Band reunites with original guitarist for 'Belief'
By Alan Sculley
Punk pioneers Bad Religion --- from left, Brian Baker, Brooks Wackerman, Brett Gurewitz, Greg Graffin, Jay Bentley and Gret Hetson --- is heading for a concert at World Café.
You'll hear no glaring musical shifts if you compare Bad Religion's most recent CD, "The Process of Belief," to the three albums the band released on Atlantic Records in the 1990s.
The same musical trademarks characterize each CD: blasts of electric guitars that somehow are both edgy and precisely layered; Greg Graffin's refined yet passionate singing; and complex lyrics filled with thoughtful commentary on issues such as personal freedom and political involvement.
Yet Graffin doesn't hesitate to say something important was missing from the Atlantic CDs, namely the influence of founding member Brett Gurewitz. The band, with Gurewitz back in the fold, is heading for a concert Thursday at the World Café in Honolulu.
Guitarist Gurewitz left the band in 1994, in part to run his popular independent punk rock label Epitaph. The label was experiencing explosive growth from the multimillion-selling success of The Offspring's "Smash" album. But conflicts with other band members also contributed to his departure. With his return to Bad Religion to record "Belief" on Epitaph, Graffin said the group once again feels whole.
"The sound is the same, but because Brett wasn't a part of (the Atlantic CDs), it left me to my own devices when I was writing them," Graffin said. "One thing I can do is I can write a damn good Bad Religion album, but what I can't always achieve on my own and what Brett helps me with when we write is re-establishing that classic Bad Religion.
"When we write as a team, Bad Religion is more ambitious. We try for more refinement in the musicianship, we try for more refinement in the lyrical approach, and it's because Brett and I have a real positive effect on each other. We push each other to do that."
Indeed, the most immediate contrast between "The Process of Belief" and other Bad Religion albums is the new songs are a bit stronger. The CD, released in January, leans more toward punk than the Atlantic Records albums, even if "Belief" doesn't offer any major stylistic surprises.
Still, virtually every track on "Belief" is a winner. And while the band hasn't made a bad album during its two-decade history, few of theirs can match the consistent high quality of "Belief."
The reunion with Gurewitz is something that seemed fairly remote at the time of the 1994 split.
The success of Epitaph Records made it seem financially unnecessary for Gurewitz to make music. And his life took a wrong turn in the '90s as he slid into a serious drug problem.
Gurewitz is easier to deal with creatively, and he is better able to accept criticism, Graffin said.
"When someone has sort of come to an acceptance of themselves, they can accept criticism better. It has made the writing process a lot more smooth and the creative process a lot more enriching. It's a lot more like what it was when we were kids and we had nothing to lose."
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