Code of Honor – Beware The Savage Jaw (Subterranean Records) 1984. Code of Honor hold a place of reverence with many a HC fan from the 1980′s, including myself. Growing out of the ashes of numerous Bay Area punk bands including Sick Pleasure, The Tools, and Society Dog, CoH took everything a step further. Their allegiance with the skating scene (as represented by the photos on their first two releases), the intense musicianship of all three players and the theatrics of frontman Johnithin Christ all merged to create an archetype that is still contemporary today.
Code Of Honor were musically light years ahead of anyone else. They had this extremely choppy avant-punk sound. Dave Chavez and Sal Paradise were an unbeatable rhythm section and they could break from lightning fast hardcore to skronked out jazz-noise on the drop of a dime. Over the top of this you had Mike Fox’s unbelievably trebled out guitar going from standard chord progressions to squalling noise and back like Greg Ginn minus the low end.
By Beware The Savage Jaw, CoH were really bursting out of the confines of hardcore and exploring new territory. Sometimes this works and sometimes this doesn’t. A lot of it hinges on how much you can tolerate Johnithin Christ’s lyrics and vocal style. I always had a hard time with them because they are very didactic. You have to understand that I think “Ack Ack Ack”, represents the height of rock lyricism, so I am a bit of a lyrical minimalist.
There are songs on here that cannot musically be considered traditional hardcore by any extension of the term and this caused Beware The Savage Jaw to be roundly dismissed by the knucklehead hardcore scene of 1984. Because of this, a lot of people (myself included) came to the defence of this album. After all, it is a legitimate attempt to stretch the boundaries of punk/hardcore and more to the point, knuckleheads are fucking stupid. I remember at least one instance of me taping this for friends of mine and being called a ‘faggot’ for liking it.
Looking at it now, my reaction to Beware The Savage Jaw lies somewhere between the two extremes. I admire this album for what it tries to do. But sometimes it just falls flat on its face. Honestly, it works best when it sticks to the Code of Honor sound from previous releases. “The Ballad Of One-Eyed Jack and the Backhand Kid”, “Too Much For One Man”, “Don’t Tell Me” and “Beware the Savage Jaw” are the standouts. “I Killed the Dove” is killer and sounds like Johnithin Christ’s previous band Society Dog. “This Day” slows it down and adds a wah-wah guitar acid-rock feel that is successful. The rest of the tracks really hinge on how much you can tolerate the lyrics and vocals.
Today, I would probably rather listen to Mike Fox’s first band The Tools or the Code of Honor / Sick Pleasure split from 1982 than this. But back in the day I got in quite a few arguments defending this album and I still am impressed with what it is trying to do and what it, at certain moments, achieves.
Code of Honor – Beware The Savage Jaw
Beware the Savage Jaw
I Killed the Dove
The Ballad of One-Eyed Jack and the Backhand Kid
Too Much for One Man
Not If I Can Help It
House of Others
Don’t Tell Me
No Room to Cry
Beware the Savage Jaw (reprise)
Postscript: I originally posted this in January of 2007. Johnithin Christ passed away on March 5, 2009 due to complications of pneumonia. He had successfully survived a brain tumour but the chemotherapy and steroids depleted his immune system. He will be missed by daughters Reid and Megan and son Ian, sisters Susan, Cindy, and Pam, girlfriend Linda, and best friend Vince as well as many in the music industry who followed his style of music.