Black Flag - What The... review


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Band: Black Flag
Album: What The...
Release date: November 2013

01. My Heart's Pumping
02. Down In The Dirt
03. Blood And Ashes
04. Now Is The Time
05. Wallow In Despair
06. Slow Your Ass Down
07. It's So Absurd
08. Shut Up
09. This Is Hell
10. Go Away
11. The Bitter End
12. The Chase
13. I'm Sick
14. It's Not My Time To Go-Go
15. Lies
16. Get Out Of My Way
17. Outside
18. No Teeth
19. To Hell And Back
20. Give Me All Your Dough
21. You Gotta Be Joking
22. Off My Shoulders

"This sucks," screams Ron Reyes on track nine. "This is hell!" This is an album whose title, cover art, and lyrics do all the critical assessing for me.

I'd like to make this review about the album itself and not about how everybody hates Greg Ginn. If you want to read about his alleged child abuse and actual domestic assault, or his shady business practices and mishandling of SST Records, or his lawsuits against the entire Black Flag Expanded Universe, or if you want to speculate about why this album does not feature the iconic artwork of Raymond Pettibon, Ginn's brother, whose visual designs are perhaps as legendary as the band's music itself, or why Ginn went down the line to Black Flag's fourth best vocalist (Ron Reyes, a.k.a. Chavo Pederast) when Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, and Dez Cadena are all still performing and then unceremoniously fired Reyes mid-show, well, you can think about that stuff on your own time. Musically, Greg Ginn has skill and history, so even if everybody on Earth and some people on Mars view What The… as an illegitimate stain on Black Flag's reputation even without pressing "play," none of those things should impact Ginn's ability to write a great punk record.

Then again, maybe becoming the villain of your own band's legacy does, in fact, affect the quality of your music. At the very least, you can tell where Ginn's priorities lie these days: himself. This album is all about the guitar; Gregory Moore's drums sound like they were recorded from under a very thick blanket in a room adjacent to the studio, and Ron Reyes appears to be shouting only so he can be heard above Ginn's dissonant whining. Ever since the early days, Ginn has played with a more discordant and chaotic style than the straight power chords of earlier punk, which is part of what makes Black Flag so engaging despite their apparent simplicity and what makes Greg Ginn an influential guitarist. I guess you can't blame him for doubling down on one of the band's most distinctive elements, but the result is a terribly ugly, demo-quality mix that, for once, is actually not charming in a punk album.

Personally, I don't think that the songwriting is the problem here. Several tracks have a noisy, jazzy quality that appeal to me as somebody who just positively reviewed Chepang's Chatta and is currently loving the new Shred Earthship; to be sure, a lot of them also suffer from patently annoying vocal lines that amount to verbal abuse, and Ginn did not have 22 songs' worth of good ideas to his name in 2013, but there is some continuity with Black Flag's more experimental material. If anything, I'm mildly impressed by the avant-garde turn that the composition took in some places; if you love Black Flag's unorthodox style from the mid-'80s, a lot of these songs should be palatable.

They should be, but the performances and production torpedo any hope that What The… had of being enjoyable. It's kind of hard to tell given how purposefully tuneless and atonal the guitar lines are, but I ascribe some of the chaos to Ginn simply being sloppy. Yeah, I've heard of punk before, but sometimes too much is too much. Especially with how loud the guitar is, it's hard to ignore the imperfections and skipped beats that often sound unintentional (they don't add anything; that much is certain). Reyes's grunts and worked-up shouts sound forced, when you can actually make them out amidst the cesspool of distorted oatmeal. While double-tracking vocals can do a lot to rescue a subpar performance, all the technique does here is make Reyes's voice that much more unbearable; some of his vocal lines are so grating, such as "My Heart's Pumping," "Go Away," and "It's Not My Time To Go-Go," that I'm glad most of these tracks fall within the two-minute range.

I find a lot of criticism of What The… a bit too harsh, but I'm not going to argue with anyone who thinks that this album is a travesty. It goes out of its way to be purely irritating, which is possibly the worst thing an album can be. I don't listen to much punk written after Bad Religion's Stranger Than Fiction, but if you want to know what a 2010s Black Flag album could have sounded like, just listen to Off! and be done with it. Alternatively, you could listen to Jealous Again almost seven times in the 44 minutes of ear-plugging it would take you to sit through What The… I leave you with these thoughts.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 4
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 7
Production: 4


Written on 11.07.2020 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.

Staff review by
omne metallum
In the words of Baterman in Pet Semetary, "Sometimes dead is better", and that thought will reverberate in your head as you listen to What The…. Returning after 28 years, Black Flag made a welcome return before wearing out said welcome within minutes of this record starting. If there is a better example of a band returning and ruining what legacy they had, it must be a train wreck that has become a repressed memory for me.

published 18.07.2020 | Comments (0)


Comments: 2   Visited by: 10 users
11.07.2020 - 07:57
You didn't have to do this
- I've dreamt of that for years.
- Dying?
- Running.

2020 goodies
11.07.2020 - 11:15
Cynic Metalhead
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Written by RaduP on 11.07.2020 at 07:57

You didn't have to do this

We live in a democratic community. Don't kill the vibe, man.

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