Glorious Din don’t deserve to be forgotten.
If you wanted to be reductive, you could argue that punk and post-punk are genres with a small group of pioneer artists and a much larger group of imitators. And, yes, there are a lot of bands that fit the classification of kids just pretending to be the Sex Pistols or Joy Division or what have you. It’s that attitude–combined with the scarcity if indie-label punk in the 1980s–that led to San Francisco’s Glorious Din being forgotten after their brief career came to a conclusion. Yet, when revisiting their two LPs Leading Stolen Horses and Closely Watched Trains, both of which have been recently reissued on vinyl through Onderstroom Records, one gets the impression that this was quite a bit more than a band of imitators.
The story of Glorious Din is essentially the story of Eric Cope, its enigmatic lead singer and primary creative force. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Cope faced a lifetime of hardships (and some time in jail) before making his way to America. A music obsessive, Cope’s love of punk and post-punk was so all-consuming that his first child was named Ian after Ian Curtis. That love of Joy Division most especially comes across on Leading Stolen Horses, the first album Cope made with Glorious Din after a few aborted attempts at breaking into the west coast hardcore scene. Cope’s voice is initially the most distinct aspect of Leading Stolen Horses; it at times sounds like Curtis himself is fronting the band from beyond the grave. However, Cope’s lyrics are more rudimentary than those of his hero, relying more on repetition than verbosity to get his points across. What is different about Leading Stolen Horses is its rhythms, which feel more tribal than punk. Similarly, the bass is distinct in how full it sounds, creating an ominous feeling on songs like “Arrival.” While it’s still very much indebted to Cope’s heroes, Leading Stolen Horses hints at Glorious Din having a few ideas of their own to be placed alongside well-trodden punk and goth themes.
However, Closely Watched Trains is the real leap forward for the band and easily the best of their two albums. Whereas the previous record focused on deep, primal rhythms, Trains is very much a guitar record, with Cope’s voice and Jay Paget’s guitar becoming the focus. Trains is very much a studio record; the band try all sorts of interesting and unconventional arrangements that seem impossible to recreate in a live setting. Musically, it hews closer to folk than punk, with even the band’s more familiar-sounding efforts sounding closer to R.E.M. than Killing Joke. In fact, the best way to view Closely Watched Trains is as the sinister evil twin to R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction; both are fascinated with folklore, history and the way the two fade into each other, even as Cope’s experiences are markedly different from those of Michael Stipe. Still, for all of his lyrical and musical murkiness, Closely Watched Trains is an utterly fascinating listen, uncovering new directions that the band could have explored had they held together longer.
By the time Closely Watched Trains came out, Glorious Din was no more. Each of its members went on to other musical ventures, and Cope ended up returning to his native Sri Lanka to become a political activist. By all accounts, the members of Glorious Din have moved on from the music they made in their short time together, and it’s unlikely that anyone would hold either of these records up as lost masterpieces. Still, Glorious Din don’t deserve to be forgotten. These records present a take on goth and post-punk that rises above mere imitation and into something far greater.