Almost immediately after the legendary punk/hardcore band Black Flag called it quits in 1987, lead singer Henry Rollins issued his first solo releases, Hot Animal Machine and Drive By Shootings (the latter an EP credited to Henrieta Collins and the Wifebeating Childhaters), featuring longtime friend Chris Haskett on guitar, bassist Bernie Wandel, and drummer Mick Green. But Rollins missed being part of a true band, hence the formation of the Rollins Band. Similar in style to the Flag’s latter direction (Sabbath-esque riff-heavy hardcore metal), the Rollins Band enlisted ex-Gone members Sim Cain (drums) and Andrew Weiss (bass), while Haskett remained onboard. The group quickly made a name for themselves with their explosive concerts and nonstop touring, as soundman Theo Van Rock signed on as well (Rock’s contributions were so great that he was often credited as a fifth member of the band).
A steady stream of releases followed: 1988’s Life Time (produced by Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye), 1989’s Do It and Hard Volume, as well as the 1990 live set Turned On. 1990 also saw the release of Fast Food for Thought, a one-off experimental side project by Rollins and Weiss, dubbed Wartime. But the Rollins Band caught their big break when Perry Farrell invited them to join his inaugural Lollapalooza festival tour in the summer of 1991 (which also included such acts as Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, Ice T, Siouxse & the Banshees, and headlined Jane’s Addiction). Opening up the day’s multi-band concert proved to be quite a challenge — playing in the baking early afternoon heat while concert-goers were still arriving — but the thousands who had never even heard of the Rollins Band were now well aware of the group’s gripping, thought-provoking heavy rock. The buzz on the band was growing and their next release, 1992’s The End of Silence (their first for Imago Records), proved to be their best selling album thus far, spawning such popular MTV videos as “Low Self Opinion” and “Tearing,” while Henry Rollins began appearing regularly on the network as a guest VJ or on specialty programs.
Weiss left the band after the tour in support of End of Silence wrapped up (later turning up on releases by the Butthole Surfers, Helios Creed, Yoko Ono, Pigface, and Ween) and was replaced by New York City funk bassist Melvin Gibbs, recommended by Living Colour’s Vernon Reid. The Rollins Band’s 1994 release Weight proved to be the biggest hit of their career, due to MTV’s heavy rotation of the striking Anton Corbijn-directed clip for “Liar” (which saw Rollins wearing different costumes and, at several points, covered from head to toe in red paint). A memorable appearance at Woodstock ’94 followed shortly thereafter as the band continued their relentless touring schedule. 1997 saw the release of the band’s debut for the massive DreamWorks label, Come in and Burn, but stagnation began setting in and Rollins dismissed his bandmates shortly after the conclusion of its supporting tour. Haskett later played on David Bowie’s Hours, as well as continuing a solo career, while the others showed up on other artists’ records as well. The stopgap live set, Live in Australia 1990, was issued in 1999 as Henry Rollins assembled a whole new Rollins Band lineup, consisting of L.A. rockers Mother Superior. 2000’s Get Some Go Again was the new lineup’s first album together.
DO IT (1988): Leave it to good ol’ Hank to make the second Rollins Band album a collection of studio outtakes and live tracks. This is not an attempt to make a quick buck, however. Rollins has always believed in giving the people the most for their money. And this is no exception. The first three tracks are covers which were outtakes from the Life Time sessions, and the last 12 are tracks from a live show in Europe in 1987. This album may not be necessary for the casual fan, but for the devotee of Hank, it is one of the best albums his band has put out.
DO IT by ROLLINS BAND
LIFETIME (1988): When Henry Rollins emerged from the breakup of Black Flag, many thought he couldn’t be successful without guitarist Greg Ginn. If nothing else, Life Time proves the detractors wrong. With Ian MacKaye of Fugazi in the production chair, Rollins Band was able to distance themselves from Black Flag with a tight, visceral, and sometimes bluesy album. While more abrasive than later Rollins Band releases, this is worth picking up to better understand the progression of Rollins Band’s unique style of emotional funk metal. Remastered and re-released in 1999, the CD has a better sound, but it sacrifices the live tracks (which appear on the original Texas Hotel CD release). The outtakes from the Life Time sessions, however — “Do It,” “Move Right In,” and “Nest Time,” originally released as the album Do It in 1988 — are included.
