In the late 90’s, Ensign was pretty much my favorite band. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that they were on Indecision Records from SoCal, and as a result, it felt like Ensign was playing shows around SoCal like every 3 months from 1997-2000 or so. They really did feel like a CA band just as much as they were a NJ band. Along with In My Eyes “The Difference Between”, Ensign’s “Direction Of Things To Come” was pretty much the first hardcore record I latched onto that was actually a part of my generation. I was super into my Minor Threat “Discography” CD and the Gorilla Biscuits “Start Today” CD, but I was just not feeling this metal stuff that a lot of my other friends were telling me was “hardcore”. I wasn’t being divisive or a dick about it…. At age 16 in 1996, I didn’t know what hardcore did or didn’t mean, but all I knew was people called GB and MT classic hardcore bands, and the metal stuff that people were showing me didn’t sound like GB and MT. Ensign and In My Eyes did, or at least it was close enough for me. I latched on hard, and really never let go, even to this day. For me, “Direction Of Things To Come” will always be one of my favorite records of all time. A lot of it is nostalgia, but a lot of it is legitimate – I really dig it, even now. That song “Hold” still gets me so pumped when I hear it. For some reason, Ensign never got the respect they deserved… They never had the same “cool factor” as Floorpunch, Ten Yard Fight, In My Eyes, Bane, or even Reach The Sky. That never mattered to me, I liked Ensign better than all of those bands, except for In My Eyes. That’s right, I said it – that means that I like Ensign wayyyy better than Floorpunch, and I still do! And it’s not even close for me. How bout them apples? haha. I think the other reason I always loved Ensign was because of my friend, Mike Stelle, who released the Carry On 7″ on Jitsu Records. He really loved Ensign too, and he was acquaintances with Tim Shaw, the Ensign vocalist. So whenever Ensign was out in CA playing all those shows in the late nineties, Mike would let me tag along to shows with him. Whenever he was hanging around at the show talking with Tim Shaw, Tim would always go out of his way to be really nice to me and talk with me about upcoming CA hardcore bands and stuff. He’d tell me cool stories about Sick Of It All tour and things like that – he was just really friendly to me. He didn’t seem “too busy” or “too cool” to be talking to some dumb young kid, and that made a big impression on a 17-19 year old me. I sometimes overheard him talking with Mike about possibly getting on Fat Wreck Chords (Ensign ended up on Nitro instead), and I actually always really respected him for that. He said he’d like to be able to do what Sick Of It All has done all these years – do something they love, spread the hardcore message, all while staying true to the things he believed in without the pressure that most major labels would put on bands to become big “rock bands” or something. He always seemed like he had his heart in the right place, and I took notice of that. I never have known Tim Shaw personally, so I can’t speak to any of that… Hopefully he’s a great guy, I wouldn’t really know one way or the other! But sometimes that stuff doesn’t matter, ya know? The thing that does matter, is the impact that it had on me to be true to myself, to be truthful in what I do and say, regardless of whether it’s “cool” or not. Obviously it wouldn’t have been “cool” in the hardcore community for Ensign to come out and say they wanted to be on Fat Wreck Chords. But I felt like Tim didn’t give a fuck, because he was comfortable that he was doing it for worthwhile reasons – to do something he loved and spread a message that was important to him. Ultimately, all that matters is that nearly 15 years later, I’m writing a blog entry about the importance of these conversations that I overheard… So I’d say that Tim and his band played a part in doing something important and worthwhile. They helped mold a kid’s perception of the world, who 15 years later, is still putting those lessons learned within the hardcore community into practice out in the real world.
Here’s a photo of me, Ryan Fredette (In Control), and Dave Weinberg (No Reply / The Suicide File) at an Ensign show at Skate Street in Ventura, CA around 1999. It looks like Tim Shaw is doing some sweet disco dance move straight out of Pulp Fiction or something, haha. I think No Reply and Fields Of Fire both played the show that night, along with Death By Stereo and probably one more band like Adamantium or Throwdown or one of the heavier Orange County bands. I love Ryan Fredette’s “Oxnard” embroidered hoodie, haha. He, Todd Jones, Pat Beltran (RIP), and some of the other guys used to always wear those.
