War on Women - Capture the Flag (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

War on Women

Capture the Flag (2018)

Bridge Nine Records

A lot has changed in the three long years since War on Women released their debut, self-titled LP. Once upon a time, feminism, while still embattled, was looked upon as a relatively accepted mainstream movement. In the past few years, the movement has struggled to regain legitimacy it already had as rising anti-feminist groups such as “men’s rights activists” and “incels” (Google that second one if you want to lose your faith in humanity) have been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump in spite of his bragging about sexually assaulting women. In the midst of this backslide comes War on Women with a doctoral level theory class on intersectional feminism set to a hardcore punk soundtrack called Capture the Flag. (If you think I’m exaggerating, you’ll notice that the physical copy comes with a workbook containing things like a reading list and dissections of their songs, as well as resources and national hotline numbers.) While Capture the Flag is primarily a feminist album, the name “War on Women,” much like “Bad Religion,” highlights the main issue they’re passionate about, not the only issue they care about. Songs like “Lone Wolves” and “YDTMHTL” delve into things issues like gun control and personal freedoms, but view them through a feminist lens.

And there’s some very interesting guest appearances on this album as well. Feminist punk legend Kathleen Hannah of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and The Julie Ruin shows up on “YDTMHTL” to add her famous voice to the mix. Lauren Kashan, lead singer of hardcore band Sharptooth (who I recently got to see do an amazing set opening for Anti-Flag), lends her distinctive growl to four of the songs on the album. Eva Beer-Harlan, daughter of the band’s guitarist Brooks Harlan, comes in for some additional background vocals on two songs. But the guest appearance that most caught my eye was the additional vocal credit for Joanna Angel. That one shows War on Women’s dedication to pro-sex feminism because, for those of you who don’t recognize the name, Joanna Angel is the adult film actress who created the groundbreaking punk rock porn website Burning Angel. All in all, it’s a fascinating list of guest stars.

Alright, get to the album, Julie. As powerful as War on Women was, Capture the Flag is an improvement on it. Capture the Flag shows a greater musical diversity than its predecessor, even though the press release we received with the album indicates that the band was down from two guitarists to one for this album (although their latest promo pictures show five members, so I think they’re back up to two guitarists now). It’s really an album that shows how much variety is available within hardcore. After the ferocious gun control anthem “Lone Wolves” kicks off the album, “Silence is the Gift,” in keeping with the song’s theme of silence, simmers and gradually builds instead of roaring out of the gate. “Dick Pics,” which I expected to be a throw away joke song, like the previous album’s “YouTube Comments,” is a surprisingly dark and complex song that also works off of a slow build, showing a band that really knows how to use subtlety in a genre where it isn’t very common. The presence of Lauren Kashan on a few tracks, most notably “The Violence of Bureaucracy,” brings out a very different brand of hardcore than what War on Women normally do due to her very different vocal style, although I wonder about the band’s ability to replicate that sound in a live setting without her.

The subject matter of the album is as angry and unapologetic as ever before. While it’s true that the Trump administration hasn’t produced the number of direct responses in punk that we all expected, War on Women’s “Predator in Chief” is probably the best direct anti-Trump song we’ve seen so far, especially in that it specifically calls the President a rapist and accuses him of being responsible for the rise of white nationalism in recent years. “Pleasure and the Beast” is a very frank song about sex and female pleasure and the inequality therein. “Childbirth” is not just about abortion, but also about how conservatives stop caring about mothers and their children once the baby has actually been born. By comparison to the rest of the album, the lead single “YDTMHTL” with Kathleen Hannah is downright upbeat. I mean, it’s still a very angry song, but there’s a certain celebration of personal freedom in “YDTMHTL” that’s uplifting, and the song’s only real fault is that it’s too short.

Capture the Flag is undoubtedly one of the most important punk albums of 2018 so far. War on Women probably aren’t going to rid the world of sexism (although if they manage to, awesome!) but with them playing in such a traditionally macho genre and killing it with feminine energy, they might be able to change some minds in the hardcore scene and punk in general. And we definitely need to change some minds right now.