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Review : Black Flag – What The… (Album)

Worst comeback album? Oh yes… howler of the year alert!

Artist : Black Flag
Artist Release : ‘What The…’
Release Date : Out now via SST

You know… from 2001-09, I did eight years worth of education in college and university studying Creative Music Production and Technology, as well as all other things included within the music business. There was one teacher there called John Gallen. I distinctly recall him being a highly substantial tutor in terms of recording and production (he did at one point work at times with Queen, Simply Red, etc) spanning his career through all genres. But there was this invaluable piece of advice that he taught me, one that I would remember for the rest of my life. Not just as a producer, music lover, but just also a decent piece of common sense. That one bit of advice he told me in a very dryly humorous yet stern voice… “You cannot polish a turd“.

That very piece of echoing wisdom brings me to this review. After finding out that FLAG were due to play Groezrock Festival last year, with the lineup of Keith Morris, Dez Cadena, Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson, and Stephen Egerton, I quite literally lost my shit knowing that I would be seeing them. It was then I learnt about the current rift lying with these members and Greg Ginn of Black Flag.

So when Black Flag were announced for Hevy Festival earlier this year also, there was a wave of excitement as well as curiosity.
Whilst further learning about the infamous exploits of Ginn, and the well publicised lawsuit in which he tried to sue all members of FLAG, as well as Henry Rollins for the use of the Black Flag logo and rights, myself as well as a lot of other people within the hardcore and punk rock community knew something was definitely not right. It seemed to be all about the money as far as Ginn was concerned.

So… that curiosity leads me to this very moment. The brand new album ‘What The…’ by the newly reformed Black Flag, consisting of Ron Reyes (who has now been replaced with Mike Vallely), Greg Ginn, Gregory Moore, and David Klein. Now, where do i begin…

Firstly, the artwork.
The fucking artwork.  Just look at that bloody artwork! Seriously, this is probably one of the worst album sleeves of all time that I have ever seen. This looks like some botch job that has been souped up by someone using Microsoft Paint for the first or second time. It sticks out like a sore thumb, or even perhaps like a really bad STI of some sort.

Secondly, the music.
The music is SO basic in this. But what do you expect from Black Flag? They in all their notorious history have never been musically gifted have they? But that is what we loved about them back in the day. The idea that anyone could be in this band, and anyone could be like Black Flag. They were the epitome of the DIY punk ethic!
But after so many years away, you would have thought that Greg Ginn would have possibly learnt a few good tricks and techniques on the guitar, right? Well I can safely say that the answer is no. Fair enough he has gotten a little tighter as a guitarist, but there is nothing new to offer here. Musically speaking, it is very basic and boring and has nothing exciting to offer.

I guess speaking in a punk ethic, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks… but every old dog blooms and progresses with time with the required amount of experience and practice had. As a whole… the band is pretty bland in terms of musicianship.
Vocalist Ron Reyes is no revelation on the microphone either. But he has never been no singer, just a vocalist. Reyes vocal deliveries are not too bad, nothing great but nothing bad either.
I only really have three tracks on here that stand out on the whole as ‘slightly better’ than the rest, and they are ‘Go Away’, ‘No Teeth, and ‘The Chase’. They have a somewhat memorable quality about them which does give them slight credit as semi-decent punk tunes. But that is all I can really find positive to say about this on the musical front.

Thirdly… and I cannot stress enough about this, the production.
I have heard some absolute howlers in my time when it comes to production, but this takes the absolute biscuit. You know some of the howlers I have heard in my time are usually from bands who are doing demo releases, or are just starting out because like Black Flag back in the day, they used what they could and made do with what they had. That is totally understandable. With ‘What The…’, it is far from acceptable. If the production is to emulate the production on previous released like ‘Damaged’, then no. Just fucking… no!
There is trying to emulate a previous style of production, making it sound raw as hell and still make it a blistering effort. But this album is far from it. Absolutely terrible. This is just unacceptable for todays standards of recording qualities. For the love of Harold Bishop, if you wanted to you could record yourself taking a shit in a cubicle, slap some reverb and echo on it, timestretch that to half an hour, and you got the sound of the apocalypse! But guarantee that it would sound better than this fucking album.

The mixing is awful too. Ginn’s guitar is at times so much higher than the bass and vocals, and at times the drums! Was this mixed by someone who has some kind of awry sense of sonic balance? I have no idea… but this is not good. In fact it frustrates me to the point that I actually have to pause the album just over the halfway mark and come back to it 5 minutes later with a cup of coffee. I felt like Ken Shamrock walking down the ring at a WWE event, ready to kick someone’s head in because of the rookie errors and flaws with the production values. Especially with the last track ‘Off My Shoulders’… I have had it.

To say the very least, this was in equal parts frustrating, angering, upsetting, and vehemently annoying to listen to. Purely because of the fact that because of this divide between FLAG / Black Flag, Ginn has successfully shit on the legacy of Black Flag by being a very, very selfish man and trying to seize power at being the godhead of the band. Yes, fair enough mate you were the one that started it off… good for you! But there is also a fine line in being a good businessman and being man enough to be identifying / working out your mistakes, to on the flipside… being a stupid, stupid man who just wants to do this purely to be in some kind of stiff competition and bitterness, and to try chase the benjamins. It is not all about the benjamins, it is about the pure love and devotion of supporting the legacy of one of the most influential bands of our time.

But moralities aside, this album is just fucking terrible on all accounts. In some ways it is kind of ironic because ‘What The…’ is exactly the best way to sum up how I felt whilst plodding my way through this humdinger of a release.
For anyone who wants to see any positives out of this, if you like your lo-fi recordings, or are a die-hard Black Flag fan, you will love this (possibly). But if you want my advice… go and see FLAG out on the road if you want the TRUE lineup and solidification of what this band is all about. I am so fucking glad I went to see FLAG instead <3

Score : 3/10

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