Bad Religion

Picture of Bad Religion

How Could Hell Be Any Worse?

Bad Religion - How Could Hell Be Any Worse? ©1982 Epitaph
1. We're Only Gonna Die
2. Latch Key Kids
3. Part III
4. Faith in God
5. Fuck Armageddon...This Is Hell
6. Pity
7. In the Night
8. Damned to Be Free
9. White Trash (Second Generation)
10. American Dream
11. Eat Your Dog
12. Voice of God is Government
13. Oligarchy
14. Doing Time

Bad Religion's debut LP, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? with its famous cover art depicting the smog basin of Los Angeles, is one of those "classic" punk records that is better in theory than it is in execution. This is not to say the album is bad but it is fair to say that it finds the band still in embryonic form and quite a ways from their best days. And, as we all know, that required the ill advised detour into prog rock on Into the Unknown before establishing the band's infamous songwriting formula that has served them well since Suffer. However, in 1981, when this album was recorded, the band members were still youthful, rough on the edges and still finding their way in the Southern California punk world. Unlike some of their contemporaries, Bad Religion was a work in progress whose prime lay ahead.

The album does contain a couple of the band's best songs, even taking their three decade career into account. The album opener "We're Only Gonna Die" is unquestionably a punk rock classic, while "Part III" stands out as well. However, I've always felt that the album falters a bit on some of the lesser songs, of which there are plenty. The underdeveloped playing ability of the young Bad Religion likely prevented them from quite realizing these songs as they might have heard them in their heads. Greg Graffin's vocals are raspy, earnest but still needing refinement. The guitar playing is blurry. Fair or not, I've always tended to compare this album with the later albums where the band was quite a few years older and much better musicians. How Could Hell Be Any Worse? feels more like a blueprint of a sound, not a fully constructed one.

As with a few other bands who have managed to last past the early 80s, Bad Religion's early material often is best served up as a historical document. I've never warmed up to this debut LP due to my reverence of later albums, but of course mileage varies for each listener. Regardless of the album's shortcomings, it still is a very good debut for a young band who ultimately forged one of the longest musical careers of any of their peers.

Note: Epitaph has repackaged and reissued this a couple of times, along with the band's early EPs. It first was put out as 80-85 and then again with its original LP title along with the other early songs as bonus material.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2010

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Into The Unknown

Bad Religion - Into The Unknown ©1983 Epitaph
1. It's Only Over When...
2. Chasing The Wild Goose
3. Billy Gnosis
4. Time And Disregard
5. The Dichotomy
6. Million Days
7. Losing Generation
8. ...You Give Up

This may be one of the most infamous recordings that any punk band wishes never existed. Into the Unknown was released by a young and naive Bad Religion in 1983, a band that thought punk meant you could do whatever you wish. The backlash this album received by their fans and press proved them that punk by that point did not mean freedom of musical sound. The band disappeared for a period of time, finally resurfacing with a better understanding of how to work within the expectations of your core audience and still provide challenging, interesting music. Bad Religion has since become one of the most prominent and constantly enjoyable bands in not just punk, but rock music in general. And while you can find every Bad Religion album in print in one form or another, Into the Unknown has unquietly gone out of print forever and trust me, there isn't any chance Brett Gurewitz at Epitaph will be pulling out the master tapes any time soon.

So what exactly went wrong with the thought process behind Into the Unknown? The band's 1982 debut LP, How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, was a fairly straight forward semi-melodic hardcore record that conformed, for the most part, with the musical scene around them. The band, quite young at the time, got the idea that punk rock meant following whatever whim came around and their whim in 1983 was to record a neo-70s rock album, complete with vintage sounding keyboards and song structures. With the exception of a couple songs on this album, the result was a hilariously bad record by a band who couldn't quite pull off the performance necessary to at least be convincing. Greg Graffin, who has developed into an excellent and emotive singer over the years, is often so grossly off key that nothing but severe mirth will erupt on the listener's behalf. "Time and Disregard" is utterly belly-busting in how completely incompetent the singing is. And while you may find yourself rolling on the floor in laughter, you also may feel nothing but extreme embarrassment on behalf of Graffin and Gurewitz. The record was so divisive that apparently original bassist Jay Bentley left the band during the recording sessions. In retrospect, he may have been the one sane person during the project. I suspect that he still points at Brett and Greg, laughs, and says, "Maybe I messed up a bass line tonight on stage, but at least I wasn't on Into the Unknown!" At that point, Graffin and Gurewitz, totally mullified, slink away in total shame.

