Code of Honor – Beware The Savage Jaw

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
Waiting Always
No Room to Cry
This Day
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.

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11 Responses to Code of Honor – Beware The Savage Jaw

  1. malfeitor says:

    What can I say, I loved this LP from beginning to end when it came out and still do. Sometimes I think I’m the only one. If you recall the days of the “Faster and Louder” broadcast from beautiful FloValley Community College I believe the host called it one of his favorites that year, so I guess there’s two of us. I think our neighborhoods where the only ones within broadcast range though so no one else probably even listened to that show.

  2. Joe Stumble says:

    Dude — I was gonna mention Faster and Louder but I figured you were the only other guy out there that would remember it. They used to play “I Killed The Dove” religiously along with “Abolish Government” by TSOL and “Everything Turns Grey” by Agent Orange. I can’t say I still love it from beginning to end but its standout tracks are equal to anything else they did.

  3. monadjudant69 says:

    hey dudes !I bought this at Rough Trade, London, summer 85 , & i just loooved that stuff from beginning to end ,it’s one of those cult records from then that no-one knew & that sounded so great,like Ism or Hypnotics records.Bet how many people in France evr heard that ?!Always had fondness for those later Verbal Abuse shows,looking at Dave Chavez & thinkin COH !

  4. Anonymous says:

    Never had any inclination to buy this back in the day and left it to gather dust in the used bins many times. Hearing it for the first time now its not so bad with a couple good songs but I always had a hard time with the vocals and and especially the lyrics of this band. All “knuckleheads” aside, I’ve always felt a band should change their name if they are going to branch out in a different direction and, in retrospect, a lot of bands who attempted what COH did would have been better off sticking to formula simply for the sake of their legacy.

  5. Joe Stumble says:

    Well said and I could not agree more!

  6. OTTO says:

    Loved it when it came out… played the crap out of it on my radio show… now, I find at least half of it very hard to listen to. They’re just so damned earnest… about everything. Snotty, ‘I don’t give a fuck’ punk rock has aged so much better.

  7. Joe Stumble says:

    I agree about the earnestness. I think that Code Of Honor’s saving grace is thier musicianship. Sometimes the earnestness is kinda campy but other times its just painful.

  8. Chuck Foster says:

    Aw, man. That’s really sad. I only finally got to hear CoH recently, at the end of last year. I remember reading about them in Hardcore California and thinking they sounded like they’d be really good. Unfortunately, their music evaded me until I found it on blogs in December and I thought they were great, like SF’s answer to Black Flag.

    I’m gonna blast some CoH tonight!

  9. Jeff H. says:

    That’s unfortunate…the SF scene has too few survivors. At least his bands are still remembered (and rightly so). He possessed one of the best snotty California accents ever.

  10. alleywaykid says:

    Years ago I found beware the savage jaw in a St. Vincent dollar bin. Quite a revelation at the time.

  11. Al Pist says:

    I’ve been defending “Beware The Savage Jaw” since it came out, too! That album, along with the Dead Kennedy’s, Flipper and False Prophets really opened my mind to a world of hardcore and punk that didn’t fit neatly into the prescribed package. Yeah, that album’s not perfect, but they took some chances and that’s what it’s all about: Saying “Fuck it” and following your own rules even when your scene doesn’t approve. Though I really love so many 3-chord punk bands, Code of Honor always gives me a more interesting listen…and yeah, I actually have a “Beware” cover tattoo that many HC purists bust my ass about all the time!

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