Limitless distractions give no pause to distort a precious delusion
My first thought was, they’re not old enough to be so washed out. But I suppose that isn’t really true. It saddens me to say this, because it feels like a funeral oration, but Bad Religion has run out of juice. New Maps of Hell is trite, repetitive, and predictable. The album, like many of its predecessors, is very dark, preoccupied with death and desperation. Unlike Bad Religion’s best albums, however, New Maps of Hell does not direct its desperation towards anything overtly or obviously political. Instead, there are vague and generic references to “authority” and “power,” without a clear agenda or object of criticism. This isn’t to say every album has to be about politics, but absent hearing the record itself (and judging solely from the album art, lyrics, and song titles), one would think Bad Religion was a bad metal band.
The irony is that the album is so angry that a few minor tweaks (read: focus) could make it much more political. I was really holding out for all of the anger at war, apathy, and the excesses of the world that I’ve come to expect from Bad Religion. Instead of adding passion to the album, however, anger seems to have inspired a lot of filler. The first three songs are boring and short. I am not even sure that they count as songs, except that you can hear Greg Graffin singing and there are some familiar sounds. Songs like “Honest Goodbye” and “Scrutiny” similarly fall into the “filler” category. I used to think that sort of background “ahhhhhhhhhing” that The Empire Strikes First featured so prominently was genius, but New Maps overdoes it, substituting it in for real content almost whenever possible.
The production quality seems uncharacteristically low. The guitars drown out Graffin’s voice in probably 60% of the songs (perhaps to hide all of the lyrical clichés?). Even the cover art seems recycled from the video for “Los Angeles is Burning.” In fact, the whole album reminds me of “Los Angeles is Burning,” which consequently was my least favorite song on The Empire Strikes First. Whatever happened to the melodic refinement of Generator or the transcendence of The Gray Race?
There are a few good songs on this album. They are good because they sound good, not because they are particularly insightful about human nature or politics. “New Dark Ages,” “Requiem for Dissent,” “The Grand Delusion,” and “Before you Die” feign quality by doing what Bad Religion does best: complexity, dynamic overtures, and broad vocal ranges. “Grains of Wrath” is about as political as the album gets, with some references to “America the Beautiful” and so forth, whatever that means.
Were my expectations too high? I’ve waited 3 years for a new album and was hoping for something more memorable. Last night, I had a conversation with someone about the album as we listened to it, and the consensus was, yeah it sounds like a Bad Religion album, but it will never be an album that enters a regular rotation. It can’t possibly be as interesting or exciting as any of the older albums. For all of the energy and oomph it lacks, it does not compensate with content, and that’s pretty sad.
Listen to a few of the songs at the band’s Myspace and see if you agree.