But complete fun-making aside, there are some moments on Into the Unknown that aren't all that bad. "The Dichotomy", "It's Only Over When" and "Losing Generation" are actually decent songs that, if Greg Graffin were to make a second solo record, might sound good with twenty years of musical growth behind them. The good songs on the records have good ideas, but the band certainly wasn't capable of doing them justice at the time nor was their audience ready to deal with such an abrupt change. As a result, Into the Unknown is nothing more than an amusing curiosity for the band that, while truly not worthy of the Bad Religion legacy, still deserves a listen by all the band's longtime fans. As Graffin himself sings, "A million days are worth one good laugh" and you'll certainly get one here.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2002

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Rock N Roll

Bad Religion - Rock N Roll ©1984 bootleg
1. Rock N Roll
2. Riding The Storm Out
3. Johnny B. Good
4. Louie Louie

Released on clear vinyl and basically little information aside from the track listing, this obscure bootleg is a great reason to dislike bootlegs. With naturally bad sound quality and four odd cover songs comprising the material, the only real value to the seven inch record is knowing you have something that Greg Graffin does not (but is rumored to want a copy of, possibly to destroy since this isn't exactly demonstrative of how amazing Bad Religion is). I suppose the fact that they were covering REO Speedwagon at the time - which was around 1984 - says something about the mindset of the band at the time. "Louie Louie" sounds like the band goofing off for the most part and "Rock n Roll" does have a hilarious take on Graffin doing Robert Plant. But honestly, unless you have no sense of the value of a dollar, this really isn't worth a dime.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/1999

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Suffer

Bad Religion - Suffer ©1988 Epitaph
1. You Are (the Government)
2. 1000 More Fools
3. How Much Is Enough?
4. When?
5. Give You Nothing
6. Land Of Competition
7. Forbidden Beat
8. Best For You
9. Suffer
10. Delirium Of Disorder
11. Part II (the Numbers Game)
12. What Can You Do?
13. Do What You Want
14. Part IV (the Index Fossil)
15. Pessimistic Lines

The incredible re-emergence of B.R. With ex-Circle Jerk Greg Hetson on board, this is a dizzy whirlwind of speed, melody, and some of the best songs ever laid onto vinyl. Get it...it's that simple. Every Bad Religion release since has been trying to regain the prowess of this record.

Songwise, "You are (The Government)" is a great example of B.R.'s strong points: catchy verses and the harmonization that they would continue to devolop and focus on in later years. And all this in less than two minutes. "Delirium of Disorder" approaches the Mach One speed limit, raging as though they had only a couple minutes left in the studio and they had to play a bit faster. The most striking song of the bunch is the mid-tempo "What Can You Do?" which has the catchiest overall sound. You deserve to improve your punk collection by owning this one.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/1997

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No Control

Bad Religion - No Control ©1989 Epitaph
1. A Change Of Ideas
2. Big Bang
3. No Control
4. Sometimes I Feel Like
5. Automatic Man
6. I Want To Conquer The World
7. Sanity
8. Henchman
9. It Must Look Pretty Appealing
10. You
11. Progress
12. I Want Something More
13. Anxiety
14. Billy
15. The World Won't Stop

Continuing the maddening pace and fury of Suffer, No Control has since become of the most highly regarded Bad Religion albums of all time as well as part of the blueprint for 90s pop-punk rock. But hey, don't blame them for becoming such an influence of so many weaker and less intelligent bands.

