Bad Religion

MrKnickerbocker

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I know a few of us around here (well, at least @Forostar and I) are into Bad Religion, so I figured why not start a topic?

For those who don't know: here's their Wikipedia page. TL;DR SoCal/Surf/Skate punk veterans of 4 decades with a shocking ear for melody and intelligent, educated lyrics far beyond those of their peers (and those they've influenced). Their founding guitarist Brett Gurewitz is the owner of Epitaph Records and their singer, Greg Graffin, is an evolutionary biologist.

I've started going through their discography as I read along with their biographical book Do What You Want and thought I'd at least share some simple thoughts on each album as I go.
 

MrKnickerbocker

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How Could Hell Be Any Worse? (1982)
The attitude and speed of Bad Religion is born here. They are full of fire and energy and this record just brims with vitriol. That said, it is, both literally and sonically, an album made by a bunch of kids. I'd be lying if I said I like this album, because the poor recording quality and immaturity of the performances (half of the songs are played by a novice drummer, Greg hasn't found his voice yet) are simply too hard for me to see through. It is a sign of things to come, but certainly not something I ever relisten to for fun. Some of the songs endure in live shows, where they sound vastly superior.

Into The Unknown (1983)
A complete, and absurd 180 degree turn from the debut album, this record feels more like a heavier Genesis or watered down attempt at 60s/70s psychedelic rock. The band decided to incorporate synthesizers and their fans (and band members) turned on them. Since the release of this album, the founding members have done their best to delete it from history. Songs aren't generally played live (beyond the recent "Decades" live stream events) and no one looks back on it fondly. All of that said, in my opinion, this is a more rewarding record than the debut. Greg finds his voice here and the band learns that they can utilize acoustic guitars and time signature shifts. Also, The Dichotomy is a cool tune.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
Nice Knick. I am very, very much into eighties and nineties Bad Religion and regard that output among my favourite music (from all genres).

While the band may not really play or sing that well / or at least: much rougher/looser than on later output, and while the production is so much worse than on later albums (since 1988) I really have grown fond of the old stuff. My favourite pre-Into the Unknown songs are:

Drastic Actions: Bad Religion (EP) (1981) & Public Service (VA compilation album, 1981)
Bad Religion: Bad Religion (EP) (1981) & Public Service (VA compilation album, 1981)

1. "We're Only Gonna Die"
2. "Latch Key Kids"
3. "Part III"
4. "Faith in God"
5. "Fuck Armageddon...This Is Hell"
6. "Pity"
7. "Into the Night"
8. "Damned to Be Free"
9. "White Trash (2nd Generation)"
14. "Doing Time"
All from How Could Hell Be Any Worse? (1982)

My favourite 5 of these favs are in fat blue.
 
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MrKnickerbocker

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Nice Knick. I am very, very much into eighties and nineties Bad Religion and regard that output among my favourite music (from all genres).

While the band may not really play or sing that well / or at least: much rougher/looser than on later output, and while the production is so much worse than on later albums (since 1988) I really have grown fond of the old stuff. My favourite pre-Into the Unknown songs are:

Drastic Actions: Bad Religion (EP) (1981) & Public Service (VA compilation album, 1981)
Bad Religion: Bad Religion (EP) (1981) & Public Service (VA compilation album, 1981).

1. "We're Only Gonna Die"
2. "Latch Key Kids"
3. "Part III"
4. "Faith in God"
5. "Fuck Armageddon...This Is Hell"
7. "Into the Night"
8. "Damned to Be Free"
9. "White Trash (2nd Generation)"
14. "Doing Time"
All from How Could Hell Be Any Worse? (1982)

My favourite 5 songs are in fat blue.
Drastic Actions definitely stands out from that time period due to its slower tempo, lyrical focus, and darker tone. Easily one of my favorites from the early years!

Same goes for We're Only Gonna Die, the time shifts are awesome. It's a killer song. In The Night is also pretty memorable for that repetitive line. I don't much rate Faith in God or Doing Time, but do appreciate the lyrics. I'd still rather listen to live versions from later in their career for all of these, though. :cool:
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
It was awesome to hear all these (some of them last Saturday!) live! Perhaps vocal wise no highlights but Doing Time has a cool and a bit of weird build-up and Faith in God has killer riffs. Very aggressive, kinda dark fast song.

Into The Unknown (1983)
A complete, and absurd 180 degree turn from the debut album, this record feels more like a heavier Genesis or watered down attempt at 60s/70s psychedelic rock. The band decided to incorporate synthesizers and their fans (and band members) turned on them. Since the release of this album, the founding members have done their best to delete it from history. Songs aren't generally played live (beyond the recent "Decades" live stream events) and no one looks back on it fondly. All of that said, in my opinion, this is a more rewarding record than the debut. Greg finds his voice here and the band learns that they can utilize acoustic guitars and time signature shifts. Also, The Dichotomy is a cool tune.
I think the band was so ashamed and disappointed when they found out how the fans thought of it, that they tried to put it under the carpet as soon as possible. In 1983 they did play songs from it, but without keyboard. That's why it was so cool when Graffin took his keyboard and used it for the first time last Saturday. Man, that was the highlight of the set with that metallish intro and that combo of "…You Give Up" and "It's Only Over When…" rocked as hell. Gallop!!

