Religion-The Empire Strikes Back
By: Liz Raftery
After listening to Bad Religion's The Empire Strikes First, one thing is certain-the veteran punk rockers, who have been wreaking musical havoc for over two decades, certainly have not mellowed with age. All the elements of a Bad Religion record are present here: among them aggression, frustration and youthful energy. Only one aspect is different, with the addition of new drummer Brooks Wackerman (Suicidal Tendencies) to replace former skinsman Bobby Schayer, who was forced to give up drumming in 2001 following a shoulder injury. Wackerman fits nicely into the lineup and his pounding beats form the backbone of several tracks on Empire.
Singer/songwriter Greg Graffin continues to wear his political views on his sleeve on the band's latest release, penning tunes like "Atheist Peace," "Let Them Eat War" and the title track. However, the disenchanted lyrics are sung with such reckless abandon and the backing music is so fetching, one could just as easily be singing along to a nursery rhyme.
"Los Angeles is Burning," the album's undeniably catchy first single, is an example. As an analysis of the city which symbolizes the American way of life, the tune dissects the locale's seeming perfection. Graffin sings, "And you can't deny the living is easy if you never look behind the scenery So many lives are on the breeze, even the stars are ill at ease."
The title track's biting satire criticizes Americana, while subtly commenting on President Bush's foreign policy: "We strike first and we're unrehearsed / Here we go again to stage the greatest show on heaven and earth / Come on! Get your money's worth." The chorus resonates in typical punk rock call-and-response fashion: "Don't wanna live! Don't wanna give! Don't wanna be! E-M-P-I-R-E!"
"The Quickening" sparks of early Bad Religion (think 1992's Generator), with a blistering solo from guitarist Brett Gurewitz.
Production-wise, The Empire Strikes First is more polished than the band's previous release, 2002's The Process of Belief. The album was mixed by Joe Barresi (Hole, Queens of the Stone Age).
remarkable is the underlying intelligence behind Bad Religion's lyrical and
musical content. Graffin, college professor and recipient of two phD's, even
quotes Thomas Wolfe in "The Quickening" - and cites his source via
Typical cynicism towards organized faith (hence the band's moniker) is also prevalent on the record. On "God's Love," Graffin barks, "While viruses prowl for helpless victims who succumb rapidly / Tell me! Tell me where is the love in a careless creation?"
many punk bands who either fizzle out or sell out, becoming hypocrites along
the way and distorting their anti-everything creed, Bad Religion has stayed
true to form. Longtime fans will continue to embrace Bad Religion's dark message
on The Empire Strikes First.
Bad Religion will perform at the Vans Warped Tour in Boston on August 19.