Artist: Bad Religion Track: "52 Seconds," "Heroes and Martyrs" Album: New Maps of Hell
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Like most young fans of punk rock, I once was a fan exclusively of punk. So even now, about 15 years after my foray into the worlds of Fat Wreck Chords, Lookout and Epitaph, a new Bad Religion album is big news.
This album also is big news for its return to harder, more aggressive music from a band who for 20 years continues to utilize the energy and fervor of punk to attempt global change. They've always been relevant - their 2004 release, The Empire Strikes First, proved that - but now it seems they're back to harsher tactics.
Remember when the band's logo was a Christian cross inside a no-smoking outline? Or when their albums would picture a small suburban child on fire?
From the start of this release, with the blistering opener "52 Seconds," it's clear that they're as pissed off as ever with the way things are (or, perhaps, aren't) going in this country and elsewhere in the world.
There's always a lot at stake with the title of a Bad Religion album, since leaders Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz are among the most literate writers in punk-rock history. This one, New Maps of Hell, is as straightforward as their classic albums, and signals a return to them. It's a clear and interesting shift away from the calmer, populist leanings of Stranger Than Fiction, The Gray Race and The Process of Belief.
Those titles, and subsequently those recordings, were detached and somewhat distant, as if the band figured they could convice Americans to revolt (or at least resist) with the quiet, reserved tongue of the Leftist intellectual. Most BR albums released between the late '90s and the ealry '00s were strong and enjoyable - especially for lapsed fans of punk - but they lacked the power that has allowed the band to sustain its underground cred.
This one streaks from start to finish. Melodic and mad, it's got everything people love about the band, wrapped inside a surprising veil of distortion, angst and purpose. The band is angry, and while I can no longer rock bright pink hair, that makes me happy.
My only hope is that this isn't their final album, because things seem to have come around full circle to their 1982 release, How Could Hell Be Any Worse?.
New Maps of Hell comes out tomorrow, July 10.