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Friday, September 28, 2012

Bad Religion: Into The Unknown


1) It's Only Over When...; 2) Chasing The Wild Goose; 3) Billy Gnosis; 4) Time And Disregard; 5) The Dichotomy; 6) Million Days; 7) Losing Generation; 8) ...You Give Up.

Apart from being one of the most bizarre releases in the history of hardcore, Into The Unknown is not particularly enlightening, interesting, or exciting. It is usually quoted as «that unfortunate prog experiment by Bad Religion», which is not very accurate, I think; the word «progressive» only appears in conjunction with the main band members (Graffin and Gurewitz) having once proclaimed to have had a crush on progressive rock acts. There is, at most, one track here that bears a direct influence of classic 1970s prog — the seven-minute, multi-part epic ʽTime And Disregardʼ — but everything else is more like «anthemic power-pop with a heavy keyboard fe­tish». And totally godawful production values.

Bad Religion's entire rhythm section quit in protest over this unexpected change of direction, and they can be understood: just as the band was starting to make headlines with their brand of «intel­ligent hardcore», lo and behold, Greg Graffin drags a keyboard out of the bushes and learns to sing instead of... well, you know. The new look band's live shows were reported to be abandoned by fans in droves at the first sight of the synthesizer. In the end, they just had to acknowledge that the whole thing was a silly mistake. As far as I know, the entire album has never even been relea­sed on CD so far (although, curiously enough, it has been re-released on vinyl for the 30 Year Anniversary Box Set — go figure!).

The album does suck, for sure, but not because of the «switch» — I'm always happy to witness a switch when it works. The biggest problem is that the songs are just no good. It is quickly evident what has been lost — the speed, the energy, the sneering, the standard punk riffage variations that become appreciable once you get to know them — but it is not immediately clear what it is they have gained. As a «pop» or «prog» singer, Graffin has no distinct personality; as a guitar player in either one of these genres, Gurewitz has little credibility; and the keyboards really, really suck, as if they only had saved up for the cheapest available model — oh, these tones, not even worthy of a late-period Genesis. Even those few songs that preserve a bit of rock'n'roll crunch are seri­ously cheesified by them (ʽLosing Generationʼ).

And, since we are no longer hardcore, what we need here is outstanding melodies. Instead, we get flat, faceless «martial» rhythms or boogie lines, where the role of rhythm guitar is limited to put­ting down a bedrock of power chords (some of the solos are sufficiently melodic, to be fair, but are we really supposed to simply wait for the solo each time? Gurewitz ain't no Clapton anyway). ʽChasing The Wild Gooseʼ alone tries to open with something that resembles a catchy riff, then realizes it sounds a bit too close to ʽZiggy Stardustʼ (thanks to Mark Prindle for pointing that out) and quickly shifts to a one-chord mid-tempo melody with rotten vocals.

Lyrically, the album moves away from hardcore bluntness and into the realm of obscure meta­phors and ellipses that still seem to be dealing with the same major topic («society rot»). Seeing the lines to ʽTime And Disregardʼ on paper, I could perfectly well picture them sung by the likes of Peter Hammill — someone whose average care for melodic memorability was more or less on the same level as Graffin's, but whose ability to credibly «get into character» was quite unsurpas­sed, whereas Graffin here does not even begin to try.

Overall, it just looks they did not pack enough supplies and undergo the proper physical training to justify a serious cosmic journey Into The Unknown. The braveness — nay, the craziness — of the gesture may be appreciated, of course (much like the «braveness» of jumping off the 20th floor to see what happens), but the results are, at worst, disastrous (each time the keyboards start staging a particularly ferocious assault on the senses) and, at best, just boring. Even if ʽLosing Generati­onʼ chugs along at a fine speed, I'd rather re-enjoy the same chug on something like, say, The Amboy Dukes' ʽJourney To The Center Of The Mindʼ. Thumbs down.


  1. It's a general disease of 80's rockbands, isn't it? Forgetting they can't do without crunchy riffs. In principle I think the idea behind Time and Disregard intriguing. I don't mind the synths here (I have heard far worse, especially in the 80-s). But as we are talking progrock here I cannot help but thinking of Yes' Perpetual Change (more limited singer, so that's no real objection either) and its first ass-kicking riff. From a hardcore band going progressive I would expect a kick (preferably more) in my crotch instead, wouldn't you? Sometiing like Metallica's The four Horsemen, to put thinks in a contemporary context. Or Megadeth's The Mechanicx of course.

  2. This record is kinda awesome, I think. Part of it is probably the novelty of BR doing this kind of thing though. But I got off on it.

  3. What a grinch. In some ways we're on the same page. I do dislike most of this record. I like the first three songs, in a somewhat ironic way. And like me, you respect the "bravery" it took to release this record. That's one way to put it. From my POV... I started listening to punk in '82. I was 13. I'd always thought of punk as a bunch of noisy nonsense and couldn't fathom why my best friend was so into it. BR was one of the first bands (along with DK) who impressed with their intelligence, they proved to me it wasn't all just a bunch of mindless screaming. Their debut EP and first album were two of my first punk records I owned. And after finally realizing that I liked punk, it didn't take me long to see what a ridiculously conformist pit of snakes the hardcore scene had already become. When BR put out Into the Unknown, I interpreted it as them giving a big middle finger FUCK YOU to all of the conformist meat heads who seemed like they were hell bent on stomping the scene into the dirt. So even if most of the songs sucked, it still felt good... "Yeah, take THAT, you conformist dipshits. Here's some nice 70s arena rock for you. Suck it." I was totally down with that.

    On the other hand, I also honestly like Discharge's Grave New World album...