Black Flag ended (acrimoniously) in 1986. So one would not be wrong in asking, 27 years later, “what the FUCK is anyone doing releasing a new record under that name in 2013?”
I don’t have an answer for that question, but this record exists, and I bought it. New. Retail. Why? Because it has the four bars on it. Never, ever question the four bars.
And here, already, a lot of people would sneer. Question such blind allegiance. Mock me, even, for caring enough, even in this late stage, to give a new Flag record a spin.
It’s true. This thing has A LOT of detractors, everyone in a rush to be the first or the next to be able to pile on to the hate that this thing seems to have generated.
Just like every Black Flag record.
Here’s the thing. Black Flag’s career, even in their hey-day, was built as a giant Fuck You to all the holier-than-thou punkers who think they should be and do a certain thing. The sad part is, the targets at which all of this was aimed rarely realized it. All the skinheads freaked when Rollins let his hair grow long. They lost a lot of fans when they put out an entirely (and really very excellent) instrumental album. Even during the albums everyone claims to love, there are tracks that are just so obviously a WAKE THE FUCK UP to everyone stuck in a rut.
Black Flag was never afraid to let it all hang out. It was the fans who refused to change, who internalized one thing and then were offended when the next thing didn’t fit the pattern. This was one of the hardest working, most talented acts in punk for several years (late 70s to mid-80s) and they never once compromised. They followed their vision, and be damned to the people who didn’t like it. In fact, I think they fed off that hate and used it to make themselves even stronger.
So. It’s 2013, and Greg Ginn (twice, as will be explained), Ron Reyes and a drummer I didn’t know of until now decide it’s time to put out a record under the Black Flag name. Immediately they would have expected the backlash, the expectations, and the hate. It’s a moniker that carries weight, has a history of integrity and strength. How dare they? Shouldn’t they have left well enough alone? Read through the Amazon reviews. Lots of haters, out there. Haters who’ve had 27 years to sit in their mom’s basement and memorize every note and lyric of Damaged and My War. It’s sad.
I will give the haters the point that the album cover sucks. It’s stupid (sorry, Ron Reyes). My buddy Wilf said it looks like a reject from a series of proposed Green Day album covers, and I really can’t argue. That they didn’t get Raymond Pettibon (brother of Greg Ginn) to do it, after all those classic Flag covers, is a travesty and a sham. It’s also very telling that Pettibon provided the cover art for the newest Off! record released this year (2014), a band fronted by Keith Morris. In fact, he’s done every Off! album cover. So there.
What did I think of this record?
It’s a very good punk record.
I will admit that the hairs stood up on my arms when I heard those trademark Ginn riffs. You know that guitar, I know you do. It’ll slay you every fucking time. Ron Reyes is back, to his credit. He was the second singer in Black Flag, after the mighty Keith Morris left. He handles himself with reasonable aplomb here, even nailing the slightly unhinged parts. No, he’s not a Morris or a Rollins, but he never was. No reason to believe he’d be more now. Dale Nixon on bass, of course, is just Greg Ginn on bass under a different name. This is the first time he’s played bass on a Flag record since My War. And drummer Gregory Moore handles himself well enough on the traps, though he’s a victim of some really shitty production – the drums (honestly) do sound like crap. And in its own way, that’s punk, right? Just make it and move on. But in 2013, with all the technology available even on pre-boxed home computers, there’s really no excuse for such muddy sound.
But you know something, if this record had been released a few years after they broke up, after Rollins and everyone else called it quits, let’s say 1989 or so to let some time pass, this record would have been just fine. All the elements are here. The band lets it rip every chance they get. They chug heavily through some tracks, they switch between full and half-tempos, they play at full tilt. There are plenty of trademark Ginn solos, and there are many moments where tracks sound like they might just go crazy, just like in the old days.
Is this a return to form? No. This is mature musicians replicating the energy and learned tricks from half a lifetime ago. Is this a great Black Flag album? Only time will tell, but probably not. But like I said above, it’s a very good punk record. And it pleased me greatly. Let all the haters and detractors come get me, I couldn’t give a fuck. I listened to this and I rocked out to it and that’ll be enough for me.
And for all you holier-than-thou punkers out there, here’s the ultimate revenge:
This band is releasing another album this year and they’re calling it Victimology and that’ll be you. Victims. Because you’ve trapped yourself in thinking you know punk and anything outside your little box is shit. Fuck you.
This is Black Flag now, and Black Flag is still Fuck you.