January 31, 2002

Belief System

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Name a band that has been around for twenty-plus years and is still making music. Okay, now name one that’s still making good music. That eliminated quite a lot, didn’t it? Thankfully, with the release of The Process of Belief, punk fans can add Bad Religion back onto the list of classic punks still at the top of their game.

This band, formed in 1980 in Los Angeles, basically created the modern punk song, incorporating melodic elements into their prototypical L.A. hardcore. Ironically, fourth-generation rip-offs of Bad Religion now rule rock radio, while the originators have yet to truly make it big.

Process probably won’t change that unfairness; this album finds BR refining their trademark sound only slightly, but nevertheless producing their best album in years. With founding member Brett Gurewitz back after three albums away, BR has six members — three of them guitarists! — and the reunited songwriting team of Gurewitz and frontman Greg Graffin.

In Gurewitz’s absence, Graffin picked up the slack by writing all the songs on the last three Bad Religion albums — which worked well on the excellent Gray Race, but also resulted in the disappointing No Substance. The record clearly shows that the dual songwriting partnership works better — every song hits hard and there isn’t a weak cut to be found.

Kicking off with the frantic “Supersonic,” for a moment this album will transport long-time fans back to 1989 again, listening to No Control for the first time. The fantastic “Epiphany” is more reminiscent of the band’s glossy Stranger Than Fiction era, while “Evangeline” tells an enigmatic story with lyrics that could only have been written by the less political Gurewitz.

The record never lets up for a minute, and tracks like “Materialist” and the punk autobiography “You Don’t Belong” are closer to ’80s BR than the band has sounded in years. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t take risks with the formula.

The anthemic “Sorrow” starts off with a Clash-like ringing guitar and uneasy percussion before building up with a galloping beat and harmonic guitar interplay. The augmented three-guitar line-up — including punk veterans Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) and Brian Baker (Minor Threat) as well as Gurewitz — allows for greater sonic depth than ever before, with the guitars weaving in and out with complex interactions.

As Bad Religion fans have come to expect, the melodies are nothing short of amazing. Graffin and Gurewitz have written some of their strongest melodies yet, and the lush layering of background vocals creates a full sound seldom heard in punk.

Fans will also be encouraged to find that Greg Graffin’s lyrics are still as uncompromisingly political as the music is hard. “Kyoto Now!” — likely inspired by Cornell grad student Graffin’s observance of last year’s protests — features the thought-provoking lyric, “you might not think it matters now but what if you’re wrong/ you might not think there’s any wisdom in a fucked-up punk rock song/ but the way it is cannot persist for long/ a brutal sun is rising on our sick horizon.”

Once again, Bad Religion have proven that punk need not focus on teenage angst or girl troubles. Instead, The Process of Belief is an intelligent, forward-looking punk record that’s a strong case for punk’s continued viability.

Archived article by Ed Howard