Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review #25: Black Flag - Damaged (1981)

Year: 1981
Genre: Punk Rock
Sub-Genres: Hardcore, Noise
Label: SST Records
Tracks: 17
Length: 32 Minutes (Medium-Length)
Style: Angry, Emotional
My Rating: 7/8

Few bands had ever captured the feeling of TRUE RAGE before this album was released. In 1981, this was considered scary. With 15 songs about revolution, vandalism, alcoholism, police brutality, and inner torment, this was one of the most controversial records of its time. The band shaved their heads to resemble skinheads during this period and were harassed by the police more than any of their peers during this period.

Just a few months before this album came out, Greg Ginn and the rest finally found the true, angry, enraged new singer that would become the voice of the band for the rest of its existence: Henry Rollins. As an ice-cream man and previous frontman of his own band, State Of Alert, Henry was already a huge fan of Black Flag who wrote letters to the band. Just a few notches more brutal than Dez's singing style, Henry's voice was like no other at the time. He could scream, he could roar, he could growl, he could yell, he could shout (Dez was still in the band for quite some time as a second guitarist until he left in 1983).The music in general fits the mood of the album as well, though.

1. Rise Above
Arguably the band's most famous song. Basically a song about a punk revolution against those who had oppressed them and looked down upon them. My favorite part is the chorus.

2. Spray Paint (the Walls)
Shortest song on the album. Well, it's about basically the fact that it feels good to act crazy when you're doing what you really wanna do. Awesome group-shouts!

3. Six Pack
This is a re-recorded version of the song that was the title-sake of the single released earlier in 1981. With Henry on the vocals, the song sounds more sincere and aggressive than ever before, though Henry Rollins has always treated alcohol with contempt.

4. What I See
The song is about feelings of jaded suicidalness, and feeling that life is pointless. Henry really goes out on a limb with those vocals, here!

5. T.V. Party
Another song that has tasted a bit of mainstream popularity. Basically a satire on people who waste their time doing nothing but watching television all day and drinking beer. This version isn't quite as good as the re-recorded 7" version from '82, but it's still pretty good! This version is a little less polished.

6. Thirsy and Miserable
This is another one I love. It's about the emotions of a group of people who are addicted to alcohol, and it musically describes the fear and intensity of the craving quite well. Great riff, and I love how he says "store closes at 2:00, there's not enough to last us!!" so intensely.

7. Police Story
This one's about police brutality and how the protagonist of the song out of spite flipped off a police officer and was beaten with a billy-club. Also describes feelings of hopelessness about the situtation ("I understand we're fighting a war we can't win...").

8. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
A song about a drug addict who is contemplating suicide to solve his problems. The lyrics are real deep here. End of Side 1.

9. Depression
A song about a person who is feeling a very bad case of depression. Not my favorite song on the album, but the lyrics are great.

10. Room 13
Didn't the Circle Jerks do a song called "Room 13" as well? Well, anyway, this song isn't really very much like their "Room 13" anyways. The lyrics are about the human will to survive. Awesome riffs from Greg Ginn!

11. Damaged II
Kinda strange that they'd put Part 2 before Part 1, eh? Well, this one is a lot more up-beat than "Damaged I". It's faster too, and it has a great riff. The song's about confusion.

12. No More
This song starts with a single repeated droning bass note, which slowly gets faster and is eventually accompanied by a single repeated drum beat. Very ominous feeling. The rumbling buildup explodes into a fast thrasher about the protagonist's dissatisfaction and frustration with his life.

13. Padded Cell
Awesome opening riff. The song is about how the protagonist feels that Earth is like a padded cell with deceptive lies and allures of paradise, when in reality it is simply full of "straightjacket minds" which have been "defanged and declawed", and that it needs more maniacs. Powerful chorus chants, here.

14. Life of Pain
Starts with an ominous lead-riff, where Henry yells and screams "pain!" repeatedly. It explodes into a fast, dark song about the pain and feelings of those who watch their own friends desire to end their lives and commit suicide. The verse riff here is really gorgeous and when I originally wrote this review I don't think I realized that like I do now.

15. Damaged I
I like Dez Cadena's version on the "Louie, Louie" single better, since I felt like I could kinda relate to it, but this one is good, too. It opens with the line, "My name is Henry... and you're here with me, now." As the final track on the album, it's very slow, and it's easily the angriest, most dark piece on the whole album. The pained screams are too sincere to describe. What I love about both versions of "Damaged" are the stream-of-consciousness improvised ramblings in which the singer expresses his true feelings as hard as possible. That's ze end.

This album is kind of like the "mid-point" or transitional period of Black Flag's existence. Henry had just joined the band, so he didn't take much of a part in writing the songs, and a lot of these songs were on previous releases with Dez Cadena, but at the same time, Henry's introduction lead to the truly introspective, dark work that their later releases were known for. It's simultaneously the end of the more accessible hardcore punk that the band was famous for, and the beginning of the more experimental art-punk that caused the posers to turn away from the band and physically abuse Henry on-stage. Any fan of hard rock can appreciate some aspect of this. Noise-punk, sludge-metal, thrash metal, and grunge music were heavily influenced by this piece. With all of the wannabe "brutal" music today... nothing seems as real, as insane, or as honest as this. Along with "My War", I consider this album to be the musical embodiment of anger.


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