Having just announced their return to action after splitting up a mammoth 27 years ago, 2013 would see the hotly anticipated return of American Hardcore stalwarts Black Flag would be reuniting to play a number of European tour dates including Hevy Festival in the U.K.
Having had many different frontmen over their career and been a shining beacon unafraid to address what they saw as the ills of the society around them this socially conscious and pioneering punk group also featured jarring atonal and low tuned guitars a far cry from the relatively poppy sounds of the British Punk Scene.
Featuring second vocalist Ron Reyes who joined the band in 1979 for their first tour of the U.S. West coast before dramatically walking out on them the following year, we take a look at their top five essential tracks.
1) My War
Both Metallica and Nirvana covered this song which should tell you all you need to know about its influence. Gregg Ginn’s scything atonal riffs and frantic urgency underpin the wave of paranoia that oozes paranoia in the lyrics “You’re one of them, you’re not my friend”.
Blacklisted by the Los Angeles Police, the band were used to having gigs descend into full scale mini riots which the band attributed to a combination of a minority of concert goers and a heavy handed approach from the fuzz.
The anthem of alienation served as a blueprint for the next generation of angst ridden, disaffected youth and dozens of anti-authoritarian acts who followed in their wake including Cobain’s Grunge superstars.
Punk has seldom been this vulnerable and moving since.
2) Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie
Back in 1981, when a young muscular kid named Henry Garfield a.k.a Henry Rollins fronted the band, things were desperate on tour. Making next to no money, the group struggled to keep themselves in food while the rest of the members were drinking heavily.
“I know the world’s got problems, I got problems of my own!” spat Hank. While Black Flag’s socially conscious lyrics set them apart this number again shows their concerns lay closer to home too.
It’s as if they were lecturing the establishment who were failing the impoverished working classes.
A revolt against the brutal master of consumer capitalism and white collar Reaganist America and the sound of Rollins kicking back against the violent punk rock audiences of the time.
3) T.V. Party
“T.V. Party” details the joys of social drinking and kicking back with your buddies even when you’re flat broke. A stark and lonely image of unemployed youth it also offers hope in the comfort of friendship and camaraderie.
Its infectious gang vocal would be a technique often imitated by many for to this day within both metal and hardcore
It is also a subversive swipe at the negativity of American media with its lyrics about unemployment.
The lyric “We got nothing to do, but watch TV and have a couple of brews” injects a sense of hope and humanity proving that while cynical and unhappy with the cards life had dealt them they still wanted to let loose and have fun on occasion. A disgruntled finger of the dissenting working class disguised as an ode to a liquor fueled lads night in.
4) White Minority
A scathing anti Republican rant against prejudice where the band jokingly suggests that American’s white people will soon be a minority. It’s B.F. at their most political and savage while also showing their delicious sense of irony in that singer Reyes Hispanic immigrant is the voice from this one. In the sleeve of the E.P. “Jealous Again” record which was released after Reyes departure from the group.
Reyes is credited as Chavo Pederast; the Hispanic term for pedophile which suggests his heavily drinking not to mention quitting the band during a show at the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach California when his girlfriend was subject to the violent fan behavior which manifested itself at the time.
A sharp blast of cynical aggression and fitting soundtrack to the chaotic march of disaffected youth it is another wake up call to conservative Middle America.
5) Nervous Breakdown
Full of minor chord paranoia with its wounded refrain of “I’m crazy and I’m hurt”, Keith Morris sounds totally deranged while being one of their earlier more standard punk rock numbers it still tackles the topic of mental health and sums up the neurosis of angst ridden youth. At this time, Morris was busy “freaking out on cocaine and speed” a fact that makes this insight into the perils of drug addiction more poignant. It’s the sound of American youth crying out for treatment and understanding.
Diagnosed in 1999 with adult onset diabetes, Morris' substance abuse may have left a mark on him but like the song he went on to achieve great notoriety. Morris left Black Flag in 1980 to form another respected hardcore act The Circle Jerks and currently plies his trade in hardcore supergroup Off.