Screams From the Vault

Mention Black Flag to any maladjusted, suburban-bred, white male between the ages of 14 and 30 and chances are very good that they’ll go on enthusiastically reciting lyrics from such gems as “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie,” “Revenge,” “Wasted,” or “TV Party.” With fast-tempo songs about alienation, anxiety, alcoholism and depression, and an 퀌_ber-indie work ethic, they went on to blaze a trail for underground rock music, influencing the likes of Nirvana and even Metallica.

There are many who swear by Black Flag with the same conviction I do, but like many great bands, only one or two of their albums are considered genius. “I only like Damaged” or “I only liked them before Rollins joined” are two opinions about this band that I’ve often heard. Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn were all that remained from the line-up on later albums, as rhythm guitarist Dez Cadena, bassist Chuck Dukowski, and drummer Robo left, were replaced by longtime punk scenester Kira Roessler and Bill Stevenson of the Descendants. This is a lineup is often not given its propers. I’ll admit I’ve had similar opinions about other bands’ changes in lineups, but even if a good band is only that same band in name, it still may be a band worth listening to.

Black Flag’s post-Damaged years were some of the heaviest and most unique of the era, surpassing many of their hardcore contemporaries (Fear, DOA, Circle Jerks, etc.). At times they progressed beyond the simple loud-fast equation typical of the genre, into jazzy, sometimes even psychedelic, heavy metal.

The Albums:

My War

It’s overall slower and sludgier than previous work; Mark Arm of Mudhoney said of it: “It was definitely a line in the sand. It was sort of an intelligence test – if you could handle the changes of Black Flag, you weren’t an idiot. And if you thought they were just selling out, then you were an idiot.” The best songs include “I Love You,” a haunting gem sung from the perspective of a man stalking an ex-lover, and “Swinging Man,” a successful hybrid of jazz and punk rock.

Slip It In

This is their psycho-sexual album. The title track and “Black Coffee” make it seem as if Ginn and/or Rollins were having major relationship troubles. Instead of brutally murdering their respective significant others, they put their jealousies to music instead, and the end result is powerful.

Loose Nut

Reminiscent of Black Sabbath and other early heavy rock bands of that era, you can hear it in the intro to “Modern Man,” which is reminiscent of the Master of Reality album. “Bastard In Love” is the only Black Flag song even close to a love song and is one of my favorites. Rollins screams out his soul, Ginn’s riffs are heavy and menacing and Kira’s bass and Stevenson’s drumming would make Geezer and Bill proud.

In My Head

Out of all the Black Flag albums I have, In My Head is the album that I found myself listening to over and over. Every song is something different: “Out Of This World” is a psychedelic return to their hardcore roots, “I Can See You” is a schizophrenic waltz, “White Hot” and “Retired at 21” are precursors to what would later become grunge. “Society’s Tease” and “In My Head” are ventures into Speed Metal.