Nevertheless, No Control represents part two of the incredible three album series of Bad Religion's perceived peak. As with Suffer, this album is a walloping and extremely frantic rush of adrenaline and exceptionally erudite lyrics as well as better developed harmonies (the trademark of Bad Religion). Graffin's vocal delivery lost much of the youthful rasp for a very solid midrange approach. The harmonies throughout are very much improved compared to Suffer. The rest of Bad Religion plows through the songs with nary a gasp for oxygen, although they do slow things down for "Sanity". The songs do tend to mesh together somewhat, yet the melodies do allow for distinctions to be made between them. Moreover, it takes but a few scant listens to know the songs by heart.

Bad Religion's striking sound on No Control is very much designed for putting on your car's stereo and racing down the freeway with open windows and singing along (assuming you can remember Graffin's lyrics more than I can). As with Suffer and Against the Grain, this album represents Bad Religion at a creative peak and thus deserving of your immediate attention.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2000

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Against The Grain

Bad Religion - Against The Grain ©1990 Epitaph
1. Modern Man
2. Turn On The Light
3. Get Off
4. Blenderhead
5. The Positive Aspect Of Negative Thinking
6. Anesthesia
7. Flat Earth Society
8. Faith Alone
9. Entropy
10. Against The Grain
11. Operation Rescue
12. God Song
13. Twenty First Century Digital Boy
14. Misery And Famine
15. Unacceptable
16. Quality Or Quantity
17. Walk Away

For a period of three albums, it seemed Bad Religion could do no wrong. The reformed band released three of the best rock albums with Suffer, No Control and finishing it out with the very near perfect Against the Grain. Blending strong harmonies, aggressive tempos, fairly simple but highly effective guitar playing and of course those college boy lyrics, Bad Religion created a new sound that eventually helped redefine what was called punk for the 90s.

For a long period of time, Against the Grain was a featured cassette in my car's tape deck. It is one of those rare albums that can be played incessantly without loss of interest. Even nine years later, the album comes across fresh and powerful. When compared to the Bad Religion that has entertained us in the years since, the Grain lineup shows the chemistry and songwriting at peak form. Original BR drummer Pete Finestone left sometime after this album (his successor Bobby Schayer is a find drummer, but he wasn't quite as aggressive as Finestone). But fortunately, the band layed this incredible batch of songs to tape and showed why they were at their finest form. "Modern Man", "Anesthesia", "Turn on the Light", the title track, and "Walk Away" are just among the highlights. "Anesthesia" in particular is a very fulfilling song, containing a haunting and memorable lead guitar line playing tag with a great Jay Bentley bass line.

Some have called Bad Religion one of the greatest rock bands of all time, period. Not hardcore or punk, mind you - ROCK. With the firepower and ultimately awesome trio of albums released from 88-90, Bad Religion proved with finesse and ease why there is validity in those praises. If you haven't discovered why for yourself, you are only harming yourself.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/1999

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80-85

Bad Religion - 80-85 ©1991 Epitaph
1. We're Only Gonna Die
2. Latch Key Kids
3. Part III
4. Faith In God
5. Fuck Armageddon... This Is Hell
6. Pity
7. In The Night
8. Damned To Be Free
9. White Trash (2nd Generation)
10. American Dream
11. Eat Your Dog
12. Voice Of God Is Government
13. Oligarchy
14. Doing Time
15. Bad Religion
16. Politics
17. Sensory Overload
18. Slaves
19. Drastic Actions
20. World War III
21. Yesterday
22. Frogger
23. Bad Religion
24. Along The Way
25. New Leaf
26. Bad Religion
27. Slaves
28. Drastic Actions

I'm not one of those jaded old school punk rockers (or really even much of a punk rocker, despite what my Minutemen and Misfts collections suggest) who only will tolerate "the old stuff". While some bands start out strong and fade, Bad Religion is a band who needed some time to really develop into the monster they are today. Certainly they had their fair share of missteps along the way, but the fact is by the second round of their career, they became one of the most impressive and formidable acts of their kind.

