Bad Religion returns to the old-school

Bad Religion
The Process of Belief (Epitaph)

Let it be said that Bad Religion is responsible for three of the most incredible punk-rock records ever: 1988’s Suffer, 1989’s No Control and 1990’s Against the Grain, all on Epitaph Records. Each of these three records is absolutely flawless, required listening not only for punk-rock intelligentsia like myself, but also for anybody wishing to just get with it.

Let it also be said that since those three outbursts of angry genius, with one exception (1994’s Stranger Than Fiction), Bad Religion has been responsible for a handful of relatively uninspired albums. I listened to half of the first side of 2000’s A New America before I smacked the needle off the vinyl and shoved it away. Coincidentally, these were released on Atlantic Records, which supports my belief that unless you are the Clash, “punk rock” on a corporate label is a contradiction in terms.

It’s for that reason that I approached The Process of Belief (Epitaph), BR’s 12th studio album, with a sort of jaded trepidation. There were a couple things that curbed my hesitation. First, guitarist/songwriter Brett Gurewitz recently returned to the band, after quitting following the release of Stranger than Fiction. Also, BR is on Epitaph Records, also the home of 3rd generation punk rockers Rancid, Pennywise and NOFX.

Hearing Process for the first time brings a sigh of relief. Bad Religion shows that band members haven’t slowed with age, and their quickness is mercilessly tight and contained.

But it’s the slower songs on Process that reveal the more mature, nuanced side of Bad Religion. Tracks like “Broken” and “Sorrow” boast careful songwriting and a rich three-guitar harmony. The careful-yet-passionate three-part vocal harmonies that have always been a trademark of BR style underscore the fact that the band is simply a group of good musicians.
What’s more, the reunion of Gurewitz and BR vocalist Greg Graffin brings lyrical quality back to the fore. Graffin’s lyrics prove that Bad Religion is easily the most intelligent band in punk rock. His million-dollar vocabulary is exercised to the full on the album. Song topics on Process range from careless environmental tactics (“Kyoto Now!”) to over-indulgence of commodity (“Materialist”) to the dangers of being young and alone (“Bored and Extremely Dangerous”). While these may seem to be standard punk fare, no one delivers like Bad Religion.

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