It has taken me a while to get around to reviewing this disc because, on the day the package from Fat Wreck Chords arrived in the post, my elder teenaged son saw it and stole it for himself. It has taken a couple weeks to get it back, but that’s alright with me. You see, I happen to live in a rural, red state small town where the literal reading of the Bible and unquestioned patriotism are, for many, a norm. When raising children is such a community (and please understand there are many things I love about this place), the arrival of a collection like A Document of Dissent: 1993-2013, with its opening cry of “You’re gonna die! / Gonna die! / Gonna die for your government! / Die for your country! / That’s shit!”, offers not just a new piece of generic entertainment media, but an opportunity for counter-programming.
Over the course of 20 years, Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag has not experienced the cross-over pop success of others among punk rock’s class of the early ’90s or veterans of the Warped Tour. Not too surprising when one considers that, as their instrumental prowess and mastery of studio recording has grown over nine albums, so too has their discontent. They’ve gotten better, and angrier, with each album, but their commitment to unapologetic criticism of America’s many hypocrisies does not make for radio-friendly hit potential.
Anti-Flag has been lead singer/guitarist Justin Sane, guitarist Chris Head, drummer Pat Thetic, and bassist Chris #2 since their second album (their first was recorded as a trio of Sane, Thetic and Andy Flag on bass). All members contribute to songwriting, creating a tight group dynamic that has gelled over time into a powerful live presentation whose force, unlike others of the genre, is captured in their studio recordings. Even the material from their two RCA albums of the mid-aughts resonates with a sonic snarl that rises above the studio sheen.
A Document of Dissent is a generous overview of Anti-Flag’s career, offering 26 cuts representing all of their albums for a half dozen different labels and reuniting them with Fat Wreck Chords. Organized chronologically, it is an amazingly coherent collection and, with its catalog of reactions to events and conditions of the past 20 years, the anthology becomes something of an alternate history of our nation’s turn from the 20th into 21st century and the follies of our failures and missed opportunities. This impression is amplified by the collection’s excellent liner notes, where band members discuss the inspiration behind each song and which include a historical timeline linking major and minor-but-influential cultural events to the songs they inspired.
If you’re a punk fan and you don’t already have Anti-Flag in your collection, this is collection is a must. Such collections as this willoften tack on some new or unreleased tracks to tempt longtime fans. Anti-Flag and Fat Wreck Chords don’t bother with this ploy and they don’t need to here. Even fans who have heard all of this material previously should enjoy this total package of excellent songs and deep insight into this important but too often underappreciated band.