WRECK-AGE by ROLLINS BAND
HARD VOLUME (1989): A vastly looser affair than their debut album, Hard Volume is the first glimpse of what Rollins Band would become with 1992’s The End of Silence. The songs here are based more on the groove than they are on Life Time. The opener, “Hard,” may seem a little over the top lyrically, but it has a swagger unmatched in the Rollins Band’s catalog. This is also the first Rollins release to showcase both a more atmospheric approach (“Love Song”), and the Andrew Weiss bass sound that was made famous on End of Silence. The 1999 Buddha re-release features clearer sound (Rollins remastered the reissues himself) and outtakes and demos from the sessions, making it a great buy for enthusiasts and a solid choice for casual fans as well.
WHAT HAVE I GOT by ROLLINS BAND
THE END OF SILENCE (1992): With the exception of 1989’s Hard Volume, Henry Rollins’ solo profile had been relegated to the minor leagues following his departure from neo-punk stalwarts Black Flag. But with the 1992 release of The End of Silence, Rollins’ first official effort for the burgeoning Imago label, everything changed, partly because The End of Silence was launched with the appropriate bells and whistles normally reserved for well-established acts. Rollins Band was paired with Andy Wallace, an established producer capable of bringing the Rollins vision to fruition, who intuitively placed the singer’s voice at the forefront of the album’s incendiary mix. The dead-on, ultra-separated, compact sound of The End of Silence went a long way toward broadening the singer’s potential audience. Not only is the record a full-blown sonic assault, delivered with typical, deadpan Rollins honesty, it delivered in the songwriting department as well, making it the singer’s most focused record to date. The first single, “Low Self Opinion,” was bludgeoning and menacing, Rollins’ visceral, introspective commentary taking no prisoners. On other songs like “Grip” and “What Do You Do” (which clocked in at just under seven and a half minutes), the singer furthered a vision that launched a hundred imitators. “Tearing,” the record’s excellent second single, was also a boon for the vocalist, benefiting from some substantial airtime on MTV Headbanger’s Ball; it further cemented Rollins’ profile with yet another audience: metalheads. Rollins released other solid records, but The End of Silence remains his best.
ALMOST REAL by ROLLINS BAND
WEIGHT (1994): On Weight, the Rollins Band is able to mix the musicians’ love for jazz with a blindingly direct hard rock assault, making a twisted form of metal-jazz. Henry Rollins’ lyrics have also begun to move away from his relentless self-examination, adding a touch of the self-effacing humor that distinguishes his spoken records. The new lyrical dimension adds depth to the band’s music, making Weight their most impressive album to date.
VOLUME 4 by ROLLINS BAND
COME IN AND BURN (1997): Vocalist, public speaker, and social critic Henry Rollins wouldn’t approve, but not everyone agreed with his decision to break up his band after the experimental 1997 Come in and Burn CD. Rollins has gone on record as saying that his mid-’90s unit of guitarist Chris Haskett, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer Sim Cain erred in not wanting to be a standard, hard-driving rock band like Rollins’ heroes MC5 and Black Sabbath. But in effect, Rollins broke up this open-minded band because of, rather than for lack of, brilliance on their best and final CD. Come In and Burn took the blueprint from 1994’s far-reaching Weight CD and went even further. After the metallic opener, “Shame,” the disc unveils 11 other tracks that serpentine between rock and funk, jazz/fusion, and metal. The single “Starve” featured an insistent, inside-out rhythmic pattern that showcased the strengths of both Gibbs and Cain. Haskett’s Wall of Sound guitar tone is muscular throughout Come In and Burn, yet the instrumentalists’ strong sense of whisper-to-a-scream dynamics is also on display. Somehow, despite Rollins’ powerful yet one-dimensional vocal yells, the musicians allowed Rollins Band to go beyond rock, ultimately earning them a pink slip before Rollins recorded his streamlined yet subpar 2000 CD, Get Some Go Again. Gibbs’ previous history on the New York avant-garde jazz scene might’ve made him a strange choice to join Rollins Band, yet his tones (underwater funk on “The End of Something”; distorted metal on “On My Way to the Cage”) and further involvement are what elevate this CD past Weight. The equally brilliant Cain alternately swings and rocks on separate sections of “During a City,” which segues into the calm intro (before the storm) of “Neon.” Most of Rollins’ strong political statements are saved for the final turn. “Inhale Exhale” features thought-provoking, philosophical lyrics (“Inhale — what I wanna be/Exhale — how I wanna be seen”) over Cain’s shuffling drum pattern; “Saying Goodbye Again” is an autobiographical tale of friends lost. But the closing track is even more ironic, ending the brief, two-CD career of this incarnation of Rollins Band, who also put on a dominating performance at Woodstock 1994. In the chorus to “Rejection,” Rollins bellows “You did me a favor when you left me behind.” He didn’t quite burn with this intensity after.