By Bill Adams
Above all else, what True North proves definitively is that Bad Religion has made three kinds of record in the duration of their three-decades-and-counting career; they’ve made really bad albums (see Into The Unknown and No Substance), good albums (The Dissent Of Man, Recipe For Hate and Suffer) and great albums which not only mark time but stand out as being definitive documents both for the band and for punk rock as a whole community. The number of albums which fall into that latter category could be debated endlessly (in this writer’s opinion, the last to fall into the ‘definitive’ category was Stranger Than Fiction), but much of the debate is simply upheld by overbearing fans who need something to talk about; the fact is that the true classics in the band’s catalogue (the REAL classics, not just the fan picks) are easy to pick out from the moment one lays ears on them; they are incredible, “essential listening” records to love and respect. The newest addition to this category is True North.
Long-time fans will know they’re hearing another long-awaited, inspired moment from Bad Religion from the moment True North‘s title track opens the proceedings. “True North” has the urgency – the unavoidable and senses-sharpening disposition of a brick flying through a shop window – that fans know is a sign of when the band is on its game; there, guitarists Brett Gurewitz, Brian Baker and Greg Hetson hit the ground running as a unified front and leave bassist Jay Bentley and drummer Brooks Wackerman rushing to catch up. In that introduction, listeners will know that the band is running hot already, but when Greg Graffin winds up and sounds off with his first missive through gritted teeth (“Unrepentent vagabond/ Plot the new co-ordinates and cast the map aside/ Now I gotta ramble on/ navigate the pitfalls and cross the great divide”), that’s when it’s real – an unmistakably and unavoidably tangible assault. That’s when listeners know not to move; that’s when they know something great has been set in motion.
…And Bad Religion doesn’t let any fan down either. In addition to railing their way through some of the finest melodic hardcore songs that the band has released in years (see the unhinged frenzy of “Fuck You,” the indictments of modern corporate culture embodied by “Robin Hood In Reverse”, “Land Of Endless Greed” and “Department Of False Hope”), the band manages to push a couple of boundaries when they launch into the uncharacteristically “Past Is Dead” and Greg Graffin actually relenquishes the mic to let Brett Gurewitz knock out a fine vocal performance on “Dharma And The Bomb”. That last example gives up a fantastic, not-often-seen side of Bad Religion too, in that it shows how flexible the band is still capable of being. After thirty-four years of playing together, it would be easy enough to assume that the members of Bad Religion would be locked into their roles and instruments, and changing those dynamics would cast the band into total disarray; but that they’re able to pause and reset in the blink of an eye with strong results as they do in mid-record with “Dharma And The Bomb” and then pick up right where they left off after that song’s over is pretty remarkable. They do though, and after launching a few more incendiary tracks (“Nothing To Dismay,” “Popular Consensus” and the Minutemen-esque “Crisis Time”), Bad Religion wraps on an awesome crunch with “Changing Tide.”
After it ends, listeners (whether they’re old fans, new fans or totally uninitiated listeners) will already be reaching to start the record over again because they’ll be energized by what they just heard and want more. It’s easy to understand why too; while the albums that Bad Religion has released since returning to Epitaph in 2002 have been consistently improving, True North marks the high point of a decade’s worth of work. This album is a true classic which marks a pinnacle of powers in Bad Religion and upholds everything that is best about the band.
Bill Adams is also editor-in-chief of groundcontrolmag.com