buddhist semantics blasted forth against the nihilism that hard-core's image usually connotes - is back.
This weekend, Ruin will offer a rare, live celebration of its incendiary albums of original songs - 1984's He-Ho and 1986's Fiat Lux (and Leonard Cohen covers such as "Famous Blue Raincoat," oddly enough) - at the Barbary. Those two out-of-print albums also will be rereleased, combined into one vinyl package.
Vosco Thomas Adams; Damon Wallis and his brother, Glenn; Cody Swope; and Rich Hutchins ended Ruin in 1987 and have had but two reunion shows since. Yet, rather than the history of a band's demise, singer Adams sees it as a circle of starts.
"That's a beautiful analogy. Apparently, it's an open circle, as a closed circle suggests perfection, and Ruin is more aligned with imperfection as embraced in wabi-sabi aesthetics," he says, referring to the Japanese art philosophy that values transience and imperfection.
Guitarist Glenn Wallis says a circle is never-ending, and Ruin's new beginnings feel like continuations. "Like the unnamable one in Beckett's Unnamable, we can't go on; we go on."
Adds drummer Hutchins, "It feels more like seasons."
And, yes, Wallis says band members have been individually recording songs and uploading them to a storage file for "another strange album in us."
Whether drawing inspiration from musicians (Cohen, John Cage), gods, or monsters, Ruin's common denominator of influence was and is "a passion, an obsession that transcended what was being created within the moribund status quo. ... We didn't do this for an ego boost," bassist Swope says.
Ruin was born into the terse machismo of Philly's hard-core punk scene of the early 1980s ("those fast blasts of yang energy," says Adams). A focused, monochromatic, and unadorned approach was appealing to the band members.
"It was the folk scene of its time, conducive for bands with an agenda," says Adams. "We allowed it to inform our musical development rather than contributing to its homogenization."
Sure, Ruin had ferocious thrash beats, brawny muscular rhythms, jet-fueled tempos, impassioned vocals, and a general proclivity toward mayhem and destruction. "But as a value to live by, we did not buy into machismo, did not buy into most of the defining values of the 1980s Hardcore Pact," says Wallis. "They just weren't our personal values."
By being more exploratory in sound and word (nuanced chord passages, exquisitely complex time changes, holy-rolling lyricism), Ruin guided its audience against conforming to macho hard-core's rigidity. "I've been told by more than a few Ruin fans that our ugly, loud rock music, combined with this exploratory aspect, liberated them."
That sense of liberation was furthered by Ruin's lyrics and the shared Buddhist beliefs of Wallis and Adams. Wallis started the band with an eye on his belief system, which he expressed in his lyrics. Adams joined in 1981 and took over the writing. "Initially, it was my job to sing Glenn's lyrics with some latitude in how I sang, but, eventually, I took on the lyrics and vocals independently, with contributions from Glenn and the other fellas," says Adams.
Wallis adds: "I preferred Vosco's style to mine mainly because, whereas my lyrics tended to be abstract and a bit abstruse, Vosco's were direct, honest, and connected to real life."
There could still be nihilism and rage in Ruin's work, with the singer bringing himself and the audience to an often-violent epiphany. Yet "trying to find peace within chaos was always a worthy goal," Hutchins says, one that allowed Ruin to explore "peacepassionpower in a world that is constantly diminishing the human."