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MYSH: Black Flag - My War (1984)

1984 | Hardcore Punk Post-hardcore Sludge Metal

✩✩✩✩ | 4.5/5


  1. My War

  2. Can’t Decide

  3. Beat My Head Against the Wall

  4. I Love You

  5. Forever Time

  6. The Swinging Man

  7. Nothing Left Inside

  8. Three Nights

  9. Scream

While Black Flag weren’t the first Hardcore Punk band, and while 1981’s Damaged was nowhere near the first hardcore LP, Black Flag were nonetheless essential to hardcore. Not only to the genres development and growing aesthetics, but in separating Hardcore from standard punk rock and forging a new identity for the subgenre. One might guess that Black Flag would follow this seminal release with a truly definitive and genre defining statement, something that would refine and improve upon the music found in Damaged. Well… no, with the kind of personalities in Black Flag they never could have turned around 3 years later and released something that people were expecting. No one was prepared for Black Flag’s second album, while just about every other hardcore band was speeding up, Black Flag were slowing down.

My War is in a sense based upon its misanthropic and dingy aesthetic that combined with the totally unique for-the-time instrumentation and absolutely unhinged vocals and lyrics lends the project an atmosphere atypical of Hardcore Punk. My War’s A-side (“My War” to “Swingin’ Man”) is manic and perverted, weird without becoming artful or avant-garde, aggressive while committing towards a temperate tempo. And its B-side (“Nothing Left Inside” to “Scream”) is furious, self-destructive, and grindingly slow. If My War’s first half was alienating for fans, its B-side was a kick in the teeth. Greg Ginn’s guitar lumbers sluggishly Saint Vitus-like through side two, and at roughly six minutes a piece the songs drag for far longer than punk is usually known for. And while Henry Rollins was never known for tuneful vocals or delivering anything with a sense of melody, on My War’s final three tracks his wails, rants and mumblings are genuinely menacing and disturbing.

My War’s lyrics deal with a hearty blend of existential fear (“Scream”), an inability to express emotions (“Nothing Left Inside”), paranoia (“My War”) and desensitization (“Swingin’ Man”). Rollins- apart from being a devastating vocalist and a commanding stage presence- was an accomplished lyricist, whose work shared more similarity with poetry than usual punk lyrics in many occasions. Combined with his enormous voice and menacing persona his evocative lyrics really make the album. There was very little at the time in punk and metal that was as genuinely unnerving as My War, and little still since (at least from such a fore-front band).

My War would have an enormous influence and impact, something maybe unexpected by its many detractors after its release. At the time Black Flag’s fans were largely disappointed and confused in their new direction, and generally felt their Sabbath-esque tempo and metal influence was a sort of failure of the bands. But retrospectively My War has been critically lauded and has been cited as a major influence from all across the punk and metal spectrum. Not only did Black Flag effectively invent Sludge Metal a whole three years before Melvins would propagate the genre in the Pacific Northwest and inspire the Seattle and NOLA scenes, they also helped lay the groundwork for Post-hardcore along with Minutemen and Hüsker Dü. Even a band seemingly unassociated with punk, like Stoner Rock & Metal pioneers Kyuss, listed Black Flag as a major influence, and given the riff on "Can't Decide" I can hear it. Given time to appreciate in the eyes of its audience My War has proven to not only be an album truly ahead of its time, akin to its influences in Black Sabbath and The Stooges, but also potentially Black Flag’s defining statement and one of the quintessential LP’s that hardcore punk has to offer.


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