Ensign – “Demo” cassette tapeThe original Ensign demo… You don’t see these every day! It’s got a funny mid 90’s hardcore vibe meets nu metal sound or something, haha. But wait, it gets weirder….
A little fun fact about Ensign: by the time they released their first record, they didn’t have any original members! Here’s proof. The original Ensign demo doesn’t have any of the members we all knew, not even Tim Shaw on vocals! I don’t know the whole story about how things developed, and/or how Tim Shaw came to sing for Ensign, but here’s the list of original members.
Ensign – “s/t” 7″The first Ensign 7″ was originally only pressed on grey vinyl out of 330, and 3,436 on black vinyl (100 with tour cover). Damn, that’s a lot of records… Things were so different back then. I can’t imagine a record label pressing that many hardcore 7″s all at once anymore. They eventually repressed it one time on colored vinyl – blue vinyl, out of 449. There were some rip-off covers made for both Ensign 7″s for their European Tour. The “s/t” 7″ got an Underdog rip-off cover, out of 100 copies. These were/are actually really hard to find. I remember I had to search for these things for years and years, and finally found a Euro dude who was willing to trade me both tour 7″s. I know Ensign records may not be the most expensive records out there, but I can pretty much guarantee you it’s still going to be a bitch to find these Euro Tour rip-off 7″ covers.
Ensign – “Fall From Grace” 7″I always thought the colored vinyl used for the “Fall From Grace” 7″ looked really cool with the layout. There were 106 on orange, 225 on white, 600 on green, 4,339 on black. Whew, again that is a lot of 7″ records pressed! 100 of the black vinyl got the Euro Tour cover, this time a Side By Side rip-off cover. As I said above, these are super hard to find, even today. It can also be hard to find a copy on orange vinyl since there’s only 106.
Here’s the back of the Side By Side rip-off cover, complete with Revelation Records + star rip-off logo. Even the PO Box in Huntington Beach is right on point, since Revelation and Indecision were both based out of HB. Hell, Dave Mandel who ran Indecision even worked at Revelation and used a lot of the same pressing plant resources, etc etc.
Ensign – “Direction Of Things To Come” LPAs I said up above, “Direction Of Things To Come” is one of my favorite hardcore records of all time… Seriously! I love this thing. This one had another huge run of vinyl – 515 on grey/blue vinyl, 3,403 on black vinyl, and 400 on purple vinyl with stamped labels for a European Tour. I always thought it was cool how the LP jacket color changed to match the vinyl color, from a blue/grey color to a more purple/grey color. I’m not totally sure if this was done on purpose, but it seems like it was. I also really like the blue/grey vinyl color and how it matches the layout – very unique and cool looking. Awesome, cool, sweet, dope record.
Ensign – “Cast The First Stone” LPThis was their first LP after they made the big move to Nitro Records. While not quite as good as “Direction”, don’t let anyone fool you – this thing is a good album, too! Anyone who talked shit was just following the “too cool” herd because it was on Nitro. This album was actually pretty hard to find on red vinyl, with it being on a larger punk label and all. I had to wait quite a while to find someone who would trade it to me, because I wasn’t able to get one directly when it first came out.
This album had a really nice 12×24″ poster insert, a la the Judge and Gorilla Biscuits LPs. The only weird thing is that it’s printed on thin brown newsprint type paper. Maybe they purposely did it for environmental/recycling reasons, which was a fairly common thing to do in the 90’s. If so, that’s cool and makes sense. But if not, I don’t know why they’d use such thin paper.
