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Tough Love 

Breaker led Cleveland's '80s hard rock scene, then went underground. Now their cult status in Germany has rekindled the home fires.

Breaker: Out to make your knuckles bleed. - ANASTASIA  PANTSIOS

Bill Peters has an armload of German metal magazines dog-eared to the pages that have stories about Breaker, the Cleveland hard rock band he manages. There are photos of the band performing in front of several thousand fans, on a stage the size of a runway at the Wacken Music Festival in August, and reviews of its new albums, the "Accept" EP and the recent reissue of 1987's Get Tough! that Peters has released on his Auburn Records. Peters can't read German, so he has no idea if the reviews are good or bad, but judging by the exclamation marks and what appear to be superlatives, it's safe to say they're positive. So how has Breaker, a band that's hardly a household name even in Cleveland, become so popular in Germany that some fans are flying in for the band's show on November 25 at the Odeon?

"There, we were always the cult thing," Peters says, dumping the magazines on the table at Cooker, a restaurant in Independence where he, singer Jim Hamar, and drummer Mark Klein have met to conduct this interview. "There's a whole mystique about Cleveland for some reason. It's about Cleveland being this really cool city, and all the metal bands over here have an underground cult status there.

"When we went over there, we finally got to see that. The first show Breaker did there was a club show in Bremen. They headlined and sold the club out, and the fans were fanatical, chanting their name between every song. When we did a soundcheck, they gave us a standing ovation. One guy even bootlegged the soundcheck. They brought old things for us to sign."

"They had T-shirts that some of us don't even have," adds Hamar. "How they got them or whether they were bootlegged, I have no idea."

Since playing in Germany, Breaker has experienced a rebirth of sorts. Shortly after returning to Cleveland, it played the side stage at Blossom before the Iron Maiden show and plans to record its show at the Odeon for possible release as a live album. Peters has supplemented the reissue of Get Tough! with Get Tougher!, a separate disc of demos, singles, compilation songs, and live tracks, all of which combine to provide a complete overview of the band, which, in its heyday in the '80s, was one of the most progressive metal bands in the region.

Formed in 1982 -- when Hamar and bassist Ian Shipley left their band Hellion to join drummer Mark Klein, guitarist Michael Klein, and guitarist Don Depew (who all played in Imposter) -- the band called itself Breaker after an album by the German heavy metal band Accept. While Breaker never disbanded, it did shift its personnel shortly after forming. Hamar was asked to leave the group in 1984 (he returned in 1987). The band auditioned various singers, among them Tim Owens (who became Rob Halford's replacement in Judas Priest), and played with several different frontmen, but it basically dropped off the map in the '90s, when Hamar took a leave of absence to take care of his father, who had become ill. Yet in its day, Breaker played regularly to full houses at the now defunct Pop Shop and opened for Metallica the first time the group came through town to play the Agora in 1983. In fact, by the time Breaker began work on Get Tough! in the mid-'80s, it was one of the best-known bands in Cleveland.

"Bill was responsible for what the scene was like when we started out," Hamar says of Peters, who since 1982 has hosted a Friday night show called "Metal on Metal" on the college station WJCU-FM/88.7 and had several metal bands on his label in the '80s. "He started working with guys in clubs, and there were metal shows everywhere. Honestly, it wasn't because of us, but because there was an audience. The scene just exploded. Every Saturday night was like an event."

As it began work on Get Tough!, Breaker signed with a local management company, and that's when the trouble started. The firm, which the band declined to name, made empty promises about major-label deals and an East Coast tour with Whitesnake, and then tried to get members to wear matching outfits and change their sound because they "didn't hear a single."

"We knew what we wanted to sound like," Hamar says. "We didn't need a guy there cracking the whip. We got ourselves in a situation where the management company said that our songs were so killer. But then a month later, they came to us with tapes of songs that they wanted us to record that were written by local artists. We didn't understand the turnaround."

The band split with the management company and signed on with Peters, but by that time, the damage had been done. Get Tough! took close to five years to complete and was finished as the band started to drift apart. Hamar even sang vocals on four songs after he was no longer in the group. Still, Hamar maintains there were never hard feelings between members of the group. "It was never like we couldn't stand each other," he says.

And while Hamar says it's hard for him to defend some of the songs on Tougher Love!, the early demos reveal an intensity and rawness that actually come across more clearly than on the more polished studio record. Even "Cold Air," "The Hurt," and "Dead in Your Tracks," three demos that Hamar says he's not too fond of, suggest the band's diverse musical influences.

"When we first started out, we were more into exploring all the different kinds of things we were into," he explains. "We would hear the Scorpions or UFO or somebody do something with an orchestra or with a string part, and we were more into being like that.

"As we got on, stuff got a little more brutal, and it got down to making your knuckles bleed. The guitar parts got heavier, and things got over the top. We were just talking about Don wearing his flannel shirts. He was like Kurt Cobain 15 years before there was a Kurt Cobain."

Get Tougher! proves Hamar's point. While much of it resembles the spandex metal that was popular in the early '80s, the hard-edged guitars have elements of punk.

"A lot of bands were trying to find a band that they liked, whether it was a Judas Priest or an Iron Maiden," Hamar says. "And they tried to style their sound after that. We were never afraid to do anything."

And while the future for Breaker is uncertain, Hamar says the Odeon concert might represent a turning point.

"Once we get past this show, we'll start attacking another album," he says. "This year has been one of the craziest years. Once everything got rolling and we started making contacts with people, everything leading up to Germany was crazy. I don't think we had any time to think about what the future was going to hold. We knew we were going to go do the shows there and do a big release thing here. Once we get past that, we'll see. There's still a lot of life there."

"Oh, I'll tell you, the second record would have blown away Get Tough!," Peters says. "And that's hard for me to say, because I think Get Tough! is a classic album. It's just such a crime the [follow-up] record never got done."

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