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| 07/11/2007 at 07:40
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Sunday, July 8, 2007
The thinking man?s punk*
Bad Religion is adept at articulating its grievances
By Scott McLennan entertainment columnist
Transubstantiation. Susurrations. Canticle. Trammels.
Those are words one does not normally encounter in the typical punk-rock song, yet they are just a few of vocab-building nuggets you?ll find in the lyrics of ?New Maps of Hell,? the latest album by Bad Religion, not your typical punk-rock band.
Due out Tuesday, ?New Maps of Hell? is Bad Religion?s 14th album, and simply bolsters the band?s stature as America?s premier thinking-punk troupe. The godfathers of contemporary punk will be featured along this summer?s vans warped Tour which comes to the Tweeter Center in Mansfield on Aug. 9.
There are no radical departures in sound or style (what were you expecting, a happy Bad Religion album?), yet the band proves itself ever more adept at articulating its complaints and hopes. And that commitment to craft is reflected both in the music and lyrics on ?New Maps of Hell.? Sure there are some big words, yet they are not tossed in simply to impress. Likewise, the occasional (and brief) guitar solo, or harmonized background vocals do not derail the aggressive spirit of Bad Religion. No, Bad Religion is simply holding to the principle of refusing to dumb down its sound or ideas.
Together now since the early 1980s, Bad Religion could have easily devolved into punk parody. Instead, founding members singer Greg Graffin, bass player Jay Bentley and guitarist Brett Gurewitz, and newer recruits Greg Hetson, Brian Baker, punk-bred guitarists from Circle Jerks and Minor Threat, respectively, and drummer Brooks Wackerman have let their music grow up with them as they matured from rebellious teens to concerned adults.
Not that Bad Religion forgets what it feels like to be rebellious teens, as ?New Maps of Hell? kicks off with a furious rant that lasts less than one minute, though is not exactly the length of the title, ?52 Seconds.? No matter, Graffin and crew hammer home the point in that brief screed that they want to feel a part of something larger, despite the best efforts of the powerful to keep people artificially divided.
From that jumping off point, Bad Religion engages in such longstanding topics as the battle between truth and dogma and the ills brought forth by morally corrupt leadership from church and state.
What sets this tirade apart from previous Bad Religion efforts is the band?s use of language and images from the very institutions it deems repugnant. The song ?Grains of Wrath? subverts ?America the Beautiful? into hollow rhetoric. The soaring ?Fields of Mars? is loaded with Biblical imagery but argues that much of organized religion is without a moral compass and drifted far from the values found in tales of the saints and martyrs.
The thematic laments play off of more specific complaints. ?The Grand Delusion? takes aim at those who use political power to squash advances in science (stem cell research anybody?). On ?The New Dark Ages? Graffin ? who holds a Ph.D. and is a professor at UCLA ? barks that we are largely animas who can?t be moved by reason. ?Dearly Beloved? chronicles the tale of a good and righteous man who turns to his church and proclaims he can no longer relate to the congregation.
Through it all, though, Bad Religion manages to hold out hope that things can ? and will ? get better. ?Requiem for Dissent? attempts to scare up the spirit of the citizen soldier willing to fight the good fight, and not the corporate fight (which gets some attention in the song ?Murder?).
?New Maps of Hell? is rippling with musical muscle. Bad Religion makes full use of its three-guitar lineup and flexible rhythm section, conjuring simmering laments as easily as bucking rage. And with 16 songs crammed into a disc that runs just over 38 minutes, nobody can accuse Bad Religion of wasting time.
***Updated: source link is [here
Thanks to Richard Nangle for this news!