Yes, it's on a major label. No, I don't give a shit. Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about For Blood and Empire, the latest from Pittsburgh's own Anti-Flag. I'm going to pull out the dreaded 'M' word that makes most punks shake in their Docs, so don't say I didn't warn you: Anti-Flag has matured. They've grown up from their early days as a fun but politically immature band, (I love Die for Your Government, but its message is one that is politically and practically unrealistic) and have emerged with smarter songs and a platform that could catapult them to the spot left vacant by Rage Against the Machine.
For Blood and Empire shows the band experimenting with their classic street-punk-by-way-of-pop-punk sound and even incorporating elements of folk, ska and `80s hardcore into the band's already powerful bag of tricks. They even manage to combine a roots rocker verse with a Weezer-sounding power-pop chorus on "This Is the End (For You My Friend)." Heck, "One Trillion Dollars" wears its Billy Brag influence like a neck tattoo. The variety of songwriting keeps the album from ever getting boring, unlike some of the band's past albums when the last half sort of bled together. This time around every song could be a single. If only they could get radio to play songs this lyrically brutal.
Yes, it's time to talk politics. Just to let those readers out there who thought Anti-Flag's major label debut would be made up of love songs or acoustic ballads about "sitting on back porches," it's not. In fact, it's just as full of piss and bile as any of their previous works. Only it's based less on sloganeering and more on facts and undeniable truths.
"Depleted Uranium Is a War Crime" is about the depleted uranium bullets our army uses that leave radioactive dust when they shatter. This happens whenever a bullet is fired. While the Pentagon argues that DP has no adverse effects, the soaring rates in birth defects and cancer in the parts of Southern Iraq where the army dropped tons of DP munitions during the first Gulf War tell a different story. Likewise, the press is taken to task on "The Press Corps" for their cowardice when it comes to reporting negative stories about the current administration.
"One Trillion Dollars" looks at our nation's gun-buying habit; over 50% of the munitions sold in the world are bought by the U.S. If you had an uncle who bought this many guns, you'd be having a family intervention. (Speaking of which, I need to call my Uncle Don.) The most powerful song, lyrically, from my point of view is "I'd Tell You Butâ?¦," which is about all the things a victim of collateral damage would like to tell the dropper of the bomb that killed them. It's an interesting perspective regardless of your politics, and it's part of what makes For Blood and Empire so powerful. While the sloganeering sing-alongs aren't completely gone from the band's songbook, they've focused on writing stories and thought out points and not just cries of "FUCK THE GOVERNMENT!"
The place for Anti-Flag and other political bands has grown by leaps and bounds during the last 8 years in America and the rest of the world, ironically as corporations, like the one that is releasing this record, have been given first dibs at tax cuts and government money while social programs are cut and (at least our government) slow turns into a theocracy. The people however just sit back and remain blissfully unaware of the problems affecting their lives and their children's lives. Political music has always served the purpose of informing and changing the hearts and minds of the people. "Catapulting the propaganda" is the term President Bush would use.
However, it's impossible to change minds with crappy music (just ask the white supremacy movement). For Blood and Empire is full of passion and intelligence, but it's also overflowing with great songwriting and memorable lyrics. People responded to Rage Against the Machine because they saw them as songwriters first and revolutionaries second. Anti-Flag may not have been shooting for that vibe when they wrote this record, but they sure as hell achieved it.
[originally written for Mammoth Press]