This is a cool Minor Threat rip-off shirt that I bought around this era. I remember buying it at a show at the Pickle Patch in Isla Vista / Santa Barbara, CA. The Pickle Patch was a venue run by this dude Steve Aoki out of his apartment while he was going to school at UCSB. It moved around quite a few times, as Steve moved in between school years (and/or because of cops shutting down shows?). These shows were wild. This particular location literally had kids diving off the small ass staircase inside a tiny 2 bedroom apartment, with the band playing in the kitchen and kids moshing in the living room. Kids were spilling out into the parking lot, and hanging out in front of all the other apartment’s doors. Seriously, Isla Vista is a crazy college party vibe all the time, and there is always so much wild shit going on, that it’s kind of “anything goes”. This was definitely one of those nights. I don’t think the cops ever showed up, despite over a hundred hardcore kids milling about this apartment complex parking lot, live music absolutely blaring, and kids stage diving off of stair cases in plain sight with doors wide open. I know that Ensign, Kill Your Idols, and Adamantium played the show, along with a local band, New Balance (haha). I don’t remember if there was a 5th+ band.
It was sold at a “Christmas 1997 show” at The Showcase Theatre in Corona, CA. I wasn’t there because that show happened before I moved to the Central Coast of CA for college in summer 1998. So, I bought this shirt off a friend a year or two later.
V/A – “Devil’s Night” Compilation 7″This is a live 7″, released on Devil’s Night Oct 30th, 1998 at The Showcase Theatre in Corona, CA with Ensign, Death By Stereo, Adamantium, Eyelid, and The Missing 23rd. The recording was from a show in July 1998. There were 1,000 pressed, all on this cool orange/black split halloween vinyl.
Ensign was featured on the cover of the “Growing Stronger” 7″ compilation, and recorded their classic song “Hold” for this comp. I’m really glad Ensign was included on this comp because this seems to be the one and only time that Ensign was properly included in the whole late-90’s-era-cool-revival-hardcore-band-crew. The “Growing Stronger” comp was basically the “Together comp of the late 90’s” for the Tri-State Area of PA/NJ/NY. It was released in 1997 by Teamwork Records and featured Floorpunch, Ensign, Rain On The Parade, 97a, Pushed Too Far, and Atari. I know more than one person who this comp affected kind of like a “gateway drug” into straightedge hardcore, haha. They somehow got their hands on it, and all of a sudden their eyes were opened to a whole slew of bands playing fast positive hardcore. Each 7″ came with a big fold out poster – the one depicted above features Floorpunch as the live photo. Another one of my copies has a Rain On The Parade poster. At one point I actually owned a test pressing of the Growing Stronger 7″, but I sold it last summer. I got such a sweet score on it!! I was lurking around eBay with a search of “test pressing”, and about 50 test pressings came up that all basically had the same description – “Unknown test pressing XX-XXX (catalog number)….”. I guess a pressing plant had gone out of business, and someone had gone through and listed all the old reference copies (test pressings) that the plant had kept around forever. Most people don’t know this, but even if a record label says there are 8 test pressings, there is most likely at least 9, because most pressing plants will always keep one test pressing on file at the plant, referred to as a “reference copy”. But whoever was listing them didn’t know much about these test pressings other than catalog numbers. So anyway, I scanned down the list and one caught my eye – it simply said something like “Unknown punk test pressing T-4”. I obviously couldn’t have known that “T” must stand for Teamwork Records, but I clicked on it and was able to identify the test pressing as a Growing Stronger comp test pressing due to the other matrix etchings that were listed in the auction description. I scored that test pressing for like $8!! What a score! So despite most Growing Stronger tests coming with a cover and a numbered dust sleeve out of 7, there is definitely an 8th copy, and I used to own it. In a related story, I picked up a Carry On – “Roll With The Punches” on Teamwork Records basically the exact same way, from that same eBay seller. It was always thought that there were only 7 of those, all with “Fuck California” covers, but I owned an 8th copy that did not have the Fuck Cali cover. Anyway, the first pressing of the Growing Stronger comp came with red lettering and had a bunch of versions with hand numbered dust sleeves – red vinyl #/57, clear vinyl #/150, and black vinyl #/300 (or maybe 350?). My black vinyl copy is not numbered, so maybe the remainder of the 1,000 pressed didn’t have numbers? I can’t remember the deal. The next pressing had blue lettering – white vinyl out of 200, and blue vinyl out of 300. There was probably black vinyl too but looks like I didn’t have one of those. The 3rd pressing has yellow lettering with black vinyl. I actually didn’t own a copy with yellow lettering, but when I was in the living room putting this picture together, my roomate Aaron Menesez came out and said I couldn’t do the pic without a yellow lettering copy! So he donated his copy for the pic! Aaron is the most 1997-2003 straight edge hardcore dude I know, and he’s not even straightedge! haha. This dude knows the lyrics to like every single 7″ of that era, from the obvious Floorpunch and Ten Yard fight, to Rancor and Atari, to obscure shit like the Set Straight 7″ on Looking Back Records in Ohio (Jeff Hess, whattup!). And he still loves all of this shit to this day – he gets so pumped any time one of us puts on one of that era’s hardcore records, no matter how big or small the band was. I think that fucking rules.