But, as we all know, you have to start somewhere and 80-85 kindly packages nearly all the early material of Bad Religion, with the notable exception of 1983's unintentionally hilarious Into the Unknown. The youthful Bad Religion was nothing more than a second tier L.A. band during the first phase of their existence, when all the members were youthful teens bashing out tunes in a garage. With liner notes by guitarist Greg Hetson (who, interestingly enough, wasn't really even a permanent member of the band during that time period), one gets a credible collection of all the early material. Included are the early singles, EPs and the debut LP, How Can Hell Be Any Worse?. The CD reissue doesn't really clean up the sound a whole lot and on some stereos (notably the one I owned in 1994, when I first bought this CD), the cymbals dominate the sound. Secondly, the band's famous harmonies and melodies weren't in effect yet. Greg Graffin's vocals are hoarse and quite teenager-ish. The other small problem I have with the early material is that there just weren't as many great songs as later albums would contain. The band is enthusiastic, but not necessarily able to convey that in the context of powerful songs. Granted, "Part III", the classic "We're Only Gonna Die" (which has been covered by quite a few bands) and "Along the Way" have all become memorable concert favorites, but not all of this material sticks.

While 80-85 is a very necessarily collection for any honest, dedicated Bad Religion fan, it's not the first place I turn when I think, "Golly, some Graffin & Co. would be nifty right now." The band's second coming in 1988 with Suffer is when the band truly found their voice and began their rise to noteriety. 80-85 is simply a history lesson that fills out the gaps in your discography.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2002

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Generator

Bad Religion - Generator ©1992 Epitaph
1. Generator
2. Too Much To Ask
3. No Direction
4. Tomorrow
5. Two Babies In The Dark
6. Heaven Is Falling
7. Atomic Garden
8. The Answer
9. Fertile Crescent
10. Chimara
11. Only Entertainment

Out of all of Bad Religion's albums in their long history, only Generator has not seen significant playing time on my tape deck. For whatever reason the band seemed entirely to be running on fumes and with the exception of "Atomic Garden" and perhaps the title track, most of the songs zip by with very little ability to catch the listener. Perhaps after the unbelievable triumverate of Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain Bad Religion was unable to pull together another album's worth of truly powerful songs. Stylistically the songs are all very much Bad Religion standards but working within that confine may be difficult indeed. How many killer songs are there in BR's vein? Generator proved the band couldn't just systematically generate them forever and ever.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/1999

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Recipe For Hate

Bad Religion - Recipe For Hate ©1993 Epitaph
1. Recipe For Hate
2. Kerosene
3. American Jesus
4. Portrait Of Authority
5. Man With A Mission
6. All Good Soldiers
7. Watch It Die
8. Struck A Nerve
9. My Poor Friend Me
10. Lookin' In
11. Don't Pray On Me
12. Modern Day Catastrophists
13. Skyscraper
14. Stealth

If I remember correctly, Recipe For Hate received a huge amount of backlash from the "punk" community in 1993 with this release and I have to say that much of the criticism is unbased. Fact is, this is one solid album. The biggest issue apparently lay with Eddie Vedder being somewhere in the backing vocals of "American Jesus" (go ahead - pick his voice out, I dare you). Or perhaps it was over the fact that there were some different elements in the music, such as the slide guitar in "Man With a Mission". But nevertheless, Recipe for Hate is a varied album, which in itself makes it stand out from most of Bad Religion's back catalogue since most of their stuff is very similar. A lot of the songs take on a slower tempo than the usual breakneck pace that typlifies most BR material. But that only shows this band is truly just a great rock band, period. They've always been too literate for common punk anyhow.

