Bloody hell. Bad Religion have been around for about a million years now, well, 40ish anyhow. I first saw them live in 1997 (I think, although it could’ve been 1998) at Reading Festival headlining the Vans Warped Tour stage. They had the power shut off at the end of their 30 minute set, and kept playing anyway. It was cool. Either way, it’s donkey’s years back, innit. Age of Unreason is their 17th studio album. Think about that. That’s a lot of albums, that, mate.
Even though it’s unfashionable to do so, and my mates take the piss, I love Bad Religion, me. Along with Dag Nasty and Descendents, I’d argue that those bands shaped the foundational sound of melodic hardcore and skate punk to come. Agree or disagree as you wish. Understandably, when a band has done 17 albums there is going to be some serious variance in quality. Some have been plain awful (Into the Unknown – although there appears to be a weird fashion for people to “ironically” like this one at the moment; clearly folk need to check their definition of irony), the bad (No Substance and New America for example). There’s also been a couple that inspire naught but ambivalence (Dissent of Man immediately springs to mind). It’s fair to say that a new Bad Religion album needs to be approached by the seasoned listener with an amount of caution, nay, low expectations.
And now, with Age of Unreason, we are faced with an iteration of Bad Religion that lacks old Suicidal Tendencies drummer Brooks Wackerman (I’ve always found that name incredibly appropriate) and former Circle Jerk Greg Hetson. Jamie Miller of And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead takes up the sticks, and Mike Dimkich of The Cult fills Greg Hetson’s spot on guitar. The Cult? Jesus fuck, mate.
Anyhow, the record kicks in with a standard Bad Religion banger, Chaos from Within – it’s pacey and hard and of course has those essential harmonised backing vocals that we know and love. I was almost willing to put my scepticism aside. However, I soon found myself descending into a slime pit of utter ambivalence. Overall, Age of Unreason feels like a watered-down version of the standard (and often reliable) Bad Religion ‘by numbers’ formula. At best it felt to me like an attempt to recapture major label debut (and my own personal introduction to Bad Religion) Stranger Than Fiction, particularly referencing 21st Century Digital Boy, Infected and Slumber. I guess that as soon as I came to that realisation, I realised that Chaos From Within reminded me of Incomplete.
It’s not a terrible album, and it even has some decent moments such as the aforementioned Chaos from Within, as well as End of History; Age of Unreason; Faces of Grief; Old Regime; Since Now; and What Tomorrow Brings making up the sum total of the album highlights.
Although if I went to somebody’s house and they had this on, I wouldn’t ask them to turn it off, I couldn’t ever see myself ever putting this on over any of a slew of their decent albums. Whilst I might find myself feeling a bit guilty for saying so, I also feel entirely unapologetic. To quote yer man there, Greg Graffin himself, “no Bad Religion song can make your life complete”. Well, none on this record anyway. And no bandying about of big words, contextually relevant political rhetoric or soaring harmonised backing vocals is going to change my mind on that.
Tony of Nurgle rating: 6/10
You can buy this in pretty much any reasonable record shop or direct from the Bad Religion webstore