Black Flag - My War (Cover Artwork)

Black Flag

My War (1984)


Black Flag are a force to be reckoned with, not only in the punk rock and hardcore community, but the alternative music community as a whole. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain claimed his first gig was seeing Black Flag live on tour supporting My War. This is only one example of the massive impact and influence Black Flag has had on music over the years. The band has had many members, some of whom, again, are some of the most influential people within the punk rock subculture. My War happened to feature my favourite Black Flag line up, including Greg Ginn, Henry Rollins, and Bill Stevenson, although I am sure there is someone out there that will disagree. Black Flag were a wild band, with a wild history, that could be covered at length and in detail much greater than the scope of this little review. That being said, I am sure if you are a punk news constant-reader, you already know most of the Black Flag story.

I was not born in the 70’s; I wasn’t there when Black Flag was killing it on tour in the early days. I was not aware of them when I was young, I was far from the intended target audience at the time – and unlike some other punk rock and hardcore super humans, I am not going to talk and pretend that I was there. All I can say is that like many music fans picking up records released long before they were born, there is some luck and influence involved. My War happened to be the first Black Flag record I picked up, and I loved it. I loved it as a teenager, and I love it now as an adult. I may go a year or two without putting it on, but when I do, I am transported back to that first time I heard it. That is what music is all about at the end of the day. I know that this record polarized many previous fans, especially with side-B, but for me, this was the pinnacle.

Listening to My War as an adult, I can see some of the mistakes a bit more clearly. It was far from a perfect album, but it was a great and somewhat historic punk rock release. Black Flag pissed off some of their original fan base by getting heavier, incorporating some metal influences, and growing their hair out, but without My War , would some of the 90’s grunge music be the same? Who can say, but I doubt it. The heavy and droney riffing in My War set the stage for many future bands to come. Plus, we all grow out of straight up hardcore at some point, it just happens sooner for some.

Picking a favorite track is tough as I am caught between the hard, circle pit inducing hardcore anthem of the title track “My War” and the driving Ramones-esque snottiness of “I Love You”, this song proves hardcore can be hard as well as catchy. One thing that both new fans and the older generation can agree on is that side-A was significantly better than side-B. Side-A flowed nicely, and keeps up the punk rock pace. There are still hints of low fi, Black Sabbath influence on side-A, but they were peppered into the songs, as opposed to being the main focus of them. I definitely do not hate side-B like some, but the main problem is that the songs were just too long. No one needed to hear the same simple riff over and over again for over six minutes with no real dynamic or chorus to break it up. I bet that seeing the wall of sound live might change my opinion, but for the most part, I play side-A, and My War goes back into it’s sleeve. Again though, I don’t hate the last 3 songs, they just were not as fun and interesting as bangers like “The Swinging Man”.

Despite some less than stellar reviews, My War was a solid record. I love the songs, as well as the artwork. I’ve gotten myself into a few arguments over the years about it being one of their better releases, and maybe I am biased, as it was my introduction to Black Flag, but I stand by it being one of their best. The band covered some more experimental ground with My War, there are solos, and metal influences scattered throughout the record. The songs are longer, and they changed up the typical song structure, but I think it for the most part, it worked in their favor. The biggest downfall of the record in hindsight was that some of the songs are simply just too long. Even “Can’t Decide” doesn’t need to be five minutes. That being said, whether “Nothing Left Inside” was too long or not, that riff could get a pit going strong to this day.