Music

Bad Religion: New Maps of Hell

Have our punk-rock heroes given up on changing the world?


Bad Religion

New Maps of Hell

Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2007-07-10
UK Release Date: 2007-07-09
Amazon
iTunes

Among punk-rock activists calling for world change, Bad Religion have never been the most optimistic. Their music has its hopeful moments: times when the lyrics get especially articulate about not just problems but solutions at the same time that the guitars surge upward and the drums pummel forward. Those moments are enough to feel like the band is shaking the very foundations of people's thought processes, making them question their assumptions about the world, inspiring them to start a revolution. At the same time, no one would ever mistake Bad Religion for a band of dewy-eyed optimists.

This has always been true, during the band's 25 years of existence. But on their 14th album New Maps of Hell, their view of the world is especially dark. There's almost no light at the end of this tunnel. "Unrelenting night," Greg Graffin calls the current state of the world in the album's first single, "Dark Ages". The chorus begins, "Welcome to the new dark ages" and ends, "the world might end tonight." The way he sings it, and the way the band backs him up, makes this hysteria sound like foresight, like truth. Throughout the album the band acts as if the album title were descriptive, as if instead of a new album they've created a new map to the Hell they see the world as today. As if it's a given that we're living in Hell; what's missing is a map, a guide to point out the deepest pits and most dangerous fires.

Bad Religion is that guide and New Maps of Hell is the guidebook they've created, albeit one with fewer concrete answers than might be expected. The group's last album, 2004’s The Empire Strikes First, made crystal-clear who was causing the world's problems, pointing fingers upward, at the top of the power hierarchy. On this new album visions of hell-fire have lead them down more metaphorical and literary routes. Graffin and Gurewitz have always been notorious for integrating unwieldy language into punk rock, and this time is no exception. The song "Germs of Perfection" starts with these word-litanies: "Lacerate eviscerate and perforate and mutilate / We all fall down, all fall down / Deprecate repudiate ameliorate adjudicate / The wisdom found, wisdom found." Even when they're directly calling for listeners to act, they use vines of words, the antithesis of terse populist slogans like "Fight the power." The chorus to "Germs of Perfection" is the prime example: "Clip the wings of progress, turn the direction / Enrich the fallow soil with germs of perfection." That wordy approach is nothing new, but this time around the lyrics overall do seem particularly academic, or at least further removed from the language and scenarios of the world around us. They take the world's dark power struggles, cycles of war and societal devastation and frame them within scientific, mythological and biblical terms. They sing of Ezekiel, of Mars the God of War, of the Prodigal Son. And they sound especially depressed as they do so.

Of course, the first Bad Religion album, in 1982, was titled How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, so apocalyptic pessimism isn't new to them. Actually, little in the Bad Religion world is new, these days. Since guitarist/founder/co-songwriter Brett Gurewitz returned to the band in 2002 (for the especially strong The Process of Belief), Bad Religion has musically been sticking closely to the path they created on their classic late '80s/early '90s albums (Suffer through Generator). They maintain a high level of energy, with the drums mostly keeping the standard hardcore pace of a high-speed train. They write some amazing hooks, and only occasionally (“Honest Goodbye”, “Dearly Beloved”) let them take much of the spotlight. They sing pretty harmonies (very Californian) yet never let you forget that they could beat your ass in a heartbeat. And when they take a stylistic detour, it's subtle enough to almost go incognito.

Then again, there’s a heavy metal fence around much of New Maps of Hell that does sometimes feel new, or at least like revitalization of old habits. The sludginess that on the first few tracks seems like a bad mix eventually refines itself into something tough and shiny, distinctly metal-lic. Heavy guitars have always been part of the band’s heritage (and remember, guitarist Brian Baker wasn’t just in Minor Threat, but hard rockers Junkyard, too). But here it’s accentuated; there are longer, harder solos on “New Dark Ages”, “Requiem for Dissent” and “Prodigal Son” than seems standard. That style slided into the usual high-speed Bad Religion style well enough that the first time through I didn’t really notice it until the final track, “Fields of Mars”, a song that’s begging to be called “art-rock” (it’s the piano probably, as barely-there as it is). That’s the perfect time to notice, though, as it’s also the song that’s most overtly mythological in writing. It’s the song that makes clear the link between heavy metal and the gloom-and-doom talk. What’s more appropriate for an end-of-the-world album than a little bit of musical darkness thrown in with the California punk?

Do hard rockers usually sound this defeated, though? This time around Bad Religion’s cries for rebellion are mostly about the failure of rebellion. “Requiem for Dissent” is probably the strongest call for action, to not let dissent die, but it also feels like a funeral. The dominant tone is sadness. The album is populated with rebels giving up, deciding that their actions are futile. There's the “Lost Pilgrim”. There’s the “honest man losing religion,” who stands in front of his congregation and screams, “Dearly beloved… I can't relate to you!” And there’s the band itself; by singing these songs they suggest that they’re starting to wonder if it’s worth the effort. If the values they’ve been trying to instill in the younger, still-teachable generation is disappearing, getting completely absorbed by conventional wisdom and apathy. “I can see the edifice crumbling in foggy mist,” Graffin sings in “The Grand Delusion”.

But it’s not just the death of dissent they’re worried about; it’s death itself. Songs like “Before You Die” (as in “think before you die…eternity can’t ever change your mind”), “Grains of Wrath”, “Submission Complete” and “Scrutiny” reveal a deep-down fear that over 20 years of fighting will lead to nothing at the end of days: no victory which they can feel proud of at the moment of death, no changed world to leave behind. No New America, as one of their albums was titled. Perhaps New Maps of Hell is one extended reminder of that: a reminder to push past their doubts and keep rebelling, no matter how tough that is. As Graffin puts it earlier in the album, “Scare up some hope / You're gonna need it just to cope.”

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image