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The years leading up to the release of Black Flag's second full-length, My War
, were tumultuous in every sense of the word. Following the release of Damaged
and subsequent touring, the band began feuding with Unicorn Records, an MCA subsidiary that was supposed to distribute their debut LP; the parent company refused to distribute Damaged
because of its "anti-parent" content. Black Flag then released the record themselves via Greg Ginn's SST, resulting in a lawsuit from Unicorn and a court injuncture preventing the band from recording under their name.
During the two years between their debut and the recording of My War
, Black Flag made a series of demos that showed them growing in leaps and bounds musically; tempos began to slow, with the obvious nods to Black Sabbath and locals Saint Vitus. Henry Rollins' strained bark became more ferocious and varied, while Greg Ginn's guitar repertoire began to expand beyond punk rock standards, incorporating elements of free-jazz into his soloing and penning more rhythmically complex and unorthodox guitar parts.
All of these factors played heavily into My War
's final outcome. The title track is one of Black Flag's most volatile songs, kicking off the album with Rollins' frantic shouts of "You say that you're my friend/ But you're one of them". The song sets the tone for the first portion of an album brimming with angst. "Beat My Head Against the Wall" seems to change constantly in order to compliment Rollins' schizophrenic approach to vocals, declaring "Living in the mainstream is such a lame dream" in true do-it-yourself fashion.
"I Love You" features some of Ginn's most memorable and melodic guitar work, which wouldn't be out of place in a modern pop-punk song. At first the song appears to be an ironic take on stereotypical love songs, but further investigation reveals a darker slant; the protagonist gives himself to a woman only to be taken for granted and possibly cheated on, and as a result, decides to kill her. ("I gave you my life, but what did I get?/ Now its time to take it back").
Black Flag's progression thus far is most obvious in the final three songs, all of which are over six minutes. None of them stray from a laggard pace, dwelling on murky atmospheres that punk rock bands had never successfully attempted before. Haunting background guitar aids the psychedelic feel of "Three Nights" in addition various vocal effects, haunting bass lines, and improvisational soloing.
ends with a single chug of a guitar string; a particularly quiet ending to an album rife with anger that somehow never feels completely vented. Many of the people who appreciate the album will more than likely identify with the lyrical themes, however strangely juvenile they appear to be. Along with Saccharine Trust, Butthole Surfers, and several other underground bands of time, Black Flag helped carve out a niche for experimentation within a punk framework. It's a swell record.