“Punk was originally about creating new, important, energetic music that would hopefully threaten the status quo and the stupidity of the 1970s,” asserts Jello Biafra, and in a short amount time it seemed if the stupidity of disco and glam rock were given a solid boot up the keister by what perhaps is defined as “punk’s most recognizable period.” Recognizable because the immediate mention of the word and the majority would allude to what it embodied in the late 70’s – pins, Mohawks, leather jackets and a crusty old stick-it-to-the-man middle finger – and yet many question the validity of the fashion statements as subversive, but one may forget that during that time, wearing safety pins was almost on par with of a nunnery full of whores (or a brothel full of nuns), and it was what got attention to the music if the music itself did not do so. In the immediate proceeding years, the very cornerstones of this counterculture would form; in New York rose The Ramones while the United Kingdom ignited the fury of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks. It was a short period of immediate glory, but what 1977 brought to the world would ring invariably in many shapes and forms – buoyed by what seems to be an undying cause for personal expression and a very human passion to question what is put before us.
Through the years that followed, the subculture formed many offshoots and evolved in countless ways, but the one product of 1977 that perhaps best represents “punk” in its most effective form, would be the birth of hardcore in 1980s – The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Minutemen, Minor Threat and of course Bad Religion. It is from these artists listeners finally sat up and took notice that punk was more than just saying “fuck you,” it was as Greg Graffin summarizes amongst several things, “a movement that serves to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through wilful ignorance of human nature.” And the ignorance of human nature was not limited to the suburbs of Los Angeles. But as the new decade rolled around, many of what youth began to see – hostage crises, assassinations, riots, the birth of MTV, and the full fledged burgeoning of iconic corporations – pushed them in one direction or the other. And from these locales, Bad Religion grew into perhaps the most prominent of these groups, spearheading a revolution from the suburbs that spanned the globe. Armed with sweltering melodies, a piercing sense of urgency and a vault of vocabulary, they conquered apathy, suffering, ignorance, greed, hate, faith and the consumption of the human spirit.
Through their approach they were effective with their message; never one to rely on finding singular, common constructs, they challenged their own sound and resisted the temptation to become indifferent – even when they had found their scope of influence. During this period of musical and influential prosperity, one for all intents and purposes we shall label as 1988-1992, their work was boundless, and in essence, untouchable amongst those who shared the same billing. Speaking personally, the albums released during this period, the bulk of Epitaph’s reissues, were by far the most appealing – at least for someone who grew up far from the immediate range of their music (at least for the majority of their broadcast). In this, I found a certain likeness to their work; that it was not merely discourse in the ills of American society, but the ills of the world, and more importantly, the society in which occurred directly outside my window. While my interest in American life sparked very early on, it was during my early teen years that I began realizing the tribulations of the country I called “home” – Indonesia was (and still is) rife with poverty, corruption, ignorance and greed of the highest level that succeeded in creating a false layer of security, hiding a bubbling self-destruction that, unfortunately, has since burst into a pseudo-democratic mess where few take responsibility, and even fewer know how to. Whether or not they aimed globally, Bad Religion spoke of these evils and their words quantified and summarized the moral extinctions to the greatest effect.
1988’s Suffer is widely regarded as one of the finest albums of its kind, and it first displayed Bad Religion’s ability to so efficiently, and meaningfully amplify conscious words. From there, they went on to release No Control, which still exhibits the single greatest song written in all mankind (at least in my humble opinion). “I Want to Conquer the World” will forever be the psalm for a soul desiring change and world revolution – never has two minutes and seventeen seconds been so precise in detailing the follies and hypocrisies of the so-called erudite community and preachers of good speak; fundamentally disclaiming that no human is infallible and/or capable of such wondrous feats, no matter how burning the desire. The follow-up to No Control is perhaps their greatest collection; although that debate would run eternal, Against the Grain exhibits songwriting and deliberation seasoned over two fantastic albums and a wealth of experience gained. Much of their 1995 All Ages compilation was built around a great deal of material from Against the Grain – a sign possibly that the band is best represented by these outings. [On (another) personal anecdote, I remember vividly how during junior high, my music class was asked to each bring in a song that they would like to play for the class – everyone else strode mightily with their collection of trivial music while I played “Modern Man.” I received disconcerting looks (a mixture of horror and confusion) while my teacher questioned my morality and positive responsibility to the classroom environment. Needless to say, the song speaks volumes in documenting how population Earth has so erred in an amazingly brief period of time.] Generator is the last of this period; released in 1992, some have argued its less than powerful nature – and yes, in contrast to its predecessors perhaps that contention holds value. Nonetheless, while it is one of the weaker releases, just barely better than both Stranger than Fiction and No Substance, it still exhibits some fine work – most notably the title track. It was also their last before their departure for Sony, another endless and seemingly futile argument that they somehow couldn’t be as effective surrounded by richer lining.
So now with Epitaph’s decision to reissue five of some of the most important records ever released, where do they really stand in regards to value? For one, the five – the retooled How Could Hell be any Worse? (an amalgam of their early documentation, 80-85, as well as added EP tracks), Suffer, No Control, Against the Grain, and Generator – have all been digitally remastered and reverberate with greater intensity. Cynics will argue the difference is minute, but for those who own the original recordings, the difference is palpable. The guitars discharge even more so commandingly, while the low-end and percussion work have been given added boost. The alterations are clear to anyone who was to play any song of the old recording with the newly remastered one in sequence; take “Modern Man” as an example – the chilling prophetic atmosphere of the 1990 edition is infinitesimal compared to its 2004 version; stunning. (Artwork has been updated as well, but that facet of these recordings is far less important).
Apparently there is debate on the usefulness of these reissues – but I for one cannot understand why this has become an issue. Do we forget at which stage of the evolution we seem so entrenched in? The filth of merchandising, commercialization, branding, manufacturing; this is what has become of 1977’s revolution that grew to immense power in the proceeding decade. Artists clamoring for music video rotation, clothing sponsorship, and magazine cover appearances. Even more alarming, those who are in a position to influence a great number of able bodied kids who seek direction, purpose and understanding are swayed to this useless and pointless brokerage of apathy. I recently came across an article on an influential website that has become a beacon for this meaningless practice, where the proprietor affirms that he is “not punk enough” but he definitely “does not care.” Indeed, discussing what is and what is not “punk” is just as futile, but this apathetic approach to what was the very antithesis for apathy is just plain delusional. And so perhaps these re-releases serves the purpose to (re)educate those who seemingly have distorted their view on what is and what is not. That alone justifies any cause Epitaph may have to re-release these records, and they couldn’t have picked a better selection.
There is no definitive punk manifesto; and while Graffin himself may have come closest in defining the relevance and importance of what it is, there can never be one true understanding. He does however, point to one important factor – that those who have never been challenged by life itself have no reason to doubt. And the existence of these records does endless good to illustrate situations for those unexposed to the many injustices that have become the constitutions of daily living. Humanity is bred imperfect, and we are all of the same mold; but there is much that can be induced from these albums – three of which will eternally remain essential – most importantly, that we should forever seek to find resolution for life’s answerless question.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.