Album Reviews

Bad Religion – The Empire Strikes First

(Epitaph) UK release date: 7 June 2004

It was never a doubt that Dubaya would escape Greg Graffin’s notepad. Like NOFX‘s War On Errorism, Bad Religion’s enduring existence sees the So-Cal pioneers’ focus thrust firmly on US foreign policy.

When you form a politically charged band at the age of 15 (as Bad Religion did), four US administrations provides ample fodder. It was Ronald Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ lingo which preceded the terms ‘axis of evil’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which also was the idealistic motif during Bad Religion’s early years.

Now it is pitifully ironic as Reagan’s coffin heads for Arlington Cemetery, that his rhetoric has polarised. But we’ll leave the nitty gritty out to the news media and your opinions, a quick pan down the song titles to the left and you’ll get the picture of Bad Religion’s take on things.

I know what you’re thinking. Two decades on, what’s refreshing about a bunch of dads bleating their New York Times letters page rantings to the kids? Who gives a toss when a million other apathetic bands are running up and down Orange County beating the drum and burning the flag? Well George, it is Bad Religion. And it’s the kids who supplement Bad Religion’s following as much the fans who grew up with the band. The evidence is the kids don’t mind the political assaults, hence Pennywise headlining any mega p*u*n*k (in case I get shot down by Sham 69 fans) shindig, aka the Warped Tour or Deconstruction shows.

In a world where old is definitely the current c*o*o*l (I dare not utter it), The Empire Strikes First is a god send. Especially when the likes of Grandpa Dylan, Uncle McCartney, The Rolling Bones and The Doors, sorry, the 21st Century Doors, can dish out obscene prices to see the ‘Ravages Of Age In A Seated Arena Without Any Decent Recent Material Tour.’ Even the prospect of Status Quo’s annual round trip seems an undaunting bargain for 20 quid. Ok maybe not – the Pixies escape criticism because this earth has a rarity in its inhabitants, and they go by the name genius.

Bad Religion aren’t quite at that stage but like Frank Black and co, are in middle age. Thankfully they aren’t darting into experimental Hindi jazz opera. Overture might have you thinking so for all of its 30 second existence, but Sinister Rouge puts paid to that as it throws down a furious gauntlet with signature woooooo-oooo hollers.

Things follow on confidently from 2002’s excellent comeback, The Process of Belief, with creative positivity stemming from Brett Gurewitz’s (original member and founder of record company Epitaph) return to the fold. This time round the material is as rejuvenated as ever, pocketed with the high marks of days long gone – the immediacy of Suffer, the breakneck crunch and variety of Stranger Than Fiction.

I say pocketed because the latter two are classic song-after-song winners. If you’re a So-Cal fan you certainly won’t be disappointed, and with the Descendents cracking comeback album, some of the golden oldies prove they’re still packing a punch. For a tenner a show you can’t go wrong either.

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More on Bad Religion
Bad Religion – True North
Bad Religion – The Empire Strikes First