BAD RELIGION: NEW MAPS OF HELL (2007)
1) 52 Seconds; 2) Heroes & Martyrs; 3) Germs Of Perfection; 4) New Dark Ages; 5) Requiem For Dissent; 6) Before You Die; 7) Honest Goodbye; 8) Dearly Beloved; 9) Grains Of Wrath; 10) Murder; 11) Scrutiny; 12) Prodigal Son; 13) The Grand Delusion; 14) Lost Pilgrim; 15) Submission Complete; 16) Fields Of Mars.
Nothing I can say, write, or even think of will seem fresh, relevant, or startling when it comes to New Maps Of Hell, Bad Religion's 14th studio album that could just as well be 5th, 12th, 16th, or 667th. By now, it is clear that there are only two types of Bad Religion albums: those that are fast, aggressive, and kick-ass, and those that are slower, feebler, and duller. With Gurewitz still in the band, and Hetson and Baker still sticking to second and third guitar respectively, and — most importantly — the George W. Bush administration still in power, you may make a safe bet that this album will rather fall in the first than the second category. And that's about all that may matter to anyone who ever cared about Bad Religion.
Well, on second thought, let us be fair: Gurewitz and Graffin are still trying to come up with new chord sequences and new patterns of guitar interplay. As simple as the basic formula is, any musicologist will tell you that its raw potential is not that limited — particularly when you have three guitars at your disposal and a permission to work poppy vocal hooks into your choruses. ʽHeroes & Martyrsʼ may be undistinguishable from ʽGerms Of Perfectionʼ upon first listen, going for the same mood at the same speed with the same guitar tones, but the main riffs are different — first one a little more syncopated and metallic, second one a little more «folk-punkish» (first one credited to Gurewitz, second to Graffin: feel the difference?).
And goddamnit, but they do sound great on ʽNew Dark Agesʼ — an even better anthem than ʽThe Empire Strikes Firstʼ, especially for those ready to believe that the «new dark ages» are indeed upon us (living in Putin's Russia helps plenty, but is hardly an obligatory condition). The scratchy choo-choo train riffage, the well-crafted vocal buildup to the chorus, the desperate release of "these are the new dark ages and the world may end tonight" — all that's lacking is one of these bursting-with-madness Mötörhead-ish guitar solos.
What this means is, if there is at least one great track on a Bad Religion album that one feels pressed to mention, this is already a positive sign — there actually may be others. You just have to grope around a bit; I do not have much time for that, so I can only say that ʽFields Of Marsʼ has a brief piano intro (which then returns for an interlude), and that ʽProdigal Sonʼ features a blunt lyrical reference to Fogerty's ʽFortunate Sonʼ (just for the sake of being able to sing "I ain't no prodigal son" instead of "fortunate son" — intertextuality ahoy!).
In the end, we will just let it be with another thumbs up — maybe the songs, overall, are a trifle less inventive than the ones on Empire, but the motivation, the fire, and the hooks are all there, even if albums like these are like a wave of reviewer's nightmares.
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