Inspired by the hardcore explosion of the early '80s, Richmond, VA's Honor Role formed in 1983 as a run-of-the-mill punk trio but quickly grew into a distinctive quartet that twisted out bleak, inventive post-punk. Sadly, they never received recognition that equaled their wiry, inspired recordings.
Jelling around guitarist/vocalist Pen Rollings and drummer Steve Schick, the early lineup released a speedy, rather contrived nine-song 7" (It Bled Like a Stuck Pig) in early 1984. The band's breakthrough came later that year when Bob Schick (brother of Steve) joined the band as vocalist, allowing Rollings to devote his energies entirely to his increasingly unusual guitar patterns. With Jeremy Bunn in the bass slot, the band released their first mature work, the "Judgement Day"/"Anonymous Cave" 45, released in June of 1985 on Eskimo/No Core Records, the same local outfit that issued their first EP. Chip Jones replaced Bunn on bass shortly after, and the band played numerous East Coast shows, including opening for trailblazing acts like the Minutemen, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, and Ian Mackaye's post Minor Threat band, Embrace. The quartet recorded both the "Purgatory" 45 and their debut album The Pretty Song with noted Richmond producer John Morand. The songs revealed a band in full stride: songs like "Throwing Rocks," "My Place," and "Purgatory" were rooted by Schick's lyrics in hardcore, but his floating, twisting delivery, flung against the wire-mesh backdrop weaved by Rollings' spiky, entrancing guitar patters, were electrifying. The band changed drummers in late 1987, with Seth Harris taking over for Steve Schick. With an agreement from indie standard-bearer Homestead Records in hand, they proceeded to make their finest recordings. The clanging "Lives of the Saints No. 135 (Naked Wife)" was hair-raising invective and the album that followed, Rictus, chased personal demons down alleys that had rarely been explored, Rollings, in particular, playing a searing, technically tricking but emotionally jarring guitar.
By the time the band called it quits in late 1989, their influence was evident on several post-punk frontiers, not least of which was discernible in Washington, D.C., crusaders Fugazi, whom often invited Honor Role to share the stage with them. Schick went on to perform with Coral and Dynamic Truths while Rollings pioneered an overloaded, crushing instrumental sound with his bands Butterglove and Breadwinner. ~ Patrick Foster