Sound — 9
This album isn't Suffer, it isn't Against the Grain, and it isn't No Control. You can't expect a bunch of forty-year-olds to rock like they were teenagers. With that said, this album fully captures the sound that is Bad Religion. There are the fast songs, such as "Dearly Beloved" and "Heroes and Martyrs", and the slower songs such as "Before You Die". Probably the most surprising sound on the album, however, is the single "Honest Goodbye". I knew from the opening note that this song was going to be something different, and it isn't your usual Bad Religion song with the grinding power chords and fast pace. Does that mean they made this song to sell records? I can't tell you. Even though it doesn't sound like "I Want To Conquer the World", It is catchy. One thing that Bad Religion always gets trashed for (and this album's reception shows it) is that the album sounds like every other Bad Religion album. I have to say that there are musical similarities within every Bad Religion song, and that is part of what makes them great. Some bands feel that every new album has to sound different, and there seems to be a push in the musical world for everything to sound new and different. Bad Religion, on the other hand doesn't embrace this philosophy, and I'm glad they don't. I would have bought New Maps of Hell without listening to a single track because I would have known what I would have gotten: punk rock with intelligent lyrics and beautiful harmonies. With that said, this album does have it's differences from previous ones. "Prodigal Son" seems to take it's time rather than just grind through, and the harmonies and melody take center stage. "Fields of Mars" is a standout track in sound, with the use of piano in the intro. When it first started I thought I was getting a rejected track from "Into the Unknown", but it quickly went back to the good old Bad Religion punk rock. I feel it's a welcome change, and I love it.
Lyrics — 8
Greg Graffin could sing disco and I'd listen to it religiously. He and Brett Gurewitz definitely bring the intellect on this album, as you would expect with anything Bad Religion does. My favorite track on the album, "New Dark Ages" has one of the catchiest choruses I've ever heard: "Welcome to the new dark ages / I hope you're living right / these are the new dark ages / and the world might end tonight", and although the chorus to that song is the highlight, the verses are still amazing. The next track, "Requiem for Dissent" calls upon dissenters to come out of the shadows. Although this song's topic is one that has been done countless times in recent years, it's approach is what makes it unique. "Prodigal Son", one of the best on the album, brings Horatio Alger into th fray in only the second line of the song. This sounds like forced rhyming, but it is regardless fitting to the subject of the song. The seemingly forced rhyming in "Before You Die", however, does detract from the song as the line "Everybody is a bastard / my world is like plaster" sticks out like a sore thumb.
Overall Impression — 10
I love Bad Religion. From the first listen of "American Jesus" to the moment I saw them at Warped Tour through The Empire Strikes First until today, I have always loved them. Bad Religion does not experiment with their sound to try to grab wider audiences, and they rarely do a song with a generic pop/rock theme just to attract attention. Bad Religion is not a band that you absolutely love because of the artistic quality of an album, they're a band that you love because they're always there to provide a consistent voice of dissent and provide an intellectual argument against crimes in society. There aren't a lot of bands out there where every song can be quoted in a Political Science paper. New Maps of Hell is a great Bad Religion album. Did I flip over it like I did when I heard either of the two most recent Brand New albums? No. New Maps of Hell is something that is good to hear in a musical world as diverse as today. In a world where every band is trying to do something to set them apart, Bad Religion releases an album just like they have done since Back To the Known, no drastic change in sound, no dramatic lyrical storylines, just good old punk rock. It's good to hear an album that does not try to be something it isn't, and instead achieves exactly what it set out to be. You can't hail this album as a new turn in punk rock, because this sound has always been there, there's nothing new about it and that makes it beautiful. All in all, "New Dark Ages" is as catchy as a virus and "Prodigal Son" really gets you moving. The three songs that were out before the album, "Requiem for Dissent", "Honest Goodbye" and "Heroes and Martyrs" fit well into the context of the album, although "Honest Goodbye" does stand out as it's style is different. This album is definitely going to get a lot of playing time due to it's tremendous songwriting and incredibly catchy songs. Bad Religion's members may be over 40, but that doesn't mean their music is old.