I think it's naive but also very nerdy and cool that they made this 180 degree album at such a young age. It shows what Brett and Greg were into already. They did what they want, even if that cost them fans and band members. Glad they did not make a habit out of it though. ;)
The Dichotomy is indeed a cool tune. Probably my favourite. I like it more than the live version they started to do in 2019. It's longer and more instrumental. Other favs: "It's Only Over When…", "Time and Disregard" and "Losing Generation".
 

MrKnickerbocker

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Suffer (1988)
Everything comes together here. Bad Religion fully embodies the sound that they will replicate for the rest of their career (while also continuing to write longer tracks in the future). It's a fast, furious, over-before-you-know-it record with some killer vocal hooks, bombastic songs, and a whole ton of energy. The production (by guitarist Brett Gurewitz) is also quite good. Songs like 1000 More Fools, When?, Best for You, Suffer, and Do What You Want are blistering tidbits of melancholic punk. I'd place Give You Nothing and Land of Competition in the ranks of the band's best, but honestly, the whole album is great from start to finish (which occurs in just over 26 minutes).
 

Zare

Automaton Sovietico
In We're only gonna die, right at the verse riff you can hear how they play 10.000 times better than most of the punk bands of that era. The riff is not palm muted, the beat is loose, yet the execution is precise, the powerchords are fast and then the open chords are always on the right spot.

I always liked their guitar parts because they're truly punk rock in the sense of where they came from, and are played correctly. Again most of the punk explosion was 'heavy metal played badly' as Di'Anno put it meaning the beats and riffs came from hard rock, punks then slapped agression on top of it but with close to 0 musical articulation. At least for me Bad Religion is the antipod of that, using rock and roll idioms inside a band that can really play with a singer that can really sing. And then the lyrics are superb.
 

MrKnickerbocker

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In We're only gonna die, right at the verse riff you can hear how they play 10.000 times better than most of the punk bands of that era. The riff is not palm muted, the beat is loose, yet the execution is precise, the powerchords are fast and then the open chords are always on the right spot.

I always liked their guitar parts because they're truly punk rock in the sense of where they came from, and are played correctly. Again most of the punk explosion was 'heavy metal played badly' as Di'Anno put it meaning the beats and riffs came from hard rock, punks then slapped agression on top of it but with close to 0 musical articulation. At least for me Bad Religion is the antipod of that, using rock and roll idioms inside a band that can really play with a singer that can really sing. And then the lyrics are superb.
All of this x 1,000!

To me, their style of punk rock sounds so much more rooted in rock and roll than pure punk (or metal). They play tightly (especially the guitars), have solos, and know how to construct precise, catchy vocal harmonies.

I am not a fan of most punk rock, and certainly not any of the traditional or original punk rock bands, but I am a Bad Religion fan.
 

MrKnickerbocker

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No Control (1989)
The band speeds things up even more and takes a more aggressive (and occasionally atonal) edge. Apparently this is considered one of the peak albums of "hardcore punk". I can say that I don't like it as much as Suffer, which I find to be ultimately more melodic and memorable. Still, there's a lot to love here. The first two tracks are super fun, I Want To Conquer The World, Sanity, and Anxiety are some of my favorites, and You is a classic. I'm not a fan of Sometimes I Feel Like or the terrible edit job on Automatic Man, and there's a few tracks that breeze right by in one ear and out the other, but overall it's a cool record.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
Hmm, I don't think No Control can be called less melodic than Suffer... maybe certain melodies do appeal less than to others or something, dunno.

Rounding up the pre-Suffer era we also have the fine EP Back to the Known (1985), with Greg Hetson on guitar and Brett Gurewitz producing.
Along the Way is the iconic track but the whole thing is a nice ride.

When I heard Suffer for the first time, I had to get used a bit to the idea of a band doing so many songs in the same tempo, it felt a bit samish. There was a lesser amount of striking songs than on later albums I had heard. But then (besides the lyrics of course) I really started to get into all these individual songs with their own cool vocal lines, roaring guitars, and sometimes neat little solos. Early favourites, and still among the best are for me: 1000 More Fools, How Much Is Enough?, Best for You and the phenomenal title track. But nowadays I like the others also very much.

