As a young punk band in Cleveland, The Dark greatly admired those who broke ground for the genre in the Forest City. “Growing up, you heard about the electric eels, Mirrors, Pagans, and The Dead Boys. So, as young kids, we looked up to them,” says their vocalist Tommy Eakin. “But then the hardcore thing came along and we started discovering bands like the Necros and Black Flag. It spoke to us more because it was high-energy and in-your-face.” Inspired by the aggressive roar and independent spirit of the still-developing music scene, The Dark shifted gears to become the harbingers for hardcore punk in Cleveland at the dawn of the 1980s, despite being in their early teens and having no releases during their lifetime. Over 40 years since their formation, the band is finally putting out Dressing The Corpse, a collection spanning their first four-track demos from 1981 to their final recording session in 1984.
Beginning life as The Decapitators in 1979, the band changed their moniker to The Dark in the fall of 1981—just around the time Pagans vocalist Mike Hudson became their manager. Hudson produced their Sabbath-like dirge “I Can Wait” for the legendary and now highly-collectable compilation he released in 1982, Cleveland Confidential. “Mike got us gigs and put us in motion, but then we heard about a scene going on in Akron” says Eakin. “We wanted to go down there and explore what they were doing.”
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What Eakin and the rest of the band discovered was a fully functioning, close-knit, youth-empowering hardcore punk scene complete with a night called Club Hell and bands such as the ultra-primitive 0DFX (pronounced Zero Defects). “Then, through record collecting, we found about Negative Approach and Minor Threat and started to play faster, but at the same time we were discovering hardcore, we also liked the death rock scene in L.A. that had Christian Death and 45 Grave,” Eakin says.
The combination of these influences made The Dark stand out from the many bands popping up playing blurry, rapid-fire thrash. On Dressing The Corpse, David Araca’s sinuous drumming and Robert Griffin’s wiry guitar work fuse together on “Fire In The Church” and “Screeching Metal” to display the creative advantages the band had over most of their peers. Another intriguing element was Eakin’s evocative lyrics, informed by his childhood consumption of Saturday morning cartoons, roller derby, and horror movie matinees. “That’s probably why I was attracted to bands like 45 Grave and The Misfits. It all seemed larger-than-life and cool,” he says.
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As hardcore began to build itself up around the country, Eakin and the band hatched a plan to get more eyes and ears on the northeast Ohio scene. “There were all these great compilation albums documenting other parts of the country like Flex Your Head and This Is Boston, Not L.A, so I thought we should do one to establish our scene,” Eakin says. The compilation Eakin assembled, titled The New Hope, brought together bands from both Cleveland and Akron, but by the time of its release in 1983, it was a case of too little, too late.
“For me, everything we did led up to the release of The New Hope,” says Eakin. “But by the time it came out, The Dark, The Guns, The Offbeats, and Spike In Vain were the only bands on it that were still together.” By the following year, other bands who formed at the advent of hardcore began to splinter due to the musical rigidity as well as violence breaking out at shows, and The Dark were no exception. “Robert [Griffin, guitarist] decided he’d had enough and told me he was quitting at a D.R.I. show,” Eakin says. “It felt like the end of the world and I wondered what I was going to do.” Although he was crushed by Griffin’s decision, his commitment to the underground never faltered—he went on to start the band Knifedance in the late ‘80s, ran the label Red Hour Records, and is currently in Black Static Eye.
In a curious twist of fate, The Dark committed their entire repertoire to tape in February of 1984 prior to Griffin’s resignation from The Island studio on a session that takes up half of Dressing The Corpse. “When you think about the time and the fact we were kids going to school and working jobs, it’s amazing this stuff even got recorded,” says an excited Eakin. Hopefully, with the release of Dressing The Corpse, light will be shed on one of the forgotten bands and scenes from this important time in American punk.