Greg Graffin's vocals are top notch throughout the album. Aside from the use of the word "dichotomy" in a rock song (big nerd points for that), the gripping harmony and melody line in "Struck a Nerve" really does strike a nerve - a good one. The "big hit single" "American Jesus" is a very catchy but intelligent look at the superiority complex many Americans have towards the rest of the world. "Watch it Die" is a harrowing, slow piece that focuses the mirror on our own apathy. Whether the band is playing higher speeds, such as the excellent "Skyscraper", trying something a bit off the beaten path such as the aforementioned "Man With a Mission" or just rocking out with prototype Bad Religion songs, Recipe For Hate is a strong piece of work that somehow seems much better six years later than when I originally heard it.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/1999

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Stranger Than Fiction

Bad Religion - Stranger Than Fiction ©1994 Atlantic
1. Incomplete
2. Leave Mine To Me
3. Stranger Than Fiction
4. Tiny Voices
5. The Handshake
6. Better Off Dead
7. Infected
8. Television
9. Individual
10. Hooray For Me...
11. Slumber
12. Marked
13. Inner Logic
14. What It Is
15. 21st Century (digital Boy)

As with any Bad Religion album, there is a safety valve with expectations. Bad Religion has essentially been releasing the same album over and over, only upgrading minutely each album with their improved musical skills. Stranger Than Fiction was the first release to specifically go to a major label (Atlantic) and was also the last album to feature original guitarist Brett Gurewitz. Compared to the previous release Recipe For Hate, which strayed outside expectations a bit with some more experimental ideas (experimental for Bad Religion, that is), Stranger Than Fiction is a throwback to a more straightforward BR. The production of Andy Wallace does put a shiny coat on the basic sound, making this sonically the best sounding Bad Religion album to date. And as with any Bad Religion release, there is an abundance of energetic, literate and catchy songs, which has always been their calling card. Of the most memorable here are the title track, "Television" (featuring some guy from Rancid), "Hooray for Me...", a mid-tempo rocker in "The Handshake" and "Incomplete". A couple times the band drops to a slow tempo and comes up with mixed results. "Infected" and "Slumber" aren't really up to snuff in the scheme of things and tend to drop the property value of the songs around them. The worst offender on the album is the very pointless remake of Against the Grain's "21st Century Digital Boy", which was fine in its original form. Fortunately it's at the end of the album and I can just stop playing the album before sitting through it. Stranger Than Fiction is simply a solid and expected effort from Bad Religion and thus deserves your attention based on that.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/1999

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The Gray Race

Bad Religion - The Gray Race ©1996 Atlantic
1. The Gray Race
2. Them And Us
3. A Walk
4. Parallel
5. Punk Rock Song
6. Empty Causes
7. Nobody Listens
8. Pity The Dead
9. Spirit Shine
10. The Streets Of America
11. Ten In 2010
12. Victory
13. Drunk Sincerity
14. Come Join Us
15. Cease

The Gray Race was a big questionmark for a band that defined consistency in their career. With Brett Gurewitz out of the band and Brian Baker (who had played previously in Minor Threat, Dag Nasty and um, Junkyard...that's a solid punk rock pedigree for you) taking over on second guitar, it was up to vocalist Greg Graffin to prove he could pick up the slack in songwriting. Turns out he was up to the task, for the most part, with a little help from Baker here and there. Wisely, the albums up with four of the strongest songs in recent memory for Bad Religion. "Them and Us" and particularly "Parallel" are thunderous, intelligent and extremely vigorous exercises in the sound BR pioneered and personified. On the flip side, "Ten in 2010" is another extremely exceptional tune that to this day remains one of my favorite from the band. There are moments where energy and intensity droops slightly, but at the same time The Gray Race pulverizes every album since 1990's Against the Grain. As always, Graffin's literate and thoughtfully articulated lyrics make for solid reading if you choose to whip out the liner notes. His perceptions into everyday existence and problems the world face are quite insightful. "Ten in 2010" especially hits close to home with its call for awareness in global overpopulation. (Spoiler: Ten billion people on the planet 2010...and you thought the freeways were crowded now.) Though there will always be Luddites insisting Mr. Brett wrote the only good songs in BR's back catalogue, The Gray Race is an incredible piece of work from one of the most solid rock bands around.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/1999

