There are few things more reliable in this world than a long-time trusted band, who no matter what year it is or what trend is being pushed, will put out records that grow and further unite a fanbase. In the world of Punk Rock, that institution is called Bad Religion. The southern California rooted collective returns on May 3, 2019 with their seventeenth studio album, Age of Unreason, their sixth for Epitaph Records following a mid-1990s departure into major label territory. The clock ticks on, no one is getting younger, and yet the freshness and clarity of Bad Religion albums seems impervious. Will Age of Unreason serve to continue their reign as kings of melodic Punk Rock?
As Bad Religion albums instantly cut to the chase, so too shall this question be answered with a resounding ‘yes.’ Opener “Chaos From Within” displays the identifiable familiarity of the band with its drum and guitar squeal intro. Founding Vocalist Greg Graffin, the professor with the punk-rock heart, has been bringing the folk harmonies that are part of his make-up into the band, and the harmonic vitriol he brings to bear on this song indicate that all systems are go in the world of Bad Religion.
A band that raised a voice for humanism, reason, anti-theism, and progressivism for both the environment and government, Bad Religion’s message has not changed in their thirty-plus years of existence. What makes them so beloved is their ability to refine and poetically alter that message. The more sedate melodies of “Lose Your Head,” for example, give wonderful voice to the shrug-shouldered, slightly nihilistic middle finger they have so eloquently stuck out on such songs as “Slumber” (1994 – Stranger Than Fiction) and “Part IV – The Index Fossil” (1988 – Suffer). For individuals so aware of the ills of humanity, they have been an outlet for fans of similar ilk through all the greed, poverty, war, and atrocity we bear witness to so often in this world. Its great to see that here on Age of Unreason, the band’s truculence toward tyranny remains scythe-sharp.
Drummer Jamie Miller (ex-Snot, ex-Souls At Zero) had some big shoes to fill when he took over the kit for Brooks Wackerman, but his pedigree is undeniable, as evinced on the romping title track. Only Bad Religion could make the prospect of society moving backwards sound so damn enjoyable. The anthem of “Candidate,” on the other hand, is a statement song with a very strong vocal introductory phrasing. The guitar playing of Mike Dimkich, Brian Baker, and Brett Gurewitz positively spoil the listener with riffs and leads that push the band further while still affirming the Bad Religion-ness of the music.
Bouncy rhythms and speedy interludes define the angry “Big Black Dog,” a Rancid-like oration against racism which shows how the production of Age of Unreason sounds superior to their last album, True North. The sheer energy of “Old Regime” and its well-placed leads could have this song pop up in any decade of Bad Religion’s existence. Cutting lyrics pour truth at a 4/4 beat, a punk-rock heart beating out of the amps from men who are fed up with the imperialist demented greed of leaders whose names may change, but whose policies continue to divide and defeat.
Finishing the album strong, “What Tomorrow Brings” combines all the vocal harmonics and relentless pace which make Bad Religion such an indelible part of American Punk Rock history. Melodies which embed themselves in the listener’s head like an NSA bug show that the cusp of the third decade of the new millennium is as great for Bad Religion as the ones preceding it.
Bad Religion is a special group of men, and despite advancing years and life outside the band, when they come together to advance their beloved music, the results are never bad. However, with Age of Unreason, the results jump out of the speakers and embrace the listener like a friend. This one is a tour de force, and it needs to be played loud and often. As a Punk Rock record, there is nothing tired or derivative about it. Cryptic Rock gives Age of Unreason 5 out of 5 stars.