In the summer of 1991, New Jersey hardcore instigators Born Against and Rorschach joined forces for an eight-week cross-country tour that reeked of the same hard living and DIY idealism that both bands nourished back home at ABC No Rio, their semi-famous Lower East Side haunt. Over two months of $5 shows and furtive nights spent bunking on various strangers’ floors, the tour brought together countless like-minded bands, fanzine editors, and straight-up fans, all bound together by their love of crazy-ass music made for expression, not profit. Both bands returned home in September having found success, in some twisted way.
But the six-week U.S. tour that Rorschach took on themselves two summers later didn’t share that sense of triumph. Estranged from their buds in Born Against, they’d also discovered rifts within the band itself: “It got to the point where we were asking ourselves, ‘Do we want to play the Ritz, or keep playing in kids’ basements?’ ” remembers guitarist Nick Forte. “Neither seemed like a great option.” Oh, and also: “The simple fact that many of us fucking hated each other wasn’t helping the situation, either.” Their final show happened at a pizza parlor in Kent, Ohio, to a grand total of 20 people, followed by a deathly quiet van ride home. After four years, two LPs, one seven-inch EP, and several compilation spots, the bands called it quits, having left a huge impact on hardcore.
In the wasteland of the compartmentalized ’90s scene, Rorschach provided an antidote. Fusing their metalhead-turned-hardcore-kid talents with bleak, socially conscious lyrics, the band stumbled upon something truly unique: a thinking man’s version of crossover thrash, minus the puffy, white high-tops and synchronized headbanging. Very few could measure up to their ideal at the time; it took a few years after their dissolution before a crop of bands were able to replicate that precision-fueled, yet ugly, sound. Rest assured, if a band has more than three words in their name and wear all black, they owe something to these guys.
Now, 16 years after their fallout, they’ve reconvened for a string of East Coast reunion shows. Suspicion naturally arises when old punk dudes bust out their beyond-dormant band again, especially when that band was as outspokenly idealistic as Rorschach, who once embarrassingly participated in a radio debate against Sick of It All on the issue of “Hardcore Values.” But check the message boards: Rorschach seem to be in the clear with the virtual-punker community.
“I think everybody knows this isn’t a stepping stone to a support slot on the next Korn tour,” says vocalist Charles Maggio. “I had many issues about doing this, since I’m the first guy to pooh-pooh when a band reforms, but there’s nothing to pooh-pooh in this situation. The timing just feels right, we want to do it, and I think people know we wouldn’t if we didn’t want to.”
The earnest tone in Charles’s husky voice seems sincere, but what about re-channeling that youthful rage? Isn’t that going to be rough for these guys in their late thirties? “For better or for worse, I have not mellowed with age,” retorts Forte. “Rorschach wasn’t kid-angst music. We dealt with the totality of emptiness in the modern era. As far as having anger and the types of emotions that Rorschach conveys, I’d have to say I have them more now than I did back then.”
OK, but what about the overall sonics? Is the band spry enough in their middle age to roar the way they used to in those days of sleeping bags and vegan gruel? Just trust them. “I’m bringing nose plugs to the gigs,” deadpans Nick. “The smell of shit in all those pants will be overwhelming.”
Rorschach play Santos’ Party House September 25 with Celebrity Murders and the Degenerics