Since the distinguished rockers of Tenacious D received an unexpected shout-out in the liner notes of New Maps of Hell, it's only appropriate that the legendary rock of Bad Religion receive the same beaming introduction as bestowed upon the D by Paul F. Tompkins in "The Pick of Destiny":
This next band asked me not to read thisā?¦but goddamnit, I'm going to read it anyway, because I wrote it, and it's the truth: I fucking love this band. They are the best band ever, PERIOD. Ladies and gentlemanā?¦Bad Religion has done it again. With an excessive amount of members. With an ill-received single. And with twelve stylistically similar albums already under their belt. Bad Religion has redefined themselves once again with a crushing wall of sound approach incorporated into the band's legendary command of precision skatepunk.
When Bad Religion regained founding guitarist Brett Gurewitz for 2002's The Process of Belief, the resulting three-guitar attack opened new possibilities that began to reach fruition with songs like "Sinister Rouge" from 2004's The Empire Strikes First that took advantage of the five layers of instruments and opulence of background vocals. With New Maps of Hell, the songs hit hard, and at no loss of pace, but they also manufacture a sonic depth to match the epochal lyricism of Greg Graffin.
Don't let Dr. Graffin's PhD fool you -- the unrelenting assaults on hegemonic preemption, predominance of religion on society, and the glorification of a culture of war are as scathing and merciless as ever, with a delivery that bears no mark of a band 25 years into their existence. Even "Requiem for Dissent," which hilariously features God-fearing scenesters Vanna, remains untarnished, held up by Graffin's eloquently pissed contempt: "The sanctimonious minions how they grovel at the feet / Authority is populist deceit / Pity yet another casualty's demoralized decline / Just a victim of irrational design." The fuzzy, sauntering "Honest Goodbye" had many scratching their heads after falling into heavy rotation at KROQ, but it makes more sense on New Maps of Hell, sandwiched between "Before You Die" and "Dearly Beloved."
The trademark melodic skatepunk Bad Religion pioneered in Suffer hasn't lost a thing, appearing in prime form with songs like "Scrutiny" and the minute-and-25-second "Heroes and Martyrs." Slower, bouncy rhythms on "Submission Complete" and "Before You Die" allow Graffin to harness some of the catchiest hooks on the record, while the album opener "52 Seconds" sears by at Bad Religions' most ferocious.
The dedication and drive of Bad Religion, a legendary band now 27-years-old, is unmatched in nearly all of rock music. While many veteran acts are content to wallow in their glory days, rehashing tired sounds and playing the same predictable crowd-pleasers to naive fans, Bad Religion continues to challenge themselves, revamping and redefining their sound without straying into the unknown. New Maps of Hell is a perfect example, and amazingly, some of the band's finest work yet.