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No Substance

Bad Religion - No Substance ©1998 Atlantic
1. Hear It
2. Shades of Truth
3. All Fantastic Images
4. The Biggest Killer in American History
5. No Substance
6. Raise Your Voice!
7. Sowing the Seeds of Utopia
8. The Hippy Killers
9. The State of the End of the Millennium Address
10. The Voracious march of Godliness
11. Mediocre Minds
12. Victims of the Revolution
13. Strange Denial
14. At the Mercy of Imbeciles
15. The Same Person
16. In So Many Ways

If you remove Into the Unknown from Bad Religions discography, it's very likely that No Subtance becomes the next candidate for "worst Bad Religion album ever". Actually, now that I think about it, Into the Unknown provided some hilarity in their attempt to be prog rockers and that misstep could be written off as youthful miscalculation of just how far the boundaries of punk rock could be pressed. Ironically, the backlash from that record is part of the reason Bad Religion ultimately established a specific songwriting formula on later records. And that formula is precisely the problem with No Substance. This record simply sounds like a band going through the motions of making a record and getting ready for yet another world tour without any real introspection on the quality of the music. This is a collection of unmemorable recordings delivered with technical ability and good sound production, but with all the soul of a factory worker putting doors on an automobile, an act performed countless times throughout the day without any real inspiration. No Substance has all the parts of the formula, but it lacks the enthusiasm that earlier efforts contained. Even the first post Mr. Brett record, The Gray Race, felt like the band was rip-roaring ready to go and were genuinely excited about the songs at hand, but No Substance might as well have been together by session players working strictly for a paycheck from the studio.

This record, coupled with the marginally better The New America, represent the creative ebb for Bad Religion. It's actually easier to recommend Into the Unknown for the chuckle factor. The best No Substance gets is a sad shake of the head and a "tsk tsk".

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2010

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The New America

Bad Religion - The New America ©2000 Atlantic
1. You've Got A Chance
2. It's A Long Way To The Promise Land
3. A World Without Melody
4. New America
5. 1000 Memories
6. A Streetkid Named Desire
7. Whisper In Time
8. Believe It
9. I Love My Computer
10. The Hopeless Housewife
11. There Will Be A Way
12. Let It Burn
13. Don't Sell Me Short

Having entered a phase of their lengthy career where they might actually be seen as irrelevant, Bad Religion is still recording quality, enjoyable albums with regularity and ease. Now three releases deep into the post-Mr. Brett era, no one can truly claim that Bad Religion couldn't survive without one of their two primary songwriters of their heyday. Greg Graffin has more than proved that he can write enough songs to fill out entire albums with The Gray Race, No Substance and now The New America. While all three albums do have their share of filler material, they have more than enough Bad Religion flair to sustain their necessity for the fans.

What The New America happens to offer is a more rock arena-ized version of Bad Religion. While classic Bad Religion elements of large choruses, three part harmornies and literate lyrics are still in mass quantity, the elements have been combined with a more largescale production courtesy of Todd Rundgren. The result is a catchy rock album that hones a punk aesthetic in a more flexible rock setting. Naturally this will quite easily alienate the crustier segments of their fanbase but Bad Religion's members are hardly teenagers anymore and an album like this is not exactly unexpected. But regardless of the arena scale of the production, the immediately catchy nature of the music is still very abundant throughout. It just so happens the choruses are just that much larger and the harmonies more overt. On a whole, The New America seems a bit more inspired and better written than No Substance. And like nearly every Bad Religion album, it grows on you over time and becomes a very good record.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/2001

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The Process Of Belief

Bad Religion - The Process Of Belief ©2002 Epitaph
1. Supersonic
2. Prove It
3. Can't Stop It
4. Broken
5. Destined For Nothing
6. Materalist
7. Kyoto Now!
8. Sorrow
9. Epiphany
10. Evangeline
11. The Defense
12. The Lie
13. You Don't Belong
14. Bored And Extremely Dangerous

Perseverance does actually pay off. Bad Religion, now over two decades deep into a storied career of melodic pop-punk, has been through more than a few setbacks and around many obstacles. Yet, after a series of roadblocks that would have stymied most bands, Bad Religion has erupted back into the forefront with perhaps one of the best albums of their entire career.

