Black Flag

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Damaged (1981), 8/10
My War (1983), 6/10
Slip It In (1984), 7/10
Family Man (1984), 5/10
Loose Nut (1985), 7/10
In My Head (1985), 6.5/10
Process Of Weeding Out (1985), 7.5/10 (EP)

Black Flag and Circle Jerks opened the golden age of "beach punks". While Circle Jerks produced a faster and louder version of Germs on Group Sex (1980), Black Flag (12) proved to be the more gifted musicians. They crafted the second masterpiece of Los Angeles' punk-rock, Damaged (1981), a collection of brief, epileptic, devastating ruminations pierced by guitarist Greg Ginn's merciless bombardment and shaken by the anthemic/suicidal howls, shrieks and roars of exuberant vocalist Henry Rollins. As Ginn began to indulge in hard-rock sludge and free-form guitar improvisation, Rollins began to indulge in verbose ramblings and theatrical orations. The lumbering sludge of My War (1983) pioneered both doom-metal and mathcore. For a while Black Flag's schizophrenia paid off, as albums such as Slip It In (1984) and Loose Nut (1985) alternated between heavy-metal and punk-jazz, allowing Ginn to show off tornadoes of feedbacks, drones, fuzz-tones, atonal screeches, glissandos, harmolodic phrases, etc. The EP Process Of Weeding Out (1985) found the missing link between garage-rock and free jazz.
(Translation of my original Italian text by Nicholas Green)

Guitarist Greg Ginn formed Black Flag in 1976 in Hermosa Beach with Keith Morris on vocals. After their first single, Nervous Breakdown (SST, January 1978) which featured the micro-manifesto Wasted, Morris left the group to start Circle Jerks, and Ginn replaced him with Chavo Pederast, from Redd Kross. With Chuck Dukowski on bass and Robo on drums, the group recorded the EP Jealous Again (SST, 1980) in the blistering and bombastic style of beach punk, which at this point is still derivative of the Sex Pistols (White Minority, Jealous Again).

Having settled their lineup around brash singer Henry Rollins and rhythm guitarist Dez Cadena, Black Flag released their first album, Damaged (SST, 1981), one of the crowning achievements of beach punk, and an epileptic record that revolutionized rock music in California.
This work opens with Rise Above, an anthem shouted with unrestrained ferocity over the rock-and-roll convulsions of Ginn and Cadena (particularly on the song's famous anti-police slogan "we are tired of your abuse/ try to stop us it's no use"). Six Pack is hurled into an apoplectic slam dance by Ginn's scorching riffs and Dukowski's homicidal assaults. On the sarcastic TV Party, the clapping and choruses of beat music are used instead, but with the bass "hiccups" typical of the Pistols. The other standout tracks are Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie, a compelling litany set to the Ramones' classic "trot step," and Damaged II, with a streak of distorted Ginn virtuosities. Overall, the album is a cavalcade of chaotic thrash (Police Truck, Depression) and brash cacophonies (Thirsty And Miserable) that assaults and stuns with its relentless din.
Rollins's despaired singing is the most enduring symbol of Black Flag`s sound. His broken, stammering, terrified screams, as in the psychic collapse of Damaged I, act as a hallucinatory testament to psychological depression in the California metropolis, immersed in a low-budget horror-film atmosphere of dismembered melodies, demented rhythms, slashing guitars, and cannibalistic vocalizations. A sense of emptiness and debasement of character emerges from the landscape of a California that increasingly resembles Eliot's "The Waste Land." His manic personality, devoted to martyrdom (which is also manifest in his activity as an underground poet) makes him the obvious "hero" of the band. But it is Ginn - a guitar virtuoso, able to use it as a jackhammer, as an auger, as a helicopter blade, as a starter motor, and as a machine gun - who is the lynchpin of the band: his guitar playing, the most imaginative, erudite, titanic, and captivating of the era, makes him the Jimmy Page of punk.

After two years of inactivity due to the arrest of Ginn and Dukowski, the band returned with My War (SST, 1983), an entirely different record dominated by Ginn's personality, which the danse macabre of My War and the rock and roll of Can't Decide leave unresolved, and in which the slow, perverse blues rituals of Nothing Left Inside (one of their masterpieces), Three Nights, and Scream coined a new genre, inspired by (if anyone) Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus, which Melvins would make famous. In essence, this album invented both doom metal and mathcore a decade in advance.

Slip It In (SST, 1984) establishes Ginn's free-form guitar stylings (Obliteration) and the vocalist's verbosity (Rat's Eyes, You're Not Evil), while also indulging in excesses of heavy metal machismo (see the title-track's live orgasm). But the band's sound, that of Black Coffee, Wound Up, and The Bars, has mostly morphed into a hard and fast rock-and-roll, enlivened by Ginn's virtuosic solos and Rollins's animalistic singing.

Family Man (SST, 1984), with one side comprised of instrumental pieces by Ginn and the other of spoken monologues by Rollins, confirmed their ideological schism.

Bringing the band back into vogue are the three albums of the following year. Loose Nut (SST, 1985) is their heaviest effort, with Annihilate This Week, a cadenced choral anthem; This Is Good, Rollins' demented frenzy set to Ginn's jazz-dissonant rhythm; and two sarcastic Pistols-esque harangues, Loose Nut and Bastard In Love. In My Head (SST, 1985) contains Paralyzed and Drinking And Driving, a major episode in Rollins' caricatural saga of street nihilism with an exceptional solo by Ginn.

The EP Process Of Weeding Out (SST, 1985), perhaps the best record of their career, is entirely instrumental, a fusion of garage-rock jams and free jazz improvisation. This work is Ginn's satori - a tornado of feedback, hissing, fuzz, atonal progressions, Hendrixian glissandos, and Ulmer-esque "harmolodics" (the title track) - and bassist Kira's finest hour (Your Last Affront). Hypnotic and explosive, Ginn's jazz-punk stands among rock's great achievements. Side projects October Faction and Gone would stem from this record.

