Sound — 6
Out of the many band reunions to have taken place over the past few years, the one which has drawn the most widespread controversy is the Black Flag reunion. Black Flag earned significant attention back in the late '70s and early '80s, by mixing the chord progression styles of the Ramones with frequent tempo changes and pick grinding guitar solos. Black Flag are recognized as one of the first hardcore punk rock bands, as well as one of the first to apply the influence of heavy metal melodies into their sound, Black Flag also went on to try their hand at free jazz and contemporary classical elements as well; a move which up until that point was unheard of. In their earliest carnations, Black Flag worked with a revolving door of lead vocalists, before eventually settling on Henry Rollins to be their singer. Until the group disbanded in 1986, Black Flag released a total of six studio albums with Rollins as lead singer, gaining recognition from critics for the band's dives into spoken word and experimental music, and going on to earn a dedicated cult following. Throughout the years, Black Flag would undergo multiple brief reunions; in 2003, the band performed three reunion shows, with former rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Dez Cadana (who would later join the Misfits) once again manning the microphone. In 2010, guitarist Greg Ginn and former vocalist Ron Reyes played a set of three Black Flag songs together. In 2011, Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson, and the Descendents' Stephen Egerton performed the "Nervous Breakdown" EP in its entirety for the Goldenvoice 30th anniversary show. When you have so many lineups performing under the Black Flag moniker, it was only a matter of time before this happened. Two incarnations of Black Flag surfaced, one featuring original guitarist Greg Ginn and vocalist Ron Reyes, another including Keith Morris and Dez Cadana performing under the name FLAG. Following a line of lawsuits and legal trouble, it was decided that both groups could remain in existence, and so the lineup of Ginn/Reyes pressed forward to work on a new studio album, which has resulted in the newly released "What The..." Other than the group’s instantly recognizable logo, there is nothing about this album's cover artwork which designates it as a Black Flag album. Nonetheless the news of a new Black Flag album, regardless of the lineup or artwork, was enough to at least spike the attention of fans and inspire a listen to what is the band's first new material in 24 years, as well as the first to feature vocalist Ron Reyes since 1980's "Jealous Again." "What The..." overlooks the many years of experimentation Black Flag underwent with Henry Rollins as their lead singer, and instead these 22 new songs more closely resemble the group's style which was originally only included on their one-off EP with Ron Reyes. The majority of the album sounds uninspired, with uncreative lyrics and repetitive guitar chords comprising most of the new effort. Greg Ginn's guitar playing does have some strong moments on the album, for example on the fast paced "The Chase." Unfortunately, wherever the actual instrumental side of the album does shine, the vocal and lyrical aspect holds it all back.
Lyrics — 6
Unless you are a die hard Black Flag fan, meaning you were willing to meet a stranger in the back alley for rare copies of the group's earlier EPs featuring a host of different singers, you have become accustomed to hearing Henry Rollins singing lead vocals with Black Flag. His vocals played a definitive role in what would become the signature Black Flag sound, and in the eyes of some fans is irreplaceable. Ron Reyes' performance on "What The..." is a strong example as to why Henry Rollins should be the voice of Black Flag. While Reyes does hit some impressive high notes for fifty year old vocalist, his screaming lyrical execution just doesn't deliver the classic Black Flag sound.
Overall Impression — 6
Black Flag, or more appropriately Greg Ginn attempts to revitalize the band's image with their first new studio effort in 24 years, but end up falling far too short. The album's bizarre cover artwork would be something to more easily look past if the actual quality of the music itself was standout, however between the poor production and mixing quality to the out-of-place singing of Ron Reyes makes the artwork just another hurtful feature in the eyes of longtime Black Flag fans. In the end, this new effort ends up looking more and more like a hastily put together cash grab reunion.