Black Flag

Picture of Black Flag


Black Flag - Damaged ©1981 SST
1. Rise Above
2. Spray Paint
3. Six Pack
4. What I See
5. TV Party
6. Thirsty And Miserable
7. Police Story
8. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
9. Depression
10. Room 13
11. Damaged II
12. No More
13. Padded Cell
14. Life Of Pain
15. Damaged I

Black Flag's Damaged is considered to be one of the ultimate expressions and releases of early American hardcore. Moreover, it also happens to be one of the dirtiest, most hideous albums released in that era and for quite a few years beyond.

Up to 1981, Black Flag had churned through several singers, including Dez Cadena, who settled into the second guitar role by the time Damaged was released. The band finally recruited one Henry Rollins from Washington, D.C., to solidify the vocalist slot. He hadn't been chosen for his musical prowess or skill; rather, Rollins was chosen to handle vocals simply because he was the one singer Black Flag could not wear out with their relentless touring and legendary live shows. Rollins is the type of personality who refuses to go down without a fight and that attitude was absolutely necessary for the survival of a Black Flag vocalist. Damaged, the first release with Rollins on vocals, was the band's first full length release and the last one for quite some time as it preceded a long period of litigation with Unicorn Records.

Damaged is certainly an earsore, but in this amazingly good way. The production is downright nonexistent, the guitars are impossibly muddy and full of glitches, pops and other completely unacceptable noises if given a textbook viewpoint. (Technically gifted guitarists have always been flabbergasted to discover that all the imperfections on the records were duplicated live, because those dreadful sounds were meant to be there.) The album contains more than a handful of Black Flag's signature tracks, including "Six Pack", "Rise Above" and the classic "TV Party". "TV Party" is a hilarious look at couch potatoes whose entire lives revolve around their favorite shows. (If you can remember all the shows the band namechecks in the song, you are one old mofo.) The music is highly deconstructed and an assault on all that was pleasant in music. Ginn and Cadena's guitar playing is raucous and a terrifying blend of distortion and feedback noises. Rollins' vocal contributions are nothing more than him hollering out lyrics, but Black Flag's music never asked for pretty singing.

Even if you don't necessarily like what you hear on Damaged, the album is utterly required in your collection if you even slightly fancy yourself a fan of early punk and hardcore. The band, through all their phases, opened many doors for other bands as well as help set up the punk touring circuit that exists even today. The album stands as one of the most definitive voices of the early 80s. Fans have villified Rollins for supposedly causing the decay of Black Flag's music over the years, but the fact is his first appearance with the band is a true classic.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2001

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Everything Went Black

Black Flag - Everything Went Black ©1982 SST
1. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
2. I Don't Care
3. White Minority
4. No Values
5. Revenge
6. Depression
7. Clocked In
8. Police Story
9. Wasted
10. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
11. Depression
12. Police Story
13. Clocked In
14. My Rules
15. Jealous Again
16. Police Story
17. Damaged I
18. Louie Louie
19. No More
20. Room 13
21. Depression
22. Damaged II
23. Padded Cell
24. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
25. Crass Commercialism

If my memory of punk rock history serves correctly, Everything Went Black was released during a period of legal troubles Black Flag was having with Unicorn Records in the early 80s. The original packaging did not actually have "Black Flag" or the band's famous four bar logo anywhere on the sleeve. Eventually, Unicorn did the band the favor of going under and eventually Everything Went Black saw a proper SST Records release. The album consists of twenty-four early unreleased songs as well as a long and pretty darned amusing collection of early radio ads for the band called "Crass Commercialism". These songs represent the band at their earliest, perhaps ugliest stage of all. Black Flag was never about the pretty side of music and their hostility and completely deconstructed musical approach was obviously a milestone at the time (though it seems only years later does anyone quite realize the path they were clearing for later bands).

Three of the pre-Rollins singers appear here and the album is helpfully divided into sections featuring each singer. The first nine songs feature original shouter Keith Morris (credited as "Johnny 'Bob' Goldstein") whose distinctive voice reminds me a lot of the band he is more famous for: Circle Jerks. The Chavo tracks are slightly better in sound quality, with a thicker guitar sound. Chavo, on the other hand, is not so distinctive. Apparently his tenure with the band ended when he walked out during a gig. The last section features Dez Cadena, who is often credited as a fan favorite. His voice is a bit higher pitched in his hollering but you can also tell the band was slowly gaining proficiency on their instruments, especially if you compare tracks that are repeated on the album ("Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" or "Depression").

Everything Went Black is the type of album that is necessary for those who feel Black Flag was nothing more than a Henry Rollins outfit. The band had a nearly full career in years before Rollins actually joined and in fact, Rollins joined not for his voice but because he was the only singer they could not wear out on tour. Definitely a history lesson for those wondering how punk rock found its wheels.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2000

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