Friday, January 22, 2010

Review #49: Black Flag - My War (1984)


Year: 1984
Genre: Punk Rock
Sub-Genres: Hardcore
Label: SST Records
Tracks: 9
Length: 40 Minutes (Long)
Style: Angry/Emotional
My Rating: 8/8

Henry Rollins's introduction to the world as the Black Flag frontman was with 1981's "Damaged". But to be completely honest, it wasn't really Henry's album. When the songs from My War were starting to be performed, THAT was when the true persona of Henry's music was finally revealed. And it scared old fans. This record is one of the last truly offensive moments in rock and roll. And it offended the PUNKS. A generation of music fans listening to fast, loud music -- and now one of their flagship bands was challenging them with slow, quiet music. Henry Rollins would come to concerts and be stabbed with pens and endure other forms of physical abuse from shallow fans for joining the band just before their more experimental songs became a regular thing for the band. And as dark as "Damaged" was compared to their earlier work, "My War" is a shade darker, and actually marks one of the most aesthetically dark moments of the band's music. This album spares no moment for any emotion or mood other than pure, unrefined rage, fury, and angst. This album makes all of the "brutal" angst portrayed by the corporate-sold 'screamo' groups of today look like a joke. It will scare a 13-year-old Avril Lavinge fan. If you've ever felt alone, pissed, angry (yes, those are the same things), or as some other person said "at odds with the world", this album will grab you and pull you into a section of your own brain in which their is a mirror of audio which plays "My War" back to your ears on your head which is also the location of your brain which is where you are when this hypothetical situation is taking place.

1. My War
Take-no-prisoners attitude. My definite favorite song on the first half of the album. Maybe on the whole album. One of the last songs of the band written by Chuck Dukowiski. Starts with an ominous intro, in which you're face-to-face with your inner fears, as you see that weird knife-wielding puppet character in the cover. Just look at him LAUGH at you when you're angry. He FEEDS OFF IT, MOTHERFUCKER. But that's only a few seconds. Seemed like awhile, didn't you? Brief half-second pause. You hear Henry scream with true defiance: "MY WAR! YOU'RE ONE OF THEM!" His high suddenly reaches an aggressive low when he hits "YOU SAY THAT YOU'RE MY FRIEND! BUT YOU'RE ONE OF THEM!" The riff is amazing. It makes me want to do... I don't even know what. I guess something really cool, though. This song is amazing. It's a fast song similar to a song from "Damaged", but the production on this song is a lot less refined than Damaged. On the final chorus, Henry SCREAMS it out.

2. Can't Decide
This song isn't quite as intense as the song before it, to make up for it, the subject matter is a lot more descriptive. In the viewpoint of a troubled everyman, he/she goes through the world searching for something they cannot find, unable to decide whether or not to bottle up their emotions or let them all out in a destructive fit of rage. Not as big on the music for this one (the main riff sounds similar to the intro riff for "Rise Above"), but it's still alright, and the lyrics are legit.

3. Beat My Head Against the Wall
This does the whole slow/fast/slow-type thing that was common in hardcore punk back then. Personally, I like the riff for the slow parts pretty much. The song describes feelings of entrapment pretty well. The chorus goes "Swimming in the mainstream is such a lame dream".

4. I Love You
On the first listen, the song comes off as a seemingly out-of-place innocent love song among a sea of musical anger. But this song has a dark side as well. If you ignore the seemingly friendly chorus, the song is really about the power of love to manipulate one's sanity, as the demons of suspicion and self-hatred get in the way, as we hear the tale of a lover who carries around his knife, preparing to get revenge on a woman who he suspects is hurting him.

5. Forever Time
Pretty dramatic, pounding intro, succeeded by a high-pitched scream. Not a ton I can say about this song -- I'm not quite sure what the lyrics mean, but I'm sure it means something very interesting that the writers understood clearly.

6. Swinging Man
This is where the album really starts to lose it. This is the buildup for the grim underside of the record on Side 2. It's a chaotic, noisy mess of a song from the lyrical viewpoint of a psycho. Really weird tempo, that alternates between kinda fast and very fast. The whole thing in the end gets really disorganized and out-of-sync in the end and the end really leaves you not knowing to expect next.

7. Nothing Left Inside
This is the beginning of a HALF of an album which was revolutionary in its time. Starts with a slow beat... okay... then, what's this? An ominous, droning, almost metal-ish riff. The music may be more downbeat, but this song along with the two after it have a hell of a lot more to say. You realize that the slowness is here to stay. You either like it or you don't. By the middle of the song, Henry's vocals become more urgent and less neat. The song echoes of feelings of overall emptiness and loneliness.

8. Three Nights
This is my favorite one from Side 2. Starts with simple, repeated beats of the drums. A down-tempo bass-line soon ensues. Henry can be heard mumbling things in the background. The lyrics seem to suggest someone is going insane from isolation, and can't shake the feelings which compel him to kill. Possibly one of the darkest lyrics on the entire album: "My life is a piece of shit that got caught on my shoe". When someone says something like that, they have to be for real. During the solo, Henry can be heard screaming and hissing in the background. Damn, he was MAD. In the end, he furiously proclaims "STICK ME", repeatedly, in voices that seem the closest to the audible embodiments of fury and hatred. In the very end, you can hear the springs in the furniture (bed?) Henry was sitting on creaking back and forth.

9. Scream
Something about the bass-line on this one. It seems to say something. We've already heard the two slow-ass pieces of raw poetry. By this point, they already know what they're doing. At this point, we're just looking back before we move onward once more. The opening line is "Supposed to act my age, Supposed to act mature... I've got better things to do than listen to you". The verses are punctuated by seas of screams. In this song, Henry refutes and rejects the ideas of "keeping it together" and acting mature. Why do that when it reeks of insecurity with your own emotions and societal pressure to put on a "safe face"? Henry knows this. The closing line of the entire album is "I might be a BIG BABY... But I'll SCREAM IN YOUR EAR... 'Till I find out... Just what it is I am doing here." -- the song concludes with a barrage of screams that don't seem to forgive. Ends pretty simply with a final repeated shredding of the same chord on Greg's guitar.

Even after listening to this more than a few times, part of me still says "WOW..." after listening to even that final song. Such sincerity and true emotion hasn't quite been shown by any other band since this record. Even Black Flag couldn't top it (if they'd even bothered trying). An interesting thing about it is that there's the mysterious "Dale Nixon" playing the guitar. Well, that was actually just Greg Ginn. This record was recorded during a time in the band's history in which Chuck Dukowiski had just left, and Kira Roessler (she was hot back then) had not yet joined. The first half of the album is comprised of fast, hardcore stuff similar to "Damaged", but with a more introspective mood. The second half is something entirely new (at the time), and was said to inspire numerous sub-genres of rock music, some of which even went mainstream (such as grunge). This album is completely solid from start-to-finish. Isn't my "perfect" album, but for what it is, it's perfect in its own right. It doesn't miss anything. If you want to really FEEL something through the music, listen to this.

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