Bad Religion - True North
2013 Epitaph Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
It's not just their longevity that's impressive, nor their prolificness. The fact Bad Religion has seldom disappointed in their three decades on the punk scene cements their legacy. Even their lowest moment on record is still above-average and that has everything to do with their ceaseless angst and contempt for authority that has kept them real. Granted, the message over the course of Bad Religion's career has been stuck in stasis, but nobody sells the anti-establishment creed better than these guys, that's a fact.
True North is just as fast, just as scathing and just as imperative in tone as Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain, the band's widely-acknowledged classics. Since bringing Minor Threat/Dag Nasty/Junkyard guitarist Brian Baker into the fold, Bad Religion has upgraded their speed attack from a guy who can go as fast or as slow as he's needed. For instance, he helps keeping the whirling tsunami of "Robin Hood in Reverse" gusting with tuneful bravado. By attrition, Bad Religion's historic sense of musicality has spiked as of 2000's New America and 2002's The Process of Belief, the latter when the briefly-departed Gurewitz rejoined the band to hone out a triple guitar attack. Already masters of harmony set on hyperthrust, Bad Religion have their brisk-moving, accusatory craft down pat as holdouts of a SoCal punk scene that's more talked about in reflection than preserved at-large.
Perhaps watching ghosts of their contemporaries crop up only intermittently gives Bad Religion extra fang and extra spit to keep going as scene regulars. "Past is Dead" on their latest album would be more than indicative that Bad Religion has said a figurative goodbye to nostalgia and kept to their own collective task. Of course it can't be discounted the fact guitarist Brett Gurewitz owns Epitaph Records and his constant exposure to new talent that grew up on his band's early catalog keeps his--and his bandmates, by benefit--fires going.
16 songs in under 35 minutes, True North is a classic in the making for a band that has plenty enough classics already. Greg Graffin may be a tad more laidback in his delivery than he used to be, but it's only by a hair. You won't feel like he's missed a venomous lick on "Nothing to Dismay" or "Land of Endless Greed ." As ever, his supporting back-layered "ahhs" from the band keeps a lofting conscience overtop the sheer anger Graffin wields more than he lashes these days. Together, they're outright beautiful on "Crisis Time."
While True North opens in a flurry of velocity with the title track, "Past is Dead," "Robin Hood in Reverse" and "Land of Endless Greed," the album varies its tempos through the remainder of its fast ride, exploding with a climax on the trifecta finale "My Head is Full of Ghosts," "The Island" and "Changing Tide," the former ringing very much akin to Dag Nasty's "Ghosts" from their brilliant and passionate Minority of One album--of which Brian Baker was a party to.
In fact, True North might be the best punk album since Minority of One. This is not only a brutally honest mini epic of punk dogma, it's a preconditioned reaction to a way of being, not merely playing. Still attacking the while collar world on "Robin Hood in Reverse," "Dept. of False Hope" and "Land of Endless Greed" and societal apathy on "Vanity" and "In Their Hearts is Right," Bad Religion puts their few rubbed nickels where their saliva-laced mouths are. Greg Graffin uses "Fuck You" as a platform not for shock value but as a gentle "excuse me" moment to explain his reflexive, still adolescent need to shout back at the world despite his representative age. In turn, he's looking for an extra pardon and a little bit of understanding on "Hello Cruel World." This is a punk ethos you can't teach youngsters who need to learn it on their own and on their own terms.
The past may be dead, but Bad Religion shows that keeping their course set for true north into a future that seems hardly expired is not just the nobler way, it's the only righteous direction.