The past two Bad Religion albums, No Substance and The New America, were somewhat lackluster in comparison to everything released before then. By many bands' standards, they were fine records, but Bad Religion's base level is considerably higher than your average band. However, between The New America and The Process of Belief, several things happened to the band that completely reinvigorated the band. First of all, former guitarist Brett Gurewitz rejoined the band as a songwriter and studio member (his duties running Epitaph prevented him from touring). Despite past animosity, it's quite obvious the chemistry of having him back in the fold refocused the band. Secondly, longtime drummer Bobby Schayer sadly had to retire from music due to a degenerative shoulder condition. The ironic benefit of this tragedy is that Bad Religion recruited the youthful Brooks Wackerman to man the drum kit and his raging energy catapulted the band from the midpaced doldrums of the past two albums.

Although Bad Religion adheres to their songwriting formula on The Process of Belief, there seems to be a new energy and excitement to the band as well as very inspired songwriting throughout the entire CD. Singer Greg Graffin proved he could handle the songwriting load during Brett's absence, but Bad Religion certainly benefits from having the two songwriters at work again. Throughout the CD, the harmonies seem stronger, the pace more manic and driving, and the catchiness stronger than ever. The first three tracks are an incredible burst of adrenaline and rhymthmic rush that it's hard to believe a few of the band members are approaching forty. In fact, on "Can't Stop", Wackerman's drumming is so aggressive that you can just hear the other guys in the band, "Oh hell, we gotta keep up with the kid now". Thus, elements of their classic Suffer album pop up throughout. Aggression aside, it's simply the inspired nature of the songwriting that makes this album sparkle and resonant. There's no sense of an old band going through the motions; rather, this 2002 version of Bad Religion sounds like they have much to prove to a stagnant music world. When the band slows down the pace on tracks like "Sorrow" or "The Defense", there is a tremendous amount of appeal to a rock audience that might normally disregard punkish music. Moreover, Graffin's intelligence lyrical delivery still places their text into the cerebral and thoughtful realm. Despite the fact that many folks approaching forty may be either worrying about IRAs, raising a family and keeping up with the Joneses, Bad Religion still offers a critical look at our rapidly decaying world with a sense of enlightenment that few bands are intelligent enough to offer.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a long running band prove that age is no obstacle and can still put out a record that overshadows nearly their entire discography. There haven't been many better albums released in 2002 and The Process of Belief has dominated my listening time more than any other CD I've come across this year. And since I've given this many months of thought, I can honestly state this very well could be Bad Religion's finest hour yet.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2002

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The Empire Strikes First

Bad Religion - The Empire Strikes First ©2004 Epitaph
1. Overture
2. Sinister Rouge
3. Social Suicide
4. Atheist Peace
5. All There Is
6. Los Angeles Is Burning
7. Let Them Eat War
8. God's Love
9. To Another Abyss
10. The Quickening
11. The Empire Strikes First
12. Beyond Electric Dreams
13. Boot Stamping On A Human Face Forever
14. Live Again (The Fall Of Man)

Reviewing Bad Religion albums is hardly a chore. The band has specialized in steadfastly advancing one musical formula for most of two decades and each new release usually only requires noting a minor deviance or perhaps some band drama behind the scenes. In the case of the latest Bad Religion CD, there's little to report in the Bad Religion soap opera and just as little to report in musical deviance.

