What The... review by Black Flag

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  • Released: Nov 5, 2013
  • Sound: 6
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 6
  • Reviewer's score: 6 Neat
  • Users' score: 3.5 (22 votes)
Black Flag: What The...

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.

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nothing will even come close to the nervous breakdown EP, possibly the best 5 minute EP ever made right there
    Not that cover art really matters, but that design is just yuck.
    Ginn's guitar playing is STILL amazing, the songs are not too great(with the exception of a few-The Chase,Blood And Ashes and the KILLER Off My Shoulders). Another thing I noticed, is the dull, mechanized sound of this record. What this sounds like, is someone sat there with a drum program and a PC and didn't quite have the skills to make it sound like a "real" band. I have a feeling if they had set up live in a room, blasted through these songs, overdubbed the odd solo here and there, this COULD rock on a level that Black Flag fans are accustomed to. It has that dull sheen of pot smoke and middle age underachievement all over it. If history is any indication, Black flag albums come in clusters in a short period of time, so expect more soon that(again, if history is an indicator) will sound totally different than this half baked attempt. Great guitar playing though...
    Mr E Meat
    you guys don't like the cover, but I think it sums up the album pretty well.
    All this has done is to confirm that their best work is LONG behind them. There's also a review of a Waking The Cadaver record on this page today, how apt. what was wrong with doing a new band featuring former members of Black Flag? Punk and hardcore puts a lot of stock in vitality and energy, this sort of thing is entirely the opposite.
    Ive tried reading your comment like 6 times now and cannot understand one word, learn some grammar
    if you're the one hat doesn't understand it i think you're the dumber one of the two pal.
    I don't know how much time the author of this review has spent listening to old Black Flag but, when he decides to play aggressively, Greg Ginn can't NOT sound like Black Flag. The idea of a cash grab is kinda laughable. If Ginn needed money, he'd make a record with any of the 5,000 bands that would give a nut to play with him. It may not have the rage of "White Minority" of "No Values", but hell- they're in their 50s. I think the new album is pretty damned good. If anyone needs money, it's Keith Morris.
    Sounds alright, not really amazing though. I might give the album a listen if only out of curiosity, but from the two tracks included, I'd say this review is pretty much spot on. I'm not exactly a hardcore Flag fan, I basically only like the stuff Rollins was involved in, so I'll most likely give this album a miss.
    I totally agree with Scorpio2billion's comment: most of BF's best stuff was WAY BEFORE Henry came on board....its too bad one of the best Hardcore bands of all time is mired in political BS and has to go through the courts to resolve their differences....sad really. Instead of buying this album pick up: Everything Went Black, to get a synopsis of the TRUE Black Flag.....
    But, Black Flag haven't been a "hardcore" or "punk" band since 1981. They kept changing and evolving. Every move they made was a **** off to the punks who wanted them to remain the same(solos, long hair, instrumentals etc). I think I'd be more bummed out if they put out Damaged, vol 2 than this record. That was the genius of the band, EVERY record was different and they rarely rehashed anything. There were pissed off punks with each new record they put out because change to a lot of people is a bad thing. Besides a band like Led Zeppelin, what other band can you think of is capable of reinventing themselves on a yearly basis and leaving the past behind while maintaining a consistent level of quality?
    I totally agree with Scorpio2billion's comment: most of BF's best stuff was WAY BEFORE Henry came on board....its too bad one of the best Hardcore bands of all time is mired in political BS and has to go through the courts to resolve their differences....sad really. Instead of buying this album pick up: Everything Went Black, to get a synopsis of the TRUE Black Flag.....
    These people saying pre-Rollins era BF is the real Black Flag sound very stupid and should probably listen to King Crimson
    Keith Morris era Black Flag is Black Flag, to me. Like Henry a lot too, but the Nervous Breakdown EP is one of the finest piece of punk rock ever recorded.