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

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.

If you thought the return of Reyes would herald in an album that repeats the sound of Jealous Again then you will be disappointed. Sure, it's in the album somewhere, but you got to sift through a hell of a lot for little in return. No, What The… has more in common with latter era Black Flag, and only In My Head comes close, even if only for comparison's sake.

The few times the band connect and make a song that is good, it is only passable at best. "Lies", "Slow Your Ass Down" and "Give Me All Your Dough" are ok but not a patch on what Black Flag used to produce. If they were the debut songs by a young band, you could give them a pass and say they're a work in progress, but this is an established legendary band; that bar was surpassed decades ago.

I like Reyes' voice on the album; the years have given it a maturity that sounds pretty decent. Sure, it won't win any awards, but given what you have here it is the best part. Ginn is much his experimental self; he does offer up some ear-catching riffs, but they usually sound incomplete or are cast off once the song proper kicks in, not to be repeated again. Ginn's bass work under his Nixon alias is passable; he comes up with a few decent lines, but for the most part it's just the hypnotic sound of the bass that helps you through some of these songs. Moore is there but is left in the background, he really is a passenger in all of this.

The worst part of this is that most of the songs do have potential; each track has something that could be worked up into something different, but whether out of a desire to be contrarian to your expectations or to be artistic, the potential is never followed up on. Some of the riffs or Reyes' vocals could make the back bone of a good song, the album is full of these moments but I'll mention "Down In The Dirt", "Wallow In Despair" and "I'm Sick" as the most prominent ones.

If you had asked me before this album came out if I wanted a new Black Flag album, I would have said yes before you even finished the question; after this album… no, just let the history of the band speak for itself. Does this tarnish the legacy of the band? No, if some of the mis-steps they took towards the end of their initial run are overlooked then this is just another one for that pile; it does however serve as evidence that it was good when the band broke up when they did. Clearly this is a direction the band/Ginn wanted to pursue and while it's his right, it really isn't what I want from the band.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 6
Songwriting: 4
Originality: 7
Production: 5

Written by omne metallum | 18.07.2020


Staff review by
"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.

published 11.07.2020 | Comments (2)

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