Black Flag - What The... (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Black Flag

What The... (2013)

SST Records

What The…, Black Flag’s first studio release since 1985’s In My Head, always felt like the new Black Flag album that no one really asked for, but got anyway. I don’t think anyone would have objected to one of the (many) different line-ups of Black Flag getting back together to write a new album, but there seemed to be quite a bit of tension when it was announced that it would be Ron Reyes and Greg Ginn that were the only original members featured on it.

To start What The… contained twenty-two tracks, which for a hardcore album was quite long. For a quick reference Damaged had fifteen, My War only had nine, and Loose Nut only had nine as well. Right off the bat, the album sounded like Reyes and Ginn were trying to reach back and bring back the glory days of Black Flag instead of pushing the sound forward. Songs such as “My Heart’s Pumping” and “Down In The Dirt” were perfect examples of that. Granted, Reyes’s yelling are very powerful and show that he has still “got it” all these years later in the song “Down In The Dirt,” it was the instrumentation in this song that sounds somewhat unimaginative and forced. It was clear that Ginn was trying to replicate the type of guitar playing you might have heard on Damaged or something like that. The messy and sludgey riff was overly repetitive and unfortunately dominated the entire song without much variation or compliment to Reyes’s vocals. It’s just boring. The same thing can be said for the instrumentation in the song “To Hell And Back” except this time Ron Reyes’s vocals were somewhat sloppy and only could really be described as “all over the place.” Maybe that was the point, but if that’s true it comes off once again as very forced.

Lyrically, What The… didn’t make much headway either. “It’s not my time to go-go/I’ll hang around for another round/So light’em up darling” in the song “It’s Not My Time To Go-Go” definitely fell short to their prior lyrics like the ones in “Depression,” the legendary “Rise Above,” “My War,” “Slip It In,” etc.

Overall, What The… sounded like a very polished Black Flag album and it seemed like the band was trying way too hard to sound like they did in the 80’s. But just like when the Misfits’ 1997 album American Psycho, the first without Glenn Danzig in the band, Black Flag’s What The… felt like they cheated fans by still using the band’s name. Chances are that there would have been a lot less animosity if Reyes and Ginn formed a new hardcore band entirely. But because they decided not to do that, to many What The… stands out as a blemish on Black Flag’s otherwise legendary catalogue