photo & text by nacrowe
whats always struck me about BAD RELIGION's debut album HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE? (EPITAPH, 1982) is how MATURE it sounds for a band so YOUNG. during the recording of such in 1980 the band was still in their teens, some still in high school. yet even at that age, all the hallmarks of their storied career are on full display on tracks like "WE'RE ONLY GOING TO DIE," "VOICE OF GOD IS GOVERMENT," "AMERICAN DREAM," "OLIGARCHY," "LATCHKEY KIDS" and "FUCK ARMAGGEDON... THIS IS HELL".
take a song like the opening track "WE'RE ONLY GOING TO DIE" which neatly sums up mankind's FOLLY throughout history in conquering the world through VIOLENCE and SUBMISSION, only to redirect such VICIOUS intent on themselves. as the ending ANTHEMIC refrain repeats as a SOLEMN mantra, "we're only going to die from our own arrogance." it is pretty INCREDIBLE that a teenage GREG GRAFFIN had the PERSPECTIVE and CLARITY to construct such a POIGNANT statement that takes into account one's own COMPLICITY in the matter.
its my belief that this ability to maintain a LYRICAL POSTURE that included THOUGHTFUL SELF-REFLECTION and SELF-ANALYSIS is what made their brand of MELODIC HARDCORE so different from what was being by their cohort of LOS ANGELES second-wave PUNK ROCK bands in the 1980s. likewise the track "FUCK ARMAGGEDON... THIS IS HELL" embeds this notion of one's own unknowing COLLUSION in supporting political and capitalist systems that lead to our collective DEBASEMENT and DESTRUCTION. makes perfect sense that a young ZACK DE LA ROCHA clamored onto and was influenced by the PRO-INDIVIDUAL and PRO-INDEPENDENT THOUGHT agenda of HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE? in particular.
though the follow-up record took a detour into PROG ROCK of all things, this debut served as a template of sort for subsequent releases up until the WATERSHED cultural moment that was SUFFER (EPITAPH, 1988) a few years later. is HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE? the best BAD RELIGION album? no. but it is a PROMISING debut well-worth checking out and thinking about as the band evolved to further develop their identity around these STRIDENT POLITICAL THEMES amidst tightly constructed HARDCORE songs of the first order.
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