One day in December I get a message from a '90s hardcore scene friend: A link to a post in a niche '90s record collector Facebook group. Someone had been tipped off to a local Chicago auction house that was liquidating the entire contents of the Victory Records warehouse.
The context was this: In 2019, Victory Records had been purchased by Concord Music Group for $30 million. And Victory Records HQ (with all its contents) was a casualty of the consolidation.
This was peak '90s hardcore kid fantasy: A Victory Records warehouse free for all – everything for the taking.
And this wasn’t eBay or some big auction site: This was a small, hyper-local Chicago auction house who was encouraging bidders to view in-person before bidding. All items had to be picked up in person. And while you could bid online, a lot of the photos were blurry, the contents un-itemized, and if you didn’t preview in person - you were taking your chances.
The items being purged were as varied and awesome as you’d think: piles of misprinted hoodies, framed gold records from Hawthorne Heights, break room pinball machines, silk screens for all Victory band shirts, shelves of CDs, desks covered in Bury Your Dead stickers, Victory Records football league trophies, every conceivable variety of band merch, and on and on.
Some '90s hardcore scene vets will deny any Victory Records devotion in their past. Some revisionists will downplay Victory’s scene impact. I’m neither. In its day, Victory Records was awesome. And if it came out between 1989 and 1998 – and it wasn’t Baby Gopal – then I owned it.
Not living anywhere near Chicago, I would normally have approached this auction as a detached voyeur. But in a random coincidence, I’d spent the last month in an Iowa hotel, orchestrating a giant promotion for my internet business from the 3rd floor of the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City. I was scheduled to leave and drive through Illinois a few days after the auction ended. So swinging by the Victory warehouse was a legit possibility.
On the 8th page of listings, there it was. A blue, pirate-chest-looking trunk.
The description read:
“Misc. Vinyl Test Presses (in Camp Style Trunk); 200+ LPs (approx.) from Various Victory Artists Covering Many Different Releases”
Skip this part if you know what a test press is (I barely did): Record pressing plants do a microscopic run of every record and send to labels in advance of its release to test for skips, sound quality, etc. Usually between 5 and 10 are pressed. They often have no art and plain white labels.
The test press is the hardest to find variant of any release, often given only to record labels and band members. Some collectors dismiss them as boring vanity items. Some seek them out rabidly as the Holy Grail of any release. No matter what, for any record, the test press is usually the rarest version.
Their listing had two photos: One of the chest closed. And one with the lid open. This is all it revealed:
It was a bold and arrogant offer, essentially saying: “We’re not going to tell you what’s inside. You can take it or leave it. But you know you want it.”
To me, this was more than owning a nostalgic time capsule. Integrity and Snapcase were cool, and it might be worth a Chicago detour to own a One Truth test press.
But on a borderline-religious level, I had a devotional reverence for just one record: Earth Crisis’ Destroy the Machines. Everyone has a record that defines hardcore to them. Or captured an era. Or saved their life. Or ruined it. To me, Destroy the Machines was all four. I would risk ridicule and bankruptcy on just the chance a DTM test press was in there.
I had to own this chest.
The mission was declared: Obtain Tony Brummel’s Secret Vault, earn a shot at an Earth Crisis' Destroy the Machines test press, and break even on the rest before I die.
The Pre-Bid Reconnaissance
The auction closed in three days. To decide on my max bid, I had to take stock of the evidence. The only data revealed in the listing was:
- Approximately 200 records.
- From “various artists.”
I went back to my collector friend and his inner-circle Facebook group for more intel.
He got back to me with one new detail: Someone from the group had trekked to Victory HQ to preview the lot and gotten a new photo. In it, the records were in a different order, and right on top was a sleeve with “VR 109.”
Grade – Under the Radar
Not in my Victory Top 5, but probably my top 10. And what’s better, it confirmed the 200 records in that chest included, at least partially, records from the '90s. Which was all I cared about.
I was sold. But how much to bid?
I’m not a serious collector. I’m also not a “record flipper.” This was strictly a “Destroy-The-Machines-test-press-&-break-even” mission. I had no interest in turning these for a profit, nor did I have much interest in flexing over owning a bunch of Warzone test presses or whatever.
In deciding my max bid, I unpacked the dilemma in a mathematical fashion. Here was the formula:
How much I could safely sell 200 test presses for to break even + how much I would gamble on a lottery ticket to maybe own a Destroy the Machines test press.
I could safely sell any test press for even the most forgettable 2010’s Victory whatevercore band for $30. And I was willing to gamble $500 on that Destroy the Machines lottery ticket.
Still, there was no way to defend this as a “calculated bet” - I was literally gambling.
$6500 would be the max bid.
30 minutes before close of auction, I posted up at the café in the hotel lobby. The high bid was still sub-$1,000.
