Review Summary: Bad Religion finds a great middle ground between the BR of the 80's and the BR of the new Millennium.
After almost 3 years of not hearing anything except a vastly underwhelming folk solo effort from Greg Graffin, Bad religion is back with what could very well be called one of their most diverse albums to date. I won't go on extolling the virtues of how Bad Religion has recaptured the sound that they achieved on Suffer
and that this album brings the band back to 1988, because that would simply be a falsehood. You can't attain the longevity that Bad Religion has without changing a good deal. We all saw the major changes with the darkness of Generator
, the polish on No Substance
and the influence of folkier rock most recently on The Empire Strikes First
. Really, it would simply be irresponsible of them as a band to discount the entire evolutionary process and go back to the completely stripped down tones of the late 80's, as amazing as those were. Also, the band members are like 40 now. Think about it. It'd really just be kind of goofy.
What Bad Religion has done with New Maps of Hell
is find a suitable way to pay homage to their hardcore punk days while at the same time keeping all of the desirable elements of the albums they have produced since then. There are still catchy choruses jam packed with "oozin ahs", superbly well blended vocal harmonies, vitriolic lyrics, and great use of guitar melodies giving all three of their guitarists a place in the spotlight, but...well... faster. That's the easiest way to sum it up. What has been missing from a good portion of their latest releases has been that speed with which they blasted out their songs. While their overall songwriting has done almost nothing but improve over the last 25+ years, they have been shying away from their hardcore roots for the sake of maturity. Sure there are songs like Supersonic
, Can't Stop It
, and Sinister Rouge
, but the majority of the songs they have put out simply would not have been as pretty and catchy at Suffer
, the opener of New Maps Of Hell
, gives the listener a cue right off the bat that they can expect something different from this album. The track is fast, frantic, and noticeably stripped down from the sound BR fans have grown accustomed to. Heroes and Martyrs
, the next track, is a build from its predecessor, feeling slightly cleaner with more complicated vocal lines, but without losing any of the energy built up by the intro. Germs of Perfection
gets a little stronger than the previous tracks, adding more harmonies as well as guitar melodies and dynamic changes, but still keeping the energy alive. Before the band members' respective limbs fall off, New Dark Ages
kicks in, dropping the energy back and reminding the listener of some of the tracks off of [i]Empre...[/b]. Requiem For Dissent
feels like a song that would be great live, with rhythmic shout choruses, while Before You Die
, with its swingy rhythms and simplistic melodies is guaranteed to get stuck in anybody's head for days. Honest Goodbye
, the first single released from the album, is the first track that may take some getting used to (as was certainly the case for me). It utilizes the slower yet more thoughtful and evocative songwriting as seen in Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever
, another track from Empire...
. Still, the brevity of the song is its saving grace, allowing the song to stay fresh and pretty to listen to without stagnating from a lack of going anywhere dynamically. I could continue to go on a track by track analysis, but I'm sure you're starting to get the picture here.
As for shortcomings, this album is not without them. The track Murder
felt almost too contrived as it is easily the most SoCal hardcore song on the album. Perhaps if it had been placed at the beginning of the album instead of over halfway through, I would have appreciated it more, but given that it feels like the album is continuously building upon itself throughout, the abrupt drop in the tone and writing of the song simply feels out of place. Fields of Mars
suffers from "sweeping conclusion syndrome", where it simply feels like the band is trying to offer an epic conclusion, but rather than utilize all of the elements they have been building on, they tacked on a song that feels like a Grey Race
In short, if you are a fan of the direction Bad Religion has been heading the last 7 years or so (basically anything they did after the travesty that was The New America
), this album is not going to disappoint you. It still feels like a Bad Religion album. They bring in few new elements per se, but rather get a broad scope of their previous sounds and styles compressed into each song. You will not be shocked by anything that they pull out of their sleeves in this album, only by how seamlessly they blend it together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.