Album #90: Black Flag – My War

  • Released: 1984
  • Origin: Hermosa Beach, California, USA
  • Label: SST
  • Best Track: My War

Following on from my review of the debut album by And Also the Trees, where I was saying I’m not familiar with many albums from the year I was born, here’s a look at one I’m amazed I’ve never bothered with yet.

Black Flag are one of those bands where I’ve attached myself so firmly to one album (Damaged), I’ve never really taken the time to listen to any others. Two other bands in that bracket are Jawbreaker (24 Hour Revenge Therapy) and Interpol (Turn on the Bright Lights). All three are probably in my top 50 albums of all time, but I’d struggle to tell you much at all about anything else these bands did.

My War, Black Flag’s second studio album and the follow-up to Damaged, is all about internal and external battles. Although Greg Ginn wrote many of the songs and lyrics, Henry Rollins serves as their outlet and somehow makes them his own.

Whereas Damaged contains some commentaries on wider society like ‘TV Party’ and ‘Police Story’, this record is entirely about what the hell is going on inside the band members’ heads. It’s also an album of two halves, with the first continuing in the vein of the band’s early work with six pieces of fast-paced, guitar solo-punctuated hardcore punk, and the second half a much slower, sludge metal format spread across three drawn-out tracks. This polarised fans at the time, but in the years since, the album has come to be seen as an influence on both genres.

I was already familiar with the title track, and it’s a great verbal attack on whoever it is that’s “one of them”. The lyrics often have little regard for rhyme or rhythm, but you don’t care because they’re intriguing. Rollins pulls no punches and spares you no grisly details with lines like “I feel it in my heart, that if I had a gun/I feel it in my heart, I’d wanna kill some” and “I’m some kind of death machine. With skin and muscles and a heart that pumps my blood”.

I didn’t expect to like the last three tracks so much, but I’d say they’re at least as good as the first six, and possibly more original and interesting, especially ‘Three Nights’. The slower pace, sludgy guitars, and guttural roars and screams convey a deterioration, helping the album serve as a metaphor for a person breaking apart.

The lockdown is forcing many of us to spend a lot of time with our own minds, and to realise we might not get on too well with them. My War is the perfect soundtrack to that “caged animal” sensation we might well be experiencing right now.

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