Album Review
Bad Religion
Label: Epitaph
  • 4/5
Reviewed by Janelle
Following appropriately so in the footsteps of 2002's glorious return to form, 'The Process of Belief', comes Bad Religion's latest magnum opus, provocatively titled 'The Empire Strikes First'. With all that's been going on in the world these past few years, how could one possibly think for a second that those enduring bards of intelligent socio-political punk would NOT release a record dealing with the world's current plight and the U.S.' role amidst it all? We get some blazing tunes like "Let Them Eat War", a wonderfully powerful composition (albeit that rap from Sage Francis midway through is a bit suspect) and the title track, a great mid-tempo offering with meaningful lyrics like "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." But, as we've come to expect from this six-piece, the lyrics and messages are timeless. No one is name-checked directly, nothing dated. That - along with the unsurpassable hardcore punk that encompasses the lyrics - is what allows this band AND their innumerable records to endure and last. Even the raw, youthful, and angry 'How Could Hell Be Any Worse?' surfacing way back in '82 - marking their full-length debut - is as relevant as ever...let me stop before I hit pontification mode...

Of course, they also touch upon a familiar BR topic - religion - as on songs like the absolute standout, the passionate "God's Love"; "Atheist Peace"; the first real track (following the eerie, foreboding instrumental simply called "Overture") the visceral "Sinister Rouge"; and the fitting finale "Live Again (the Fall of Man)". The human condition is explored on the poignant and moving "To Another Abyss" and society on "Social Suicide". Meanwhile, the 2003 California forest fires are discussed on the hometown-sounding "Los Angeles Is Burning" - check out that "how could hell be any worse" line in there!

Musically, it's Bad Religion. Those trademark vocal harmonies - the "ooh"s and "aah"s, if you will - are used with abandon and well thought-out melodies abound. We get different styles and tempos throughout the album, including some slower, melancholic numbers like "Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever", "To Another Abyss"; some great anthems in the form of the aforementioned "Live Again", "Let Them Eat War"; plus, as always, a bunch of heart-stopping, blistering songs (that all still ooze melody) like "Sinister Rouge", the troubled "Social Suicide", "Atheist Peace", etc.

Basically, vocalist Greg Graffin and guitarist Brett Gurewitz (after a few less-than-brilliant albums sans Gurewitz...) are at the top of their game after all these years - continuing from 'The Process', when Gurewitz came back into the fold, lending his songwriting prowess once again to - dare I say - THE most vital band of the last 24 years?! There. I said it.

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