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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Bad Religion

eclectic reviews and opinions

Bad Religion

The Process of Belief

(Epitaph, 2002)

You might ask: does the world really need another Bad Religion album? Can a punk band stay relevant and vital over twenty years' time? Process of Belief suggests that the answer to both questions is "yes."

With Epitaph founder and original guitarist (Mr.) Brett Gurewitz rejoining the band for the first time since 1994's Stranger Than Fiction, Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Dag Nasty), Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) still slinging guitars and new drummer Brooks Wackerman (Suicidal Tendencies) the 2002 model Bad Religion looks frighteningly like a punk rock super-group, but it doesn't have the bloated-ego sound of many super-group projects.

It's a tight, focused album with little fat on its bones: 14 tunes in under 37 minutes. If you just don't like punk rock, or if you think Bad Religion's 90's output was worthless, you're not likely to be converted. But if you liked songs like "21st Century Digital Boy" or "Kerosene," Process of Belief is well worth checking out.

There aren't any real surprises here, but it's all put together nicely: Greg Graffin's trademark leathery voice is in fine form, the backing vocals are still weirdly smooth. Wackerman is arguably one of the best of the many drummers to sit on BR's drum stool over the years: the kick start of "Can't Stop It" is jaw-dropping. The guitars, as you might expect, are huge, with big slabs of juicy tone -- and the production on the disc in general is top-notch; it's clear, loud, but not too squashed to breathe.

Bad Religion have taken heat since their earliest days for breaking rules of hardcore, stretching the boundaries of the genre in multiple directions with keyboards and metal-esque guitar solos. "Process" is no exception: a furious hardcore blast barely a minute long is followed by "Broken," a mid-tempo number with verses built around acoustic guitar. The variety is one of the things that makes it such a solid listen; the other is the wealth of solid tunes (maybe Mr. Brett has been saving up the good ones over the last six years). Especially good are opener "Supersonic," working hard to earn its title, and "Sorrow," which erupts from a spare, echoey beginning like Sandinista!-era Clash into a roaring anthem like an amped-up Big Country. Best of all is "The Defense," which crams more musical ideas in under four minutes than a lot of bands manage in a whole album: super-heavy low end crunch, a vaguely mid-eastern suspended chord tension, knock-out drum fills, a killer guitar break, a classic shout-along chorus, and an unexpected bridge with a melody that recalls no one so much as Paul McCartney.

On the minus side: Smart hardcore is better than dumb hardcore, but when you need to reach for a dictionary, someone's gone too far. When lyrics like "How does it feel to be outstripped by the pace of cultural change," don't sound clunky, that's more of a tribute to Graffin's passionate delivery than to the words themselves, but even Graffin can't salvage "You can't make any sense of the ludicrous nonsense and incipient senescence that will deem your common sense useless." And the closing two songs would have better been left for b-sides: "You Don't Belong," is like a love letter to the band's long term fans; but it's too jokey ("Is there something worth aspiring to? And can it be found in a record store?") and too self-referential ("Rodney played our records"). "Bored & Extremely Dangerous" crashes mid-stream into a momentum-killing mess of heavily processed vocals and sound-effects; the eventual reprise makes the song seem more repetitive than it ought to. (Kudos anyway to the band for putting the two weakest efforts right at the end where they're easy to skip.)

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