I had done some cursory sleuthing and found no evidence this auction had gotten buzz in the larger hardcore scene. Together with the fact you had to be in (or travel to) Chicago to claim your winnings, there was a greater-than-zero chance this auction could close for some insanely low price.
I dropped a bid of $2,000 five minutes before close.
I was quickly outbid.
I bid $4,000.
At 55 seconds, I dropped my mic: $6,500.
This is where your mind starts to perform rationalization-gymnastics that will never hold up to post-auction scrutiny. What if the vault is literally the first 200 Victory releases? What if it also contained 7” test presses going back to 1989? What is avoiding the pain of regret worth?
In an Earth-Crisis-induced daze, with 10 seconds to close, I went nuclear: $10,500.
And I instantly regretted it.
The invoice landed in my inbox immediately. I hadn’t read the fine print: There was an 18% “buyer’s premium.”
I messaged the record collector friend who originally tipped me off to this for some words of comfort.
“$12,000? Whatever you have to do, get a refund.”
Youth of Today was wrong. I really was in this alone.
From Denial to Acceptance and Back Again
We all grieve in our own way, and over the days that followed, my mourning over the loss of that $12,000 took various forms.
I decided there were five Victory releases that, if they were in the vault, would significantly soften the blow:
- Earth Crisis, Destroy the Machines
- Strife, One Truth
- Bloodlet, Eclectic
- Snapcase, Lookinglasself
- Path of Resistance, Who Dares Wins
Those were my Top 5. I’d consider any of these being in the vault as a win.
But this was really about #1 on that list. I had essentially paid $12,000 for a lottery ticket to maybe own a Destroy the Machines test press. From that angle, this whole thing looked even more ridiculous.
The Road Trip
I had a deadline: The records had to be picked up from Victory HQ in 7 days
And I had a problem: I was totally ignorant about virtually all post-2002 Victory Records releases. I imagined myself in a Chicago hotel room, surrounded by records, frantically trying to assess the likelihood of breaking even, and having no idea what I was looking at.
But when the student is ready, the teacher appears...
For reasons not worth explaining, I’d spent the last month bunkered in a hotel next to the University of Iowa (nowhere near where I live), in a crazed promotion for my internet business that involved working 16 hour days - half of which I spent at a café in the hotel lobby.
So it was sort of inevitable I’d end up friends with Meira, the punk barista working the counter. A generation below me, she had an encyclopedic knowledge of 2000s fashion/emo/metal/whatever core. I’d only known her 3 weeks, but she was exactly who I needed with me when I cracked open the vault.
I sent her a message:
“Chicago road trip to pick up records from the Victory warehouse: Y or N.”
She was in.
We accidentally shoplifted a mug from the world’s largest truck stop, I heard way too much about her relationship with a famous Juggalo rapper, and in 4 hours we were in Chicago.
The only pickup instructions I had were to go to the 5th floor of 346 N Justine Street. A guy named Clint met us at the door. He wound us through the mostly-empty Victory offices to a back room. And there it was: Either my biggest financial regret or Vault of Glory.
The Big Reveal
We checked in to a hotel downtown. No way I was going to wait until I was home to see what was in that chest.
Upstairs, I cracked it open and stared for a second to take it in, nodding dramatically like some kind of fake bougie straight edge Indiana Jones.
Then we dove in.
Test presses often have no artwork indicating what the record is, but Victory was cool enough to jot some notes on the paper sleeves. Some had a band name and shorthand of the album title. Most just had a catalog number: “VR-XXX.”
Anytime I saw a number below 100, I held by breath. This was the prime window for releases on my short wish list. With a few exceptions, any number over 200 was the Victory Ghetto I wanted no part of.
Meira and I quickly developed a system that went like this:
- I call out a catalog number.
- Meira Googled it.
- She called out the band and title.
- I assigned it to a pile.
“Between the Buried and Me, Alaska.”
Slowly, we worked our way through the chest. Initial signs of breaking even were lukewarm. For every Darkest Hour record there were five The Tossers or Thieves & Villains LPs. And every Carnifex and Jungle Rot record was one record closer to not owning a Destroy the Machines test press.
We got deeper. The piles got higher. So far, no Path of Resistance. No Integrity. No Strife. Not even a Doughnuts record to jolt morale.
Every record got filed into one of four piles:
The Throwaways: Records I’d be unlikely to get $50 for before I died, or bands neither of us had heard of. Meira's knowledge of mid-'00s Victory releases was pretty thorough. I had us covered through 2002-ish. Between us, not much snuck through. (Later I’d find out we were totally wrong about some of the bands assigned to this pile. Turns out Bayside is kind of a big deal. Neither of us had heard of them).
The Safe Bets: These were records that, with enough patience, $100 to $200 was not out of the question. Records like Bad Brains' Omega Sessions and Buried Alive's Death of Your Perfect World went here.
