Groundbreakers: Black Flag – My War
I like to think I have a very diverse taste in music and, more specifically, in metal. Maybe I could even be considered a special little
snowflake snob. Even if you share the eclecticism of your average Tinder user, there’s always the stuff that you really like.
If I were to break it down to simple terms, half of the stuff I really like wouldn’t even exist if it were not for the 40 minutes of music Black Flag decided to call My War.
Imagine you’re a punk/hardcore kid in 1984 who just got hold of a copy of My War. Of course you’ve heard Damaged. 15 tracks of fast, fun and sarcastic hardcore punk clocking in at under 35 minutes. It’s one of your favorite fucking albums, man.
So you get home, throbbing in anticipation, put the vinyl on and push play.
Quick intro and soon “My War” blasts forth with a scream and its memorable, surfy guitar. Betrayal, paranoia. “Woooh! Black Flag!” Next up is “Can’t Decide.” A 5 minute song. With guitar SOLOS. “It’s gonna be alright,” you think to yourself. “It can’t be that bad.” Except it was.
Third track “Beat My Head Against The Wall” opens up with a trudgy riff that could have been discarded as ‘too simple’ during the Master of Reality recordings. The schizophrenic tempo keeps shifting throughout its brief run time.
The next couple of songs, “I Love You” and “Forever Time,” feature a far more orthodox approach. Their successor, however, is a bizarre song about suicide named “The Swinging Man.” It sounds like a twisted version of a 1960s Batman-esque TV show theme.
Whoever survived through side A of this record definitely fell off their chair – slowly – upon reaching side B (20:45). Whatever subtlety lied in the experiments of the LP’s first half was replaced by a completely different sound. It could have been called a split record with a fake band and no one would have questioned it.
Gone was the snarky parody of Damaged. Gone were the stereotypical “punk” tropes. The three tracks that make up this side of the LP are over six minutes long. They are dragged out, quasi-droning hymns of self loathing and malaise. Seriously, if you need something besides Swans to wrap up a party early, just put “Scream” on. The living room will empty itself.
My War‘s importance to heavy music extends far beyond means of throwing people out, though. It is a pivotal album in shaping what would become known as sludge metal. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of their influence in the genre is Eyehategod, a band that can play songs reminiscent of side A and B at the same time. “Medicine Noose” is fast and slow with just a little bit of extra Sabbath sprinkled on top.
Neurosis is another name that comes to mind. While their mature sound may appear very distinct from the one featured in My War, members of the band have cited Black Flag as a major source of inspiration on more than one occasion. Both bands trailed a path of innovation in their own right. Their progression from playing unremarkable hardcore to one of the most original bands in heavy metal was brilliantly fleshed out by Leif on the very first Groundbreakers article. I’ll limit myself to just one of my favorite Neurosis songs.
One of my all time favorites, Melvins, have also sung high praise towards Black Flag, especially My War and Slip It In. Their body of work is wildly vast and diverse, from the droning of Lysol to the earworm anthems of Houdini.
Does Kyuss sound like Black Sabbath? Yeah, they do. But if you were to ask a 1993 Josh Homme about it, he’d say his guitar playing is far more influenced by Greg Ginn than Iommi. This influence would be even more present in the early Queens Of The Stone Age catalog. Just listen to the guitar in “Walkin’ On The Sidewalks” and “How to Handle A Rope” from their first LP. It bears a clear resemblance to the tone and main riff of “Nothing Left Inside.” Ginn’s style of soloing can also be heard in a lot of Homme’s playing. Moreover, the inclusion of zany songs amidst their records can be seen as an allusion to “The Swinging Man” and all of its weirdness.
Is My War a good album? I think it is, but my real answer is that it does not matter. Regardless of the flaws one could point at, the impact it had on the heavy music landscape is too wide to deny. In true Groundbreakers style, it has projected its axons so far into the collective consciousness of metal, hardcore and “post-” bands that any criticism pales in comparison to its relative omnipresence.
As divisive as it was – and still is – influential, My War is one of those rare records that deserves being called quintessential.
Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.
Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory – Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid Bath – When the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance
Sleep – Holy Mountain
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the eye
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses
Bathory – Hammerheart
Blind Guardian – Imaginations from the Other Side