No Control might be the best Bad Religion album of the Pete Finestone era (roughly: pre-Generator era; although another drummer, Jay Ziskrout played on most songs of the debut album and the first EP, and there was Davy Goldman doing the drums on Into the Unknown).
The roaring guitar sound is just perfect as is the balance of the mix (volume of drums, bass, vocals). There is such an energy, great vibe.
Favourite songs are Billy (awesome verse melodies and that guitar line after the first chorus, so deep... :notworthy: ), Sanity (bloody great overall), It Must Look Pretty appealing (superb chorus!), I Want to Conquer the World (another brilliant chorus), the aggressive Big Bang and naturally the amazing title track.

edit: perhaps a few No Control songs have a less melodical section (e.g. chorus Sometimes it Feels Like, but I'd say there are more songs with striking (and catchy) melodies than on Suffer.
 
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MrKnickerbocker

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Hmm, I don't think No Control can be called less melodic than Suffer... maybe certain melodies do appeal less than to others or something, dunno.
Perhaps a few No Control songs have a less melodical section (e.g. chorus Sometimes it Feels Like, but I'd say there are more songs with striking (and catchy) melodies than on Suffer.
I guess I should have clarified that the music is less melodic, not necessarily the vocal melodies. It's overall faster than Suffer and a lot of tunes have chromatic, scratchy-sounding atonal instrumental sections (Big Bang, Sometimes I Feel Like, Automatic Man, You). This isn't a bad thing, it's just harder to dig into.
Rounding up the pre-Suffer era we also have the fine EP Back to the Known (1985), with Greg Hetson on guitar and Brett Gurewitz producing.
Along the Way is the iconic track but the whole thing is a nice ride.
Along The Way is definitely a cool tune! I'd say this is the earliest we hear the true tone of what Bad Religion would become.
When I heard Suffer for the first time, I had to get used a bit to the idea of a band doing so many songs in the same tempo, it felt a bit samish. There was a lesser amount of striking songs than on later albums I had heard. But then (besides the lyrics of course) I really started to get into all these individual songs with their own cool vocal lines, roaring guitars, and sometimes neat little solos. Early favourites, and still among the best are for me: 1000 More Fools, How Much Is Enough?, Best for You and the phenomenal title track. But nowadays I like the others also very much.

No Control might be the best Bad Religion album of the Pete Finestone era (roughly: pre-Generator era; although another drummer, Jay Ziskrout played on most songs of the debut album and the first EP, and there was Davy Goldman doing the drums on Into the Unknown). The roaring guitar sound is just perfect as is the balance of the mix (volume of drums, bass, vocals). There is such an energy, great vibe. Favourite songs are Billy (awesome verse melodies and that guitar line after the first chorus, so deep... :notworthy: ), Sanity (bloody great overall), It Must Look Pretty appealing (superb chorus!), I Want to Conquer the World (another brilliant chorus), the aggressive Big Bang and naturally the amazing title track.
Yeah, I'm honestly not at a point where I can traditional rate anything Bad Religion does because of this "samish-ness". I look at their music much moreso through the lyrics than the overall package (which, especially in the early years, can be musically sophomoric and repetitive). I'd rate Suffer and No Control about the same, but for different reasons. Both would be very good/10.

The music itself doesn't really start evolving until...

Against The Grain (1990)
So far, this is easily my favorite Bad Religion album in terms of just the instrumentals. The band really start to switch things up here, adding radical tempo and feel changes, way more guitar solos, and longer passages without vocals (and just longer songs in general). All of that said, I'm not in love with Greg's vocals on Against The Grain. Killer melodies abound throughout the record, but they are sandwiched between some of their most mush-mouthed lyrics and some keys that are frankly a step or so too low to be very powerful. I love that they branched out here, but I feel like some key changes could've really added to the energy of the recordings. Turn On The Light, Blenderhead, and the title track in particular would've sounded more urgent a half or full step higher. The filler is strong with this one, too. I don't really like Blenderhead, Positive Aspect of Negative Thinking (Greg also says the band hates this tune) and Unacceptable are flat out bad, and Flat Earth Society, Entropy, and Operation Rescue are lackluster. But anyway, the instrumental music here is awesome and my favorites include Anesthesia (their best music yet! "here comes oblivion" is easily the catchiest vocal moment yet!), Modern Man, Faith Alone, God Song, Quality or Quantity (those time shifts!), Walk Away (those hooks!), and of course the obligatory "single" 21st Century (Digital Boy).
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
Against the Grain has the best guitar solos from all their albums. Although Brian Baker does some excellent lead work on later albums as well. But just check how melodic that solo is in Flat Earth Society.

This album also contains my favourite Bad Religion work: Faith Alone. I don't think there exists a more haunting, piercing and beautiful chorus. They gave a lot of attention to the build-up, guitar wise, one playing rhythm and in a later verse joining the other resulting in a harmony. Also the title track has some different verses guitar wise. Very cool. Other memorable songs are Anesthesia and Walk Away. Operation Rescue is nice as well (I also like Misery and Famine) and some others but the number of songs with less catchy choruses or vocal lines in general is smaller than on No Control.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
I corrected my last sentence. A lesser amount of excellent songs than on its predecessor and the higher amount of total album tracks helps me to think I like the album somewhat less but it is still a very nice listening.

