Bad Religion - Age of Unreason (Cover Artwork)

Bad Religion

Age of Unreason (2019)


It’s impossible to discuss this album without the context of True North, their 2013 album, which was a hearkening back to the golden era of Bad Religion from 1988-1991. No question, a great album. It was even crowned album of the year here at Punk News in 2013, despite vigorous competition from other great albums by A Wilhelm Scream, Crusades, and The Bronx.

But Bad Religion has two audiences, which, though not mutually exclusive, are extremely difficult to please simultaneously. There are punk rock purists, who crave the structure of the genre as well as the more heterodox, who appreciate a wider latitude of experimentation. Bad Religion’s two previous albums represent this dichotomy, with Dissent of Man being the more experimental of the two.

I know this puts me in the minority here, but I (mostly) like Bad Religion’s experimentation. The singles, therefore, concerned me. While I loved Chaos from Within, I thought Profane Rights of Man and Do the paranoid style sounded like forced attempts to recreate True North. My Sanity, while good, left me worried that the requisite piss and vinegar was missing.

Once the clock struck midnight, Spotify notified me that one of my most beloved bands had new material. I was excited and nervous, like a kid not sure if she got that new Huffy for Christmas.

First off, I’ll admit that I skipped the first four songs, as I already listened them to death. The Approach gave me an immediate thrill unmatched by any sensation I got from the singles and set a lyrically bleak tone. As Graffin sonorously belts through the chorus, “As the light fades the shadows dance in silhouette to stars / Despite all illusion we approach the darkest hour” it’s obvious he’s improved, even since the (relatively) recent True North. Go back and listen to Land of Endless Greed. You’ll probably notice Graffin sounded a tad shy of the note he was trying to hit.

Lose your head has gained traction on popular playlists on music streaming services, perhaps because it is closer to easy listening rock-n-roll than punk. But, as someone who appreciates Bad Religion’s experimentation, I loved it. The lyrics are so Bad Religion: I ain’t superstitious but hey do you know a good exorcist? / Despite darker tendencies I’ve always had a strong bias to exist. Though I hesitate to use the word when referring to punk music, it’s a beautiful song.

End of History sounds like a song off The Empire Strikes First cross-pollinated with some New America vibes. Again, the song is so catchy it hurts and feature some of the strongest lyrics on the album: Sweet Children, Locke’s Burden / Why did mother draw the curtains? / Free will is your dilemma (what will the dust remember?) / Tell me where do you really want to be? / At the end of history? If that isn’t a compelling question, I don’t know what is.

I was initially bored by the descending notes at the onset of Age of Unreason, like Brian Baker is practicing his scales or something. But just stick with it – it’s one of the most powerful tracks on the album. When Graffin cries that …the nation’s heart is bleeding, I actually started to cry. As dark as this song is, there are stronger hints of hope, too, especially when Graffin declares that the common sensibility to teach an intellectual capacity is in the air.

Candidate starts off slow, with just a raspy Graffin and an acoustic guitar, before the rest of the band kicks in. The song is a blatant mockery of someone whose name Bad Religion doesn’t mention once, even though the spirit of the album obviously has a direct causal relation to him.

Faces of Grief wouldn’t feel out of place on an Adolescents album. It’s interesting that many recent Bad Religion albums have this fast, short, hardcore track, packed somewhere in the middle. Vanity on True North, Murder on NMOH). It’s more noticeable here, though, than on True North, as it stands in starker contrast to the material preceding it.

Old Regime shows that Bad Religion’s erudite ire isn’t limited to the current administration. After all, the moral bankruptcy of neoliberalism was an enabling force for where we are now. This album isn’t just about Trump, in my opinion, as many others seem to think.

The next three songs demonstrate more experimentation. Big Black Dog is the silliest song on the album, with Jay barking in the background. I loved it. Think a Nine Inch Nails remake of This is where the fun is. Downfall also has a poppy vibe, complete with a synthesizer. I guess after being back in the known, we are back in the unknown? Someone needs to call Donald Rumsfeld to clear this all up. Since Now is an interesting song – it oscillates between a poppy verse and a traditional punk chorus. Like End of History, it asks important questions about dialog and culture at the present moment:

Since when was it just a fallacy of tainted memory
To believe that things were really all right?
Since when were the qualities of wisdom and knowledge
Equivalent to mere facts online, yeah?
Since when were the virtues of character and contact
More than just a popularity game?
Since when was the protocol of rational judgment not the same as blame?
Since now!

I have a special love for Bad Religion closers – in terms of content and style, What tomorrow brings reminds me a little of Changing Tide. But it has even more similarity, musically at least, to Fields of Mars, the closer on New Maps of Hell. This song is dark, though, and serves as a prophecy: These are more than words that the false prophet sings / Yeah, they're promises of what tomorrow brings. Pretty foreboding.

In conclusion, I think it’s an absolutely excellent addition to the Bad Religion catalog. I’ve had it for about 36 hours, and I’ve listened to it about 25 times. Bad Religion is easily my favorite band and I should have had more faith in them going in. Luckily Greg/Brett/Jay/Brian/Jaime won’t condemn me to hell for my doubt.

And one final thing I need to say. To borrow the phrase of Judge John Jones in his ruling in the Dover Area School Board evolution case – there is a “breathtaking inanity” to those who are just now discovering that Bad Religion is a politically oriented, left wing band. How thick do you have to be? This orientation, as we say, is a feature not a bug. No doubt, Bad Religion is a musically important band. Still, I think the heart follows the head with Bad Religion, so if you aren’t on board with that, maybe you can forage around for some good right-wing punk bands to listen to? Oh right, there aren’t any.