Review Summary: On The Dissent of Man, the band proved that an old dog could learn new tricks--True North proves that it can still remember the old ones too.
Punk pioneers Bad Religion have had quite a luckily unique career. Unlike many punk bands that exploded alongside them, Bad Religion are still going strong over thirty years later with only a few minor bumps in their discography. When the band hit the scene the late 70s and released their first album in the early 80s, they had young punks everywhere picking up dictionaries with Graffin and Gurewitz’ socially, religiously and politically aware lyrics, stimulating minds and ensnaring fans with their brand of fast-paced, aggressive and intelligent punk rock. Unafraid of experimentation and change, Bad Religion have, over the years, experimented with progressive rock, avant-garde, folk, grunge and even pop and rock. 2007’s New Maps of Hell
found the band of old punks coming back to a more heavy hardcore sound, but it felt like a forced change to try and reanimate the nostalgia of younger years. With 2010’s album The Dissent of Man
, fans saw the band shying away from the melodic hardcore style and writing more hook-driven rock songs that wasn’t widely embraced by all. 2013 is here and what have Bad Religion to show for it? Thankfully for some, True North
is not a sequel to The Dissent of Man
, and instead sees Bad Religion once again reaching back for a former sound, as well uncovering some unknown territory.
Whilst True North
doesn’t sound like it could easily be found in between Suffer and No Control, it still finds the band calling back to their hardcore roots, blasting out short two-minute punk anthems with memorable riffs and some of the most satisfying solos this side of Generator
. Not all the songs being quite that simple, track seven ‘Hello Cruel World’ being a slow, build-driven song that runs on repetitive guitar riffs and vocal harmonies in the song’s chorus, and though it’s the longest song on the record, it’s easily the most forgettable, especially when the nigh-on Bad Religion classic ‘Vanity’ bursts out straight after. With a galloping drum beat and some absolutely killer vocal work by Graffin; his speedy tongue and knack for vocal hooks will keep you wanting more long after its one-minute run time. 'Vanity' fights to be one of the best on the album.
The band brings back their experimental side with the track ‘Dharma and the Bomb,’ sounding like a brooding, traditional 70s punk song with roaring guitar work that will knock a hole in your chest if it catches you off-guard. The truly unique thing about this track is the addition of guitarist Brett Gurewitz on lead vocal duties, doing an admirable job of keeping the song dark and menacing in its execution as he sings over a satiating riff and pulsing snare and ride beat from drummer Brooks Wackerman. The way it all comes together makes you re-evaluate what you thought Bad Religion could do, with its really quite nasty riffs and it has this foundation of destruction about it, something that just makes this song have a distinctive feeling of tenuous anger. The sullen guitar intro to ‘Past is Dead’ underneath Graffin’s solid vocals is another moment where the band seems to have stepped out of their comfort zone, sounding distant and slow, the time bomb it is ticking away; the way the fast-paced melodic hardcore we have come to love flies out almost immediately after makes ‘Past is Dead’ feel much more suitable as an opening track, rather than being placed second on the album.
Through all sixteen tracks, this album still has everything a Bad Religion fan has become accustomed to. There is no lack of the oozin’ aahs, trademark hooks or regular guitar solos. The riffs are as abundant as one could hope them to be, something Bad Religion has never had a problem with, each album being able to pull out some of the most enjoyable riffs in the genre like it’s nothing. Wackerman is just as fierce as ever, his tight drumming sounding as on-point as it could ever be, dropping tasty fills where he can. It’s notable to mention Wackerman’s drum intro to ‘Robin Hood in Reverse,’ in which I found myself replaying it just to hear the intro. It isn’t much, but just a masterful little fill of his kick drum, snare and a few cymbals. While it’s remarkable that we don’t hear Bad Religion recycling material as much as could be expected, there are a few moments where it sounds like they’ve modified an old riff or two: the opening riff to the title track sounding similar to the opening riff of Stranger Than Fiction’s
‘Leave Mine To Me,’ and the opening riff to ‘The Island’ sounding like it has been taken from Suffer’s
‘When?.’ Even so, these are minor gripes, as both songs as wholes sound almost completely different otherwise.
Production on this album is as good as you could hope, not mastered too loudly, each instrument mixed in well that nothing is hidden or too over-bearing. Lyrically it doesn’t stand out all that much amongst older releases, but that’s not to say it has deteriorated lyrically, Graffin/Gurewitz still providing easy to remember lyrical chorus hooks for fans to sing along to, all the while not dropping their literary integrity. In time, True North
could very well be considered to lie in the upper echelon of Bad Religion albums, tracks like ‘Vanity,’ ‘Popular Consensus,’ and ‘My Head is Full of Ghosts’ sticking out as among the band’s best. Proving time and time again that age is no factor, that punk will never die and that this group of old punks can hit just as hard as their younger contemporaries.