My personal tattoo rule states any band or artist that permanently stains my flesh should be broken up or deceased. This is so they can’t put out a god-awful record to make me regret my choice of ink. Note: If any members of Jawbreaker are reading this: Don’t, just don’t. Put that studio microphone DOWN. Hot Water Music kind of broke my heart already with their later releases. Why am I sharing this? I have the Black Flag logo tattooed on my upper right arm, smack in the middle of the deltoid. Underneath I have the lyrics “Swimming in the mainstream is such a lame dream”. If you know your hardcore history, you know the song: “Beat my head against the wall” from the 1984 classic My War.
When I discovered that track in my late teens, something clicked. It was the first time I heard hardcore punk written with real angst and feeling. “Beat my head against the wall” was written by Greg Ginn, founder of one of the greatest hardcore punk bands that ever was. Teamed up with fan-turned-singer Henry Rollins, he put out several albums that teens and adults still can relate to today. Now that is a major achievement, the ability to tap into something universal. Therefore: Rollins N’ Ginn will always be my drink of choice.
Somehow I was lulled into a feeling of false safety. Being broken up since 1985, I was sure Black Flag would never fall into the horrible trap of money-grabbing mid-life crisis reunion, but lo and behold: Here they are. I have dreaded this day. Potentially dissecting old heroes can be a painful exercise.For a free stab in the hardcore heart: Go online and read about the feuds/lawsuits among the former members of Black Flag. Currently two versions of the band are out touring, and you bet your ass it isn’t to keep the DIY hardcore spirit true. This smells strongly of cashing in on former glory. It is quite popular these days, but Monty Python seem to be the only ones who are honest and up front about it.
What the.. has Greg Ginn as the driving force. He plays guitar, bass and writes lyrics. The characteristic guitar sound is still there: Gritty distortion with plenty of squeaky solo work. Drumming has obviously not been prioritized this time around, I doubt I have ever heard a record in hardcore have such a weak sound. It sounds like he is banging broken drums inside a huge plastic bucket. It makes you miss Bill Stevenson. On vocals they have dug up Ron Reyes, the original Black Flag’s second singer. In my opinion he lacked the desperation and intensity of Rollins or Morris, age has not really made his vocals any more characteristic. The scream of a 53 year old does not really carry the anger of hardcore youth. He sings every track on the album in the same tone and style. It sounds closer to the Muppet Show. “My heart is pumping” is a decent show starter, like classic Flag. The song is up-tempo and tight. The bass is mixed a little high, but I can dig it since it has such a sharp dominant sound. “Outside” can also be tolerated, like Rollins post-Flag music it has a head-nodding heaviness that fits well with some wild guitar wank.
Then come the clunkers. “Off my shoulders” sounds like a cheap truck-stop version of a Clutch B-side.”Shut up” is like Red Hot Chili Peppers funk-punk, very unnecessary. Most tracks are so conventional in their build, you only need to hear three or four to get it. The name of the track is shouted over and over again in the chorus. Gone are the long, painful and intense Black Flag of the past, here it is just short, simple niblets. Like an annoying promo teaser.
Even though I want to curse this new Black Flag back to ’85, I can’t honestly hate the album with all my heart (the cover art is the exception, it is quite hideous). There are okay tracks, and compared to chart pop, it is actually listenable. For new listeners, or the common man, this is a slightly below decent hardcore album made by guys in their 50’s. Personally, I will never listen to this again once this review is published. The only good it does is remind My War needs to be on my playlist more. So go listen to that, and you will soon shake the feeling of What the.., the most forgettable release of 2013.