Friday, 23 October 2009

Black Flag - My War (1984, SST Records)

The album cover, which I've heard described as a knife-weilding boxing glove punching Adolf Hitler, actually depicts a hand-puppet, complete with head, clutching a kitchen knife. This is what that little tie is supposed to illustrate.

Version reviewed: SST CD

"My War" is an album that divides fans. On one hand, it nearly totally abandons the Black Flag/hardcore punk sound, adopting a harder yet looser style with a lot of noise influence. On the other hand, it nearly totally abandons the Black Flag/hardcore sound for a series of badly produced noise rock songs that have a lot of angry screaming.

However, I think it's probably the best album this band ever came out with. There's no bass player really on the record, just Greg Ginn following his guitars (or playing the entirety of the rhythm as on the last two songs). The production is, yes, fairly lacking, especially on things like the backing vocals in the second half of "I Love You", which sound like they were accidentally recorded by the wrong mic, in the room next to the tiled echofest of toilet the band must've been singing in.

But none of that matters, these are nice, fuzzed out punk rock songs with anger in the right places and very nice vocal performance from Rollins, especially on "Beat My Head Against the Wall" and "Three Nights", both of which are intense Rollins vocal performances without being especially fast.

The second side of the original record (or last three songs on this CD) are three long "angst drones", meaning slower, downer melodies played on a bass guitar with a plodding rhythm behind it, while Greg and Henry spew off freestyle. Actually, "Nothing Left Inside" is a bit tighter than that, but the solo sounds like an early Butthole Surfers kind of solo. "Three Nights" has an intro that at first foreshadows the spoken word/instrumental dynamic of the subsequent "Family Man" LP, but then becomes inexplicable but powerfully effecting noise rock. It's endlessly defeated fuzz riff floats around the guitar noise overdubbed in the background like a black cloud. The solo is less noisy than other Ginn solos (especially on this album), but it's also a lot more melodic.

There's definetely a Saint Vitus influence here as well, on both the fast songs and the slower ones too, obviously. It's well known that Black Sabbath was one of Greg Ginn's (and the rest of the band's) favourite groups. In fact, parts of the record such as the opening of "Can't Decide" and some of the guitar work on "Three Nights" sound as much like Flipper as they do Vitus.

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