Thursday, February 24, 2011
Life Sentence Records: A Retrospective Look Back
"Go Ahead, Keep Smoking. I Want You To Die". This statement adorned the logo tshirts and hoodies of Life Sentence Records apparel. Recently, while on the Bridge 9 messageboard, a poster started a Life Sentence Records appreciation thread which quickly took off into a 4 or 5 page discussion about how great the label really was. I started thinking about truly awesome the xLSRx roster was and what an amazing track record they had so I decided to take a look back and invite you to look back with me.
In my opinion, very few labels (80s, 90s, 2000s, etc) have an amazing track record of releasing quality records like the one that Life Sentence put out. Sure there are some (Revelation, New Age, etc.) but hey this is about Life Sentence. I think the success of the label stems from a few things:
1. Dan Gump took chances AKA releasing records from Christian bands, something that many labels especially of the era did not do. Generally if you saw a label release a Christian band, the label itself was a Christian label. While many frowned upon religion in hardcore, stating it had/has no place, xLSRx apparently didn't care and released killer records from both Overcome and Focal Point.
2. They were through and through a straight edge label. Let's face it, in the 90s straight edge was a very big deal. Kids ran straight edge labels, they had straight edge tshirt lines, Devils Head even had a comic book in which a good portion of was about straight edge. Dan Gump took the more militant side of straight edge and pushed it hard, releasing records from some of the most militant (Excessive Force, Unconquered) bands of the day and reaching a pretty wide audience.
3. Dan Gump wasn't afraid to take a chance on a non-US band. Many people probably got their first taste of Japanese hardcore legends Statecraft through their release on xLSRx. While this was one of the only foreign bands the label released, it showed that he wasn't afraid to take a chance on a band most people had never heard of in the US and release something that he enjoyed.
I'm not going to try and claim that I know the whole story of the label but what I do know is the labels releases speak for themselves. Sure, some of the releases haven't stood the test of time but if you were around at the time when the label was operational, you can still look back and say "damn that was a solid record". Its rare that a label puts a string of solid releases consecutively. The labels first release was also the band that Dan sang for, Excessive Force (or Xessive ForceX as they were called at the time). At the time, the band and label was based in Southern California which leads to the second release from Dead Wait. Again a solid release, though the layout isn't really anything to preach to your friends about. The third release is the Excessive Force full length, "In Your Blood". This is where things really started to take off. Beautiful full color layout and a decent (not great) recording. The first song, "Those Who Were", starts off with the now classic lines, "You said you'd always be true. But you're a weak motherfucker and you never had it in you". The record was co-released with Terminus Records from Colorado who also had their own straight edge scene (Painstake anyone?) going on at the time. To the best of my knowledge, E Force never recorded anything else after this record which is unfortunate (or fortunate for some) and is their final statement. It seems like this was the point where the label shifted from a hobby to something much more.
After this, the label released 7 inches from Torn Apart, Overcome, Focal Point, xClearx and Lifeless continuing to cement their place as a great label. The Lifeless 7 inch is often thought of as the best thing the label released and has become a much sought after record for record collectors. With the release of Aftershock "Letters", the label became an almost exclusively CD release label with xClearx being the only record released on both vinyl and CD. The label next went on to release the debut EP from Unconquered "You Say Moderation, I Scream Prohibition" again upping the ante on straight edge militance with lyrics such as "I'll show you suffering, Ill show you pain. Your poisons will never inherit my veins". This CD only release also is highly sought after in its original format as copies on Ebay tend to go for about $30-$40 on the average. Again, while the music may not hold up for some (it sure holds up for me), it is a great glimpse into the sound of the time.
xLSRx is also notable for launching the career of Eighteen Visions who released their first record, "Lifeless", through the label. The band had much more of a hardline, militant stand then they did later on and its great to see how the band evolved over time from this, their humble beginnings, to what they would become. Again, the recording a little rough but still worth going back and checking out. This is one of the few releases you can still pick up with much searching. Dan Gump would also start a new project called Decontaminate and release an EP as well as a split 7 inch with France's Absone before disbanding. The label would go on to release records for Grimlock (another fan favorite), Triphammer and others.
Right around here is where my knowledge of the label ends. The label would go on to release more records until about 2005 but I really don't know much about them to be quite honest. As I stated earlier, I'm not claiming to know everything about the label but I just hope that this brings back memories of a once great label that many people still hold onto. I've made attempts to reach out to Dan Gump to interview him and to see what he's been up to but I have yet to receive a reply. Perhaps he'll see this and get back to me. If that happens, Ill have a post for people to leave questions to ask him. Feel free to leave comments about your memories of Life Sentence Records.