1985 – SST
The fifth full lenth LP from hardcore punk-rockers Black Flag released in 1985 comes out of the gates with a wonderfully thrash-filled number and energy levels and anger pretty much maintain these peaked levels throughout the rest of the record. Drums pound, guitars fuzz between heavy metal inspired riffs and white noise, vocals shout and rant right into the microphone, it’s everything one expects and wants from a Black Flag album.
What one doesn’t ecpect, however, is the fact that the sound on this release is somewhat cleaned up from their earlier punk frenzies with Rollins’ voice having lost no small amount of its pathos and the musical construction tends much harder towards the heavy metal and jazz experimentation. A necessary change I suppose, merely based on the fact that if a band get to five albums they’re necessarily going to get at least a little better at their instruments and decide to branch out generically, but unfortunately this move signals a loss of that earlier zest which made Black Flag and the whole hardcore movement so exciting. It’s not really bad in any way (well, at points the solos become grating), it just isn’t quite as physically and aurally arresting as releases like Damaged.
I mean, Ginn’s solos on this Loose Nut are all played well enough, but too often they come at the expense of some powerful riffs, and even these riffs tend to come at the expense of violent speed and gut wrenching mayhem. It just comes across as slightly too constructed, especially after listening to such a solidly chaotic back-catalogue or work. Where is the pissed-off comradery of T.V Party? Where is the frantic whirlwind of Nervous Breakdown? Nowhere, apparently, and in their stead the listener is given the flacid, lick-laden Best One Yet and precocious ramble of Sinking.
On the flipside, there are a couple of cuts which really bring their new sound to fore and make me glad that the band hung around long enough to progress out of their brash infancy. Annihilate This Week, for example, has one of the heaviest hand-banging riffs in the entire history of the punk scene and the grinding jazz undertones of This Is Good really gets the heart rate up.
Perhaps the failings of this album siganl not so much a fall inthe band’s muscianship or song-writing, but can rather be seen as a problematic symptom of over-exertion. I mean, five LPs in ’85 alone? That’s got to end up with more filler material than is necessary or desirable. On the other hand, listening to the other releases of that particular year (see The Process Of Weeding Out) it’s just as likely that Ginn’s guitar fumbling was continuously dragging the band’s sound further and further away from interesting as that year progressed, and Loose Nut is just where they ended up.
Maybe it would have been better cut down to just a couple of tracks (Bastard In Love/Annihilate This Week/ Modern Man/ This Is Good and perhaps Now She’s Black) and turned into a truly stunning EP. In fact, I’ve always seem to have found that Black Flag work better in EPs (or live) than they ever do in a full album. I guess it’s hard to maintain that much undirected rage for that length of time, and to tell the truth it’s just as hard for me to maintain my ire for that long. As it stands however, Loose Nut is in fact a full length album, and one which just has too much filler material to really consider one of the masterpieces of the grandaddies of hardcore.
It’s the kind of Black Flag album you put on not when you hate the world, but when you hate yourself.
And here’s the awesomely heavy Annihilate This Week
- Greg Ginn (Black Flag) loses lawsuit against FLAG (brooklynvegan.com)
- Black Flag lawsuit drama (88mag.wordpress.com)
- Adventures In Bandcamp: Vol. III (Spring Break ’95/ Planet Vegeta/ Isolated Cockpit) (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Bl’ast From The Past: Grohl & More Talk Hardcore Innovators (thequietus.com)