At the top is the big fold-out poster that came with some copies of the Growing Stronger comp. This one features Floorpunch as the band in the photo. On the bottom is the insert that was included with all pressings of this 7″.
Ensign / Good Riddance – “Split” 7″This is a really good split 7″, with a bunch of really bad artwork, haha. I always loved Good Riddance too, so this was an awesome 7″ to me. But the layouts just sucked. First, the covers weren’t done, so there’s this ugly limited cover of some gnarly mutilated dude’s face. Then the actual cover (middle) looks like a bad pop punk band’s CD on Hopeless Records or something. Then years later, the people who ran the record label found 90 copies on black vinyl laying around, so the “Ieper Fest” cover on the right was made and sold at Ieper Fest in Germany. This cover is just weird because it uses the artwork from the “Price Of Progression” LP layout, which really had nothing to do with this split 7″. Anyway, cool 7″, bad layouts!
Ensign – “For What It’s Worth” 7″The “For What It’s Worth” EP has a great Ensign song on it, called “Left Hand Syndrome”. It’s worth checking out this 4-song EP just for this one song. It’s a super melodic “later Ensign” song, but I really like it. I think all of these 7″s were on grey vinyl.
Ensign – “The Price Of Progression” LPThe title of this album pretty much says it all. “The Price Of Progression” really proved too much for Ensign, and like most hardcore bands, as they tried to progress musically, they just lost quite a bit of their appeal. I really wanted to like this album – I gave it try after try. But ultimately, only 6 or 7 out of the 17 songs were songs that really kept my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I legitimately do really like those 6 or 7 songs — it’s not a stretch or anything. But that’s just not enough to prompt me to throw on this record that often. I just think they tried to cover too much ground with this “progression”, and it ended up sounding too much like a hardcore band with some more modern metalcore influences mixed in. It just didn’t work for me. I think there were 500 on orange/tan vinyl, a bunch on black, and much later there was a tour pressing on blue vinyl (which I never owned). I still do respect the fact that Ensign has pushed on, and still plays every once in a while. Bands should always just do what feels right for them, and if making music with your buddies is still feeling good, by all means, keep it up!
Ensign did an Underdog “Say It To My Face” cover for the “All Systems Go Comp”, so when I came across a really cheap copy of a test pressing, I went ahead and picked it up for like $18. The auction for the test pressing actually included a regular copy on black vinyl as well.
The “All Systems Go!” LP comp was also pressed on blue vinyl and blue/orange split vinyl. I owned a copy on blue marble vinyl, as well as the blue/orange vinyl shown above, but the blue vinyl didn’t make the photo because I already sold it. You can see the blue color they used by looking at the blue/orange copy – the blue was pretty unique. It was a deep navy blue, but then paired with an ugly orange/tan marble type color. Unique, but ugly. (Disregard that other 7″ comp that is shown here, featuring Bane, etc. I grabbed this photo from my Bane write-up, since Bane also appeared on the All Systems Go comp, doing a Chain Of Strength cover.)