Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Album Review: Bad Religion - Age of Unreason

No one expected Bad Religion to release their best album 40 years into they career, probably because punk rock and its inherent urgency aren't usually associated with educated, bespectacled musicians pushing sixty... Yet Age Of Unreason is undoubtedly one of, if not the best record into their long discography. Then again punk rock isn't about catering to expectations and conforming to people's preconceived ideas and Bad Religion surely can't be accused of that. We're talking about a band whose sophomore album was a keyboard-heavy, almost progressive rock statement, closer to Rush or Yes than to the Ramones. Thankfully Age Of Unreason isn't in that vein, and clocking in at just over thirty minutes, this set of 14 songs won’t alienate fans of their brand of energetic, melodic  Californian punk rock.

Maybe the reason this new LP is so good is because once again they have something to stand up against. In adverse times, you can roll over and play dead or you can rise to the occasion and anyone who thinks Greg Gaffin was just going to shut up and take it hasn't been paying attention. Bad Religion has always been political but now things are critical: everything they were warning us about has happened. The unthinkable is a daily occurrence. The United States, once the emblem for democracy, is now locking children in cages and conspiring with nefarious regimes to bring the World Order to an end... These topics are explicitly addressed in End Of History, a song no doubt inspired by Fukuyama's essay of the same name.

There are references to the current situation throughout the whole album, from Kellyanne Conway's infamous "alternative facts" in My Sanity to the current rise in conspiracy theories on Do The Paranoid Style. And of course, even though he is not name checked, a certain leader of a certain superpower is often explicitly evoked and vilified in lyrics of songs like Candidate and Big Black Dog.

So if you're a fan of today's nationalist, populist movements that are gaining strength around the world, this album probably isn't for you... If you are not the reactionary type however, if you have no disdain for Human Rights, if you are not the kind of person that attacks other people for having a different opinion, religion or skin color, then you'd be well inspired to pick up this LP and spin it loud and often.

The record is chock-full of energetic, angry, melodic tunes. Opener Chaos From Within sets the tone: great hooks, punchy guitars and a drummer with an almost metal approach at times. Where most punk bands get the aggression right and often forget to craft actual songs, that's never been the case for Bad Religion. A song like Downfall is closer to classic rock like Cheap Trick than it is to the abrasive stylings of, say, Black Flag. But then there is the relentless fury of Faces Of Grief which brings them back to the hardcore roots of How Could Hell Be Any Worse?

Their trademark backing vocals add color to already dynamic tunes like Don't Lose Your Head or the album's epic closer What Tomorrow Brings and they've never shied away from guitar solos: they're never intrusive but always add to the intensity of the performances, as in the galloping track The Approach.

It's a typically catchy set of songs that will go down extremely well live when they start their new tour in a just a couple of weeks. And now we're conflicted: is it worth living through such troubled times if it means getting albums of this quality?

Genre: Punk Rock
Release Date: May 3rd, 2019
Label: Epitaph Records
Rating: 8/10

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