Phrases such as “seminal punk act” and “buzz saw guitars” are thrown around entirely too liberally these days when describing the latest releases by anyone mildly associated with the So Cal musical landscape. The diluted TRL punk-lite of Blink 182 and radio friendly drive of the Offspring mire the course of whatever punk is supposed to stand for today. While bands like the Germs, X, Fear, and others that had a hand in creating the scene have long since overdosed, self-destructed or become irrelevant, Bad Religion were the stalwarts who managed to remain visible on the punk radar.
Touring, recording and influencing the young guns, they stood their anti-establishment ground despite advancing age, members leaving, and drug addiction. They went corporate, survived exposure to the masses and broadening of appeal, but after 20 years seemed to run out of significance.
The Process of Belief has changed that perception.
Co-founder Brett Gurewitz has returned to the fold full-time, and in return, the rest of the band has come back to the label they spawned; the Gurewitz-run Epitaph. Greg Graffin sings of disconcert stemming from the oppressiveness of an overbearing government and the emphasis on status in society. The now three-guitar attack sounds less like Lynyrd Skynyrd and more like a wall of angst. The defiant riff in “The Defense” would sound equally at home on a Pantera track. Yet the mix of overlapping vocals, sarcastic chorus, and brief solo makes it sound something completely fresh.
The trilogy of songs that open the record, “Supersonic”, “Prove It”, and “Can’t Stop It” clock in with a combined running time of just over three minutes. The adrenaline jolt is frenzied and bombastic, with respite given only when the harmonies of the fourth, “Broken”, slightly slow the tempo.
Never a group to rely solely on fast guitars and raging lyrics, Bad Religion has always been melody based, creating an often-imitated split of tunefulness and aggressiveness. The Process of Belief is no different, containing not only the overused buzz saw guitars in addition to anthems like “Epiphany”, which is hands down one of the most soaring Bad Religion songs ever.
Coming off the heels of the disappointing mediocrity of The New America two years ago, and before that, the over produced but still viable No Substance in 1998, the time was clearly right for Bad Religion to return to their beginnings and most successful formula. The Process of Belief falls somewhere between the classics No Control and Stranger Than Fiction, taking the best of those and meshing them with maturity and experience that is evident in only the most seminal of punk bands.