The Cash Cows: The Gold-or-near-Gold-selling bands that would put a serious dent in me breaking even. Test presses from bands like A Day to Remember, Silverstein, and Streetlight Manifesto went here.
The Keep Pile: The ones going into my personal collection. The Cause For Alarm 7-inch went here (the chest had 7-inches too). Grade's Under the Radar. Snapcase's Progression Through Unlearning, etc.
In an hour we were getting close to the end. . The Keep Pile had 11 records. The Cash Cow pile had 20. The Safe Bet pile had about 50. And the Reject pile was towering. (Sorry Tear Out the Heart from 2013, but I had little hope of ever selling four of your test presses).
As we approached the end, “Operation Destroy the Machines Test Press” had faded into “Operation Please God Let Me Break Even.” About 10 to go. I could see the bottom of the chest.
Me: “VR 41”
Meira: “Earth Crisis….”
Drum roll. She was struggling with the next word.
“Gummmm… Gamo? Gamo Rah?”
Gomorrah's Season Ends.
I got two of my top five: Snapcase's Lookinglasself was in there. As was Path of Resistance's Who Dares Wins. If I had a Top 8, it would have been rounded out with Strife’s In This Defiance, Earth Crisis’ Gomorrah's Season End, and Atreyu’s Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses (shut up). And I got all three of those.
Scoring 5 of my Top 8 is pretty good. And they only cost me $2,400 each.
The Final List
(2 to 5 copies of each)
A Day to Remember - Old Record
A Day to Remember -What Separates Me From You
A Day to Remember - Homesick
A Day to Remember - For Those Who Have Heart
Aiden - Knives
Aiden - Nightmare Academy
Atreyu - Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses
Atreyu - Death Grip on Yesterday
Atreyu - The Curse
Bad Brains - Omega Sessions
Bayside - Sirens & Condolences
Bayside - Bayside
Bayside - Acoustic
Bayside - Shudder
Bayside - Live
Between the Buried & Me - Between the Buried & Me
Between the Buried & Me - Alaska
Between the Buried & Me - Silent Circus
Blood For Blood - Enemy (7-inch)
Broadside - Old Bones
Buried Alive - Death of Your Perfect World
Bury Your Dead - Cover Your Tracks
Carnifex - Until I Feel Nothing
Carnifex - The Diseased
Catch 22 - Kearsey Nights
Catch 22 - Alone In A Crowd
Cause For Alarm - Cause for Alarm (7-inch)
Close Your Eyes - Empty Hands
Close Your Eyes - Line In the Sand
Close Your Eyes - We Will Overcome
Close Your Eyes - Prepackaged Hope (7-inch)
Comeback Kid - Die Knowing
Comeback Kid - Symptoms & Curses
Comeback Kid - Die Knowing
Continents - Idle Hands
Darkest Hour - Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation
Darkest Hour - So Sedated, So Secure
Darkest Hour - Undoing Ruin
Darkest Hour - Deliver Us
Dead To Fall - Everything I Touch Falls to Pieces
Earth Crisis - Gomorrah's Season Ends
Emmure - Speaker of the Dead
Emmure - Goodbye to the Gallows
Emmure - Felony
Emmure - Felony: Singles (7-inches)
Emmure - Respect Issue
Emmure - Eternal Enemies
Fall City Fall - Victus
Grade - Under the Radar
Greyarea - Fanbelt Algebra
Islander - Power Under Control
Islander - Violence & Destruction
Islander - Violence & Destruction
Jungle Rot - Skin the Living
Jungle Rot - Kill on Command
Jungle Rot - Terror Regime
Otep - Smash the Control Machine (7-inch)
Path of Resistance - Who Dares Wins
Reverend Horton Heat - Rev
Reverend Horton Heat - HSW/Lying (7-inch)
Reverend Horton Heat - Rave Up/Beer (7-inch)
Ringworm - Birth Is Pain
Ringworm - Venomous Grand Design
Silverstein - Discovering the Waterfront
Sister Sin - Switchblade Serenades
Sister Sin - True Sound of the Underground
Sister Sin - Black Lotus
Snapcase - Lookinglasself
Snapcase - Progression Through Unlearning
Snapcase - Litmus Test/Hindsight (7-inch)
Straylight Run - Prepare to Be Wrong
Straylight Run - Straylight Run
Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between
Strife - In This Defiance
Tear Out the Heart - Violence
The Sleeping - Questions and Answers
The Tossers - The Emerald City
Thieves & Villains - South America
Thursday - Five Stories Falling
Victorian Halls - Charlatan
Warzone - Fight For Justice
Warzone - Sounds of Revolution
Warzone - Old School to New School
Within the Ruins - Omen
Within the Ruins - Invade
Wretched - The Exodus of Autonomy
Wretched - Son of Perdition
Wretched - Cannibal
Wretched - Beyond the Gate