Review Summary: Bad Religion recharged.
Bad Religion are one truly remarkable band. After 33 years, these guys are still recording strong punk rock records with the same power and passion at such ease, that, by comparison, many of the younger bands in the genre feel flawed and amateurish.
Their previous record, The Dissent Of Man
, was more a mid-tempo affair, expanding the band's musical ideas a bit into the alternative rock sphere in the same vein long time predecessors Generator
and Recipe For Hate
had done. The songs often stretched past the 3 minute mark and some had a more contemplative tone, sometimes giving the thought they'd pursue a slightly different route for their next effort. However, this was not the case, as True North
is one fast, angry record, thus crushing fans' fears that Bad Religion were losing steam.
Returning full power, True North
is mostly a consolidation of the band's strength. There aren't any substantial differences from the rest of the catalog, just a 35 minute no bull*** stomp, that's the result of a revitalized Bad Religion. The execution is what makes the songs come to life more than expected. There are various traces of past efforts lurking here and there, but all the ideas are filtered through their current strengths and don't strive to relive their former glory like a lot of the bands their age do. Even at such short lengths the band have learned to expand and twist the riffs while adding various tweaks from subtle piano lines to short slower passages. Out of all tracks, 'Hello Cruel World' (the album's only ''ballad''), '*** You', 'Dept. Of False Hope' and 'True North' might be the most immediate on a first listen. However, each song grows on the listener, as the album works best as a whole, being a really cohesive unit. Even guitarist Brett Gurewitz makes a surprisingly good lead vocal appearance on the Buddhism themed 'Dharma And The Bomb'.
When frontman Greg Graffin joked this might be Bad Religion's final release, he must have been linking to the fact that True North
brings to mind various moments from the band's career altogether. There are the manic tunes such as the title track, '*** You' (funny enough it took Bad Religion 3 decades to write a song with such a direct title), 'Vanity', 'Land Of Endless Greed' and 'Nothing To Dismay' that echo their late '80s to early '90s classics. Other tracks bring to mind recent affairs: 'Past Is Dead' would sound as effective placed on The Process Of Belief
or 'Robin Hood In Reverse' on New Maps Of Hell
. Meanwhile, 'Crisis Time' and the more nostalgic tune, 'Hello Cruel World' (which finds Graffin at a more vulnerable state), follow the same vibe 'The Resist Stance' and 'Won't Somebody' had on The Dissent Of Man
. Even if these tracks have various links within the band's catalog, they are as enjoyable as others.
The vast experience these guys have attained over the span of 3 decades in the domain, makes it seem so easy to just release yet another strong record. Passion is what always kept Bad Religion going strong even in the late 90s, without feeling so diluted and irrelevant. Graffin soars like always, telling the never ending stories of corruption, greed, false dreams and deceptions we live in. However, with 'Dept. Of False Hope', he puts his kids' future in front, telling "The department of false hope is a proving ground for dopes/ And they'll grind your tiny bones to make their bread". There is less to no optimism in his words and the chorus on 'True North' can summarize Graffin's ongoing quest to find the answers to his questions "I can't see the rationality/The world's not my responsibility/And happiness isn't there for me/But maybe I'll inch closer to the source/When I find true north".
Even with a triumphant return, there are a couple of tracks on True North
that fall a bit short of expectations. For example, 'The Island' has a main riff very reminiscent of the song 'When"' off 1988's Suffer
. Also, 'My Head Is Full Of Ghosts' sounds like the band on autopilot. While True North
is Bad Religion mostly doing themselves, this short number doesn't have the immediacy and the catchiness of most of the material here and, in the worst case, it feels like an average Bad Religion track.
In the end, it's safe to say True North
feels refreshed, as if coming from a band that sounds awaken from a long slumber, even if it's not the case. The compositions and the lyrics are strong, while the guys feel like they had a lot of fun recording. It's amazing how Bad Religion are the same powerhouse they were 3 decades ago. Newcomers won't distinguish the album's sometimes subtle resemblance to past classics, but the fans will. Even so, all the ideas are filtered and enriched through their current strengths and aren't at all a rehash of past favorites.