Rollins went on to form the Rollins Band.

Il chitarrista Greg Ginn formo` i Black Flag nel 1976 a Hermosa Beach con Keith Morris al canto. Dopo il primo singolo, Nervous Breakdown (gennaio 1978, con il micro-manifesto di Wasted), Morris lascio` il gruppo per andare a fondare i Circle Jerks e Ginn lo sostitui` con Chavo Pederast, proveniente dai Red Cross. Con Chuck Dukowski al basso e Robo alla batteria, il gruppo registro` l'EP Jealous Again (SST, 1980) nello stile fulminante ed enfatico del beach punk, che qui mostra ancora la derivazione dai Sex Pistols (White Minority, Jealous Again).

Assestata la formazione attorno all'esuberante cantante Henry Rollins e al secondo chitarrista Dez Cadena, i Black Flag pubblicano il primo album, Damaged (SST, 1981), uno dei capolavori del beach punk, e un disco epilettico che rappresento` un fatto rivoluzionario per il rock californiano.
L'opera si apre Rise Above, inno corale urlato con enfasi sgolata sulle convulsioni rock and roll di Ginn e Cadena (e forte del celebre slogan anti-poliziesco "we are tired of your abuse/ try to stop us is no use"). Six Pack viene lanciata in una slam dance epilettica dagli infuocati riff di Ginn e dalle cariche omicida di Dukowski. Al clapping e ai coretti del beat si affida invece il sarcasmo di TV Party, ma con i "singhiozzi" di basso tipici dei Pistols. Gli altri capolavori sono Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie, un ritornello incalzante al classico "passo di trotto" dei Ramones, e Damaged II, con una serie di virtuosismi distorti di Ginn. Ma e` tutta una sfilata di caotici thrash (Police Truck, Depression) e di cacofonie brade (Thirsty And Miserable) che aggredisce e stordisce con il suo fragore ossessivo.
Il canto disperato di Rollins e` il simbolo piu` duraturo del sound dei Black Flag. Le sue urla spezzate, balbettanti, terrorizzate, come nel collasso psichico di Damaged I, forniscono una testimonianza allucinante della depressione psichica nella metropoli californiana, immerse per di piu` come sono in un'atmosfera da horror film di serie B, con melodie squartate, ritmi malati, sciabolate chitarristiche, cori cannibaleschi. Un senso di vuoto e di distorsione della personalita` emerge dal paesaggio di una California che somiglia sempre piu` alla "Wasteland" di Eliot. La sua personalita` maniacale, votata al martirio (che si manifesta anche nell'attivita` di poeta underground) ne fa l'ovvio "hero" della banda. Ma e` Ginn, virtuoso della chitarra usata come martello penumatico, come trivella, come pala di elicottero, come motorino d'avviamento e come mitragliatore, il perno musicale del complesso: il suo chitarrismo, il piu` fantasioso, erudito, titanico e coinvolgente dell'epoca, ne fa il Jimmy Page del punk.

Dopo due anni di inattivita` per l'arresto di Ginn e Dukowski, il complesso fece ritorno con My War (SST, 1983), un disco tutto diverso, dominato dalla personalita` di Ginn, che la danza macabra di My War e il rock and roll di Can't Decide lasciavano irrisolto, e nel quale i lenti e perversi rituali blues di Nothing Left Inside (uno dei loro capolavori), Three Screams e Scream coniavano un nuovo genere, ispirato semmai ai Black Sabbath e ai Saint Vitus, quello che i Melvins avrebbero reso famoso. In pratica questo album inventava sia il doom-metal sia il mathcore con un decennio d'anticipo.

Slip It In (SST, 1984) conferma lo stilizzarsi del chitarrismo free-form di Ginn (Obliteration) e l'eccessiva verbosita` del cantante (Rat's Eyes, You're Not Evil) indulgendo per di piu` in eccessi di machismo heavy metal (vedi l'orgasmo dal vivo della title-track). Ma il sound del gruppo, quello di Black Coffee, Wound Up, The Bars, si e` soprattutto trasformato in un veloce e roccioso rock and roll, vivacizzato dagli assoli virtuosistici di Ginn e dal canto animalesco di Rollins.

Family Man (SST, 1984), con una facciata di brani strumentali di Ginn e l'altra di monologhi parlati di Rollins, confermava lo scisma ideologico.

A riportarli in auge sono i tre album dell'anno successivo. Loose Nut (SST, 1985) e` la loro prova piu` heavy, con Annihilate This Week, cadenzatissimo anthem corale, This Is Good, delirio demenziale di Rollins a ritmo jazz-dissonante di Ginn, e due sarcastiche invettive alla Pistols, Loose Nut e Bastard In Love. In My Head contiene Paralyzed e Drinking And Driving, episodio maggiore dell'epopea caricaturale di Rollins sul nichilismo di strada e soprattutto grande assolo di Ginn.

L'EP Process Of Weeding Out (SST, 1985), forse il miglior disco della loro carriera, e` solo strumentale, all'incrocio fra le jam da garage e l'improvvisazione del free jazz, ed e` il satori di Ginn, un tornado di feedback, sibili, fuzz, progressioni atonali, glissando hendrixiani e armolodiche alla Ulmer (la title-track), nonche' della bassista Kira (Your Last Affront). Ipnotico ed esplosivo, il jazz-punk di Ginn si pone fra le grandi conquiste del rock. Da questo album avranno origine gli October Faction e i Gone.

Rollins ha continuato con la sua Rollins Band.

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