The band's last CD, 2002's The Process of Belief, was the band's first in years with original guitarist Brett Gurewitz and one of their most impressive albums in their entire career. Without a doubt, the infusion of Brett's songwriting skills as well as youthful drummer Brooks Wackerman helped the album become a monstrous, raging monolith of melodic punk fury. Without even hearing The Empire Strikes First, I knew the band wasn't going to top that effort. Fortunately, Bad Religion has excelled at always being above average (with perhaps the exception of No Substance, which just flopped completely), so this latest CD is not too much of a dropoff.

The fourteen songs on The Empire Strikes First stick to the typical Bad Religion regiment: fast paced rock, massive harmonies and erudite, pointed lyrics. In other words, if you've ever heard a Bad Religion CD, particularly one released over the past ten years, you know exactly what to expect. If you haven't heard a Bad Religion song before, you should ask for your rock to move to a slightly more culturally relevant area. Unlike The Process of Belief, the newest Bad Religion doesn't feature as many jaw dropping numbers that will forever be among the band's best. Instead, the CD is consistently decent from start to finish. The most notable aspect of the album is the sharply critical lyrics that are more specifically topical than any other Bad Religion album I can remember. Of course, when you look upon the last three years of Bush's new America, you can quickly surmise where Greg Graffin found his inspiration. Between the horrible fires of southern California last year to Bush's unilateral illegal invasion of a sovereign, non threatening nation, Graffin finds many areas to cover. He astutely points out how time and time again wars are fought for rich men and rich corporations while sacrificing young, poor people who will never benefit from any aspect of the war. As with many other bands finding their voice, Bad Religion offers defiance in the face of George Bush's corrupt, destructive regime.

In the grand scheme of things, The Empire Strikes First is a middling Bad Religion album that will neither blow your socks off or cause you to eat the CD out of rage. Not too many bands have been this consistently reliable over the past two decades and it's always a treat to hear new music from this band.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2004

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New Maps of Hell

Bad Religion - New Maps of Hell ©2007 Epitaph
1. 52 Seconds
2. Heroes and Martyrs
3. Germs of Perfection
4. New Dark Ages
5. Requiem for Dissent
6. Before You Die
7. Honest Goodbye
8. Dearly Beloved
9. Grains of Wrath
10. Murder
11. Scrutiny
12. Prodigal Son
13. The Grand Delusion
14. Lost Pilgrim
15. Submission Complete
16. Fields of Mars

Bad Religion has had a tendency throughout their career (check that, post-Suffer) to release a couple absolutely smashing records, only to follow it up with a bit of a dud. Keep in mind as you read this review that a "dud" for Bad Religion would be a career pinnacle for most bands, so be sure to retain your sense of perspective on the matter.

It's taken Bad Religion three years to produce a follow-up to 2004's The Empire Strikes Back, partly due to singer Greg Graffin's country-tinged solo record. According to interviews and news blurbs, plenty of songs had been written in the meantime, so the band certainly couldn't have been lacking for material. However, as it occasionally happens, Bad Religion finds themselves tapped out to a certain degree. All the elements are firmly in place: big choruses, harmonies, speedy songs, erudite lyrics. But the feeling is the band is running through the motions, going by rote more than anything else. I've had a copy of this since not long after it was released and very little about it has encouraged me into repeat listens. It simply feels adequate at best. Unfortunately, it also feels like a record the band felt they had to record since it had already been three years since their last release.

The songs are often unexpectedly brief. Three quarters of the album falls into the under three minute mark with a few checking in at less than two. On at least one occasion, the song ends so abruptly you almost wonder if the songwriter ran out of lyrics and just cut his losses. But sadly, very few of the songs here rank very highly in the vast back catalogue of Bad Religion music.

Like No Substance and Generator, New Maps of Hell is one of those bummer records from a band whose career is now approaching thirty years in existence. It does feel like a natural oscillation of creativity and inspiration and Bad Religion has always rebounded from an ebb with stunning results, so all I have to do now is wait for the next Bad Religion and all will be well again.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2008


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