Age of Unreason is Bad Religion’s 17th studio album and co-produced by Carlos de la Garza, and it is both furious and meticulously crafted. There are references to contemporary events; racist rallies, Trump’s election, the erosion of the middle class, Colin Kaepernick’s protest, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, along with homages to the literary and philosophical works that have long inspired the band.
The gig was an eye-opener, fear hit my eyes as punks threw beer around the venue while the band smashed through their catalogue, an extensive one even back then and there was me, scared yet tantalised this inner pogoer. Having their fast and furious tracks from Stranger than Fiction and Generator on my playlist stayed with me throughout those years… and now there’s this one.
Opening this fifteen-track album with “Chaos from Within” is fast, powerful with a barrage of riffs in the form we’ve come to love and respect from a Bad Religion album. There’s a touch of a folk vibe in Greg Graffin vocals with his storytelling nature. “My Sanity” continues with punk harmonising with reality in Jamie Miller’s evocative punk drumming, while we hit Jay Bentley’s bass on “Do The Paranoid Style” – a Bad Religion patented sound. Greg Graffin’s vocals pair with Bret Gurewitz and Brian Baker’s riffs encourage such euphoric recalls, I’m realising what I’ve missed for the past few years.
“Lose Your Head” is a thought-provoking tune about surviving volatile times and Gurewitz says the song “grapples with today’s deeply troubling political events” with lyrics such as “self-pity is always a case of mistaken identity, don’t lose your head before you lose your head.” In a vocal style, Bad Religion and Graffin are capable.
When “End of History” starts the bass and drumming get us all nostalgic, preparing to enter a form of moshpit, it showcases their intellectual demeanour. While the albums speeds by you may need to listen to these tracks over again. They change their style with “Candidate”, a slow-paced punk folk song with lyrics “I am your candidate; I am bloody lips and makeup. I’m your caliphate, opioids and mutilation, a celebrity and my name is competition”. It reminds me of a folk form of offering out the lyrics. “Faces of Fear” fires the album back to its usual speed at 1:05 minutes long, and as with “Old Regime” offers Graffin’s unique speed vocals about the cycle of power.
The groovy melodic “Big Black Dog” has power-driven lyrics “One man’s grace is another man’s bullet” which just completely got me with their ferocity of punk-laden words and uncompromising guitar riffs. “Downfall” has a classic rock sound, and I’m picturing the guitarist hopping around on one leg during the tune, front of stage and horn fingers raised in the air. Bad Religion has their own sound, no one can compare as they finish with “What Tomorrow Brings” about what the future will hold for everyone – a rather fitting end to this belter of punk rock, with tinges of folk and classic metal.
Greg Graffin, who holds a PhD in the history of science, says:
When I saw all these headlines about how terrible our world had become, I started doing a lot of reading. I read about the French revolution, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and I started to recognise that this is a pattern of history and something we should never venture into, there are ample warnings against it. Every school child should know this but it’s hard to get people to read about these things. Maybe this album can help. Because right now, with social media, we are just playing a version of kill the guy with the ball.
“The band has always stood for enlightenment values,” co-songwriter and guitarist Brett Gurewitz explains. “Today, these values of truth, freedom, equality, tolerance, and science are in real danger. This record is our response.”
Age of Unreason is out now via Epitaph