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Bad Religion ( http://www.badreligion.com/ )

The Empire Strikes First
Epitaph ( http://www.epitaph.com @EpitaphRecs )
Now that the novelty of Brett Gurewitz returning to the band has worn off, Bad Religion has returned to the business of making great records. The Empire Strikes First, Bad Religion’s 13th album finally lives up to the band’s promises from the last 20 years and delivers a thought provoking archly political album that actually feels like commentary rather than academic plaintiveness. Never in the band’s history have the adjustments to their style sat so well within Bad Religion’s existing form and the record yields the band’s best music as a result. As it turns out, all Bad Religion needed to produce a great record was a subject with mass appeal. Empire is something of a concept record that rails primarily against the Bush administration’s policies and warlike stance. With such a hot topic on his lips, it’s clear that someone broke Greg Graffin’s finger as he has ceased pointing it at everyone and the songs become more exacting and biting as a result. Compared with BR’s previous records, Graffin has stopped editorializing for Empire; choosing to not implicate the American public that put Bush into office and focus on reporting the foolishness of the President’s ideals in order to let them sink on their own. Gone are most of the “you�-s Graffin has favored since 1980 and focuses more on the “I� – thereby placing himself among the masses living beneath an oppressive political structure rather than outside of it. In all fairness, Gurewitz’ return did make a difference on 2002’s Process Of Belief, but it isn’t even comparable to the sonic fury he inspires in the band (particularly the guitarists) for Empire. The songs pulse with a sinewy, nervous energy and potency as Brian Baker, Greg Hetson and Mr. Brett continually attempt to one up each other both on rhythms and solos. The effect is magical; the most solid rhythms possible crowned with (largely) Gurewitz’ incendiary leads as the guitarists all compete to produce the best parts. What The Empire Strikes First really proves is that some punk rock does get better with age. Where once Bad Religion sounded a little pompous and preachy delivering their sociopolitical statements masked as songs, the band now has the benefit of experience to back those up sentiments. For The Empire Strikes First, the pieces have all finally fallen back into place again and Bad Religion has released the album of their careers.

By Bill Adams
Sep 29, 2004

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