The Empire Strikes First
Holy FCC-censored-$500,000-fine-per-offence-word! That's the first thing that comes to mind when the new Bad Religion album The Empire Strikes First (Epitaph) comes to its blistering conclusion. You can't help but want to get political and change the world when listening to Bad Religion in general, and the new album raises the stakes. These guys started a punk band at age 22, went on to start businesses, fight addictions, have families, get PhDs and more. So what do they do two decades later? They make an album that rivals
The moody and dark instrumental, "Overture," that opens the album tells you immediately that there is something more grand and ominous to come, and indeed there is. What's next is "Sinister Rouge," a searing attack on the Church and anyone who tried to cover up the recently exposed predatory priests. "Los Angeles Is Burning," the new heavily played single in Los Angeles, is such a great sing-along song that you have to take a moment to realize that the sweet harmonies are actually conveying a really heavy message about the popular media's role in society: "The flames are stunning, the camera's running, so take warning! / When the hills of Los Angeles are burning." The musicality of the song is at times reminiscent of another great Los Angeles band, X. Right at the heart of the album is "Let Them Eat War," a heavy-handed slap at the Bush administration. "Let them eat war! / That's how to ration the poor" is the chorus that makes you sit up and pay attention to this catchy centerpiece.
There is no fear or misconstrued meaning in Bad Religion's new songs that look justice and hypocrisy straight in the eye. Over all, The Empire Strikes First holds no punches as it takes on organized religion, the Bush Administration and popular media with lyrics that are intelligent, compelling and thought provoking. However, the lyrics are only half of what makes this album so excellent. In other songs, the band broaden their musical scope as with "To Another Abyss" which starts out mellow while you wait for it to explode, but in the end, it is a solid mid-tempo rock song -- something one does not expect from a hard core punk institution like Bad Religion. "Boot Stamping On A Human Face Forever" (title taken from George Orwell's 1984 or was that 2004?) is another foray into the slower tempo, and it comes across quite moving. There's also the 30 second outro on "Atheist Peace" which is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here intro that's both melancholic, somehow uplifting and conveys a sense of peace. The combination of heart-felt, thought-provoking lyrics and new musical territory help to make this the best Bad Religion album to date.
Now don't miss them on the Warped Tour this summer!
- Spencer Robinson
June 16, 2004