I could try to make a top 15 of my favourite Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain songs. Join me @MrKnickerbocker ?
 

Phobos

Prowler
I've always loved The Gray Race. Besides it having my favorite song (Come Join Us), the production is superb. You can really hear Jay's bass nice and clear.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
In chronological order my favs from Suffer, No Control and Against the Grain. I had trouble with doing 15, so ended up with 17. My 12 favs from these favs are in blue.

"1000 More Fools"
"How Much Is Enough?"

"Land of Competition"
"Best for You"
"Suffer"

"Delirium of Disorder"
"Part II (The Numbers Game)"

"Big Bang"
"No Control"
"I Want to Conquer the World"
"Sanity"
"It Must Look Pretty Appealing"
"Billy"

"Anesthesia"
"Faith Alone"
"Against the Grain"

"Walk Away"

Seeing only 4 songs from Against the Grain is somewhat surprising... still I feel it is a very good album.
 
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MrKnickerbocker

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Mine ends up at 16 songs, getting down to 15 is tough. Also, just for fun, I decided to calculate whether I preferred Gurewitz or Graffin tunes on these records.

1000 More Fools (Gurewitz)
Give You Nothing (Graffin, Gurewitz)
Land of Competition (Graffin)

Best For You (Graffin)
Suffer (Graffin, Gurewitz)
What Can You Do? (Graffin)

I Want to Conquer the World (Gurewitz)
Sanity (Gurewitz)
You (Gurewitz)
Anxiety (Graffin)

Anesthesia (Gurewitz)
Faith Alone (Graffin)

God Song (Graffin)
21st Century (Digital Boy) (Gurewitz)
Quality or Quantity (Graffin)
Walk Away (Gurewitz)

Final count lands at 9 for Brett Gurewitz and 9 for Greg Graffin! That sounds about right.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
I'm a big fan of both, but in particular on these and earlier albums. This balance is going to change on the following stuff.
 

MrKnickerbocker

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At @Forostar's urging, I bought a ticket to the Decade livestreams and I've watched both of the 1980's sets: they're an absolute blast! Great performance, good sound, awesome little interview tidbits in there, seriously a value at $40 for 8 shows.

Generator (1992)
What a weird album. I did not like it at all after only one listen, but luckily it's a bit of a grower. It's evident that the band was going through something and wanted to move into a darker, more complex area while still remaining true to their old school sound. I find that a lot of these songs lack proper catchy hooks, despite some really interesting music. The twin guitar attack starts to be incredibly important to the overall sound and I love that. The title track and The Answer are amazing. Too Much to Ask and No Direction are also pretty solid, though, like a lot of the album, I find they lack some catchy hooks (that this band has usually been pretty great at). No Direction does have a bludgeoning, rollicking lyricism that almost feels like a train off the tracks and I dig that. Brett's attempts at grand poetics fall flat, in my opinion. Songs like Two Babies in The Dark, Heaven Is Falling, and even Atomic Garden do very little, if anything, for me. Graffin fares better here, but also seems more focused on words than melodies. Overall, this is decent, but something about the compositions doesn't sit right with me and it never reaches the heights of the previous three albums.

EDIT: Also, forgot to mention that the drums level up huge here as the band got a much better player in Bobby Schayer.
 
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Forostar

Ancient Mariner
Generator: good to fantastic Graffin songs / less captivating Mr. Brett songs (these three: Heaving is Falling, Two Babies in the Dark, Atomic Garden; the title track is iconic, still not my favourite). The middle is the tougher bit. ;)

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But the good outweighs the bad by far. Overall it is a very interesting album. Only 11 songs! Much longer song length.
This is also the start of the Bobby Schayer era. Bobby was the tightest drummer in Bad Religion history. Not a lot of flair, but a great basis and perfect glove for the music, which became a more polished and less aggressive sounding. The drums may sound a little too loud on this album (the band thought so; never again after this album).

The seven Graffin songs might represent some of his best, most consistent songwriting. We get very attractive vocal melodies in all songs. The album has a darker mood, nice atmosphere. Take the rhythm guitar style (chords) in No Direction, there is an eerie feeling about it. The Answer is absolute top material (how good can this get?). Only Entertainment could be the most catchy piece this band ever did. The chords are melancholic, truly wonderful. Brett and Greg Hetson really made a beautiful sound together for many years. Too Much to Ask and Tomorrow (great changes into the chorus) are more in "traditional" style and Fertile Crescent (neat little riffs) and Chimaera are fine specifements as well.
 
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