If you are in any way interested in punk music, you’re sure to have caught the Black Flag/FLAG debacle that hardcore godhead Greg Ginn instigated last year. He basically sued his former bandmates in FLAG (and, for some reason, Henry Rollins, who has nothing to do with either incarnation) to gain complete control of the brand ‘Black Flag’.
Ginn is notorious amongst the bands he’s released on his seminal label SST. The lawsuit he filed is now closed, with the judge ruling that, amongst other things, Ginn has no right to stop the his ex-bandmates playing Black Flag songs and he certainly has no right to sue Rollins, who never left the band anyway. Ginn’s brother, Raymond Pettibon, drew the original, iconic Black Flag artwork, and he stood to gain nothing from the lawsuit.
Off!, like FLAG, is another punk supergroup that ‘true’ fans are willing to succeed with all their hearts. Cult phenomenon Keith Morris leads both, having built his reputation in Black Flag and the equally estimable Circle Jerks. Morris is joined by Burning Brides frontman Dimitri Coats on guitar, Red Kross’ powerhouse bassist Steven Shane McDonald and Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes/Earthless drummer Mario Rubalcaba. Between all of the members of Off!, they’ve recorded some of the best punk, hardcore, post-hardcore and power-pop records of the past 35 years. Punk pedigree: Done.
Off!’s two previous album releases have gone down a storm in the punk community and elsewhere – their compilation First Four EPs (featuring artwork by, you guessed it, Raymond Pettibon) was a refreshing blast of biting hardcore that crammed 16 songs into 18 minutes. Their self-titled debut album (Pettibon artwork) went one better – it was recorded in two days and featured 16 tunes in a 15-minute blastathon. Not one single track was wasted.
Wasted Years features another 16 blasters to add to your ‘essential punk’ playlist. For those of us that don’t own iPods or any music-playing device other than ‘ye olde stereo’, tapes are still available for your punk compilations – don’t fret.
Opener Void You Out clatters around your brain with chopping, spiralling riffs and Morris’ signature bark, which hasn’t changed in 30 years. Next cut Red White & Black goes into complete hyperdrive – the rhythm seems to be constantly speeding away from Morris, before slowing into a heavy sludgy grind for mere seconds, then the blistering pace returns. Legion Of Evil alternates between Black Sabbath doom and buzzsaw punk with equal ferocity. No Easy Escape follows the same pattern – bilious sludge followed by cranked-up riffage.
Over Our Heads is one of the most ‘classic punk’ cuts here – it rolls in on a righteous McDonald bass groove and slashes and rips for about a minute of Dead Kennedys style ferocity. Hypnotized is one of the ‘slower’ numbers – but its disillusioned, anti-authoritarian message has more time to set in when paired with a relatively languorous grind.
It Didn’t Matter To Me follows, and Morris is barking about loss-leaders and scratching at the walls like he’s just figured the world out. We all know he figured it out a long time ago. Dig the way he sings (!) “Never-ending”, it’s one of the best tonal moments on the record. There’s no time to gather your thoughts before Exorcized bangs in with a distinctly Motor City flavour – think the MC5 mainlining speed and you’re near the mark. Best-title award goes to Death Trip On The Party Train, a track which features stinging chords and some highlight-reel lyrics: “Close the curtains/Erase the night/Like it never existed”.
Defiance abounds in I Won’t Be A Casualty, and All I Can Grab follows that up with crushing classic hardcore. Time’s Not On Your Side gives the listeners’ ears a tiny respite by mixing up the furious thrashing with almost-jazzy guitar manoeuvres. “Fuck with me, I’ll fuck with you!” go Morris’ lyrics, and boy do you believe him. Any track that features the lyrics “syphilitic bastards” and “contaminated offspring” is surely a winner, but placed as they are in the bruising Meet Your God, they have extra resonance. And the 67 second shred of Mr Useless is a blast – “It’s time to go, Mr Useless!” The closing one-two of You Must Be Damned and the title track Wasted Years is a sublime way to close the record. You Must Be Damned is a chiming, shifting cut underpinned by rad spiralling riffs. Wasted Years is a blistering cut that hammers Morris’ point home against an off-kilter rhythm and serrated riffs.
The themes, as you’d expect, are largely to do with government mind-control, negative propaganda getting everybody to hate each other, disillusionment… Morris sounds as though he’s as angry with corporations and capitalism as he’s ever been. Off! are the premier, numero uno punk band in the world, and nobody else comes close.