It’s risky business trying to get the old band together. Especially if that band is Black Flag, and Henry Rollins is off somewhere getting way too famous to bother with half-assed reunions. Since he couldn’t catch the big fish, guitarist Greg Ginn looked up Ron Reyes, who was the band’s second vocalist in 1980. You can hear his voice on a few of the earliest Black Flag songs like “Jealous Again” and “No Values.”
Ginn has always been Flag’s songwriter, though, and pretty much the only reason the band got started in 1979. But it also sounds like he’s a complete asshole. During a show in Australia a couple weeks ago, pro skater Mike Vallely jumped onto the stage and kicked Reyes off for the last few songs while Ginn just rolled with it. Apparently some mean things were said to Reyes, and he wrote a Facebook confessional about how the whole thing went down. Now Vallely’s the lead guy, and Ginn doesn’t plan on apologizing.
Nonetheless, his voice is the one on the album, and that’s the only one that will ever be there, no matter how many vocalists come and go before their next record comes out. Other than an obvious improvement in production quality and a lot less guitar feedback, there hasn’t been much sonic evolution. Reyes’ voice is slurred and sloppy, somewhere in the indistinguishable nether regions between singing, yelling and talking. His lyrics are immature and simplistic: “I’m wasted / No motivation / This sucks / This is hell” and “Going down to the bitter end / Kicking and screaming to the bitter end.” The words sound like they could’ve come from the old Black Flag, but that band was not known for its profundity.
This album is really built on its guitar riffs. Even when they get lost and muffled behind the vocals, you can tell the guitar is driving the rhythm and trying to become the song. The problem is the riffs are the core of every single one of the 22 tracks. Sometimes it sounds like Ginn is simply playing a few notes in a loop, then Reyes throws some words on top and there ya go, song done. There’s a reason most bands cut it at, say, 10 or 12 songs, even if that makes the record only 30 minutes long.
In the spirit of punk, they’ve made the songs about 2 minutes each. But the tempo is a little slow for the genre and the first and last tracks are the only ones that don’t plod along at the same light-jogging speed. This is not Bad Religion/NOFX circle pit and bloody-lip punk rock. It’s really not much of anything.
The record leads in with its only noteworthy track: a quick, half-raging, drum-laden song called “My Heart’s Pumping” that almost made the obnoxious puke-green cover art believable. But the other songs lack a beat or melody to catch onto and about a third of the way in, the album’s bare guitar riffs and spitting vocals turn into abrasive droning. It sounds like a couple of 50-year-olds jamming out and throwing it onto a track because they know their band name will sell the CDs for them.
1 out of 5 stars